Blog: Adaptation Stories

"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark ..."?

Ok. Actually, today I‘m talking about Germany. Especially, after a hot summer like the last one and a seemingly endless drought in many parts of the country, it seems clear to me that we all have to do something for climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation. Only then, we can maintain the quality of life and economic power in our cities, towns and regions. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are the foundations of general public services which the state and municipalities must guarantee; but ...

 

While more and more people are becoming aware that we urgently have to act on our climate and its current and future impacts, often, the road to action is still long. Large cities and other stakeholders often have their own climate change adaptation strategy, but in particular smaller ones mostly see the challenges and barriers: lacking staff capacities, time and resources, other things are more important at the moment, etc. These arguments may be justified or partly just a personal perception - after all, a few smaller municipalities demonstrate that climate change mitigation and adaptation are indeed possible. However, one argument, which I have only been told behind closed doors, shocks me.

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Networking in Europe – a gain for cities and regions?

One could assume this and I am delighted that, together with the adelphi team, we have reached an important milestone in our project "Successfully connected in Europe – shaping cities and regions together" on behalf of the German ministry responsible for urban development. The borough of Lörrach and Weil am Rhein, the Geopark Vulkaneifel, the cities of Gudensberg and Munich have just been selected as the winners of the competition, which is an important part of this project. Congratulations! 

 

Why networking across Europe?

The participants in the competition clearly responded that they see added value from their networking activities, in particular, through the exchange of experience and knowledge that brings new ideas. European networking promotes discovering common solutions, enhancement of competencies and better access to EU funding. Following these networking activities, cities and regions can increase their attractiveness and local economy, e.g. by boosting tourism or through new business relationships/collaborations.

 

But…

In addition to the obligatory day-to-day business, networking across Europe is not a matter of course, especially, in many smaller and medium-sized cities and municipalities in Germany. While bilateral city partnerships with mutual visits and youth exchanges are relatively widespread and many border regions also cooperate with their direct neighbours; in the last decade, only around 500 of the approximately 11,000 German cities and municipalities and almost 85 regions actually took part in a broader multilateral exchange with several European partners through projects or network initiatives. As expected, large cities are already well connected, while with small towns with under 10 000 inhabitants, the proportion is only about 1%.

 

An opportunity for weaker and peripheral regions

In absolute terms, there are large differences in regional distribution: as expected, big cities and metropolitan areas are well connected, while northern and north-eastern Germany and parts of central Germany and Bavaria show little European connectivity. Most border regions focus on cross-border cooperation only.

However, if one considers the number of networking municipalities in relation to the number of inhabitants per federal state, also low-income states, such as Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein, can compete with densely populated states such as Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg. Same, the per capita GDP in the federal states is not correlated with the degree of European networking. Municipalities in economically equally or higher rated states reveal, in some cases, less networking activities per inhabitant. It is possible that European networking in particular offers opportunities for low-income and peripheral municipalities to improve their attractiveness and economic performance.

 

But why is it ...

that so far only a few cities and municipalities seize these opportunities? And what could encourage more networking? The influencing factors are multifaceted, such as political will, language skills and cultural competencies, sometimes lengthy and complex application procedures or lack of staff and budget resources. As part of the further work, we examine these in depth. I would therefore be very happy if you could share your experiences in your country or EU with me. Thank you very much!

 

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Urban densification and a pleasant urban climate - the squaring of the circle?

Last month, I attended the Congress for National Urban Development Policy in Germany where urban densification was one of the topics. Many cities - in Germany and elsewhere - have become more attractive again, not only as a place for businesses but also to live in. They are experiencing high migration rates and intensive construction activity. The topic of densification is more relevant than ever. In terms of sustainability, this is much appreciated - with multi-storey apartment buildings, we consume less space and energy, drive less kilometres by car and use more public transport.  Ten years ago, I made a strong case for compact cities. However since I've been working on adaption to climate change, I have been having some doubts. We need urban green and ventilation!?

 

Sure, we also need open, undeveloped space outside the cities as compensation and cold air creation areas. Extensive urban sprawl through single-family housing estates cannot be the counter-model. But how far can densification go in the city? At what point is it still liveable? During discussions at the congress, participants would argue for a limited degree of densification if, at the same time, sufficient green space would be offered. Simply following the ‘business as usual’ approach with a few gradual adjustments would encounter boundaries. What we need instead is a transformation in urban planning. We need to rethink functions and priorities in our cities if they are to remain liveable and attractive despite climate change.

