Greens in Big Cities Meeting 2007

From 26th-28th October 2007, the 4th “Greens in Big Cities Meeting” took place in Vienna.

The “Big Cities” networking process started in Barcelona back in 2001. Green councillors from some European capitals met each other to discuss problems that most European capitals and big cities have in common.

The 2nd meeting took place in Berlin from 28th – 30th January 2005. The main topics were mobility, feeling well in the city, integration and Local Agenda 21. The 22 participants came from Germany (Berlin and Munich), Poland (Warsaw and Gdansk), Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Istanbul, Stockholm and Vienna.

The 3rd meeting focused on the topics drug and prostitution policies and took place in Amsterdam from 15th – 17th September 2006. The 18 participants came from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Istanbul, London, Torino, Vienna and Zagreb. At this meeting, the Viennese Greens were asked whether they could host the 4th meeting. This turned out to be possible, last but not least thanks to the financial support by the two Green city government members Monika Vana and David Ellensohn and by the affiliated organization “Green Business” (“Grüne Wirtschaft”).

Taking into account the topics that had not been dealt with so far, the Viennese Greens decided to focus on urban planning and budgeting policies. By means of socializing (reception in the office of the Green district mayor of Josefstadt, the 8th Viennese urban district, on Friday evening; get-together at a “Heuriger” – a popular wine tavern – in a Viennese outskirt on Saturday evening) and of excursions (feminist walk through the inner city of Vienna on Saturday afternoon, bus tour through urban development areas in the districts north of river Danube on Sunday), plenty of time for bi-lateral exchange of opinions and networking and also for getting a better impression of Vienna had been provided.

Among the (approximately 50) participants there were Green councillors and activists from 14 countries. The cities represented were Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Bratislava, Brno, Budapest, Helsinki, Istanbul, Kiev, Novi Sad, Prague, Rotterdam, Sarajevo, Stockholm and Vienna. Green councillors from London, Zagreb and Switzerland were absent with excuse because the date of the meeting was inconvenient for them.

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Friday, 26th October

The opening session started on Friday in the Town Hall (Rathaus) of Vienna. Sabine Gretner, city councillor of Die Grünen in Vienna, showed a powerpoint presentation on urban planning aspects in Vienna. Vienna has approx. 1.6 million inhabitants and 23 urban districts. The city is led by SPÖ (Social Democrats) with an absolute majority, the Greens got 14.63% of the vote in the municipal elections of 2005 which gave them 14 out of 100 seats in the city parliament and two members of the city government without portfolio. In two districts, the 7th (Neubau) and 8th (Josefstadt), the Greens became strongest party, thus gaining the positions of district mayor. The main problems in Vienna are urban sprawl, the growing number of shopping malls, the focus on car traffic, the dependence of the city government on the interests of private investors, the top-down approach in planning measures and the lack of measures against social segregation.

Sabine also presented green ideas and concepts and mentioned some projects that were realized thanks to Green pressure: The “car-free housing estate” (“Autofreie Siedlung”) and the “Passivhaus” bloc (low-energy house without traditional heating) in the 21st district, the so-called “bicycle highway” along river Wien (a feasibility study is being made by the city of Vienna).

The second presentation was made by Lluis Fajari, expert on planning in the IC-V group staff of Barcelona and assistant for the city councillor Ricard Gomà. IC-V (Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds), a member party of the European Greens, received 9.74% of the vote in the municipal election of May 2007 which gave them 4 out of 41 seats. IC-V is part of a left-wing city government.

The city of Barcelona has approx. 1.6 million inhabitants, the metropolitan area nearly 5 million. After the Franco dictatorship, the city underwent three phases of development: smaller interventions from 1980-1987, large investments for the Olympic Games between 187 and 1992, and steps to become the central area in the Metropolitan Region since 1993. For the Olympics of 1992, even a new beach had been created. Some years ago, the “Forum 2004” district has been built in the North of Barcelona, using a former industrial site with a caloric power station, an incinerator and a sewage plant. The former marginalized area became central – Hotels, a conference centre, a park and a large photovoltaic structure (10,700 m²) were built there.

The third powerpoint presentation was shown by Sanna Hellström, city councillor in Helsinki (Finland). The Greens got 19.86% in 2004 and 17 out of 85 seats in the city council. Helsinki has 560,000 inhabitants. Sanna mentioned new development areas like Kruunuvuorenranta or Kuminkaantammi. Some projects are located on the sites of former factories or harbours. In Keski-Pasila, 3 km from the centre, high-rise buildings are planned.

