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Key Issues

The European City

The starting point for the National Urban Development Policy is the notion of the European City as a spatial, social and value model. On the one hand, this European City is a success model: as the focal point of economic development, as an ecologically meaningful form of settlement and as a functioning driver of social and ethnic integration. On the other hand, people everywhere in Europe are today looking for a new balance: a balance between economic growth and sustainable development, between an expansion of building activities and preservation of the historical heritage, between a rapid development of spatial mobility and a reassessment of the concept of neighbourhood – to name but a few important aspects. The task that has to be addressed everywhere in Europe is to create and develop strategies and new instruments that will safeguard the economic prosperity of cities without compromising their urban qualities. Environmental challenges are coming to a head everywhere, and nowhere more so than in cities: climate change, emissions from transport, a shortage of open spaces, decreasing biodiversity, etc. Alongside this development – and in some cases in combination with it – social and cultural differences are widening: the gap between the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the indigenous population and ethnic minorities is widening between cities and neighbourhoods– and in some cases is even jeopardizing the integrative power of urban areas.

Many questions arising in this context now have to be viewed from a European perspective. Because the framework for urban development is increasingly being influenced by European institutions and regulations. Urban policy is becoming European urban policy. At the same time, however, these questions also have to be seen from a national point of view. Because if such a position is not adopted, German cities will not be able to assert their specific needs and interests on a European scale. The National Urban Development Policy will therefore continue and intensify the European dialogue launched by the Leipzig Charter and the Territorial Agenda of the EU – and it will do so with projects and initiatives that are as concrete as possible.

The National Urban Development Policy provides an opportunity for all stakeholders from government, the public authorities, the planning professions, industry and the scientific community to have their say on topics such as cities, living together in cities, urban qualities and good governance. On the one hand, it wants to bring together ‘organized voices’. On the other hand, however, it also wants to listen to everyone who is committed to the city and local community. This policy therefore also addresses civil society groups, trade unions, churches, social associations and the media. Everyone who is interested in the future of the cities and the regions is invited. The National Urban Development Policy is a joint project.

A city is a process of constant learning and adaptation. And this will also determine the activities of the National Urban Development Policy. The policy will kick-start projects, organize conferences, initiate workshops and look for examples which flesh out the idea of a European city. The goal is always the same: it is an equitable, cooperative, sustainable and attractive city.

Fields of action

The National Urban Development Policy will focus on six areas of action in which all those responsible from government, the public authorities, the planning professions, industry, the scientific community and civil society – in other words all stakeholders – can actively participate:

1. Getting citizens involved in their city – civil society

Neither government nor industry can master the current processes of social and urban change by themselves. A crucial prerequisite for a just, socially inclusive urban society is that the citizens get involved in their cities. Without civic engagement and private sector initiatives, public sector urban development projects and schemes often peter out. Social and urban development policies set a framework that has to be fleshed out by private sector stakeholders. The focus is on neighbourhoods, informal groups and the broad range of civil society organizations. People who assume responsibility in their local community not only establish socially sustainable ties with their city, but also give a positive meaning to the concept of citizenship. This commitment must be accompanied by a culture of recognition that attaches to social and cultural involvement the importance they deserve.

By strengthening civil society, responsibility is placed in the hands of those who are best placed to assume it – with the aim of implementing ideas and commitment on the ground.

The National Urban Development Policy will encourage civic engagement for cities and urban life. It will support programmes and projects that demonstrate that engagement for and involvement in cities is modern and forward-looking. It is about initiatives in cities and regions that are essentially supported and implemented by civic society.

2. Creating opportunities and preserving cohesion – the social city

A city is constituted by the social cohesion of its citizens. It is an opportunity and a challenge for social inclusion. For centuries, our cities have stood for the vision of equal opportunities, participation and inclusion – in short, for integration.

It is imperative that we evolve this strength of European cities in keeping with the times. Developing social justice as a mainstay of our society is of greater relevance today than at most times in the past. Special attention has to be paid to the socially deprived. Because the legitimation of government action is largely dependent on whether balanced social structures can be guaranteed and the extent to which a balance can be struck between freedom and justice. The aim is to limit spatial segregation in cities.

An efficient social infrastructure is an indispensable precondition for achieving this goal. This mainly concerns the education system. Without a good education system that is accessible to everyone there can be no social justice. The social capital of an urban society is generated in schools. Appropriately equipped neighbourhood schools, properly integrated into their environment, play a key role in ensuring that young people acquire the skills they need. They are crucial to the social integration of migrants, young people and those living in socially deprived areas. Here, too, social participation grows primarily in neighbourhoods.