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What can we learn from the South?

Most of us probably appreciate green roofs as a clever adaptation action that has not just many additional benefits but can be simply nice. We know inspiring examples from Basel, Malmö, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Frankfurt and many other cities. So I was wondering, when I flew in to Valencia at the beginning of summer and saw all the empty flat roof tops: What a wasted potential!

 

The next morning I walked from my hotel to the meeting venue and enjoyed the fresh air of the huge park of the City of Science and Arts in the heart of Valencia. What a relief from heat! However, I was wondering where the water for these very green loans would come from during these hot summers in the Mediterranean. Indeed, when I asked my Spanish colleagues a bit later they confirmed to me that the supply is somehow challenging. Actually, they use non-potable water as Valencia has a double network that delivers also water of lower quality for other purposes. This sounds good, but still this water comes also from the aquifer and its abstraction stresses fresh water resources.

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Can we beat the heat with creativity?

Usually, we wish us a nice summer here, but for weeks it is just hot and hotter here in the Frankfurt am Main area and else in Germany. Day temperatures around 35 degree became the new normal these weeks. Ok, some southern countries have even more. So, we probably should not complain so much? The main difference to southern European cities is that we are not prepares and can hardly get any relief. Apartments are heated up and night temperatures are too high to cool them down. Private air condition is not common and very expansive. So there is hardly any escape.

 

As such summer will be the new normal in a couple of years, we really have to rethink how we deal with the situation without making it worse by just individual and spontaneous response in heating our climate even further up with lots of single air conditionings requiring additional energy. What can we do to keep the heat out of the apartments and where can we find cool and accessible places? In my town it is just the two small supermarkets. Maybe, we can map, which places else are available or open places? I noticed the S-trains are climatised. Maybe I should by a day ticket and work from there?

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Getting started: Self-check for smaller and bigger municipalities

Recently, I have met a colleague that told me, that even the participation in workshops and trainings for climate adaptation can be too much for many smaller municipalities. Is it really that effort? Or is it missing clarity on the extent to which the own municipality is affected at all? Where should you start to sort the tangle of information, impacts, options and necessities to act to obtain at least a rough overview?

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Normal people and decision-makers know still little about their options to adapt to heat waves

It strikes me always to see how little awareness and practical knowledge is with people, house owners, enterprises or operators. With the nice summer weather in the centre and northern part of Europe over the last weeks, I had quite some reminders where we stand in everyday reality: ...

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We are well on track implementing adaptation in our municipality, aren‘t we?

Some years ago, the German government introduced a funding scheme for municipalities enabling them to employ a climate change mitigation manager. The scheme became increasingly popular. However, there had not been a similar funding programme for climate change adaptation managers yet. Nevertheless, one can observe that an increasing number of municipalities report that they are actively implementing adaptation measures as well. Sounds good. Are we on the safe side?

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What is the benefit to win an award?

Back in 2009, I was among the first members of the evaluation team of the European Green Capital Award (EGCA), when it was initiated by the European Commission. While I was happy to see the attention of the European Commission for the urban environment, at a time, when this issue was hardly handled at the European level, I also had some doubts: Does it make sense to add another award? There are many city rankings going on and you hear all over the place:  “the best city is …”, “the most livable city is …”. What value will the EGCA provide to cities? Will there at all be enough cities applying for an award for which they do not get any price money but would commit to a year full of communication actions and events?

 

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What is the best tool for climate adaptation planning?

 

“Adaptation problem recognised. Let’s get started with adaptation! We take a guidance tool and follow it… But oops...!? There are incredible many guidance tools! Which one is actually the best for us? How can we find out? We want to make a clever choice of course.” Does that situation sound somehow familiar to you?

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What about our city in 2040? – An attempt of visioning

Your city in 2040: How will you, your friends and neighbours live given all these upcoming changes in demography, lifestyle, technology, climate …? How will life look like in more than 20 years? What will be the headlines in the local news? These were the questions I asked young citizens at the age of 18-23 years in two visioning workshops, which I organised in the city of Hofheim am Taunus in Germany. The feedback surprised me. First, there did not come up any ideas about the future!? These guys have rarely thought about it yet. Next, rather dark visions came up.

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Is urban adaptation just for big and affluent cities?

 

Or is there a way for towns and rural municipalities too?

