Entrevista com Bernhard Müller
Entrevistado: Bernhard Müller, Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER), Executive Director
FGV PROJETOS: In your opinion, why are local governments so important in promoting sustainable urban development? And what are the main challenges that local governments have to overcome to be successful in this task?
Bernhard Müller: Promoting sustainable urban development is not a task of local governments alone. But, in my view, local governments are the most important stakeholders in this regard, mainly for three reasons: First, in many countries local governments stand for concrete decision-making and action which has a direct impact on local and, in most cases, reginal development. For example, local governments provide or regulate the provision of public services, and they lay the ground for shaping the quality of life in a city, town or region. Whether a city or town follows a sustainability path or not, is highly dependent on what a local government decides. Second, local governments are the governments which are closest to the people. This means that, on the one hand, they are more than others directly exposed to opinion making within the civil society, e.g. regarding urban sustainability. On the other hand, they have enormous potentials to open up new opportunities for dialogue and participation, e.g. regarding the promotion of urban sustainable development. And third, local governments have the capacity to shape integrated long-term strategies for urban development. However, what may in general be seen as indisputable strengths may also turn to become rather demanding challenges. Local decision making and action is not always easy, e.g., in cases where locally fragmented interests prevail, and the scope of action is severely limited by national or regional interference. Secondly, participation does not automatically lead to more sustainability. This is especially recognizable where populist movements are successful in promoting individualism and segregation. And thirdly, integrated long-term strategies are not easy to establish. One reason for this: They do not fit well to the often segmented and short-term oriented thinking of local politicians and practitioners in the administration.
WHAT POLICIES AND ACTIONS SHOULD LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ADOPT (OR CREATE) TO ASSURE SUSTAINABLE URBAN DEVELOPMENT? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT ARE THE MAIN POINTS THAT SHOULD GUIDE THE SUSTAINABLE URBAN AGENDA?
>> German cities and towns have, for example, made excellent experiences with so-called Integrated Urban Development Concepts. These are non-binding long-term strategies which include a vision for future development, priority fields of action as well as priority actions in each field. They are the basis for urban land use and detailed plans with binding forces, and often also for decision-making regarding public spending. Some cities and towns have developed Green City Concepts in order to formulate their urban sustainability strategies. Such concepts are especially interesting when the business sector and civil society organisations have actively participated and see them as guidelines for their own actions. Also concepts related to pressing urban development issues, such as energy efficiency, adaptation to climate change, or demographics, the basis of everything what happens in a city, may have similar effects. As we can see, there are many options. If done well, local governments can motivate and enable citizens and even the business sector with the help of such instruments to actively participate in strategic urban planning and agenda setting. However, concepts alone are not enough. What is needed is cooperative leadership, clear priority setting, participatory budgeting, strategic monitoring and the willingness of all stakeholders of a city, a town, and a city region to cooperate.
COULD YOU GIVE US SOME EXAMPLES OF POLICIES, ACTIONS OR EVEN DECISIONS TAKEN BY GERMAN LOCAL GOVERNMENTS THAT HAVE CONTRIBUTED, OR ARE CONTRIBUTING TO, SUSTAINABLE URBAN DEVELOPMENT?
>> One of the best known examples from Germany is of course Freiburg in south western Germany. It has a long history of eco-orientation, and regarding the transition from predominantly protest related civil engagement, e.g. in the wake of anti-nuclear movements, to innovation oriented urban development projects, e.g. in the case of the well-known and publicly covered eco-city of Freiburg-Vauban, and rather recent priority setting regarding green economy, e.g. in the framework of the Freiburg GreenCity Concept where the city formulated its approaches towards sustainability. Contests for green labels on the European or German national levels have also helped to promote sustainable urban development. For example, for a second time after Hamburg in 2011, a German city, Essen, will become the European Green Capital in 2017. Sustainability approaches of many other cities in Germany may be less known but not at all of minor importance. Let us take my own home city, Dresden, in eastern Germany between Berlin and Prague. The city has implemented or is implementing a number of stunning projects: it has become a model case for sustainable mobility, it has developed the concept of a compact city within an ecological network of green areas which is a guideline for urban transformation during the coming decades, it is implementing an excellent energy concept and path setting flood resilience measures, and it has boosted the cooperation between the excellent research facilities in order to make the city a location with high innovation potential. Let me finally give you also an example of a small town, Fellbach near Stuttgart, in south western Germany. Industry 4.0 has arrived there, and the media echoed that the urban factory is back to town in the case of a world market champion in gear-wheel production. The eco-certified plant is located next to a passive house estate in an eco-neighbourhood, it produces low noise and low emissions, and it is based on 100 percent renewables, and collects and uses rainwater. This case shows that technological innovation and environmental concerns can easily go hand in hand today for the sake of sustainability in the true sense.
HOW SHOULD LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ENGAGE WITH DIFFERENT SPHERES OF GOVERNMENT (NATIONAL, REGIONAL AND METROPOLITAN) AND WITH MULTIPLE SOCIETY ACTORS IN ORDER TO PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE URBAN DEVELOPMENT?
>> Local governments can’t do the job alone. They have to connect with their neighbours and with other spheres of government and society in order to become more sustainable. Cooperation is of utmost importance here. Nevertheless there are many barriers, e.g. related to the competition between municipalities for inhabitants and taxpayers as well as for businesses and jobs. However, such competition has in many cases been short-sighted and disastrous. More and more local governments are therefore beginning to understand that local and regional quality of life as well as global competitiveness depend to a high extend on cooperation between the public and private sectors, and the civil society. There are many ways to foster collaboration. In Germany, the national and regional governments have conducted contests for successful networking among local governments, private companies, researchers and civil society organisations. The actual Research and Innovation Agenda of the German Government also heavily promotes such cooperation. You may give impulses from above but you cannot sustain longstanding cooperation from above. Therefore the will and the preparedness of local leaders and officials, businessmen and civil society organizations to cooperate is and will remain key to more sustainability.
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD RELATED TO THE TOPIC OR URBAN GOVERNANCE AND THE ROLE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IS SUSTAINABLE URBAN DEVELOPMENT?
>> Recently, the Habitat III world summit in Quito agreed upon a New Urban Agenda for the coming two decades. Sustainability is a key word there as well as in the cities related goal number 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations from 2015. Local authorities were unfortunately underrepresented in both events. Nevertheless their associations are fighting for more influence on a global level. I think this is timely because without local authorities there is no sustainability. End of November, the 5th Brazil-Germany Dialogue on Science, Research and Innovation takes place in Sao Paulo. The topic is "The City of Tomorrow - Tackling Urban Challenges and Opportunities". German and Brazilian researchers will discuss their approaches and findings regarding the possibilities of a sustainable future of our cities. I hope that the Dialogue will lead to fruitful discussions, new insights and contribute to making the world a little more sustainable.