Two further short inputs to the topic by Zuzana Drhová from Prague (1.2 million inhabitants, 57 districts, 7.80% of the vote for Greens in 2006, 6 out of 70 seats and one member of city government) where working on a new land use plan has been started, and by Snežana Krgović from Novi Sad (capital of region Vojvodina in Serbia, approx. 355,000 inhabitants, 46 districts) were added on Sunday morning.

After the presentations, Basma Abu-Naim (expert for planning in the Green Group of Vienna) and Sabine Gretner presented a draft for a resolution on Green urban planning concepts. There was detailed discussion paragraph by paragraph, and also written remarks that had been emailed by Jenny Jones (city councillor in the Greater London Assembly) and Petr Štěpánek, Green member of the Prague city government, could be taken into consideration. The resolution finally was adopted by all participants present on Friday and on the following day also by the delegation from Bratislava that arrived on Saturday.

In the evening, Heribert Rahdjian and Doris Müller, mayor and deputy mayoress of the 8th Viennese district Josefstadt, and the group of the local Greens provided dinner in the office of the district administration of Josefstadt. There the Greens got 32.26% of the vote in 2005 and became strongest party – for the first time since 1945 the conservative ÖVP lost the position of district mayor. Josefstadt is one of the smallest Viennese districts (approx. 23,000 inhabitants and 1 km²), but many students live there and create an “alternative” atmosphere.

Saturday, 27th October

In the session on Saturday morning, the issues budgeting, public debt and finance policies were on the agenda.

Oliver Schruoffeneger, city councillor in Berlin, who came to Vienna just for this keynote presentation, informed the Berlin example. The German capital Berlin has approx. 3.4 million inhabitants, the Greens scored 13.14% of the vote in the elections to the Abgeordnetenhaus (State Parliament) in September 2006 and got 23 out of 149 seats. They are in opposition to a “red-red” coalition of SPD (Social Democrats) and Left Party-PDS. On the level of the district councils, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is a stronghold of Die Grünen (33.04% and largest party).

Oliver pointed out that Berlin faces a heavy debt crisis – 60 billion € debt, while the annual budget is approx. 20 billion €. There are several reasons for this situation: special subsidies that had been given to the enclave West Berlin by the West German government and to the GDR capital East-Berlin by the GDR government before 1989 were stopped, but the needs of the population grew. The amount for staff and social security covers about one third of the budget, and Berlin does not have enough industry to generate a stable tax income via business tax. The chances of the EU enlargement of 2004 have not been seized like in Vienna, although Berlin is only 150 km away from the Polish border.

The Greens advocate a balanced budget but, however, there are debates on the priorities: shall we spend more money for research or for social benefits? more for cultural youth groups or for a new opera house? more for local sports grounds or for athletics championships? should investments be rather made in the neighbourhood or for prestige projects of the capital city?

Luckily, in the opposition it is easier to make politics. PDS lost 40% of their voters in West Berlin in 2006, but also the Green middle class voters – according to Oliver – would not accept further cutbacks. The Greens will have to decide whether they pay attention to sustainability and future-oriented politics or if they advocate subsidies for traditional institutions and structures that block innovation. The question of the future is if and how the above mentioned contradictions will be solved.

Stefan Ceipek, expert on budget and economy in the Green Group of Vienna, presented the situation in Vienna: the politics of the Social Democrats led from “Red Vienna” (1919-1934) to the adjustment to a neo-liberal political mainstream (today).

The annual city budget amounts to approximately 10 billion € – the debts are only 1.6 million € which gives Vienna an “AAA” rating (like Oslo and Paris). The Greens particularly criticize high spending in the financing of parking garages, while expenditure for education or for social politics is stagnating. They also struggle against the outsourcing and formal privatisation of public services and demand more transparency and participation (vision of a “participatory budget” like in Porto Alegre/Brazil – a similar attempt in Vienna’s 9th district unfortunately has been stopped by SPÖ for political reasons). Political control and influence is severely reduced by the SPÖ city government.

In the discussion Waltraut Antonov, Green city councillor in Vienna and chairwoman of the committee of control, mentioned that public control is not possible anymore in outsourced enterprises and that SPÖ majority may even recall the director of the City Department for Control with simple majority. She asks for some exchange of experiences on how the issue is dealt with in other cities.

