A Former Coal Town in Germany is 2017’s Green Capital of Europe

The former Zollverein Coal Mine in Essen, Germany, now a UNESCO world heritage site. Photo:
The former Zollverein Coal Mine in Essen, Germany, now a UNESCO world heritage site. Photo:

Essen used to be one of Germany’s most important coal centres. But in 2017 the city is Europe’s green capital of the year.

Every year the European Commission puts the spotlight on a city that does a particularly good job at leading the way in “environmentally friendly urban living.”

This year it is Essen – located in North West Germany – that has the honour of calling itself Europe’s green capital. The aim of the annual title is to inspire other cities and help spread concrete examples of what a green city can look like according to the Commission.

Essen’s Industrial History

The Commission says Essen is making “admirable efforts” to overcome a challenging industrial history to reinvent itself as a green city.

Essen is the ninth largest city in Germany with close to 600.000 inhabitants and an increasing population density. Its industrial history was closely linked to underground coal-mining operations. Essen’s last coal mine was closed in the 1980s and since then the city has transformed itself into a services and financial centre.

If you were to visit the city today, the Zollverein Coal Mine may be the most visible reminder of Essen’s coal history. Today, the mine – a UNESCO world heritage site because of its architecture – has been converted into a major cultural centre for the region.

Green Infrastructure

Essen is investing in green infrastructure, and the Commission highlighted the development of the Krupp Belt as one of its greatest successes. The former industrial site had long been a wasteland, but now features a 23-hectare public park, new neighbourhoods and businesses.

The city has also implemented a range of practices to protect and enhance nature and biodiversity. Future plans focus on species which are resilient to climate change, the Commisson notes.

Essen demonstrates a strong overall performance across many areas including climate change, green urban areas, air quality, waste management and energy performance the Commission says.

River Transformation

The transformation of the Emscher river from an open sewer to a natural river was also mentioned by the Commission. The planned improvements to the wastewater treatment system include the reduction of emissions of micropollutants and the focus on the removal of pharmaceuticals.

Focus on Cities

Nine cities have been awarded the title of European Green Capital since the scheme was first organised in 2010. Stockholm, Sweden, won the inaugural title, followed by Hamburg, Germany, in 2011, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, in 2012 and Nantes, France, in 2013. Copenhagen, Denmark, was the green capital of 2014, Bristol, UK, won in 2015 and Ljubljana, Slovenia, won the 2016 title.

With two-thirds of Europeans already living in towns and cities – a number set to further increase in the decades ahead – the EU focuses on urban areas as a major source of the causes of climate change, but also as part of the solution. Climate-KIC, the EU’s climate innovation initiative, runs a range of programmes to help cities make the transition to a zero carbon economy.

Interested in making cities more sustainable? Check out Climate-KIC’s Smart Sustainable Districts, Low Carbon City Lab and Building Technology Accelerator programmes.

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