10 years of the Leipzig Charta: a model for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs?

By Timo Munzinger
This year’s Federal Congress on National Urban Development Policy in Germany focuses on the Leipzig Charta’s 10th anniversary and future perspectives for sustainable cities in Europe. Timo Munzinger of the German Association of Cities (Deutscher Städtetag) discusses the relevance of the Leipzig Charta for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, calling for the Leipzig Charta to be brought up to date to meet current urbanisation challenges.

The European city – in the past, present and future

It is now ten years since the adoption of the Leipzig Charta. Time to look back, to reflect and to also look ahead with optimism. Therefore, I would like to start with a question. What did the Leipzig Charta accomplish in the past ten years?

The Charta phrased integral neighbourhood development as well as compactness, diversity and urbanism as goals of an integrated urban development strategy. Despite the different starting points in European cities, the Leipzig Charta contributed to a common understanding of the aims and processes of urban development, in particular by underlining the social element of urban planning. An increase of functionality and efficiency alone would have been unsatisfactory for cities. Cities should enable people to participate and ensure equal opportunities and a high quality of life. This has to do with functionality and efficiency criteria on the one hand but goes far beyond and deep into qualitative criteria.

Furthermore, the Leipzig Charta pursues a multi-level governance approach. This complex approach is increasingly reflected by the member states of the European Union (EU). The European Union offers several funding programmes for urban development besides some supplement funding at national level. All of them demand an integrated urban strategy as an admission requirement.

The New Urban Agenda

This approach is also an integral element of the New Urban Agenda, which was adopted by the United Nations at the HABITAT III Conference in Quito in 2016. The New Urban Agenda calls for the development and implementation of policies, including local-national and multi-stakeholder partnerships, in order to achieve sustainable integrated urban development. It sets global benchmarks for sustainable urban development. Of course the Agenda is not binding under international law, but it is a textual and political framework for action for member states as well as cities and communities.

Compared to the previous declaration from Istanbul made in 1996, the New Urban Agenda is compact and committed to a stronger political involvement of cities to improve the quality of life and to achieve a sustainable urban and integrative development. The importance of cities and communities as key actors for achieving sustainable development is underlined and strengthened. This was also due to the achievements of the Leipzig Charta, whose principles are now widely acknowledged among German and European stakeholders. In the pre-negotiation process, the Association of German Cities and UCLG stood up for strong and vital cities in “one world”. Together they achieved a multi-level approach for better urban governance within a strong local self-government. The principle of subsidiarity and decentralization should be approved as well as the appreciation of the interests of the cities and their associations.

Impacts of the Leipzig Charta in Europe

The Leipzig Charta stresses the importance of neighbourhood related approaches within urban development. Despite the heterogeneity of national policy frameworks, the idea of integrated urban development with a strong relation to social neighbourhoods has reached the political European mainstream. The Charta outlines for example, that integrated urban development strategies, cooperative urban development management and good governance can contribute to a purposeful use of European cities’ potential, particularly with regard to competitiveness and growth, as well as to reducing disparities within and among neighbourhoods. Nowadays there are policies, strategies and projects in place in nearly every European country in regard to disadvantaged neighbourhoods. This shows that the Leipzig Charta is well appreciated within the European Union.

Nevertheless, the scope, quality and general focus of these approaches vary significantly across the EU. Specific and well-appointed funding tools at national level, like the German “Städtebauförderung” (funding programme for urban development), are rather rare. Despite the big differences between national funding tools, European funding instruments became more and more important. The approach of the “EU-Cohesion Policy” including the European Regional Development Fund (EFRE), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Cohesion Fund is based on neighbourhoods. The particular frameworks focus clearly on an integrated approach combined with multi-level-governance, the partnership principle, subsidiarity and proportionality. To apply for funds, cities usually have to submit an integrated urban development concept to the funding body. The application by the cities ensures that single projects are coordinated and connected to each other as well as suitable to the local needs.

Main emphasis of an action-oriented European Charta for urban development

Whether or not and to what extent the New Urban Agenda could deliver ideas for further developing the Leipzig Charta needs more scrutinising. The implementation of these ideas would depend on the EU and member states’ willingness to provide funds to cities. First of all we need to understand that the New Urban Agenda largely paints an ideal image of urbanism, based on the European City and its dense, diverse and liveable structures.

Massive challenges like social inequality, environment protection, climate change, migration, demographic change, resource scarcity and digitalization need a strong system of multi-level governance. Despite the general appreciation of integrated structures and strategies for urban development, it appears that the implementation is still a big challenge for all states, cities and communities inside and outside of Europe.

The key principles of the Leipzig Charta, which include an integrated neighbourhood based approach of urban development with high-level support and a strong participation, are nowadays as relevant as ten years ago. In order to connect the basic idea of integrated urban development with current urban issues and challenges, the Leipzig Charta would need to be brought up to date. Such an update should include structures of multi-level and multi-stakeholder governance as a central theme. Furthermore the EU’s Pact of Amsterdam and the New Urban Agenda as very important milestones should be taken into account. Based on such structures, the “New” Leipzig Charta could become a trigger to move urban development to the next level, working towards integrative and inclusive development and the principles of a sufficient use of resources.

Timo Munzinger

Dr. Timo Munzinger is policy officer at the Association of German Cities (Deutscher Städtetag, DST). He focuses on integrated and sustainable urban development, urban planning, regional development, architecture and building culture. Before working for the DST, he was a project manager at STEG Stadtentwicklung GmbH in Stuttgart, Germany. He holds an MBA in Architecture Management and a doctoral degree from the University of Stuttgart.
Timo Munzinger
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