Green Cities Fit for Life

Image by Ursula Bach

Jörn Hamacher, Community Gardener and ‘Transition Town’ Member, Essen

Jörn Hamacher_TT_171007At the start of 2017, Essen had ten community gardens and in just a few months this has increased to fifteen! Three more are currently in development with a total of twenty expected by the end of Essen’s European Green Capital year. This has been thanks, in part, to Jörn Hamacher. A Geographer by trade, Jörn has been volunteering for a number of years with ‘Transition Town’ across Germany; an initiative that is close to his heart. Jörn started getting involved in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2013, when he undertook the ‘Transition Town’ training in Nuremburg, and later helped launch the initiative in the German city of Erlangen, that he became a fully-fledged member. It is no wonder that Jörn immediately joined the local Transition Town group in Essen when he moved in 2014.

This year, Jörn brought all his knowledge, expertise and genuine passion for sustainable development and community gardens to the City of Essen’s European Green Capital Project Team. He has been helping to promote ‘Transition Town’ and community gardens in Essen and abroad. Jörn tells us about how he sees his role and why it matters, “I believe that, regardless of which city I were to live in, whether a European Green Capital City or any other city, I would feel a responsibility for that city and would try and ensure that I can live in a healthier and more sustainable environment. Due to this, I’ve gotten involved in a few projects since moving to Essen, such as the Transition Town and community gardens.”

He talks us through these initiatives in more detail, why they have had such an impact on him and how they can make a difference, “I’ve been involved in Transition Town for several years now. Transition Town is a global movement, which promotes a post-carbon lifestyle, including sustainability initiatives in cities, to help enable a transition to a sustainable future. Transition activities can be things like urban gardening, using repair cafés or sharing cargo bikes in Essen, and they bring people together who are committed in head, heart and hand. In other words, Transition Town contributes to a person’s inner change in order to make an outer, or societal change. This fundamental view in how we view change in relation to individuals, societies and our environment is what drives Transition Town and is what got me hooked.”

2016-Haumannplatz-Henning-DSC_4485One of the many ways by which he contributes to Transition Town is with his community gardening. Jörn explains how Essen’s community gardens are helping bring people together to contribute to the city’s sustainability: “I am an urban gardener myself and what I really like about them is that you can see with your own eyes what you’re giving back. It helps you get in touch with nature and other people, allowing you to actively contribute to urban development. Even if only on a small level, you learn in very practical terms that you – anyone – can do something and contribute to changing and shaping your surrounding environment. You and your actions, your relationships, your community and your ideas, all matter.” 

It is no surprise then that when we asked Jörn why it’s important for him to contribute sustainably to his city, his response was simple: “Because I matter.”

When we discuss Essen’s experience of being a European Green Capital, Jörn explains that Essen has undergone a great transformation due to its strong vision for the future: “I think the view most people had about Essen has now changed. Essen and the Ruhr Region symbolised the carbon era. It was seen as perhaps a forgotten city as the times of coal mining and steelmaking have long since passed. However, Essen had a vision for the future. Now, anyone can see that there is more to Essen than its industrial past. Of course, Essen still has a social, economic and environmental legacy of coal and steel, but now there is a window of opportunity that keeps widening; giving Essen a new path to achieving a post-carbon and more sustainable future.”

Jörn has made Essen his home over the last three years and has enjoyed seeing the large strides it has made. He tells us why people should visit the city that he now calls home, “I think people should visit Essen to see what it’s like as a city, but also to see where it came from, where it is now and where it plans to go in the future. I believe that Essen and its development can act as a blueprint for other industrial regions in Europe – and we are also interested to learn from other European cities so that we can share best practices on urban transformations and learn from each other, and hopefully help cities across Europe.”

2016-Bonnekamphoehe-Henning-DSC_5384Jörn is a clear example of one of the many ways that we as individuals can contribute sustainably to our cities. However, we know that sometimes it isn’t always easy and we need more guidance. We asked him how citizens can play their part and what they can do if they would like to get involved: “I think all citizens should participate in urban development and these don’t have to be massive undertakings, they can be contributing to a local community garden or allotment, promoting and riding bicycles or using more public transport. If you really want to help and don’t know what to do, then please call me or meet me – I can give you advice or helpful contacts and information. There is still plenty we can do in Essen as we continue on this path towards a more sustainable future!”

If you want to find out more about how to get involved in Transition Town in Essen or how to get in touch with Jörn, check out the project’s link here.