How can cities build a stronger and more sustainable society for the future? Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize Laureate 2020 Vienna shows us how by enlisting its citizens early and often in its urban development process, as well as empowering them to work with one another, has improved the city and its neighbourhoods.
Vienna actively engages its citizens for their collective future © Christian Fürthner
For example, the city committed to giving its young residents opportunities to plant trees and spend at least one day in nature each year as part of their classes so that they can learn more about the environment. It will also set up a free and anonymous service for youths to discuss their mental well-being with trained counsellors, install lower handles for children on public transport, and commit 1 million Euros (approximately 1.04 million USD) each year to projects led by and for the youngsters.
For Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig, the project was historic in its focus and scope, and continued the city’s long tradition of civic participation. He said: “A city that knows the needs of its residents has the chance to become a better city. The fact that this project offered the youngest among us a first opportunity to experience democracy, and to discover their own capacity to act, is also of immeasurable value.”
“A city that knows the needs of its residents has the chance to become a better city.”
For decades, Vienna has empowered citizens to shape its future. It has consulted them on urban development plans and long-term goals. It has also created platforms for them to propose and lead projects to boost their neighbourhoods’ liveability.
Co-creating spaces with communities
The Grätzloase programme invites citizens to revitalise public spaces © Stadt Wien
For example, the city operates ‘Local Agenda 21’2 (LA 21), district-level programmes where residents and public officials cooperate on projects to enhance their neighbourhoods. Each programme typically lasts four years and receives about 100,000 Euros (approximately 105,200 USD) in funding per year.
Between 2015 and 2021, the city funded about 475 such projects5. The residents turned an array of parking lanes into 288 green parklets, and organised events ranging from street festivals to outdoor sports tournaments, movie screenings, concerts, neighbourhood breakfasts and cooking and baking lessons.
More recently, it has streamlined applications for the use public spaces6, including hosting neighbourhood events and setting up outdoor seating areas for cafes. By end-2022, instead of seeking separate approvals from government agencies, residents will only need to complete a form for each application on a new dedicated online portal, which contains information about permits and fees, and a digital assistant to guide them.
“By making the steps to use public space as easy as possible, we can build a more liveable and inclusive city with engaged citizens.” — Dr Michael Ludwig, Mayor, City of Vienna
“Public space is valuable and belongs to everyone, and everyone should be able to use it to co-shape, discover and enjoy their neighbourhood,” the government said.
A shared effort for sustainability
Residents too are at the heart of Vienna’s innovative initiatives in renewable energy and electric mobility, as the city continues on-track to be carbon-neutral by 20406. In the past decade, energy provider Wien Energie has built 28 solar power plants and four wind turbines that were financed entirely by the public7.
Other schemes are geared at the district, estate or even building level. In 2018, Vienna pioneered Austria’s first ‘energy community’9 in its Viertel Zwei district, with an online platform for residents to invest in solar panels and sell their surplus energy either to neighbours or on the city’s electricity exchange. For example, a family going on vacation can sell its generated energy, thus preventing waste while earning extra income. All 100 households in the district have participated, and the city is replicating it in other areas.
In mobility, the city is piloting electric vehicle (EV)-sharing models that are based in apartment complexes for convenience. In an ongoing trial in the Hauffgasse district10, tenants pay half-price to rent on-site EVs if they help to upkeep them. The city recently closed a 1.2 million Euro (approximately 1.26 million USD) grant call11 for more of such hyperlocal sharing schemes to overwhelming response.
A mass movement for mobility
Vienna promotes active mobility in the city © mirawonderland/ 123RF.com
Constructed on a former airfield, Vienna’s new Aspern Seestadt12 district offers lessons in mobility and citizen participation. Over 13,200 people already live and work in the area. When it is fully completed in 2028, it will have homes for over 20,000 people and thousands of workplaces. Complementing its extensive public transit network, wide cycling paths and generous sidewalks, mobility suggestions from the public have helped to achieve 38 percent of trips by public transport, 28 percent on foot and seven percent by bicycle.
Vienna’s government noted in its Children and Youth Strategy: “Similar to a car which is taken for inspection, residents can check over a city to find out what is working well, what is running smoothly, what needs to be improved and what is missing.”
“Furthermore, a truly sustainable development which is fit for the future can only be accomplished if all people who live in Vienna have a chance to participate in it and actively do so, by taking part in discussions, being involved in the development and implementation of projects, contributing their knowledge and experience, and making responsible consumption and mobility decisions. This is why the city actively promotes citizen participation.”
By Feng Zengkun
This article was first published in 7 July 2022 on the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize website. All images contained within this page are used with license and shall not be copied, modified, or reproduced.
Watch to learn more about Vienna’s other urban strategies: