press release, 23. November 2020

Looking beyond city boundaries

International conference hosted by UFZ on the relationship between urban and rural areas

Until now, spatial planning has been primarily concerned with cities. It is increasingly becoming clear that the rural regions surrounding built-up areas have an important influence on urban spaces, for example in terms of climate, energy supply, water management and transport planning. The Sustainable & Resilient Urban-Rural Partnerships conference will focus on how cities and rural areas could cooperate on these issues. Experts from the worlds of science and politics will meet with professionals working in the field between the 26th and 27th of November, both online and in Leipzig at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ). The conference will take place under the auspices of Germany’s presidency of the Council of the European Union.

July 1, 2020. Start of Germany’s presidency of the Council of the European Union. UFZ scientists Prof. Sigrun Kabisch and Dr. Stephan Bartke meet with Leipzig's Lord Mayor Burkhard Jung. Photo: UFZ
July 1, 2020. Start of Germany’s presidency of the Council of the European Union. UFZ scientists Prof. Sigrun Kabisch and Dr. Stephan Bartke meet with Leipzig's Lord Mayor Burkhard Jung.
Photo: UFZ

Sustainable and resilient - these are the urgent demands that are increasingly being placed upon the well-functioning interaction between town and country. Sustainability is important, for example, to prevent environmental pollution by means of an intelligent transport policy, to use existing buildings and spaces efficiently and to minimise the consumption of energy and resources. Cities and their surrounding regions need to be resilient in order to maintain their ability to function in the event of major crises such as pandemics, floods or economic difficulties. "The aim of the conference is for national and international scientists, politicians and practitioners to exchange views on these issues on equal terms so that fact-based decisions can be made," says UFZ urban sociologist Professor Sigrun Kabisch, who is the joint chair of the conference together with Dr. Stephan Bartke from the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA). 

One way in which the relationship between cities and their surrounding areas can change has been demonstrated, for example, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Young families with children are increasingly moving out of urban locations and relocating in the countryside in order to have their own house with a garden or have more access to nature in the vicinity. "It is no longer enough to concentrate research solely on cities in an approach that has focused heavily on the consequences of the densification of building stock, air pollution and the lack of green space. Because the surrounding area is becoming increasingly important for solving problems, new patterns of regional development and cooperation are required. The aspiration to give more thought to what lies beyond city boundaries is new," says Sigrun Kabisch, who is also the chair of the scientific advisory board of the EU Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) on Urban Europe.

Featuring speeches by Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek, Minister-President of Saxony Michael Kretschmer and Lord Mayor of Leipzig Burkhard Jung, the two-day conference will also present the new edition of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities. The first version of the charter was adopted in 2007 by the ministers from all EU Member States responsible for urban development. It called for strategies to strengthen integrated approaches to urban development with regard to the development of urban neighbourhoods. Thirteen years on, work is underway to update the Leipzig Charter during Germany’s presidency of the Council of the EU. The new Leipzig Charter will affirm that sustainable and resilient urban development must be viewed as part of integrated regional development. "Cities and their regions are facing new challenges, including managing pandemics, and they must respond," says Sigrun Kabisch. The relevant EU ministers will sign the new Leipzig Charter in early December.

One of the six keynote speeches at the conference will be given by Maria Vassilakou, who, as the former Deputy Mayor of Vienna, headed the city’s Department of Urban Development and was thus largely responsible for the sustainable transformation of the Austrian capital into one of the world’s most liveable metropolises. Another renowned international guest will be Professor David Simon from Royal Holloway, University of London. Using practical examples, he will talk about how cities and rural areas can jointly establish sustainable partnerships for mutual benefit. These lectures will be complemented by sessions at which current research topics will be presented, such as regional circular economies, land use management, digitalisation and dealing with extreme events in the context of urban-regional development. One event led by UFZ researchers Professor Christian Kuhlicke and Dr. Mariana M. de Brito will address the paradoxes involved in being resilient. In a case from Germany, current policies for flood-prone areas are unintentionally increasing the potential for disaster. For example, the construction of flood protection dykes encourages owners to invest more in their property, which increases the potential for damage in the event of a dyke bursting. Another session, led by UFZ urban geographer Dr. Ellen Banzhaf, will present findings from joint German-Chinese research projects and show how sociotechnical and nature-based solutions to issues relating to air pollution, noise, waste management, organic food production or ecotourism are being put into practice at the interface between town and country.

The URP2020 conference has been organised by an ancillary project of the Stadt-Land-Plus research initiative in cooperation with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the City of Leipzig. URP2020 has been financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Link to the programme:
Live Stream opening session and keynotes:

Further information

Prof. Dr. Sigrun Kabisch
Head of the UFZ-Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology

Dr. Stephan Bartke
German Federal Environment Agency

UFZ press office

Susanne Hufe
Phone: +49 341 235-1630

In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, ecosystems of the future, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, the effects of chemicals in the environment, modelling and social-scientific issues. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the Federal Government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy; Earth and Environment; Health; Key Technologies; Matter; and Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With some 39,000 employees in 19 research centres, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation.
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