 

It was, when I attended a conference on climate change adaptation in Hessen, one of the German Federal States, that  learned about inspiring activities and progress here at my current place of living. Even specific funding for implementing of adaptation action is available. While strolling around in the sun at lunch break, I came to chat with a colleague from a tiny municipality. She told me that it sounds all very well - the activities presented and the availability of funding. But how can you benefit from these when you are small, do not know how to start, where to get the necessary data and knowledge for to start even developing a funding application? How can they, left with no adaptation capacities but with regular flooding problems, get on?

 

 

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No money for adaptation?

How often have I heard the message from cities and other stakeholders “We would like to act, but we do not have the financial resources to do climate change adaptation action”? I cannot count it, but it pops up again and again.

 

Do you really need money to start action?

 

What would you do with a bunch of money suddenly dropping on your table? Would you know, where and how to invest that best? Do citizens, politicians and other stakeholder go along with your ideas? ...

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Cities are aware of climate change impacts and the need to adapt – are they?

I was just sitting together with a colleague of the planning department of a smaller city in Hessen Germany. It is quite well positioned in terms of sustainability, but when I asked how they are prepared for climate change impacts…

 

‘?! ehmmm?!…  Yes, of course, we have green areas and try to keep these. For flood protection, the regional government is rather responsible.’ 

 

No, there was not any word about climate change and possible impacts in the latest version of the city planning document or somewhere else. And it was just the night before that the neighbour municipality was hit by a tremendous thunderstorm leading to flooding of many basements and falling of many trees. That didn’t seem to make any impact on the perception of climate impacts.

 

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Leegebruch locked in

 

Leegebruch is a small place with 6500 inhabitants close to Berlin, a neighbour village of my hometown that I passed frequently as a child. There was nothing special about the place, but suddenly I find it in many German newspapers. What happened? On 29 June up to 250 litres per square meter of rainwater poured down over Berlin and its surroundings. The area of Leegebruch was hit particular hard.  In addition, it suffered much longer from flooding than other towns and villages nearby. Days later many parts were still under water. What was the reason?

 

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Transport - efficient or resilient?

 

Last week, I took a break from adaptation work. J I enjoyed four days of rock festival in Southern Sweden. Days with great music, some 33 000 mostly nice people and luck with having lots of sunshine despite the usual low Swedish summer temperatures. But then on the way back, we got stacked in the little town. The small train station was packed with folks form many nations, lots of baggage, but the train didn't arrive. It was postponed by 10 minutes, then 15, 20 and so. Nothing moved. We got to know that the last piece to our station was closed until further notice. Strangely, the train from the opposite direction was neither allowed to come up, although that part wasn't blocked. So what? ...

 

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Adaptation can be small and beautiful

 

 

… and sometimes, adaptation to climate might not even have been the purpose. While cycling today to our neighbouring municipality, I made these pictures. Areas along the streets and a private garden flourish wonderfully with wild and semi-wild flowers. Thereby, they allow excessive rainwater to drain into the ground. The extensive green roof on the garage can also store water and delay its discharge if needed. Bees and other insects were humming around…

 

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A great climate change adaptation event for cities – but where are the ones most in need?

 

I am just back from another Open European Day at the Resilient Cities conference in Bonn. Already for the fourth time, this became a great interactive event - and brand, I would say. Five years ago, we designed it as a day in which European cities could talk to their colleagues in other cities and explore their challenges and solutions to deal with climate change impacts. The event is different from many other conferences of its kind. It lives from the lively interaction of its participants. Very special: the day does not entail any presentation but lots of workshops, interactive sessions and time for free exchange and networking. As one of the initiators of this event series, I was overwhelmed by the great dedication of the participants and the appreciation they expressed for having that helpful event. It seems that this day really fills a niche in the broader adaptation discussion in Europe. Still, there is one thing that puzzles me…

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Why frost-resistant fruit trees in a warmer climate?

 

It was just last weekend that I discussed with my husband, which fruit trees we want to grow in our new garden. The weather was so nicely warm over the last weeks. Most lunch breaks, I spent outside on the balcony. The trees were covered over and over with blossoms. It seemed to be the perfect time to discuss the choice of apple, plum and cherry trees we want to plant. And then, I came and said that these trees should also be resistant against freeze. I think, my husband got quite irritated, now that we moved to the part of Germany that will hottest in the country.

 

 

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A new blog?

Hello!

Here I am and have for long thought about the best way to share all the stories that come frequently to my mind. As you might know, I work in the nexus of environment – cities  - climate change adaptation and many concepts and ideas cross my way. 

 

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