In recent decades there has been an unprecedented increase in the proportion and number of people living in urban environments. In 2014, 54 per cent of the world's people were urban dwellers, compared to 34 per cent in 1960. This trend is expected to continue, while the global population is predicted to grow from 6.1 billion in 2000 to 9.7 billion in 2050, and the size of the urban area expected to triple within the next two decades. It is clear that cities are where our future is going to be decided. This places a large burden of responsibility on us, as administrators and decision-makers looking at how we shape our cities now and in the future.
Freiburg has a long history of sustainable urban development. While we are proud of our achievements, we do not want to become complacent in light of the challenges faced by us and other cities across the planet. We have set our standards and expectations high, with a wide and comprehensive understanding of sustainability that goes far beyond the traditional remit of climate change and environmental protection, to include social justice, education and culture.
Freiburg´s tradition of sustainable development can be traced to a 1970s protest movement against a planned nuclear power station at nearby Wyhl. This impulse from citizens to move towards a more sustainable future was taken up by the City Council which made the landmark decision in the early 1980s to pedestrianize the city centre, running counter to the national and global mainstream. Keys to this success were the introduction of a regional intermodal transport ticket and close cooperation with other administrations and transport providers. Now there is an extensive integrated public transport network connecting the greater Freiburg region, providing a tram or bus stop within 400 metres of every residence.
The city is a signatory of the 1994 Aalborg Charter for sustainable development, inspired by the Rio Summit’s Local Agenda 21 plan and supported by more than 3,000 local governments. Freiburg reiterated its support in 2006 when it signed the Aalborg Commitments. Freiburg adapted the Commitments' original 10 policy areas into 12 overarching policies, each with five goals of equal importance, resulting in a set of 60 targets. These Sustainability Goals were adopted by the City Council in 2009 as the basis for all political action. The Council's action plan envisions participatory implementation of the goals and developing an impact-oriented indicator-based reporting system to measure local sustainable development.
An Office of Sustainability Management was set up at the beginning of 2011 as a coordination and guidance office reporting directly to the Mayor in order to strengthen Freiburg’s sustainability profile. Its tasks are: to institutionalize sustainability further as a cross-cutting issue in City policy; to create an integrated approach to sustainability management across the administration; and to manage partnerships with scientific research, non-governmental, and economic institutions within and outside the city.
The Office coordinates the Freiburg Sustainability Council, a 40-member panel of experts representing politics, science, economy, and civil society. Chaired by the Mayor, it advises the City Council and recommends ways to implement the sustainability goals. It also coordinates a sustainability working group within the city administration to disseminate information and maintain dialogue between the departments, the Sustainability Council and various project partners. The Mayor serves as one of 20 founding members of the mayors’ covenant for sustainable cities at the invitation of the German federal government’s Council for Sustainable Development.
In 2012, in recognition of its ongoing commitment, Freiburg became the first major city to be awarded the German Sustainability Award. In December 2014, it was the first German municipality to decide to introduce combined financial and sustainability reporting, effective from its 2015/16 budget. This allows the city to measure how well it is achieving its sustainability goals through a series of monetary and qualitative indicators. Such improved monitoring forms the basis for results-oriented policies in all city departments and provides transparency for decision-makers as to how finances are allocated in relation to sustainability activities.
So what are we doing, as a dynamic and growing city, to ensure that we continue to meet our high standards of sustainability, and to consider the future in the actions we take today?
The northern business park – home to 300 industrial, commercial and service companies, as well as science and research institutes, together employing around 15,000 staff – is being transformed into a resource-efficient Green Industry Park in a joint initiative by the city, private businesses, and local research organizations. The City Council has set an ambitious target to cut CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 from 1992 levels and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Building on a long tradition of energy-efficient house-building, Freiburg has adopted an energy efficiency standard (Effizenzhaus-Standard 55) for all new residential dwellings. This sets the maximum allowable primary energy demand and transmission heat loss at 55 per cent and 70 per cent, respectively, of the standard values established by Germany’s federal energy efficiency decree. Meanwhile, commercial buildings used primarily as offices are subject to Freiburg’s Effizenzhaus-Standard 70 which exceeds the federal standard by 30 per cent. Freiburg is also home to the word´s first energy efficiency retrofit 1960s high-rise, which was carried out by the city´s Freiburger Stadtbau.
The city's Transport Development Plan 2020 focuses on expanding tram and cycle path networks, on accessibility and integrating transport modes. Speed restrictions are in place throughout the city: 90 per cent of Freiburg residents live on roads with speed limits of 30 km/h or lower.
Finally, the city administration has taken a further step towards planning for a sustainable future - hand-in-hand with the citizens of Freiburg - with a participatory development masterplan, the Perspektivplan, which sets out an overarching vision of how Freiburg will be built over the next 15 years and will guide all future planning processes. It aims to balance the need for affordable housing with the desire to maintain Freiburg´s open spaces and rich biodiversity.
If we want a sustainable and viable society, it must first become a reality in cities and towns, as that is where sustainability lives and shapes the world. A forward-looking urban policy must consider the expectations of residents in order to transform them into political action, making ecological, economic and social sustainability a basis for urban quality of life.