An eco-friendly model for many European cities

Rare flora and fauna have returned

European Green Capital 2017: with 3,100 hectares of grassy areas and forest, Essen is already Germany’s third-greenest city. Now Essen wants to become even more climate-friendly, low-carbon, sustainable and socially responsible. The Green Capital initiative is all about improving quality of life. And the various urban development projects benefit one main target group first and foremost: the citizens. The European Commission’s jury was impressed by this integrated approach.

Another crucial factor that made the jury choose Essen was the Emscher River renaturation project: the restoration of what used to be Germany’s dirtiest river. As part of one of Europe’s largest infrastructure projects, the cooperative known as the Emschergenossenschaft is building a total of 400 kilometres of underground sewage canals that free the river and its tributaries from sewage. Retention basins have become showcase architectural landscapes to which rare flora and fauna have already returned.

The Green Capital has set itself very ambitious targets overall: the aim is to achieve a further, noticeable reduction in motor traffic by 2025. Measures to achieve this include the RS1 cycle highway, which will link up the towns and cities between Duisburg and Hamm along a 101-kilometre route. When the cycle highway has been completed in 2020, 1.7 million people will live along it. There are around 430,000 jobs within the immediate catchment area. Commuters who switch to cycling will be able to save up to 16,600 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Essen’s successful transformation from a mining city to the greenest city in North Rhine-Westphalia makes it a role model for many European cities that are currently undergoing structural changes. In the city’s university quarter, where the Krupp steel works used to be based, there is now a recreation area that perfectly combines homes, businesses and leisure facilities. The newly created Niederfeldsee lake in Altendorf is surrounded by parkland and is close to a pleasant residential area.

There’s also an excellent network of footpaths and hiking trails in the Green Capital and beyond the city limits. Wherever you look, there are green corridors linking different parts of the city. In total, 45 of Essen’s 50 districts are connected to around 500 kilometres of walking trails. One example is the Residenzaue park, with its old trees, flowerbeds and ponds, which provides a scenic route from the centre of Borbeck to the historical Borbecker Schlosspark. Walkers can start off in Borbeck, a built-up area without much green space, and follow the newly signposted ‘Tal Route’, which winds through green areas for almost the entire stretch. The route takes you from the Hexbachtal valley, with its dense floodplain forest and unspoiled natural surroundings, via rural Bedingrade through the Pausmühlbachtal valley. From the side of the path, you can gather herbs such as nettle, wild garlic and ribwort – whether for medicinal purposes or for cooking – before you finally reach Gerschede. This picturesque village on Essen’s outermost north-western edge is set among meadows, streams and farms.

Essen regards its year as the European Green Capital only as a prelude to a green decade in the entire region. The Emscher River renaturation will be completed in 2020, the KlimaExpo.NRW will present its results in 2022 and the International Garden Exhibition (IGA) will take place in the Ruhr Metropolis in 2027.