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Sustainable Urban Planning

Making climate change issues a priority in urban planning is a challenge. Problems like unemployment, poverty, lack of education and low environmental standards are more immediately and visibly pressing. In addition, climate protection and adaptation targets are the subject of constant tension between conflicting interests. Achieving climate targets requires cooperation with multiple parties including the private sector, local authorities, and other stakeholder groups.

In the Bremen-Durban “Sustainable Urban Planning” working group, we exchanged knowledge and insights on the relationship between urban planning and climate change mitigation/adaptation, and we committed to integrating climate-related targets into urban planning. To that end, we aimed to compile a roadmap for change in planning practice, as a meaningful contribution to climate protection and adaptation efforts in both cities.

Key questions in relation to urban planning and climate-related targets were:

  • What are we already doing that contributes to achieving the targets?
  • What are we doing that stands in the way of achieving the targets?
  • How can we change planning practice so that it makes a stronger contribution to achieving the targets?

Avenues of discussion were:

  • planning and social intermixing (participatory processes)
  • economic and social integration through mixed-use areas and densification
  • sustainability indicators and renewable energy infrastructure for planning and land management (mitigation and adaptation)
  • the role of green infrastructure in urban development and the revitalisation of urban green spaces / urban gardening

Recent Developments

In February 2016 Bremen city planner Helge Mehrtens took up a two-year position as Resident Advisor at eThekwini Municipality, which administers the city of Durban and surrounding towns. The position is financed locally and additionally through German federal funding (BMZ). Ms. Mehrtens’ primary task is the coordination of the large-scale Bridge City / KwaMashu Open Space Project, which aims to create spacious parkland for the approximately one million people in the surrounding townships. Since the park will be created by transforming and interconnecting left-over open spaces, the project involves the coordination and planning of multiple sub-projects.

At the heart of the unused open space is an extensive floodplain: the wetlands of the Piesang River. This area is to be restored to its natural state (renatured) so that it can absorb and store heavy rain, similar to Bremen’s Wümmewiesen (meadowlands by the Wümme River). Renaturing this area will help to minimise flooding in the lower course of the river and improve water quality over the long term. The green space will mitigate heat buildup and provide a fresh-air corridor for the surrounding residential areas.

During Apartheid these expansive empty spaces served to separate the populations of the surrounding townships, as part of government policy to prevent mixing of different ethnic groups. Today we aim for the opposite: through local people’s involvement in the planning, and though bike paths, footpaths, sports fields, playgrounds and other recreational areas, we see a lively park coming into being. Instead of a zone of separation, the land will become a place of shared encounters and common experiences.

This brings us to the subject of Bremen’s Sportgarten: planners in Durban want to build a “Youth Garden” that builds on Bremen’s successful model for providing recreational facilities in green space near the city center. The Youth Garden will have an open youth center that offers sports and cultural activities to young people from the surrounding areas. Growing up amid extremely high unemployment and poverty, these young people see few opportunities in their future. The Youth Garden aims to provide them with new perspectives through meaningful recreation and active participation.

Climate Change in Bremen – Impacts and Adaptation

Altered land use patterns and the corresponding zoning decisions bring new conflicts to Bremen over the use of space. How can city planning respond to these challenges through structural policies and tools? How can climate-efficient and climate-friendly housing be created?

Potential climate impacts in Bremen that must be decisively addressed in future city planning and development:

  • higher average temperature, heat waves
  • higher concentrations of pollutants
  • lower levels of humidity
  • altered wind conditions
  • more intense rainfall, flooding

Possible fields of action:

  • dealing with urban heat islands / heat stress (heating up of building structures) / tropical nights
  • air circulation and inflow, fresh air corridors
  • soil sealing
  • urban drainage in heavy rain: increased surface runoff, backflow in the sewer network, and flooding of transport infrastructure and construction sites will require additional rainwater retention basins to be built and necessitate water-sensitive city planning
  • drought and dried up canal systems, odour formation

Findings from the KLAS, nordwest2050 and climate change lower Weser projects will be of particular significance for future land use planning processes.

The exchange between Bremen and Durban in the area of sustainable urban planning and climate change provides both cities with further ideas and stimuli for their own strategy development.