Environment

Welcome to Essen, European Green Capital 2017

19/01/2017

In 2017, Essen takes centre stage in the promotion of environmentally friendly urban living in Europe. The European Green Capital Award honours its remarkable success in dealing with the environmental legacy of an economy once dominated by coal and steel, and its transition to a green city 'fit for life'.

“Essen is a city that has embraced transformation from a heavy industrial past to become a cleaner greener city,” noted the jury for the 2017 European Green Capital Award. The jury emphasised the city’s impressive environmental performance across 12 indicators covering aspects as varied as energy performance, biodiversity, green urban areas, waste production and management, and adaptation or mitigation measures linked to climate change.  

Located at the heart of the Ruhr area in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, Essen was a mining city, an industrial powerhouse. Today, the services and finance sector employs around 80 % of the workforce, and around 140 000 commuters come to the city each day. Investment in the city’s green transition is helping to create more new, green jobs. Essen has set itself the objective of creating 20 000 jobs in the environmental sector by 2035.

Cities for citizens

Essen’s vision is that of a prosperous, economically sustainable city which is resilient to climate change and provides a healthy environment. Green and open spaces – created in part through brownfield regeneration – make up more than half the city’s territory.

Water plays a key role in Essen’s and the Ruhr area’s sustainable development path. In its well-designed, innovative water-management system, green areas help to absorb rain, prevent flooding and recharge groundwater supplies. Plans to limit the volume of rainwater entering the combined sewer system rank prominently in the upgrades envisaged.

Today, Essen is the greenest city in North Rhine-Westphalia, because many citizens have made an effort to foster and cultivate green areas in our city.
Thomas Kufen, Mayor of Essen

Another example is the conversion of the River Emscher that crosses the northern part of the city’s territory. It was long used as an open waste-water canal and considered biologically dead. The river has been brought back to life due to major investment in its infrastructure, involving the construction of hundreds of kilometres of closed, underground sewers. Work to reclaim its banks for nature and the community is also under way. Water quality has now improved dramatically and fish have returned to the river.

During its year as European Green Capital 2017, Essen plans to initiate a raft of initiatives to improve the city’s quality of life and put sustainability at the heart of its development programmes.

The city’s programme for 2017 is also seen as a celebration, marking the progress achieved in its green transition, along with the launch of new projects to add to the momentum. Many of these projects were suggested by the residents in response to two calls for proposals. They are grouped into five thematic areas: transport, consumption, green spaces, training and employment, and life between the city’s rivers.

Winning ways to a green decade

The Award is first and foremost an accolade for the citizens of Essen, said Mayor Thomas Kufen as he presented Essen’s Green Capital programme.  

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Mr Kufen, what does the award mean to the city of Essen?

With this title, we can show that there have been sustainable projects in our city for years. But we don’t want to rest on these laurels. We would like to continue with the citizens of Essen, sponsors, ambassadors and other players in our society towards a viable city. In 2017, the ‘green decade’ begins for the city. In 2018, the last coal mine will be shut down in our region. In 2020, the reconstruction and restoration of the Emscher will be completed, and in 2027 we will apply for the International Horticultural Exhibition.

How have the residents been involved in the city's transformation?

Today, Essen is the greenest city in North Rhine-Westphalia, because many citizens have made an effort to foster and cultivate green areas in our city and have been very involved over the past decades. That is why it was particularly important to involve them in this special year. Nearly 200 citizens' projects are being financed which comply with certain criteria. In addition, there is cooperation among different interest groups in the city: voluntary activities, small gardeners, community gardeners, landscape gardeners, the farmers' association and many more.

Which aspects of your city's approach are particularly innovative?

Essen has successfully mastered structural change to become the third-greenest city in Germany. In the early 20th century, urban planners were already promoting the city’s green development. Together with many stakeholders, urban development measures are being promoted and implemented that have a positive impact on Essen as a liveable city. The award also means that environmental objectives are linked and must be reached, which is our aim.

How is Essen convincing other cities to promote eco-friendly urban living?

Part of the programme will include lectures and expert congresses on a national and international basis. We are working closely with the EU, the federal and state governments and local organisations and associations to promote sustainability across the region, Germany and Europe. In this way, we hope to start conversations and stimulate green innovation and ideas as well as eco-friendly urban living.

Fostering change

The European Green Capital Award is presented to a city at the forefront of environmentally friendly urban living. As well as providing inspiration, the winner’s improved profile enhances its reputation, making it an attractive place to visit, work and live in. 

However, the award applicants have something else in common: they have all coordinated their approach to urban planning across different departments, uniting them in a shared vision and thereby improving their city's urban planning process.

Nine cities have been awarded the title since its inception in 2010. The 2016 winner, Ljubljana, Slovenia will now pass the title to Essen.

Urban, noise and health