Urban Ecology in Germany

Urban Ecology
09 Aug 2021

Our cities are continuously growing and consuming ever more energy and resources. But at the same time, dense urban construction and shorter travel distances present an opportunity for more environmentally-friendly development. Urban ecology has therefore also become an important goal in Germany. By examining some exciting concepts from German towns and cities, we want to show you what changes in the use of mobility, energy, resources and space can result in more sustainability.

Digitalisation and energy

Running buildings accounts for almost 55% of global power consumption and therefore holds great potential in terms of savings. In future „smart cities & buildings“ can help to reduce this share and make efficient use of energy. Smart buildings are equipped with numerous IoT sensors, one of their tasks being to analyse energy consumption. This allows buildings to automatically adjust temperatures, lighting and ventilation or to show users how they themselves can optimise their consumption.

A smart city also integrates other technologies designed to improve local quality of life and sustainability. The pilot project „Smarter Together Munich“ is a source of a number of examples. In the area covered by the project, photovoltaic systems are actively supported and excess energy is fed into battery storage units for periods with little sunshine. Consulting is available to individual apartment owners as well as to housing cooperatives. Moreover, smart home boxes are handed out to residents so that they can analyse their energy consumption and control it efficiently. Since 2019, the „Smart Cities Model Project“ has provided state assistance to many other towns and communities to help them implement such concepts.

Mobility

Entire volumes could be written on the issue of mobility in cities. The most important keywords here are electro-mobility and micro-mobility as well as the upgrading of public transport systems, walkways and cycle paths. The German Environment Agency’s „Tomorrow’s Cities“ concept sets specific goals to be achieved in these areas.

The first goal is probably the most ambitious: in future, only 150 private cars should be registered per 1000 inhabitants. That would bring multiple benefits: spaces would be freed up and could be used for other purposes; there would be fewer traffic jams and less noise, and it would be good for people’s health. Spaces no longer needed for parked cars should be transformed into bike parking facilities or cycle paths. Furthermore, dedicated lanes for public transport should be installed on 50% of the main traffic network. Car-sharing and ride-sharing round off the range of mobility options. The vision behind the concept foresees greenhouse-gas-neutral urban traffic in which cars play only a minor role – and when they are used, they should be fueled by renewable power.

The lack of charging infrastructure is the most commonly stated criticism in connection with the topic of e-mobility. According to the Environment Agency, this situation should be improved by including charging stations when planning commercial and residential developments. At the same time, public transport should be made so attractive that people prefer it to using their cars. Points to be considered here are improved reliability, lower prices, greater frequency as well as extending networks to the surrounding area. Moreover, micro-mobility, such as that provided by e-scooters, should be used as an effective addition to the system – but only as a substitute for car rides. If scooters are used as an alternative to cycling or walking, they are in fact a disadvantage to the environment.

However, passenger transport is not the only issue – new approaches are also needed to freight logistics. In downtown districts in particular, delivery vehicles have hardly any space and have a negative impact on the environment – particularly when multiple deliveries are necessary. Micro-depots are frequently discussed as a way of making final deliveries more environmentally-friendly. In this concept, parcels are brought to their destination from small storage stations by means of cargo bikes.

In Munich a number of model projects are also being implemented in the field of mobility. Besides creating a new delivery transport strategy encompassing flexible micro-depots and new parcel stations, the „Smarter Together“ project has also seen the installation of e-mobility stations, where bicycles, e-bikes and e-trikes (cargo bikes) can be rented along with electric cars. There is also a „Quartiersbox“ (neighbourhood box), which acts as a collection box for deliveries from online shops and local businesses as well as a private locker for depositing borrowed articles for neighbours, for example.

Many projects concern delivery on the „last mile“. But longer transport routes should also be reconsidered in future. With this in mind, the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt’s Institute of Applied Logistics Solutions is currently conducting a feasibility study into parcel transportation on public transport. They are examining two concepts: on the one hand, parcel transportation on moderately utilised bus services in the countryside and, on the other, the carriage of transport containers on regional trains outside of commuter periods.

Utilisation of space and resources

Urban ecology also encompasses the efficient utilisation of resources and spaces. „Urban farming & gardening“ is an increasingly popular approach. From the ecological point of view, growing food in the city saves on transportation and packaging material and is particularly effective when seasonal products are eaten straightaway and not stored in refrigeration facilities. Vertical urban farms in skyscrapers are also conceivable in future. However, with space being limited, these concepts should be seen as a supplement and not as a complete alternative to traditional agriculture. Supermarkets too are integrating local growing into their concepts. With the aid of aquaponics, the REWE model supermarket in Wiesbaden-Erbenheim is producing basil and fish locally. The Supermarket also claims that the environmentally-friendly packaging of basil can save 12 tonnes of plastic a year.

The vision of the Federal Environment Agency also includes new green spaces and expanses of water. Local recreation areas will reduce trips to the surrounding area, preserve local bio-diversity and promote local residents‘ health. Wasteland and building land should also be utilised better and urban infill used to good effect. Repair and swap shops are a further way of using resources efficiently and avoiding frequent new purchases.

Building greening can also make an effective contribution to urban ecology. As towns and cities will be increasingly impacted by high temperatures, green facades and roofs can act as a kind of air-conditioning system. The plants also bind CO2 and improve air quality. Green buildings and roofs also enrich the quality of life of local residents.

Summary

Ecology is playing an increasingly important role in towns and cities and often creates social benefits. In Germany, numerous concepts are already being tested or implemented. It is now up to the politicians to promote energy-efficient living and building even more intensively and to establish a climate-neutral infrastructure in towns and cities. The model projects show that this is possible – particularly when there is close consultation between local residents and companies. And so the future prospects for urban ecology are very promising. We look forward to seeing what the future holds!


Julia Schuch