The National Urban Development Policy will contribute to the substantive and conceptual evolution of the Social City programme, and in doing so will apply the integrated approach of cross-departmental cooperation to other fields of action. Projects and initiatives will focus on the city as a whole and all sections of the population. The projects are designed to demonstrate that social inclusion in neighbourhoods is possible and necessary, that polarization and prejudices must and can be eliminated and that the socially deprived segment of the population must and can be placed in a position where they can take charge of their own affairs.

3. The innovative city – a driver of economic development

Cities are drivers of economic development. They are local, regional and transnational marketplaces, transport hubs, centres of in-migration and integration, of heterogeneity, of knowledge and of innovation. The transformation of society and industry towards an information and service economy is far advanced, especially in towns, cities and conurbations. And economic, social and ecological changes will continue to be felt first in urban centres.

For this reason, our towns and cities are to be strengthened in their role of places where people live and work. Within the urban economy, there is to be a link-up between creative and innovative research and production and marketing. The National Urban Development Policy would like to play its part in ensuring that cities and city-regions, as incubators of economic development, reflect this idea and develop bespoke solutions to present and future economic challenges. In addition to the promotion of talents, tolerance and technologies, a communicative environment is to be created and fostered in towns and cities that provides vigorous support to innovations and creative milieus not only in their success phase but also while they are still at the drawing-board stage. This also involves creating room for experiments.

4. Building the city of tomorrow – combating climate change and assuming global responsibility

The requirements for sustainable urban development strategies are especially pronounced in cities. Since most primary energy is consumed in cities and their suburban areas, measures to tackle climate change have to start here. Global responsibility for combating climate change has to be assumed at all spatial levels.

For a long time, the adverse impacts on the environment, quality of life and people’s health in towns and cities were not given enough consideration. However, urban and compact settlement patterns, which are characteristic of European cities, provide excellent conditions for energy conservation and the use of renewable sources of energy, unlike areas characterized by suburbanization or urban sprawl. Because by minimizing transport distances, urban structures make a major contribution to increasing energy and resource efficiency.

Safeguarding natural resources is not just a survival strategy, but also indispensable for the future prospects of cities. Living a healthy, relaxed life and having access to open spaces, while at the same time being at the centre of public life, is one of the key qualities that cities have to offer. At the same time, these factors constitute the core of urban attractiveness. Only cities that offer a high-quality environment can successfully compete with suburban locations.

The current discussion focuses on combating climate change. The necessary measures and projects in the field of “climate friendly urban restructuring” will significantly change the image of cities and the way people live in them. However, discussing healthy cities also includes addressing topics such as local public transport, high-quality open spaces, sports and exercise.

The National Urban Development Policy also reflects the ongoing discussion on energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. The objective is to provide support to best practice projects for a clean, sustainable and healthy city. Here, too, the National Urban Development Policy aims to cooperate with citizens, business and other civil society organizations.

5. Improving urban design – Baukultur

Urban identity is created primarily in those places where the physical environment is based on people and their needs. Only someone who likes living in their home and their neighbourhood will have an eye for the concerns, interests and problems of other city dwellers. A positive attitude towards issues such as origin, self-assurance and social equity can best evolve in a good, diverse and well-kept environment with significant and high-quality structures and open spaces.

Public spaces provide social processes with a qualitative expression and a location, they are places of self-understanding, exchange and urban self-ascertainment in a committed urban public. Attractive streets and squares are an invitation to communicate and engage in social encounters. They stabilize inner city areas and combine them with symbolic values. Conservation activities that are based on historical architectural values without closing their eyes to contemporary demands and structural solutions take their culturally stabilizing function seriously. At the same time, they forge a bridge between the city’s past, present and future.

The National Urban Development Policy will make good building plus the strategy and fields of action of Baukultur the centrepiece of projects and schemes. It is not just about single architectural highlights. More Baukultur means, above all, making a seamless design and procedural quality an integral component of all National Urban Development Policy projects and programmes. Because Baukultur also means the culture of planning, and both are part of the approach adopted by the National Urban Development Policy.

6. The future of the city is the region – regionalization

The aim of good urban development policy is to make political action beneficial to the whole of society. The core principles are transparency, efficiency, social responsibility, private sector involvement and the participation of civil society.

Cities cannot perform their function as drivers of growth and innovation unless they see themselves as part of a region. Our cities’ and regions’ dynamic pace of change can only be supported successfully if public sector, private sector and civil society stakeholders work with each other. But better cooperation at regional level is also essential. More and more of today’s problems – be it climate change, transport, settlement patterns or the development of centres – can only be properly solved at the regional level.

Regional cooperation will not gather its own momentum. It has to assert itself against certain routines that exist and are in some cases successful. It will grow best if it has issues and strategies that have regional added value. The aim of the National Urban Development Policy is to create projects and schemes that establish regional partnerships in urban development and encourage people to explore new forms of cooperation that are of practical relevance, thereby identifying the factors that will lead to successful and sustainable regionalization.

Europe needs strong cities.

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