How can cities become more sustainable? As part of the Baladiya program, urban developers from North Africa are looking for answers to that question. They visited Germany’s first solar settlement in Freiburg. But renewable energy is merely one aspect of sustainable urban development - at least according to Hafsa Bakri from Morocco, who is thinking even further.
Five degrees Celsius, overcast, and rain - Germany’s first solar settlement is probably not producing much energy today. Hafsa Bakri opens her umbrella and steps outside along with the other participants of the program "Baladiya - New Approaches to Urban Development." The young Moroccan and her colleagues from Algeria and Tunisia are not too worried about the inclement weather - their minds are on more important things.
This group of architects, city planners, landscape planners, and environmental engineers is taking a tour of Vauban, Freiburg’s sustainably designed neighborhood, bombarding the neighborhood’s architect with questions along the way: What wood was used to make the Heliotrop, which directs itself towards the sun like a sunflower in order to warm up in the winter and to produce energy with the help of solar collectors? What is the water in the pond used for? Where do you get affordable solar modules? It is quickly apparent that the women and men from Maghreb are experts in their fields.
The Heliotrop in Freiburg’s Vauban neighborhood rotates to follow the sun and produces more solar energy than it consumes.
Exchanges such as these are always the focus of the Baladiya program - both among the participants as well as with the German colleagues, who join in for discussions, lectures, tours, and skill training. The program is carried out by the Robert Bosch Stiftung together with the European Academy Berlin and the Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The participants complete several modules in Germany and North Africa within a one-year period and can also spend a week or two job shadowing in German city management offices.
Hafsa Bakri - an environmental engineer from Morocco in her early 30s who works as a regional director for the environment in Marrakech - will begin her job shadowing next week. She had this to say about the Vauban neighborhood: "We, the Baladiya participants, are from countries with lots of sunshine, which is why we see this settlement as a perfect example. And renewable energy is just one element of this: other elements include covering roofs with plants and grass, collecting rainwater, and reducing traffic. I hope to initiate a pilot project in Marrakech that also combines various aspects of sustainability."
Environmental engineer Hafsa Bakri talks about her work in Morocco: "In Marrakech, we spend a lot of time dealing with climate change and new mobility concepts." Baladiya has provided her with plenty of exciting ideas for her work.
The urban developers walk through the settlement and take everything in. They are now the third generation of participants in Baladiya as the program has been in existence since 2013. They ask loads of questions, take pictures, and talk shop about the technical details. A resident stops on her bike and asks the group where they are from. "North Africa? Oh, something like this should work there too," she says in French with a laugh and pushes her bike past the group. The urban developers laugh - and some nod purposefully.
Cities are the space where everyday life takes place. Elisabeth Botsch, Baladiya program director, states: "Sustainable urban development is the key to the future, because the focus is on the future from the beginning - the planning phase - as well as during execution. Planners have to consider things like energy efficiency, mobility, and participation."
Ranya Kilani (right background) is the head architect in the Béni Khiar community in Tunisia. During her visit to Freiburg, she is particularly interested in how citizens can take part in urban development.
Program director Elisabeth Botsch explains: "Unlike Germany, all three countries involved in the Baladiya program are experiencing enormous population growth. There are many young people as well as unemployed people. On top of that, effects of climate change are already palpable there, and local urban development has to take that into account."
Baladiya will soon begin its fourth iteration. "I get the feeling that we are gradually approaching critical mass with Baladiya. I think we can now say that it is really making a difference," says Botsch.