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Explainer: What is Lokale Agenda 21?

As you (might) know, one of our goals here at Vienna Shares is to spread the word about other sustainability projects that we think are worth knowing about. Today’s brief introduction is about Lokale Agenda 21, an organisation that also collaborates with Vienna Shares.

What’s the big deal?

LA21 goes back to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. There, a plan of action was devised to start and support sustainable development in the 21st century. This plan of action was given the name ‘Agenda 21’ and implementation was planned for the international, national, regional and local level.
A total of 178 countries voted for Agenda 21. However, since it is only a statement of intent and not a treaty, the decisions made in 1992 are not binding – which basically means that every country and local government can decide to go along with the program but can also simply ignore it. Generally, it’s said that the program has been most enthusiastically adopted in Europe. In the United States, the situation is very complex – many local governments are pushing the Agenda, but there has also been a big backlash recently. The Republican Party has spoken out against the program as “ erosive of American sovereignty” and the state of Alabama passed a bill in 2012 to prevent Agenda 21 programs from interfering with private property.

What’s it to us?

In Vienna, the implementation of the program started in 1998 in the 9th district. A pilot program was instituted to work on an “activating city diagnosis” in order to identify current problems that could be tackled. Controlling/steering groups (Steuerungsgruppen) were instituted, which should ensure dialogue between political representatives and citizens concerning the projects. This phase lasted until 2002; the first successful project, finished in 2005, was the redevelopment of the Thurnstiege. Its planning involved an assigned Agenda-team as well as people from the neighborhood and it was designed to ensure more green space and accessibility for all passers-by.

From 2002 onwards, the program was expanded to all of Vienna. Districts could now choose to join the program and be supported by the magistrate of Vienna, which would support projects financially. Ten districts have so far taken this up, and seven of these Agenda offices are still active. After ten years of its existence, the LA21 composed a final report in December 2007 where the inner workings of the process were detailed and lessons for future projects were summarized – you can read it here. Following that, the program was rebranded Lokale Agenda 21 Plus in 2009, focusing on three thematic blocks: a) sustainable mobility and public space, b) intercultural dialogue and c) urban quarters for young and old.

Okay, but how does it work?

Generally, one of the Agenda offices will call for citizens to submit ideas and projects for the sustainable development of their cities. The methods for this can vary from discussion groups to online questionnaires in order to identify areas of urgently needed improvement. If a proposal finds enough interested people, an agenda group (Agendagruppe) is formed out of those people which is then tasked with its implementation and supported by the Agenda office. The central coordinating organ are the aforementioned controlling groups (Steuerungsgruppen).

Representatives of the Agenda projects meet with representatives of all municipal parties to discuss the progress of specific projects and future plans. They meet several times a year; and to ensure transparency, you can take a look at the protocols of these meetings. Here, for example, is one of a meeting of the Donaustadt group last December. Furthermore, there are also transfer groups, which meet at least twice a year. They exist of members of the government of Vienna and LA21 and they exchange information and coordinate planning together. Last but not least, Agenda forums are held regularly – meetings where Agenda groups share and discuss their experiences and can network across districts.

„LA21 Organigramm“ von Lokale Agenda 21 Wien - Eigenes Werk. Lizenziert unter CC-BY-SA 4.0 über Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LA21_Organigramm.jpg#/media/File:LA21_Organigramm.jpg
„LA21 Organigramm“ von Lokale Agenda 21 Wien – Eigenes Werk. Lizenziert unter CC-BY-SA 4.0 über Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LA21_Organigramm.jpg#/media/File:LA21_Organigramm.jpg

What’s being done?

To finish off, let’s look at some recent and ongoing projects. I just picked three that seemed well-distributed geographically and thematically.
GemeinschaftsGarten Norwegerviertel – In 2010, the aim of establishing a communal garden was presented to the neighborhood Norwegerviertel in the 22nd district – people were informed about the building plans and could come up with their own criticisms and questions. In 2011, workshops were given to interested participants to prepare them for urban gardening. Since the project was also installed to improve the neighborhood climate, meetings were held with kids and young people using the space (the Asperner Wiesn) so as to address some of the concerns uninvolved neighbors might have about the project. Building started in spring 2011 and the official opening was in September of that same year. The garden is divided into parcels roughly 20m² in size each owned by one oft he 20 members of the gardening community, and also includes a communal gardening area. Every year, they organize open days (Tag der offenen Tür) for visitors who can ask about the history and also get tips for gardening. This year’s first event is coming up on May 31st from 14.00 to 18.00. Read more here.

Map and picture of the communal garden – source: http://norwegerviertel.wordpress.com
Map and picture of the communal garden – source: http://norwegerviertel.wordpress.com

Fasanmarkt – The establishment of markets to stimulate neighborhoods is one of the targets of the artists association ‘silo’, and so they organized a number of them at Fasanplatz, which had up to that point only been used as parking space, in 2011. After that, they wanted to make it a regular thing and contacted the local Agenda group for support. Since March 2012, the Fasanmarkt has been a fixture on (almost) every Saturday of the year – it’s mainly a farmers’ market, but is regularly combined with cultural events and performances as well as discussion platforms for sharing sustainability ideas and tips. This is their homepage. You can read up on Agenda’s experiences with setting up a market here.

Bennoplatz – I regularly pass through this nice square, and I was quite surprised to learn that the area has only recently been redesigned. The planning process started in 2008; initially, the Agenda group set up a sketch where people from the neighborhood could submit their ideas for an improvement of the area. Planned improvements were then discussed during meetings of participating citizens with experts from the magistrate, and submitted for approval to the district government. In 2010, construction started – traffic-reducing measures included aligning the sidewalk level with that of the street and installing bumps. Moreover, the playground was renovated and expanded, extra lights were installed and additional seating was set up around the square. After the summer, the Bennoplatz had taken the shape that you can still see today.

New public seating at Bennoplatz . Source: http://www.diejosefstadt.at/
New public seating at Bennoplatz . Source: http://www.diejosefstadt.at/

Of course, there are also still active projects going on. A new one is the Grätzloase – a Vienna-wide initiative set up by LA21 for citizens to improve the quarters they live in. You can submit your ideas for a re-design within your quarter that should improve and creatively encourage common usage of urban space and should be finished by the end of the next year. A jury will select the best proposals and funding for the project can range up to 4.000 Euros. You can participate via this website. We’ll certainly be looking forward to the results!

PS Anyone who manages planting trees in the second district gets my love.

By: Jakob Jorda

More information available at:
The website of LA21 and in English
The Austrian sustainability portal
the Vienna government website