The discussion also focused on the examples of “participatory budgets” in Porto Alegre (Oliver stated that this example can not be transferred to Europe because the Brazilian Workers Party PT was able to replace 30% of the city administration’s staff there) and in Berlin-Lichtenberg (“Bürgerhaushalt”). Lichtenberg did not work well because only 10% of the annual budget of the district are disposable at all – in fact, only 28,000 € have been used in other ways than originally proposed caused some disappointment and led to the absence of about half of the citizens who were originally involved in the project.

Finally, Veronika Litschel, project manager of the Viennese Greens, presented the event “Day of the Unemployed” that is organized by Die Grünen in Vienna annually on 30th April – one day before Labour Day – since 1997. Together with green-alternative and independent Trade Union groups and other NGO’s, the public debate on the challenge of unemployment and the reasons for it is stimulated by means of street actions, discussions and protest manifestations. This event after all became some kind of tradition and is regularly mentioned in the Austrian media on 1st May. Veronika proposed to “celebrate” the “Day of the Unemployed” 2008 simultaneously in several European capitals where Greens are represented in the city councils and thus achieve much more media attention – for instance by sending public video messages during the events to each other.

After the closing of the Sunday session, Petra Unger, a feminist tourist guide, took the participants for a walk through Vienna’s 1st district Innere Stadt where she explained the manifold traces that have been left there by women (women in Parliament, women on the Imperial Court, women artists, scientists, writers etc., but also women from the working class) whose role is usually overseen by the male-dominated historiography.

The evening was spent at Heuriger Fuchs (Jedlersdorfer Platz 29), a traditional wine tavern in Großjedlersdorf, a former village north of Danube River that became part of Vienna’s 21st urban district Floridsdorf in 1904/05. David Ellensohn, one of the two Greens city government members without portfolio, opened a buffet that he had sponsored by delivering a humorous speech.

Sunday, 28th October

For those participants who still stayed in Vienna on (rainy) Sunday, a bus tour was organized by Sabine Gretner and Basma Abu-Naim to development areas in the so-called “Transdanubian” part of Vienna – the districts 21 (Floridsdorf) and 22 (Donaustadt) north of the Danube, with altogether nearly 150 km² and 300,000 inhabitants.

Reinhard Seiß, planning expert and author of the new (issued 2007) critical book “Wer baut Wien? Hintergründe und Motive der Stadtentwicklung Wiens seit 1989” (“Who builds Vienna? Reasons and motives of Vienna’s urban development since 1989”), showed two bad examples of housing estates in the 22nd district – “Donau-City”, built from the mid-1990ies on near the Viennese UNO headquarters, and “Projekt Wagramer Straße”, a group of high-rise buildings north of this area, near the recreational area “Alte Donau”. Less green spaces and ample use of concrete, view of the Danube are just for very few residents, strong fall winds, missing play-grounds for children, missing local supply, ugly surface design (ventilation uptakes of garages as main elements) etc. caused discontent by people who moved there and bought or rented flats. The two examples show the tendency of Vienna’s Social Democratic city administration to do without qualitative planning in order to meet the needs (i.e. profit-making) of private investors (that sometimes have close relationships to the big political parties SPÖ and ÖVP).

But after that experience the bus went to two “best practice” examples that were put into practice because of lobbying by the Greens – the so-called “Autofreie Siedlung” (car-free housing project), Nordmanngasse 25-27, and the Passivhaus-Siedlung (low-energy house without traditional heating system), Rudolf-Virchow-Straße 12, both in the 21st district. Green district councillors who live there showed us round.

The car-free project was finished in the beginning of 2000 and is a housing estate with nearly 250 flats but only 20 parking spaces in the garage for “car-sharing”. The residents oblige themselves not to possess a car. The money that had been saved by not building a parking space for every flat had been invested in common facilities like vegetable patches on the rooftop, a bicycle repair shop, a sauna, a playing room for children and so on. An active community life soon developed and working groups made up by residents take care for all kinds of services for instance ordering the supply with organic food.

The “Passivhaus-Siedlung” with 87 flats was opened in 2007. The low-energy system (excellent heat insulation, permanent circulation of air using its heat exchange, etc.) creates conditions that enable a room temperature of about 21 degrees even in winter without heating, and clean air. The Greens demand that this (climate-protecting) standard should be obligatory for all new buildings.

