Sustainable Urban Development: PRESUD

One of the most rewarding experiences of being a member of Birmingham City Council was the opportunity to become involved with major issues. One of these was the improvement of services through the Best Value initiative (of which more later), the other was to be part of the Birmingham team looking at sustainable development in 9 European cities: The Hague, Malmo, Tampere, Leipzig. Vienna, Venice, Newcastle, Nottingham and Birmingham. This was the PRESUD peer-group assessment project.
My involvement began in 2001 with a training session in an extremely Venice. The venue itself was in the cool environment of a converted warehouse on the Lagoon. The interior had been converted to be like the rigging of a sailing shipm an experience in itself. Our Venetian hosts took us to mostly fish restaurants with an amazing variety of local produce familiar and unfamiliar.
The first review I became involved with was in Leipzig in June 2002. Flying via Munich rather than Frankfurt was quite a long journey. Leipzig airport is quite small some way outside the city. Leipzig is of considerable historical interest, particularly to me with its associations with J.S. Bach and Mendelssohn. As I pointed out at he end of the presentation of our findings, Mendelssohn had association with Birmingham where he performed his works in the Town Hall. My last morning I sat in on a performance of a Telemann choral work. Quite simply stunning.
Sustainability was very much on the minds of the City Council and the surrounding area. There was much activity to create leisure facilities and some of the schemes were on a large scale. There was the use of the former coal quarries to form a lake for water sports and other activities, and a canal was being renewed to join it to a tributory of the Elbe which would open a route to the sea north of Hamburg. We borrowed bicycles to take a look at this project – quite a time since I had ridden! The canal development was one where officers from Birmingham City Council were able to provide the benefit of their experience of renovating the canal system in Birmingham. Bill Clinton visiting the G8 summit in Birmingham during his presidency of the U.S. had enjoyed his stay with a pint of beer in one of the canalside pubs.
The public transport system is well developed, and one of the newly built neighbourhoods was trying to get the extensive tram network into the area. The size of the population would not merit this, however. The exsistence of a car industry in Leipzig brought about a caution which was holding back on progress in sustainability. It was felt that compromises had to be made.
Leipzig was formerly part of Eastern Germany and a large number of people had left following reunification. This meant there were many empty flats and properties. There is a huge complex where Leipzig holds international events such as its Trade Fairs.
The report was welcomed as fair comment on the situation in Leipzig, although we were disappointed at the low turnout in the imposing Council House building. closed the presentation with a vote of thanks for the co-operation we had received with documentation and organisation.

2004 report for Venice
2004 report for Birmingham
Evaluation Report of the Project by Trevor Wren, Newcastle

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