Malmö and Freiburg setting example
By Emilie Melvin | Friday 02 October 2009
The environmental crisis, much like the economic crisis, must be dealt with locally. “Transportation and buildings account for the largest share of climate change impact. This means we must mitigate climate change at the local level […]. Municipalities must function as role models on the climate issue,” says Ilmar Reepalu, the mayor of Malmö. If cities continue functioning as they do, countries will be unable to meet their European and international environmental objectives. Sustainability, however, goes beyond the environment since it also encompasses economic and social dimensions. Part of becoming sustainable includes learning how to turn environment and climate related challenges into innovative initiatives that strengthen the city’s economic and social well-being and attractiveness.
EASIER ON SMALLER SCALE
Freiburg (Germany) and Malmö (Sweden) are leaders in the EU when it comes to sustainable development. “It is vital for a city to have political support to take its first steps towards sustainability,” recommends Roland Zinkernagel from the City of Malmö’s Environmental Strategy Unit. Both cities began at first working on a district approach towards sustainability since “it is easier on a smaller scale and includes its inhabitants in the process,” Zinkernagel explains. Indeed, Freiburg’s Vauban district and Malmö’s Western Harbour and Augustenborg neighbourhoods serve as a showcase and model project for their and other cities. Furthermore, Freiburg and Malmö have both underlined the importance of citizen involvement so as to guarantee the long-term success of sustainable development through their participation in workshops, by providing input, becoming involved and launching their own initiatives.
Indeed, citizens reap the benefits of their own efforts, as seen in Freiburg, where one of the main outcomes of its environmental policies has been employment. Sustainable development has contributed to keeping jobs, which would have otherwise been lost, such as in construction. Moreover, the number of people working in the region’s environmental industry is 25% above the national average. It is also a great marketing tool and attracts tourists. Money spent on solar and other renewable energy technologies allows finance to stay within the community instead of being spent abroad on gas, oil or uranium.
BICYCLING AS TOP PRIORITY
Malmö and Freiburg have both made bicycling a top priority, with 410 km of bicycle paths in the former and 500 km in the latter. One quarter of the population in Malmö and one third in Freiburg use bicycles daily. The old town centre of the South-Western German city became car-free in 1973 and, in 1990, introduced 30 km per hour zones in most residential streets. In the district of Vauban, approximately 30% to 35% of inhabitants have chosen to live without a car. Freiburg has also put 42% of its surrounding area under environmental protection and building is no longer permitted there. Malmö’s public transport system includes sensors in city buses that communicate with city traffic lights so that they turn green faster than they would for cars. Special bus lanes have been created to avoid traffic and waiting times are displayed electronically at bus stops, as in several other cities across Europe. Radar detectors have been installed at multiple intersections, which sense approaching bicycles and automatically turn traffic lights to green. Training courses are offered in Sweden’s third largest city in ‘ecodriving’ to reduce fuel consumption. Petrol use has been reduced by about 15% by those completing the course.
In Malmö, solar panels have been installed in schools, retirement homes, outdoor pools, museums and industrial buildings. It also holds the world’s third largest sea-based wind energy park, Lillgrund, with 48 wind generators. This produces the equivalent of enough electricity for 60,000 homes per year. Smaller wind generators have also been developed for built-up environments. Energy consumption in general has been reduced by 20% since 2001 in all of Malmö’s municipal properties. Freiburg, which has dubbed itself ‘solar region’, has approximately 1,800 annual hours of sunshine, making it an ideal place for solar energy. Leading solar technologies research institutes are based in the German city as well as several small to medium-sized companies dealing with regenerative energies. In 1996, an emission reduction target was established to reduce CO
2 emissions to 25% below 1992 levels by 2010. In 2002, Freiburg set a target that 10% of all energy consumed in the city should come from renewable sources by 2010, rather than 5% as of 2008. In 2006, a website was also launched so that users may calculate the potential electricity savings of their households.
About 50% of Malmö’s schools serve ecological food, with a target of 100% for 2012. City employees are encouraged to drink tap water rather than buying bottled water. Indeed, choosing locally produced and ecologically friendly foods while reducing consumption of junk food and meat are all part of climate friendly choices, that can be carried out by all individuals.
Many other cities and neighbourhoods across Europe have also taken steps to develop innovative sustainability projects to fight climate change and move mentalities in the right direction. They include Beddington (London, UK), Vesterbro (Copenhagen, Denmark), Kronsberg (Hanover, Germany), Dundalk (Ireland), Lausanne (Switzerland) and Hammarby Sjöstad (Sweden).
Now, the question is whether sustainable development will become widespread in Europe. The current main criterion for sustainability is money, a luxury not every city enjoys. An alternative is for cities to bring different actors to jointly implement energy and environmental projects, activities and strategies.
One of the main outcomes of Freiburg’s environmental policies has been employment