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‘Green Space in the City’ conference - Essen, Germany

As we move to the delivery phase of the Green Infrastructure project, opportunities are emerging to tell others about what we are doing, and in turn to learn from their experience. In May, we were pleased to be invited to attend a major conference in Essen organised by German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). There were over 400 delegates at the event drawn from central and local government, NGOs, universities and research bodies from across Germany.

Essen was chosen as the venue for the conference as it is “the Green Capital of Europe” for 2017. It’s in the heart of the Ruhr, with its past economy being heavily dependent on heavy industry, so has suffered in recent decades from economic decline. Essen has more than its fair share of derelict buildings and vacant land. However, the image of the city is now being turned around, in part through investment in environmental improvements.

The most striking example is Zollverein Park, the site of what was once the largest colliery in Europe. When it closed in 1986, a decision was taken to preserve the site as a museum and park. I knew about the Park from a presentation at a previous Central Scotland Green Network Forum (a summary of which is in the excellent RIAS publication ‘Growing Awareness’), but you really need to see it close up to appreciate the scale of what is being achieved. It’s perhaps not the prettiest park to visit, but the opportunity to walk, run, cycle, even skate in amongst the massive former colliery buildings is a unique one. Certainly, it is an example of cultural and natural heritage side-by-side.

Another example is the Pier '78 development (see photograph) which featured on the cover of the conference programme. This is the site of a former freight yard in the middle of the city which is now a mixed-use neighbourhood, with housing, green space, play areas and low key shops and cafes. It’s been planned to be “water sensitive, socially equitable and health conscious” and lives up to that billing.

These are inspirational examples, but we shouldn’t forget the good practice examples we can point to in Scotland, such as the Helix and the 7 Lochs projects. The suite of projects being supported through the Green Infrastructure project will give us a further bank of good practice experience and positive news stories to promote, which can influence future investment in greenspace both at home and abroad.

So, to the conference itself. This was built around the launch of a White Paper setting out the German Government’s policies for greening towns and cities. Much of what it says is familiar, sharing our objective of securing multiple benefits from urban greenspace. It’s 10 actions are:

• Integrated planning for urban green spaces
• Enhancement and multifunctional design of green spaces
• Strengthening climate protection and reducing climate impacts through urban green space
• Developing urban green space in a socially viable way that also promotes health
• Promoting green buildings
• Properly plan, create and maintain a variety of green areas
• Attracting stakeholders and involving society
• Strengthening and networking research
• The Federal Government to lead by example in the way it manages its own buildings and green spaces
• Outreach work and education – raising public awareness of the importance of urban green space

It was clear from the questions raised that there is a particular focus at local level in Germany at the moment on community growing / local food production and on the greening of buildings (green roofs, green walls). For the latter, the need for all public bodies to set more of an example was a recurring theme.

SNH’s Green Infrastructure project was one of two case studies chosen to illustrate approaches being taken in other countries, the other being the greening of buildings in Paris. It’s great that we were picked out by the organisers as having something new to contribute. Because of the stage the project is at, we were reporting on what we’re planning to do rather than what we’ve done, but there was still lots of interest – particularly in our use of EU structural funds for this work, how we are targeting and engaging with disadvantaged communities, our links to the health sector and the partnerships which are delivering the projects at local level.

It’s good to share. As the Green Infrastructure project progresses, it’s important that we take time to tell others about what we are doing, and in turn to learn from their experience. We’ll be looking for further opportunities to do so. Meanwhile, many thanks to the German Federal Ministry for their invite.