Vienna, an ever-smarter city

According to the Green City Index, a research project conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Siemens, Vienna is among the five “greenest” cities in the world. Only Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo achieve a higher position in the ranking of European cities, whereas among extra-European cities only San Francisco obtains a slightly higher score.

Belvedere palace is reflected in a pond behind the lights of an advent market in Vienna December 15, 2014. Picture taken December 15, 2014. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

The capital of Austria ranks particularly high in the categories of energy (third place), transport (fourth), and water efficiency and treatment (second) – and this is no coincidence: for over fifteen years the Viennese municipality has been engaged in projects promoting climate and environmental protection, with the main objective of reducing CO2 emissions through a more efficient energy use.

In 1999, the City Council approved KliP Wien (Climate Protection Programme), the most comprehensive and complex environmental program ever launched by the City Administration. The project was developed at the end of the Nineties not only with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases, but also with the aim of strengthening Vienna's economy and creating new jobs. It included a great variety of measures in the areas of housing, district heating and electricity supply, businesses, city administration, and mobility. 241 individual measures were envisaged in the program, all pertaining to fields which fall within the direct competence of the municipality.

Ten years later, on December18th, 2009, an updated version of the project was approved under the name of KliP II, thus extending the program through 2020. While the goals remain the same, the fields of action have changed (energy supply and use; mobility and urban structure; purchase of waste and waste management, agriculture and forestry; environmental protection; public relations) and the number of individual measures increased to 385. The extension of the program proved to be a blessing for the urban environment as well as a major boost for the local economy. Indeed, between 1999 and 2011, the program involved investments of 20 billion euros, creating an added value of 18,7 billion euros and securing 58.600 jobs.

Barely a few years after its inception, the environmental benefits generated by KliP became clear. According to a report issued by the Austrian Energy Agency, the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions per capita by 20% (a goal that had been initially set for 2020) had already been achieved in 2009; likewise, the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 2,6 tons by 2010 had already been achieved in 2006, and 2011 witnessed a decrease of no less than 3,7 tons. Despite the early success of the program, the Viennese administration has not abandoned its mission. Many ambitious targets have been set for the coming five years: increasing the share of district heating by 50%; reducing car traffic and promoting eco-mobility; doubling the amount of energy produced from renewable energy sources as compared to 1990.

Over the past few years, these environmental policies have been integrated with a comprehensive urban strategy, allowing Vienna to develop into one of the most livable cities in the world. The plan is to create a “smart city” by adopting a holistic approach to urban development, i.e. by holding different aspects of city life in one vision: its economy, people, administration, mobility, environment, and quality of life. In other words, Vienna is preparing to face future challenges by promoting innovations that meet the real needs of its inhabitants and by improving its image. Smart City Wien, an initiative launched in 2011 under the aegis of Mayor Michael Häupl, aims at significantly reducing the use of natural resources while maintaining a high quality of life and continuing to attract people and capital.

The main surveys on the quality of life in cities all around the world (Mercer, Economist, Monocle) applaud the projects implemented so far. Vienna invariably ranks in the top 3 – earning the number one position for the fourth time in a row in Mercer's 2014 edition – and is described as a highly livable city, i.e. an extremely efficient city in terms of mobility, infrastructures, and energy supply. The ambitious targets announced in Vienna's development plans suggest that the city will retain its status as one of the world's most livable urban centers. The capital of Austria seems set to become a hub for innovation and is a clear example of how the cities of the future need to become “smart” – an increasingly important lesson for the development of urban policies in Europe.


Translation by Teresa Ciuffoletti


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