Sustainable in all areas

May 2017 – Do cities such as Hamburg, León, Dar es Salaam and Marseille have something in common? Four cities located on three different continents shaped by different climates and diverse cultures? The answer was given by the third Urban Partnership Forum hosted by the Hamburger Abendblatt and Hamburg Commercial Bank and it is: "All four cities want and have to structure their growth in an acceptable manner" said Olaf Scholz, First Mayor of Hamburg, in his opening address. Because throughout the world more and more people are moving to cities looking for work, culture and quality of life. How this growth can be sustainably structured in terms of the environment but also culture was discussed by the twin cities at Hamburg Commercial Bank's offices

Twin cities have a long tradition

Stefan Ermisch on the Urban Partnership Forum

The origins of twinning go a long way back into the 8th century, but twin cities became increasingly important after the Second World War. Originating with the British occupying forces friendly relationships were established to facilitate good understanding among nations. Today, twinning is mainly used to exchange cultural and commercial knowledge. With success, as the Urban Partnership Forum also shows. Because the important question today as to what makes a city worth living in unifies all participating cities, from Hamburg via Marseille to León and Dar es Salaam. And: how can growth be sustainably structured in an environmentally acceptable manner? Today more than ever before, cities are experiencing the influx of people looking for work and culture as well as a liveable and affordable environment.

Urban growth also stimulates the economy

Cities must therefore be open to all income groups. The City of Hamburg has just initiated the largest residential building project in Germany and is creating around 1,600 new homes in the Mitte Altona quarter. Since "Hamburg's growth has also always stimulated the city's economy" as Olaf Scholz emphasises

Interview with Olaf Scholz, First Mayor of Hamburg

Why is twinning important?

Olaf Scholz: Twinning has had different meanings at various times. After the horror of the Second World War the idea was that former enemies should get to know each other personally with the hope that it would be less easy to be led into war against people one knows. The reconciliation over the trenches of the war was an important aspect particularly for St. Petersburg - formerly Leningrad - and Marseille. Even today, with tensions between Germany and Russia over the Crimea and Ukraine, it is important that, besides the existing differences, people recognise how much we have in common and that there are considerably more aspects that bind than separate them.

As twinning arrangements are established on a lasting basis, they provide time and again the impetus for experiencing the other culture and different perspective of the partners. It is precisely this diversity that repeatedly stimulates one to reconsider one's own position. Many problems that seem big to us here in Hamburg are put into perspective by those of León or Dar es Salaam. Although many residents of Hamburg travel today to distant countries, one is not a tourist on a partner exchange with twin cities but one comes into direct personal contact, which provides many more insights into life in the other city. This makes a substantial contribution to mutual understanding. This is particularly true for youth exchanges.

How can cities grow and, in so doing, take account of sustainability?

Olaf Scholz: In my experience, growth without sustainability is not even possible over the long term. They are not two isolated topics as sustainability is a prerequisite for growth. We must work in all fields - economic, ecological and social - to reduce, for example, the emission of greenhouse gases, air pollution but also the energy and resources in general used by each inhabitant, ensure equal opportunity, integration, inclusion and participation and strive for an economic structure that is successful over the long-term and provides future jobs. The 21st century will be the century of the cities. Cities grow because they are attractive for people. More jobs are created in cities, they are centres of culture and, precisely because of their high population density, are more sustainable in many areas due to the lower use of energy, space and resources per inhabitant. We must all work in making cities places of problem-solving laboratories, of creativity, innovation and future development. We are well on track in achieving this in Hamburg.

In September 2015, the United Nations set the new framework for this in the so-called "Agenda 2030" which comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. This provides us with a global compass for enabling all people to live in dignity without destroying our planet in the process. This applies to every nation in the world - industrialised nations as well. Cities are therefore assigned a key role worldwide for sustainable development. Hamburg is also aware of its responsibility for implementing the SDGs. We are currently preparing a framework and priorities for our commitment in an inter-agency working group.

What does sustainability mean in terms of building and transport?

Olaf Scholz: Together with energy efficient buildings and a large number of "smart" solutions we are on track to meet the target of only purchasing zero-emission buses from 2020 onwards and share information regarding this with our twin cities but also with other partners such as Copenhagen. Care is taken to ensure that houses are built in the most energy efficient way possible in the HafenCity and other building projects in Hamburg.

Sustainability in the area of building and transport has a key social component for us. It is about integrating social housing policy, sustainable transport systems and urban development, reduction in environmental pollution and the energy supply into public green spaces. We want to provide everyone with access to suitable, safe and affordable living space and a safe, affordable and sustainable transport system with well-developed public transport. And we want to promote walking and cycling in the city. These goals are by the way also part of the Agenda 2030. Here too, we see our city as the "engine for transformation".

To what extent is the awareness of people living in cities important for sustainability?

Olaf Scholz: As is the case with most issues a well-advised administration can and should not impose something against its own citizens. It is essential that each and every individual makes a contribution especially with regard to sustainability issues. Sustainable development requires the commitment of everyone, it goes beyond the possibilities of state responsibility. It is our task and goal to involve everyone. By the way, this requirement is the principle encapsulated in the words "leave no one behind" that runs throughout the entire Agenda 2030. We will also focus on reaching and involving everyone including disadvantaged people and population groups.

Sustainable awareness must be reflected in specific changes in behaviour, in small steps and trying out new ways, otherwise it is only an artificial façade. Many small adjustments, which only make a small contribution in each case to resource conservation and the reduction in greenhouse gases etc., are the most important source in total for overall success. Do you have to drive your private car or can you reach your objective just as well using a bicycle or public transport. Does the light have to be left on if we leave a room? This and other similar small changes in behaviour can make a significant difference when taken together.

