Green Urban Economy
People are moving back into the city
Interview with Hans Mönninghoff, Director of Economic and Environmental Affairs for the city of Hanover
Mr Mönninghoff, do you think the role played by cities in trying to achieve sustainability nationally and globally has been sufficiently acknowledged to date?
Mönninghoff: It is of fundamental importance that the regulatory framework be set by government, including national legislation. It would be misguided to think in terms of local government versus central government. However, given a clear, functional framework, cities can then definitely lead the way towards environmental protection and sustainability.
How does a city benefit from a green urban economy?
Mönninghoff: I can explain that very precisely using Hanover as an example. In the past, there was a common belief that the economy and the environment were at odds with each other. But, since we merged the Economic and Environmental Affairs directorates seven years ago, we have realised that the two aspects have a great deal in common; in fact protecting the environment is a key economic factor. After all, better air quality and more green spaces improve the quality of life in a city. As a consequence, more people settle there and migration out of the city is halted. Tourism in Hanover has also increased by 30% in recent years. And the rate at which businesses and their employees are moving out is among the lowest of all cities in Germany. Families stay because they value the high quality of life in Hanover. People are moving back into the city from the surrounding area, because they can save on the high cost of fuel and still enjoy plenty of green space.
Working to protect the urban environment is not a brand new idea. But now we have the term ‘green urban economy’. What is the difference?
Mönninghoff: Initially individual political parties were the driving force, such as Germany’s Green Party in the 1980s. What is new is the fact that protecting the urban environment is something that now has a broad base of support. The ‘green’ ideas of the past have now spread to other actors and political parties.
What do you think of the Bonn Perspectives initiative, which is also trying to acknowledge this broad base and bring together different actors in an attempt to achieve a green urban economy?
Mönninghoff: I think that this kind of international exchange of experiences is extremely important. Back in 1992, we had an exchange of ideas with American and European colleagues about energy policies of the future. I was recently on a lecture tour in Australia, where I spoke about Hanover’s experience. We are actually now the knowledge givers in this respect, because we have been working to achieve sustainability for many years. Others are only just embarking on that course.
Where do you think the green urban economy may still come up against obstacles despite all your successes?
Mönninghoff: Unfortunately, it has to be said that at the moment a lot of good initiatives on the part of local authorities are being thwarted by the actions of governments. We have seen little progress towards sustainability in recent years at government level. Take heavy goods traffic for example. Why is the EU allowing it to expand? In Hanover, for example, we have scarcely been able to reduce CO2 emissions despite having expanded our public transport and cycle path network, because at the same time, the volume of heavy goods traffic has increased drastically. Furthermore, the unfairness in world trade makes it virtually impossible for poorer countries to achieve sustainable development. So overall it has to be said that the issue is not being taken seriously at international level.
The interview was conducted by Monika Hoegen.
Photo: (C) Büro Mönninghoff