“Cities are the place for innovations”

Wissenschaftsjahr Bildtermin

Professor Wanka, the focus of the Science Year 2015 is on the “city of the future”. Why do you believe that ideas and concepts for sustainable urban living in Germany are of such key importance?

In cities the major challenges of the future are most evident, be it a question of climate change adaptation, energy security, secure employment, affordable housing, sustainable mobility, health, immigration or demographic change. Such topics are intensified in cities as if under a magnifying glass. In just a few years, three-quarters of the world’s population will already be living in urban centres. At the same time, cities are evolving constantly and are the place for innovations. Cities must continue to be liveable, providing an attractive environment for the people who live in them. In other words, we need sustainable and citizen-friendly cities.

How does the Science Year 2015 – City of the Future contribute to overcoming these challenges?

This Science Year is all about encouraging greater civic participation and dialogue between science and society with a view to developing ideas and visions for the city of the future. Hundreds of events, discussions, exhibitions and competitions will be taking place all over Germany, focusing on a wide range of issues: inner city development, local transition to renewable energy, growing and shrinking municipalities, new forms of participation, infrastructure and mobility, cultural diversity.

One example of this is our “local studies” programme for pupils aged 11 to 15. They will engage with ideas for the future of inner cities. Young people in particular buy much of what they need online. This is posing a threat to city centre shops. The “local studies” classes will give these pupils a chance to explore this phenomenon and come up with ideas to keep inner cities alive.

I look forward to seeing the new ideas and initiatives. They will get us a good bit closer to creating modern, environmentally-friendly and liveable cities.

In 2015, another country will be involved in the Science Year for the very first time – the People’s Republic of China. Why is international cooperation important when it comes to innovative concepts and technologies for future cities?

Huge cities such as those in China have to deal with challenges on an entirely different scale to those we are familiar with in Germany. Sharing our experiences is therefore very important. For example, in our “Future Megacities” programme we have developed models worldwide for sustainable structures in urban growth centres – models which may also be of interest to China. During the Science Year, our collaboration will be concentrating on the subject of water – for example the protection of our waterways and clean drinking water. China is facing enormous challenges in this context.

One particular focus of the Science Year 2015 is on dialogue between science and the public sphere. How exactly do you involve citizens?

We launched a City of the Future competition. Its aim is to work at the local level with citizens, politicians, council representatives, scientists and business leaders to design a sustainable and comprehensive vision.

168 cities, municipalities and rural districts in Germany have applied to take part in our competition, and 52 cities of the future will now be launching their civil dialogues from the summer of 2015. The ideas of the winning concepts show great variety: The city of Konstanz at Lake Constance plans to work together with its inhabitants in an initiative entitled “Konstanzer schaffen Klima”, which roughly translates as “Creating the Right Climate for Konstanz”. They want to come up with ideas for new city districts. On the North Sea coast, the East Frisian islands have joined forces with the town of Norden to establish the “Wadden Sea Eight”. This is a forum for discussing various issues with local residents, such as the difficulties of reconciling tourism with the need for affordable housing for locals. The objective there is for a Vision 2030+ to halt the migration of islanders to the mainland.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research provides up to 35,000 euro in funding to support each project. The dialogues at local community level are intended to serve as an incentive and role model for other towns, municipalities and rural districts. This is only phase one of the competition, however. Working together with local communities, phases two and three in the years 2016 and 2017/2018 will see us giving the visions concrete shape, further developing them and accompanying them up to the point of implementation.

Professor Wanka, thank you very much for this interview.