Vienna is astonishingly green - with 50% of its territory being river, forest, gardens, park or farm. This is something to celebrate, and the Viennese have an obsessive connection to nature, the land and fresh, local produce. And yet, the city is empty at the weekend, because many locals think they need to go to the land to experience nature. Wrong.
With this tour we want to show you how easy it is to develop an intimate relationship to agriculture, bees and trees, without leaving your home district.
Walking is the cheapest form of mobility, so we also hope to show that more journeys should be made on foot. And of course Vienna Walking Week encourages us to see our hometown as a possible holiday destination, for residents.
So where does the tour go? We visit two very different street markets - Hannover & Karmeliter - to compare produce, prices, sellers, quality, and customers! The wilder Hannovermarkt is home to super-cheap parsley, coriander, hummus and beer. And we find that not enough walking tours explore Brigittenau. Then we look at a swingers' club on Hannovergasse, with a spectacular green facade. South through Wien's largest Bundesgärten, the baroque Augarten, to the City Farm, an urban gardening project at Augartenspitz, home to the Filmarchiv and Kino wie noch Nie. This is a wild and lost part of the city, romantic, secret and yet so central.
Next a much-admired green balcony, on a private house, on to Karmelitermarkt (where Eugene lives in a green-coloured house - which we will visit if the group is small enough), Gebietsbetreuung's Garteln ums Eck, and a Beserlpark in the back streets of Leopoldstadt, then a Coole Strasse (designed to combat urban heat islands), and finally down to Donaukanal to chat with some guerilla gardeners at the Gemeinschaftsgarten, and visit the new Hängenden Gärten. Another note about Eugene's home - until October last year, he lived in a majority Green-voting Sprengel, with a Green Bezirksvorsteherin, Green(/Red) city government, Green(/Turkis) national government, and a Green president. There are not so many places in the world with five levels of Green Party leadership.
The increasing popularity of Vienna's 17 street markets is a welcome sign. They represent lively public spaces, and bring colourful theatre to otherwise grey spaces. They offer low barriers to entry for diverse new business owners, and connect urban customers to rural economies where products are grown, raised, and distributed. Markets are also one of the key gathering places where people of different ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds come together in our segregated cities. Placemaking is an important outcome, with people identifying a wider district through its market - from Brunnenmarkt to Viktor Adler Markt. Around the world, markets help to connect food, place and people, whether Barcelona's Boqueria, London's 1,000 year old Borough Market, or Milan's I Navigli.
2021 is a historic year, because of the United Nations 'COP' meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, in December, bringing together world leaders to make much deeper commitments on carbon reduction. We need the Americans, Brazilians, Saudis and Chinese to understand the urgency. The last global gathering, in Paris 2015, was important, but disrupted by Trump's later departure from the commitments. In this sense, Glasgow is a historic chance to save the world – or not? It might be our last chance. Paris was good, but we need much bigger and faster cuts.
Eugene's second official job was working in the London office of Greenpeace (1989-90), continuing the link with the word green. In this sense, he has been a campaigner for 30 years. There is no more important movement than the fight against climate collapse. He does not fly, eat meat, have a smartphone or a driving licence. He has been arrested six times, three of those for eco protesting.
And so this walk is a celebration of his desire for more ecological engagement, and the important and beautiful steps Stadt Wien and others have made in the last 20 years.
So what is Wien doing? The city offers grants to those developing green facades or rooves for their own homes and offices. Bus stops are increasingly covered with living plants. The MA 48 headquarters has a living facade. Public transport costs are some of the lowest Europe, for a world-class service, with an expanding network, and so the proportion of people driving has been steadily declining. Cycling and walking are increasingly popular forms of sustainable urban mobility. Some in the SPÖ are still scared of the power of car drivers as a voting bloc, and there are major new roads planned, but other commitments to photovoltaic energy, district heating and a ban on new houses using gas for heating. In fact, the city was ranked first from 100 worldwide, as the greenest city, in 2020, because of its innovative energy mix.
Vienna has exceptional urban agriculture. The city produces more agriculture per km2 than the other 8 states of Austria, which is astonishing. The mark „Stadternte Wien“ was launched in May 2021, to show consumers which produce to buy, to support the local economy. This food clearly has to travel less distance than most other produce. Around 1/3 of the green spaces in Vienna are used for agriculture, of which 27% are organic farming today. This means fresh regional produce, which is harvested just a few kilometers away and which can reach the Viennese people without detours - this not only saves transport kilometers and minimizes the carbon footprint, but also provides healthy, quality, sustainably produced food on our dining table. Some of the most obvious local harvest includes wine, cucumbers, snails, carp, forest mushrooms, baerlauch and asparagus. One of the things Eugene likes most about life in Vienna is that the city follows the rhythm of the seasons, eating slow-food and whole menus being dedicated to Spargel, etc. 62% of cucumbers sold in Austria are grown in Vienna - mainly in the Gurkenviertel in Simmering. It is now possible to buy Vienna-grown cucumbers in London - and on the tour we will ask if it makes sense for a city with rising rents to produce so much food for export.
As well as 190 winegrowers, Vienna is home to 650 farms. At 6000 hectares, the capital's farmland accounts for 17% of its total area. 20% of its arable land is given over to organic farming - the same amount as the national average. The trend for food cooperatives, where groups of residents get direct access to specialist farmers and their produce, is welcome and exciting, offering tastings, collective cooking and a deeper insight into food production. And of course this supports the local economy, and bypasses the corporations, which pushes us all into eating the same food, with less respect for individual farmers.
