The mayor of Hof, Eva Döhla, has just experienced the consequences of climate change personally. His town was also affected by flooding last week. Shops and apartments were flooded, cars swam in underground garages. There was material damage of ten million euros. “The cleanup job will take weeks and months,” said Döhla, luckily no one was injured.
Major politicians decide on many sustainability issues: EU, federal government, states. But how does this happen where people live, in cities and towns? And what can they themselves do to make people’s lives more sustainable, in terms of traffic or life? Two lord mayors and a mayoress discussed it during the SZ summit: Dieter Reiter (Munich, 1.5 million inhabitants), Ulf K Merger (Kiel, 247,000 inhabitants), who is also vice-president of the Association German cities, and Eva Döhla (Hof, 46,000 inhabitants).
They represent a large, medium and small municipality, and it turned out that they have a common problem: they would like to make their environment more sustainable, but often they are not allowed to decide.
“If I declare something to be a major political goal, I have to support it with funds.”
Take the example of traffic: “Why am I not allowed to decide the amount of my parking fees? Asked the mayor of Munich. The federal government poses all kinds of problems for municipalities, but financially they don’t have much to report. The federal government is planning two billion euros for the promotion of local public transport – a drop in the hot asphalt when you consider that Munich alone will have to spend 42 billion euros in the next few years. “If I declare something to be a major political goal, I have to support it with funds,” Reiter said.
The mayor does not see himself well supported by the state either: “I am unhappy that the Free State has neglected the S-Bahn for decades.” Their unreliability means that many commuters drive to Munich by car and jam the streets. It is now a question of jointly replacing the vulnerable signaling post at the Ostbahnhof, “and not before 2030, but soon”.
Today, Kiel suffers from a mistake that city politicians made 40 years ago: they abolished the tram because they thought it was no longer necessary. “It’s incredibly difficult to fix this error,” OB Fighter said. The use of public traffic after opening hours in Kiel is “a terrible ten percent”. A new light rail system is now planned, for which 90 percent federal and state funding is required. Planning and construction would take a long time; it will certainly not be finished before 2030. And then everything depends on the will of the citizens: Wiesbaden and Aachen, for example, voted in a referendum against a tram.
Fighters complained that high-ranking authorities “have already reversed one or the other cycle path”. We must trust the municipalities more and not have the right to control them. A problem that also concerns her now is that of speed restrictions. Eight cities in Germany want to introduce Tempo 30 nationwide. Reiter thinks this is an exaggeration: “Tempo 30 already represents 90 percent of the streets of Munich, you don’t have to do it everywhere for ideological reasons.”
Live as an example: “The biggest challenge for us is that nurses or policemen who provide public life can stay in cities,” Kämper said. There have been “partially perverse increases” in burgeoning municipalities. Fighter, who also represents the German Association of Cities, announced drastic measures: “We will always implement regulations that were previously unimaginable.” One possibility is to limit rent increases to the level of inflation. Kämper also finds the returns for investors in residential construction too high: “We could at least skim some of it and invest it in social housing.
For the Munich OB rider, base prices are “the root of the problem”. He is committed to implementing a proposal that still comes from the late Mayor Hans-Jochen Vogel: to limit the gain in real estate without performance and make it accessible to the general public. In Munich, land prices have increased by 39,000% in 55 years. However, only the federal government can implement it.
At one point, there was a difference between the three mayors. “With us, the building land is still affordable, the buses are empty and parking spaces are available,” explains Eva Döhla. A city like Hof could therefore benefit from the development of recent years, which has made metropolises more expensive and less attractive. Döhla believes the corona pandemic and the trend towards home offices are also contributing to this. She knows a young family that has just moved in. “The father works in the financial sector in Frankfurt and he can work very well on the farm.”