Jochen Partsch: Vision of an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable city

It is in the cities that future projects for society and the economy are discussed, planned and tested. It is in the cities that the battle against climate change must be won. It is in the cities that people look for mobility as well as life and career opportunities. Our cities must meet special challenges. The times when ecology, economy and equal social opportunities were regarded as competing objectives are over. Nowadays, everybody speaks about sustainability in all relevant fields of action, and words like “green building”, “green IT” or “green technology” speak for themselves. The topic has even found its way into financial centres, as proven by stock exchange indexes such as the Dow Jones Sustain­ability Index.

Even in an increasingly virtual world, the economy is not happening in a virtual space. It is driven by people who live and work in a real city. That is where their homes, families, friends and acquaintances are. I am convinced that urban modernity is gaining a new dynamic and reality with the motto of a “green city”. In my opinion, the “green city Darmstadt” is a Darmstadt in a Rhine-Main-Neckar region worth living in. How­­ever, that city is not shaped solely by its inhabitants. It must also be a city where companies and establishments – the city’s institutional citizens – love to settle and feel at home. In the summer of 2011, I took the lead of a new municipal admin­­istration and coalition as Senior Mayor in order to tackle that task. Let me take you to our Darmstadt in the year 2025 and sketch out how the vision of a “green city” becomes reality in various areas.

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Economy. The business activity of com­panies in Darmstadt is sustainable – thanks to, amongst others, good logistical connections and an energy supply from regenerative sources. The added value of the future is creative, innovative and sustainable. In 2025, we will have com­plemented and combined our economic develop­­ment clusters of the present – chemistry/pharmacology/biotechnology, information and communication tech­no­­­­logies, hair cosmetics, machine con­struction/­­­­electrical engineering/mecha­­­tronics, space and satellite technology – with the new development cluster of sustainability. Here, new companies have come into being that are successful with “green technology”. Darmstadt companies have assumed leading roles in their respective markets because their operations are knowledge-based, they can draw on excellent professionals, and they are supported by city and region through optimal cooperation.

Science. Darmstadt universities and scientific facilities are at the top in research and development of “green technology” and “green cities”. New faculties are setting global trends. The worldwide first faculty of electrical engineering, founded in 1883, is a historic example. Nowadays already, research and development of the efficient generation and utilisation of electric energy are driven forward here. Besides faculties of science and technology, all three uni­­­versities of Darmstadt, the City of Science, have faculties of social sciences. More than 30 scientific institutes, including signi­ficant Fraunhofer and Helmholtz sites, the Institute for Ap­­plied Ecology and the IWU institute for housing and environment, have committed their expertise to the development of the “green city” and have formed the “green thinking” network.

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Energy. Independently of large groups, energy is produced without nuclear power and with a high proportion of renewable energies by the energy supplier HSE, which is majority-owned by the city. Today, the HSE distribution subsidiary Entega is already one of Germany’s top green power suppliers. Long before the Bundes­tag decided on the nuclear phase-out, Darmstadt had developed the blueprint for the energy turnaround. In 2025, not only the city government, as is already the case today, but also a majority of households and companies will be using renewable energy.

Buildings. The average energy consumption per square metre for heating and cooling of commercial and residential buildings in Darmstadt will be well below the federal average and near the low-energy house standard. Existing buildings, including office buildings, have been made more energy-efficient and new ones are built in compliance with optimal energy standards. Darmstadt’s leading role in “green planning” and “green building” can be experienced in architecture studies, is implemented in planning offices and is displayed in buildings throughout the city.

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Mobility. In 2025, Darmstadt will be a city of short distances, where mobility is painless, even for people on the outside coming into the city. Energy-saving transport modes are embraced by the population because they are organised to be adequate, comfortable and inexpensive. Buses, trams and regional trains offer attractive connections inside and outside the city. Hire bikes and car sharing are taken for granted. Darmstadt has evolved from an exemplary region for electric mobility to a model region for eco­­logical mobility. The mobility mix of the city grants all road users their fair share – Darmstadt is a positive example of “green mobility”.

Logistics. In the field of “green logistics”, Darmstadt is one of the last remaining cities with a freight yard in close vicinity to the commercial areas. In 2025, it will play a central role in the handling of goods. In combination with the container terminal at the Rhine port of Gernsheim 20 kilometres away, we have global carriage connections via the seaports of Rotter­dam and Antwerp. For trade with Eastern Europe, the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal creates a connection to the Black Sea.

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Social sustainability. “We in Darmstadt – We for Darmstadt” – no matter what nation­ality, age or way of life. A majority of the people who live, study and work in Darmstadt have internalised that feeling. For, the city is not all, but all are the city! Early involvement of citizens as well as other institutional players in important projects has encouraged people in Darm­­stadt to participate in decisions and, thus, in the development of the city. Examples are the civic budget, infrastructure decisions or childcare measures. The citizens of Darmstadt assume responsibility for their city, intervene and are heard, even beyond election dates.

Recreational spaces. One of Darmstadt’s traditional slogans, “City in the Woods”, still holds true. The city is surrounded by ecologically healthy forests, meadows and fields. From anywhere in Darmstadt, you can reach a forest on foot within 45 minutes. The active participants of Ger­­many’s first running club at the Lichtwiese campus regularly enjoy running in nature. Even a bird’s eye view of Darmstadt reveals a “green city”

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All that is not pie in the sky as is demon­­­strated by current achievements. Sustain­ability has long been at home in Darmstadt. Numerous initiatives, activities and insti­­tutions were started here. They are proof that we are on the right track to “green city” Darmstadt. In 1971, the IWU institute for housing and environment was founded, followed in 1980 by the foundation of the Darmstadt branch of the Institute for Applied Ecology. Germany’s first passive house in Darmstadt-Kranichstein was moved into in 1991, and in 1996, the Passive House Institute was created. The same year saw Germany’s first chair of regenerative energies established here. The Agenda21 office of Darmstadt, the City of Science, opened in 1998. The HSE subsidiary NATURpur Energie AG started in 1999, and the HSE foundation was initiated in order to promote non-profit civic involve­­ment. In 2005, Germany’s first green-power tram went into operation in Darmstadt. Since 2010, the local public transport service has been entirely supplied with climate-neutral green power. Since, the city has provided a free online solar potential registry. It has the ability to display the solar energy generation potential of any building in the entire municipality. Further milestones are not far down the road. In 2012, HSE will put into operation a 100-­­­­­­megawatt gas turbine power station to equalise the variations from regenerative sources. Currently, HSE is building or oper­­ating eleven wind parks, four solar parks, over 120 solar arrays, four biogas plants and one biomass-fuelled combined heat and power station. By 2015, HSE AG will have in­­vested one billion euros in renewable energies.

In Darmstadt, we can build our “green city” on numerous strong foundations. Together with citizens, businesses and scientists, we will realise the vision of “green city Darmstadt”.

 

OB-Jochen-Partsch-Foto---Wissenschaft-DarmstadtThe author (born in 1962) studied social sciences at the Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen. From 2006 to 2011 he was full-time city council of the City of Science Darmstadt as well as department head for social affairs, youth, living, labour market policy, feminist policy and intercultural affairs. Jochen Partsch has been lord mayor of the City of Science Darmstadt since the 25th of June 2011.