23 July 2020

How Mannheim takes transformation forward

From 30 September to 2 October the 9th European Conference for Sustainable Cities and Towns will convene online, co-hosted by ICLEI Member Mannheim (Germany). This ninth conference edition, also known as Mannheim2020, will address the substantial transformation needed across all aspects of society to face today’s environmental, economic and social challenges. The conference calls on courageous local, regional, national and European leaders to #TakeTransformationForward.

But, what does it mean to ‘take transformation forward’? How can we learn from cities like Mannheim to support such transformation towards more sustainable, just societies?

Mannheim’s Mayor, Dr. Peter Kurz, recently reflected on his city’s experience embracing transformation, and on why the city is keen to apply this to the upcoming conference:

About twelve years ago, the City of Mannheim kicked-off a long-term change process, with the idea to transform the city using cross-sector thinking, impact-driven planning, and extensive public participation. This was all to be done with a view towards localising international goals.

This process led to the development of the city’s mission statement, known as “Mannheim 2030”, which was developed over an 18-month participatory process that included hundreds of people and thousands of citizen proposals. The mission statement aims to implement the global 2030 Agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The statement’s own goals and fields of action form a coherent and sustainable strategy for the city.

It has been crucially important to Mannheim to include diverse stakeholder participation at every stage of this process – from the development of the mission statement to realising action plans. As Mayor Kurz puts it, “Since realising the SDGs demands a fundamental change of our economy and lifestyles, we need to involve all stakeholders and citizens.”

Public participation continues to be at the heart of Mannheim’s transformation process. The city’s municipal Climate Agency supports and leads climate campaigns and initiatives alongside schools, employees, members of associations and residents that span Mannheim’s demographic groups. The agency sees educating residents on global responsibility and sustainable consumption as key to ensuring public support for the transformation needed to ensure that Mannheim is a sustainable city now and moving forward.

Although this transformation process began 12 years ago, Mannheim continues to work towards becoming an even more sustainable and just city. For example, in 2019, the city set up a “climate urgency plan” to accelerate the progress to combat climate change across sectors spanning mobility, energy, real estate, urban greening, climate change adaptation, and city administration. This acceleration will include: converting the district heating system (DHS) from mainly coal-based to running on renewables; expanding the number of districts reached by the DHS; expanding the city’s tram system and renewing the public transportation fleet; improving urban bicycle infrastructure; and increasing the amount of public green space by a square kilometer within the next three years.

The City of Mannheim is certain that sustainability demands a comprehensive transformation, which will only be successful if European and global agendas consider the local level. All climate challenges are concentrated in cities, and thus must be addressed by cities. However, cities in many countries lack the means and competences to adequately respond to this necessity. Cities are often caught in uncontrolled processes of global markets, and can be constrained by national regulations. Furthermore, governance at the national and international levels so often neglects to make room for urban input. Global and European negotiations often remain in the hands of national leaders, overlooking the so-called ‘devolution of power’ – transferring power from ‘higher’ (i.e. national) governing levels to ‘lower’ (i.e. local) ones – needed to ensure that climate change is addressed.

The necessity to actively empower cities in decision-making is applicable at European and international levels. As Mayor Kurz puts it, “Global changes are most effective when they are rooted at the neighbourhood level, close to inhabitants of towns and cities. The same approach is required to put the EU Green Deal into action.”

The upcoming Mannheim2020 conference is place where ambitious and committed cities can directly address the European level to demonstrate the critical need to support and directly involve cities and towns. The conference will showcase the vast competence and knowledge held by European cities. It will provide empowerment and inspiration to strengthen the movement towards a sustainable society.

Join us online from 30 September to 2 October at the Mannheim2020 conference to demonstrate and strengthen your commitment to take transformation forward.

For more information on the conference and to register, click here.

To hear directly from Mayor Kurz, view a new video introducing the conference here.