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For liveable cities - places for people

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Helmut Dedy, chief managing director of the Deutsche Städtetag, pleads for thinking of cities as places for people and for a change in transport policy.

Helmut Dedy, chief managing director of the Deutscher Städtetag © Laurence Chaperon

Helmut Dedy, chief managing director of the Deutscher Städtetag © Laurence Chaperon

How do you imagine the city of the future? What defines life? We will all find different answers to these questions. However, they all have one thing in common – cities are homes. They are home. They are places for people. And this is how we have to think of them. With this in mind, we need to prepare them for the future.

In order to design the cities of the future, we need a joy in experimentation and ideas. We need scope of action to design on location. We need change.

The fields of building and mobility, with a 60 % share of greenhouse gases, mean a need for quick and fundamental transformation. Cities can influence a part of the transformation. To this purpose we also need, besides adequate financing, interagency concepts and clever strategies.

Traffic policy requires scopes of action on location

Traffic jams, climate change, noise and environmental pollution make clear: we finally need a change in direction in traffic policy. Those who are on the go by bicycle or on foot, who use the bus and train, protect the climate. The new players on the market, scooter renters or pooling types of traffic and car sharing services, are making cities mobile. Local public transport provides the lion's share. In order to strengthen the bus and railway systems, we need modern vehicles, attractive connections, flexible price models and reliability. The backbone of sustainable mobility is an extensive, high-performance network of buses and trains.

Roads and squares may not become car parks and storage spaces. They are habitat and space for experience. The goal is the mix here. The central task following the pandemic will be to strengthen the public transport system. The confidence of residents in buses and trains needs to be restored. This also includes expanding the public transport system as the core of climate protection. The driving transformation and electromobility must be advanced. In addition to this, it must be possible for cities to invest in model projects for modern mobility. Digitalisation and networking in transport are important themes. Digital networking increases the attractiveness of public transport. This also includes climate-compatible and sustainable logistics. To this purpose, cities need more scope of action on location.

Part of this scope of action is the independent definition of a speed limit compatible for cities. Cities want to make traffic more efficient, more climate-friendly and safer. They want to improve the quality of stay for people. That means less noise and pollution and fewer accidents. It is quite clear that the municipalities can best decide what speeds are appropriate on which streets. Some cities want to try out a speed of 30 km/h as a more or less standard speed. In other cities a speed of 50 km/h should be maintained for radial highways and traffic arteries. However, to do so, cities need more latitude for making decisions on location.

We want climate-neutral cities

Many municipalities want to achieve the goal of climate neutrality before 2050. The cities are investing in renewable energies and energy-related building refurbishment. They are attempting to mitigate the consequences of climate change on location. They also need scope of action for this. A suitable legal framework and adequate financing are required. These are only possible in cooperation with federal and state government. And with changes in behaviour on all our part. Behaviour damaging to the environment must have a higher price. Cities are therefore supporting a rapid rise in the CO2 price to at least 50 € per tonne of carbon dioxide – of course designed to be socially fair. At the same time, revenues must be consistently invested in climate protection.

State and society will continue to advance climate protection. This will also mean an enormous challenge for cities. Proactive climate protection and the conversion to the climate-neutral city are going to cost a lot of money in the coming years. Federal and state levels of government need to pick up the pace in order to finance municipal challenges at a large scale.

Rethinking building

Municipalities are investing in the construction and operation of buildings, squares and infrastructures. This applies to schools and day nurseries, theatres, libraries, sport facilities, swimming pools, streets or public spaces in neighbourhood and city centres.

Municipalities are responsible for their design, maintenance and operation over the entire lifecycle. The municipalities are also aware that the building trade is responsible for a considerable share of CO2 emissions. How we build today will define life in our cities for a long time to come. A sustainable and sufficient building trade can make a decisive contribution to achieving climate goals. This will increasingly mean multiple usage, moderation and lifecycle balances. We need adapted promotional instruments and interdisciplinary cooperation. How can less quantity be enough quality? We need to find answers to this question. And this at all levels.

In order to achieve climate goals, a new understanding of the construction and operation of public buildings and infrastructurens is required. A changed strategy is needed for the decisions to be made between renewal of stock and new building – that of sufficiency in the building trade. This new sufficiency strategy will attach greater importance to the preservation and renewal of stock.

It must pay as much attention to this as to the expansion or new building of stock. Public buildings should always be planned and built to be multifunctional. The goal must be a maximisation of the usage hours in buildings. Public real estate properties can then also be operated and maintained by several actors simultaneously.

City of the future – city of people

Designing cities means not only changing mobility or constructing buildings. Cities are habitats for generations. We orient ourselves to the needs of the people that live in them. The future of the city is a city for people. This is what is special about the city. This is what defines the city.

Helmut Dedy

Helmut Dedy has been the chief managing director of the Deutscher Städtetag (German Association of Cities) and managing director of the associations of cities of North Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin and Cologne since 1 June 2016. The jurist was, among other things, the deputy chief managing director of the Deutscher Städte- und Gemeindebund (German Association of Cities and Municipalities), Berlin from 1998 to 2011 and simultaneously the department head for finance and municipal economy. From 2012 to 2016, Helmut Dedy was the permanent deputy of the chief managing director of the Deutscher Städtetag, as well as of the managing director of the associations of cities of North Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin and Cologne. Born in Duisburg, Dedy founded the "Abwasserberatung NRW e.V." (Waste water advisory council) in Düsseldorf.