We can reach the citizens if we as the city are credible ourselves and set a good example. We set a good and visible tone by our environmentally compatible and sustainable procurement policy, our own vehicle fleet, our commitment as a fair trade city. Through these we also stimulate Hamburg's economy.

Are there specific examples of how Hamburg learns from other cities?

Olaf Scholz: This is precisely the aim in many EU projects. For example, Copenhagen is further along in expanding the cycling infrastructure. On my visit to Singapore last year I saw unusual solutions for industrial companies located in multi-storey buildings, in which the higher storeys can be reached by truck. Certainly, not all solutions are suitable for all cities, but almost all of us face the same challenge of having to plan as well as possible with limited space. However, in many cases, we can also learn humility. When we see how much can be achieved for people and the environment in León or Dar es Salaam with what little resources they have, we realise for the first time the elevated level at which we complain about a lot of things.

Have other partner cities taken on board suggestions from Hamburg?

Olaf Scholz: León and Dar es Salaam have been able to make use of many experiences gained by Hamburg especially in the exchange of fire service personnel and in waste management. For example, a new fire station was built in León and a project for composting organic waste is being implemented in Dar es Salaam with Hamburg support. Hamburg Wasser has provided advice to the water utility company in Dar es Salaam on a more efficient organisation over a period of many years. In our long-standing partnership with St.Petersburg we regularly exchange information regarding "Education for Sustainability" among other things. As a multiple award-winning city of the decade.we were able to provide impetus at the school and university level there. The "Environmental Partnership Hamburg - Mexico", another project of the Ministry of Environment and Energy, is in the planning phase. Under this, excellent and practical measures for sustained urban development in Mexico Hamburg are implemented by partners from Mexico with the support of its mirror institutions in Hamburg.

What is the significance of culture for sustained development?

Olaf Scholz:Culture is not just high culture in music, painting, sculpture and similar disciplines but is also the way in which we live. Sustainability is playing an increasingly key role in this regard. Many regard culture as the fourth pillar of sustainability in addition to the three classical pillars (economic, environmental and social). We must reach out to the citizens, their preferences and daily behaviour. Culture, not only high culture but also our everyday culture, is vital for being able to "try out something new". These can be the rap song composed by vocational students about conserving resources, the poetry science slam competition at the Uebel & Gefährlich club or the altonale with sustainable ideas such as the bicycle wardrobe or the compost toilet.

And the citizens of Hamburg want to have their say. Democratic participation has a strong tradition here. This is perhaps implemented and addressed differently in other countries, but the right to have a say is also used in Hamburg's twin cities. Karla Luzette Beteta Brenes, Ambassador of Nicaragua, said in Berlin: "The citizens of León are very active." Even if the problems regarding environmental protection and sustainability are different. "Our objective is to eradicate poverty" according to Beteta, "the country is heavily dependent on agriculture". The coffee farmers had to move higher up the mountains to grow coffee due to the constantly increasing temperatures. Alone, the mountains are not so high. The alternatives may lie in growing cocoa, for which the farmers would have to be retrained. That twinning also deepens relationships between people is illustrated by the donate your pennies initiative of Hamburg Wasser. Around 26,400 employees of the City of Hamburg donate each month a cent of their salary so that sanitary connections can be laid in the twin city of León. An exchange, which has even led to personal relationships and marriages and is much more than a partnership between cities.

Protection of historic monuments: preserve the old and modernise sensibly

Dar es Salaam from above
Dar es Salaam (© Getty Images)

In Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, one is faced with great challenges regarding issues relating to the protection of historic monuments and environmentally compatible building, as architect Jens Rohwedder, lecturer at the university there, explains: "The buildings from the colonial times are ideally built for the tropical climate, they do not have air conditioning." And yet it can happen that houses are knocked down in a cloak and dagger operation.

The preservation of listed buildings while at the same time modernising in a culturally valuable manner has worked well in Marseille as Joachim Umlauf, Head of the Goethe Institute located there, reported. A former state-owned tobacco factory was converted in such a way that it now houses cultural centres and theatres. Events with several thousand people can be held on the roof with a view of the Mediterranean.

Sustainability also in regard to the quality of life in a city

A good example for sensible and sustainable development. Because that is what sustainability is all about, as Christoph Holstein, State Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Sport in Hamburg, says in the interview: "Sustainability is important for a growing city such as Hamburg where people come because they want to have a good life. It is therefore important to offer this opportunity without the quality of life being lost. This involves long-term thinking, as everything we do today also affects future generations." Among other things, this means for Hamburg: energy-efficient building and reduction in air pollution by only driving zero-emission buses through the Hanseatic city from 2020 onwards.

„This involves long-term thinking, as everything we do today also affects future generations.“

Christoph Holstein, State Secretary for Internal Affairs and Sport

A challenge that unites all cities. Stefan Ermisch, Chief Executive Officer of Hamburg Commercial Bank, found the words that explain how important a forum is that emphasises things in common and a partnership-based exchange: "Cross-border cooperation is more important than ever in times when nationalism is gaining breadth.

Urban partnership forum Hamburg Logo

Since 2015 the Hamburger Abendblatt and Hamburg Commercial Bank have invited three twin cities of Hamburg once a year to exchange information. Marseille, Dar es Salaam and León were guests this year. The objective of the series of discussions is an exchange of ideas and to strengthen Hamburg's relationships with its twin cities. The focus is on the exchange of experiences and mutual learning. The Hanseatic City of Hamburg has twinning arrangements with Chicago, Shanghai, Osaka, Prague, Dresden, St. Petersburg, Dar es Salaam, León and Marseille.