Event ReportsPublished on Mar 11, 2019
Strong Mayors can create smart cities: The Heidelberg experience
“If political leaders are empowered, and controlled by citizens,…. If decisions are made by everybody and not by a leading political party or group,…. if cities create strong education systems and make good use of available knowledge,…. if cities engage with global cities to find sustainable solutions,…if knowledgeable persons can come together to take decisions,…. then cities can be quickly driven in the right direction”. This message was shared by Prof. Dr. Eckart Würzner, the Mayor of the City of Heidelberg, during his talk on “Stepping into Action – Heidelberg 2030”, delivered on 25 February 2019 at ORF, New Delhi. The talk was jointly organised by ORF, South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University, and SPA. The event was inaugurated by Dr. Renate Schimkoreit, Minister and Head of the Department for Economic and Global Affairs, German Embassy. Welcoming the Mayor, Dr. Schimkoreit in her opening remarks shared facts about Indo-German relations in various fields – business and trade, science and culture, environment and energy, urbanisation and transport. With regard to smart cities and urbanisation, she said that the topic is a focal area of Germany’s development cooperation with India. This is observed from the current city twinning between Mumbai and Stuttgart, and the partnership with three Indian cities – Bhubaneswar, Coimbatore and Kochi. In her opinion, there is a lot of untapped potential, and smart German cities, such as Heidelberg, which have an open policy towards town twinning, can establish partnerships at the municipal level. The city already has presence in India since 1960s, and science cooperation is an important pillar of Indo-German cooperation. Dr. Radu Carciumaru, Resident Representative, Heidelberg University Branch Office in Delhi provided a formal introduction of the Mayor, and informed the gathering of the many smart cities workshops organised in ten Indian cities by Heidelberg University in collaboration with ORF and SPA since 2016, with the support of Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit. Prof. Würzner’s presentation provided detailed information on various aspects of Heidelberg city, key factors contributing to city transformation, city’s approach towards achieving SDGs, and the smart sectoral initiatives underway. Some important aspects emerging from the presentation are presented below.
  • Heidelberg has received awards for being a green city, a sustainable city, a bicycle city (over 38 percent commuters use bicycles). There are huge green fields, protected forest areas and water resources. Present emphasis is on building affordable flats, new labs. Nobody sleeps on the streets, as for every citizen there is shelter.
  • The city, having 160,000 inhabitants, is a city of knowledge. An inclusive school education system is established, which offers children from poor families the same level of education as acquired by children from rich families. Its universities are very strong in research.
  • The city’s expertise in economy, technology and innovation is good. More than 70 percent of all employees work in knowledge-intensive services (cancer research, IT, solar cells, etc.). More than 72 percent of all businesses are related to science.
  • A zero emission compact new city has been built in Heidelberg, with super-efficient buildings, power plants based on renewable energy, with bicycle lanes, trams, green fields, schools, pedestrian walkways, etc.
  • An innovation park is set up with the aim of creating an atmosphere in which ideas can lead to joint projects between industry, research and start-ups.
  • A digital ecosystem is created to provide various citizen services, and smart technologies are being used for parking, traffic and waste management.
  • Global experts in various fields (including inventers of internet, namely Vinton Cerf) are invited to Heidelberg to educate the young generation.
  • The city government works with global cities where knowledge is concentrated. Its twin cities include Hangzhou (China), Bautzen (Germany), Palo Alto (USA), Simferopol (Russia), Montpellier (France), Rehovot (Israel), Cambridge (UK), and Kumamoto (Japan).
  • Representatives from twenty-five cities were invited to Heidelberg under the UN programme to understand which tools can be used to successfully implement the SDG goals.
  • The Mayor, who heads the City Board, takes decisions on all utilities, and is responsible for ensuring: affordable water provision (this is not given to private companies); energy provision (prices, type of energy - green, water or wind power plants - decided by Mayor); mass transport system (bus and tram fleet). In Germany, there are 700 energy utilities owned by the cities (i.e., mayor and city government decides where the energy will come from). If citizens want their cities to run on green energy and demand this from their Mayor, the Mayor will ensure that citizen’s demands are met. The online portal “#GetTheMayor” creates an easy and transparent access to the administration. With income generated by selling energy, the mass transport system is financed.
  • The city government is working with global cities (Tokyo, Mexico), and has also participated in the C40 Network to help develop cities in a sustainable manner. During a networking with global partners, a self-commitment by political leaders was made: to be a CO2 free city by 2050. More than 9,600 cities globally have signed this commitment.
Following the talk, special remarks were given by the discussant, Prof. Arunava Dasgupta, Head, Department of Urban Design, SPA, Delhi. He was impressed by the way, in which the city has evolved over the years, and appreciated the collective role played locally and globally. In his view, Heidelberg has successfully demonstrated that the knowledge produced locally in its institutions is shared globally, due to which cities around the world are benefitting. Reference was also made to Heidelberg’s model of governance, which allows citizen to be at the core of city development, and not just for electing leaders. For Indian cities, he expressed the need to create local area plans at the ward level based on citizen inputs, as these would be manageable units of governance. The discussion at the event produced rich knowledge, which can be very useful for India. In cities, the pressure of population on land, infrastructure, services, environment is enormous, and the civic agencies are grappling with the many problems – clean air, mobility, sanitation, public safety, etc. Given the conditions, ensuring balanced distribution of urban population in the country, creating a strong Mayoral system, as well as developing and applying sustainable solutions have become necessary requirements. In this respect, approaches such as public-private-community partnerships and collaborations with foreign governments (sister-city agreements/city twinning) are important, as these allow stakeholders have expertise in different fields to work together and address the challenge. India’s national government, through the Smart Cities, AMRUT and other urban missions, and some state/city governments are showing some progress on this front. However, a significant impact of such engagements on the ground is yet to be seen. Neither have such experiences been properly documented. India launched the Smart Cities Mission on 25 June 2015 with the aim of making cities better.  The national government, which has initiated the Mission, considers urbanisation as an opportunity to benefit from, and has invited state governments to come forward, plan and drive the initiative, as urban planning, development and governance are matters of state and local governments. Given the resource constraints, up to 100 settlements are selected under the Mission, and the states have the option of applying a combination of strategies, namely area-based/greenfield/pan-city development. The financial costs in this regard are being borne by the national and state/local governments on a matching basis. The Mission is in its fourth year. Since its launch, preparatory steps have been taken, including selection of 100 cities (based on specific criteria and competition between cities within a state), preparation of smart city plans and detailed project reports (with the assistance of Indian and foreign experts as well as citizens), establishment of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) in each city for decision-making, planning, project designing and implementation. Following one year of launch, the work of implementing smart infrastructure projects began in various Indian cities. Currently, the selected cities are in different stages of planning and implementation, and simultaneously, efforts are underway on identifying and applying smart and sustainable solutions to numerous urban problems. This is an ideal time to learn from and engage with the city government of Heidelberg. Stepping into action – Heidelberg 2030
This report is written by Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, ORF, New Delhi
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