24 February 2021

Taking a citizen-centred approach

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many cities to find new ways to approach citizen engagement. In-person activities and discussions are no longer feasible, but we know that meaningful citizen engagement is critical to so much of what cities do.

The City of Dortmund (Germany) is among the European cities implementing nature-based solutions in post-industrial sites. In late 2020, they launched a new local website (in German) to inform and engage locals in a COVID-safe manner. The website informs the local public about nature-based solutions and ongoing local work including urban gardening, creating pollinator habitats, and aquaponics.

The name of the website ‘Hansagrün’ was chosen as ‘Hansa’ is the name of the former coking plant in the area, which is now undergoing a ‘grün’ (green) transformation. The website will act as a bridge between citizens, local decision makers, organisations and practitioners in the area.

This work is being conducted as part of the proGIreg project, in which ICLEI Europe is a partner. The Dortmund team, lead by the South Westfalia University of Applied Sciences (SWUAS) in Soest (Agricultural Department), have plans to start a citizen-led non-profit association. This will be a local replication of a successful association of this kind in the City of Issum (Germany). That association is currently running a media campaign in which interviews with experts are being shared on YouTube and amplified via social media channels, and the association is offering public information events via Zoom to educate and engage citizens and foster co-ownership of nature-based solutions in the area, thus ensuring their longevity.

The association has proven successful due to its multilateral and holistic approach. The association includes local farmers, the municipality, private property owners and environmental associations.

The association’s founder and pollinator expert Ingo Bläser found that there were many areas that were underutilised by the municipality that could be harnessed to flower meadows for pollinators – creating a win-win situation of urban green areas for the benefit of the citizens and a low-threshold renewal of vacant sites, such as fields, lawns and fallow lands, for the municipality. The association got off to a dynamic start with the municipality welcoming the changes, and with great interest from citizens, with many offering their own greenery to be transformed to a flowering meadow. Membership fees and donations fund the association’s work (seeds, work of local farmers), with the municipality also pitching in once they saw the benefits of the work.

How to create a flower meadow for pollinators? Ingo Bläser outlines the following steps:

  1. First and foremost, one needs to identify an area and get municipal permission
  2. Explore the natural state: soil quality, existing plants, climatic conditions, water availability, seasonality
  3. Choose a suitable seed mix
  4. Find partners, e.g. local farmers who can lend machinery and a hand
  5. Plan for resilience, e.g. if the area is prone to dry seasons, plan ahead and dig wells to store water runoff
  6. Have members pick up shovels, for a great chance for hands on learning

Flower meadows confer multiple benefits: they are aesthetic delights, the fields enhance pollinator biodiversity, and provide green spaces for citizens to enjoy. Furthermore, flowering meadows are an appealing project for funding as they show immediate effects, are easy to replicate, and do not require long-term commitment.

proGIreg’s Dortmund team plans on using a similar practical approach to engaging locals to increase pollinator biodiversity.

For more information, watch an interview with Ingo Bläser here (in German with English subtitles available). Keep a close eye on Dortmund's work here.