Aachen wants to become the ecological city of the future

Ina Ranson, 1999

This fact sheet presents the way in which the city of Aachen has embraced sustainable development and has taken action to promote the development of soft mobility in order to become an ecological city.

Aachen (250,000 inhabitants) is embarking on the modernization process, with the ambition of finding the right balance between economy and ecology. It is supported by very active citizens’ movements, by a private foundation (Kathy Beys Foundation) and by two technical universities, of which the RWTH (Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule) is the most renowned. Within the framework of the model project Ecological City of the Future launched by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1992, and since 1997, within the framework of an Agenda 21, the city has implemented numerous projects, especially in the field of energy.

Since 1992, Aachen has been a member of the Federation for Climate (Klima-Bündnis). The city has set itself the goal of reducing its CO2 emissions by 50% by 2010, to stop using FCKW immediately, to renounce tropical wood and to support projects of rainforest inhabitants in their efforts to preserve the forests. To achieve these ambitious goals, the city has taken action in three areas: rational use of energy, a voluntary policy favoring renewable energy and the development of « soft » transport.

Since the end of 1995, energy consumption in public buildings has been monitored using specially developed software. The objective is to detect energy saving opportunities and to measure the success of measures already undertaken. The City is working to replace the heating of public buildings with electricity, coal or fuel oil by connecting to local heating networks. It is also carrying out important communication and training work and is supporting numerous innovative technical and educational projects (transparent thermal insulation in a school, electricity production from methane gas from a former landfill site, etc.).

Aachen’s model for solar and wind energy is often cited as an example in Germany : the city generously subsidizes the electricity produced by owners of photovoltaic panels and wind turbines. To encourage investment in a technology that is considered promising, it is paid at cost-covering prices (between DM 1.74 and DM 1.89 per kW/h of solar power, depending on the size of the installations, and 24 PF per kW/h of wind power). In the summer of 1998, there were more than 150 photovoltaic plants in Aachen, and they are still growing. The city of Aachen has made the roofs and facades of school buildings available to potential investors free of charge.

To reduce the number of private cars, the city is using the following means :

A city transport plan}} (Verkehrsentwicklungsplan Aachen, VEP), prepared in 1995, proposes concepts for long-term transport development based on analyses of the present and future situation. However, it has not yet been decided upon politically.

Many initiatives in the field of sustainable development have been driven by the civil society, which is very active in Aachen. In order to strengthen the energies and to conceive common actions, many ecological and third world associations gathered in a common house for which they had fought since the Rio conference. Underlining that 80% of the natural resources are consumed by only 20% of the world’s population and that Third World countries are increasingly suffering the consequences of unsustainable consumption patterns, the associations ensure that sustainable development in Aachen keeps a strong component of international solidarity. Cooperation with the city is not always easy, as the demands of the associations often far exceed the plans of the municipality. The difficult path to sustainability is paved with conflicts… But this is in line with the process launched in Rio, where the governments declared that the huge task of changing the course of development towards sustainability requires the active participation of society.

Although conflicting, or even because of it, the cooperation between the City and the civil society is particularly fruitful in Aachen. In December 1998, the city launched a new subsidy program for « joint initiatives » as part of the model project « Ecological City of the Future ». Each citizen can carry out a project in the field of environmental protection or social integration with the support of the city. The only requirement is that the citizen and at least two other people - friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc. - must be involved. The city offers as examples the construction of a hedge, the removal of concrete and the replanting of an area, the formation of an ecologically and socially oriented group, in short, all measures that move the city of Aachen towards an ecologically and socially sustainable development. The groups are, of course, expected to contribute to the planning and implementation of their projects; grants (up to DM 5,000) are available for consulting services and for the purchase of the necessary tools and products.