Next steps

After the excursion, the participants talked about next steps and agreed that the 5th “Greens in Big Cities” meeting should take place in Istanbul from 5th-8th March 2009. The main topic shall be “health”. The debates should focus on health care and services, but also on causes of diseases like pollution of air (traffic, industry) and drinking water or noise.

 

ADDITION:

Further “Greens in Big Cities” Meetings – after Istanbul 2009 – took place in Budapest/Hungary  (17th-19th September 2010, topic: Green anti-corruption strategies)  and in Thessaloniki/Greece  (28th-30th June 2012, topic: multicultural heritage and politics of inclusion).

 

PARTICIPANTS IN THE 2007 MEETING,  VIENNA

Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Tys DE RUIJTER, member of district executive of Geuzenveld-Slotermeer, Amsterdam

Rosalie SMIT, board member of Groen Links Amsterdam

Barcelona (Catalonia/Spain)

Lluis FAJARI, assistant of the Green Group of IC-V/Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds

Berlin (Germany)

Oliver SCHRUOFFENEGER, city councillor of Die Grünen Berlin

Bratislava (Slovakia)

Ivan HIRLÄNDER, Green district councillor in the 4th district of Bratislava

Dušan HRUŠKA, Green city councillor in Bratislava and district councillor in the 2nd district of Bratislava, Ružinov

Miroslav KRÁL, Green member of the city government in Pezinok (Bratislava region)

Norbert LOJKO, Green district councillor in the 4th district of Bratislava

Andrej VILIM, Greens of Pezinok (Bratislava region), member of the Economy and Finance Committee

Brno (Czech Republic)

Martin ANDER, member of Brno city government (alderman for environment)

Budapest (Hungary)

Renáta TÓTH, representative of  Young Green Democrats

Helsinki (Finland)

Sanna HELLSTRÖM, city councillor of Greens (Vihreät) in Helsinki

Istanbul (Turkey)

Ender EREN, Greens (Yeşiller) of Istanbul

Neriman Gül EREN, Greens (Yeşiller) of Istanbul, independent candidate in Bursa constituency at the 2007 Parliamentary elections

Kiev (Ukraine)

Serghiy KURYKIN, member of Ukrainian Green Party (Zelena Partiya), ex-minister for Environment

Novi Sad (Serbia)

Snežana KRGOVIĆ, Zeleni (Greens)

France

Christophe ROSSIGNOL, regional councillor of Les Verts (Région Centre); living in Vienna

Prague (Czech Republic)

Zuzana DRHOVÁ, city councillor of Strana Zelených in Prague and member of the Committee for Urban Planning

Rotterdam (Netherlands)

Arno BONTE, city councillor of Groen Links in Rotterdam

Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Šekib SOKOLOVIĆ, Green activist in Sarajevo

Stockholm (Sweden)

Cecilia OBERMÜLLER, city councillor of Miljöpartiet de Gröna in Stockholm

Vienna (Austria)

Basma ABU-NAIM, assistant for urban planning in the Green Group of Vienna

Waltraut ANTONOV, city councillor in Vienna

Karin BINDER, member of the secretariat in the Green Group of Vienna

Heidi CAMMERLANDER, city councillor in Vienna

Christoph CHORHERR, city councillor in Vienna

Stefan CEIPEK, assistant for economics and budget in the Green Group of Vienna

David ELLENSOHN, member of the city government of Vienna (without portfolio)

Georgina EL-NAGASHI, district councillor Vienna-4th

Petra GALKOVÁ, executive board member of  the Viennese Greens

Ute GREIMEL-ROM, district councillor Vienna-18th

Sabine GRETNER, city councillor in Vienna

Helmut HAWEL, district councillor Vienna-4th

Manfred ITZINGER, district councillor Vienna-4th

Gerhard JORDAN, district councillor Vienna-13th, Steering Group member of the Green East-West Dialogue Network

Martin KÖCK, district councillor Vienna-2nd

Veronika LITSCHEL, social policy expert, project manager of the Viennese Greens

Doris MÜLLER, deputy district mayoress of Vienna-8th

Martin PLATTNER, volunteer in the Green Group of Vienna

Heribert RAHDJIAN, district mayor of Vienna-8th

Marie RINGLER, city councillor in Vienna

Jutta SANDER, secretary general of mayor’s office Vienna-8th, district councillor Vienna-16th

+ several activists of the Green district group in Vienna-8th.

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