Before WW1, Austrian territory was mainly fed from what is now Hungary and Czech Republic, where there are fewer mountains and better soil. This was one of the reasons for food shortages after 1918. It is important to remember that 2/3 of farmers' income is from the state, or European Union, because Austrian agriculture cannot survive without these subsidies. We are lucky that in Vienna, the city has its own cuisine - it is almost unique worldwide for a city to have so many recipes described as Wiener Kueche. The word Beisl comes out of Yiddish, and means home or simple.
And because eating more environmental food can be expensive, we will also discuss some cheaper green options, like foodsharing groups, but also the Danish start-up Too Good to Go, who offer uneaten Wien hotel food at a fraction of the price, dumpster-diving groups, and Wiener Tafel, who make food out of bakery and market leftovers.
Among the happier statistics of Vienna's greenness: we have 850 parks, including seven imperial parks. There are 400 varieties of roses grown in the Volksgarten, in the heart of the city. The Donauinsel has 42kms of beach, and Prater park equals 6m sq mtrs.
For those keen to learn more, the City offers many free courses , both for adults and children, to bring them closer to nature and ecology. For example butterflies and caterpillars, in Donaupark. I recommend we also learn more before buying a new Christmas tree every December, since the average tree is eight years old, and yet only 'used' for 12 days, then thrown away. This is unnatural waste, and all that mess in January is ugly, still covered in decorations. The trees are used to spread in parks to kill weeds, but still... You can now rent them each year, alive, which is cool social innovation. And you get the same one back each year!
Whereas in London, and most cities, the city limits lie where the buildings end, Vienna drifts off into the wild Vienna Woods and even a national park, Donau Auen, can be reached using a Wiener Linien Jahreskarte. It is highly unusual to have a national park inside a capital city. However, green space is spread across the city unevenly: "While Hietzing is 70% green, Josefstadt has only 2% of natural land. And even inside districts, the parks and meadows are not so evenly split. In the densely-populated parts of Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, Ottakring and Hernals near the Gürtel, there is little green. 500 people live in each hectare., more than anywhere else in the city. In the Zielgebiet Westguertel, 160,000 people live very close to each other. This is the same population as Salzburg, living in one tenth of the terrain of that city. One interesting proposal to fight this is an innovative project from MA 18 (Udo Häberlin, Stadtentwicklung) to develop a series of green paths through the city, natural alternatives to highways, for people not cars, so that you can move through the city while staying close to trees, grass and flowers. Each path will be within 250m of your front door, and connect you to all the rest of the city. True innovation, and calm.
China surprised the world in September, announcing it would be carbon neutral by 2060, and the European Green New Deal will make the EU carbon neutral by 2050. Extinction Rebellion believe that we need to make that change by 2030, and do excellent marketing for the ecological cause. We saw with the pandemic that governments can act very fast and decisively, when they need to change things. After the nightmare years of Trump, president Biden has pledged to move the USA away from fossil fuels, though he has not brought in Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s ambitious Green New Deal. His policy is to make USA carbon-free from 2050.
According to projections of what will hapen if we continue to strive for economic growth, Vienna's climate will resemble the current situation in Dakar, Senegal, by 2070. That would mean all our current trees dying, the threat of deserts, little rain and a radical shift in lifestyles. The UN estimates that suicide will become one of the main causes of death, with 3C of climate change, and with 4C, we will lose all the human rights gained over the last 250 years. At the same time, we should celebrate Vienna being one of four cities hosting the UN, who are doing excellent work on ecology. How many Viennese know that the beautiful, effective and ambitious Sustainable Development Goals graphics were created in Donaustadt, in VIC?
Euro reluctance to genetically-modified organisms means other parts of the world racing ahead on improved resilience in plants. We need to feed 10 million people within a few years, and that means better seeds which need less water and deliver improved nutrition. We cannot do this without better crops. China and USA recognise this, but Europe is conservative on the issue.
And because this is a Whoosh tour, we will play a little with the word green, and explore also Rapid Wien, Ampelpärchen and Maria Vassilakou (Eugene's hero). Steiermark uses green as a symbol color, and has one of the best Bundesland flags in the country. Green is a metaphor for innocence, naivete and sickness. And some things are not so attractive in green, like hair, skin, carrots, tomatoes and furniture. And we should all ridicule the greenwashing we see from large corporations, who are more about PR than any commitment to being ecological.
Irene, a Spanish art teacher at Angewandte, who lives in Grätzlmixer, Sonnwend, cooks food live with an ex tv satellite dish, and then uses sun rays to directly cook the food, continually moving to maintain the heat, roasting coffee, tomatoes and other products, in front of your eyes, in Wien. And you can taste them at the end. This is ecology as performance, will inspire children and adults, and for minimal cost. Staying with education,
Wien is a pioneer city in passive houses for students. Run by ÖAD, this means their accommodation uses only green energy, and they provide 15,000 stylish rooms in Vienna, and even pop-up dorms.
You can look up every Wien tree on the legendary Baumkataster website, giving you age, type, location, height and number. The city will plant another 10k trees over the next few years, but it's complex to decide where, since the soil under our feet is full of cables and pipes, fire engines need access, roots need water, and each tree will cost €25k over its lifetime, and because of the stresses of urban life, the average lifespan is just 40 years. Too many trees can also block vital wind coming in to cool the centre down, or increase humidity. We all love trees, though.
This tour is of course also critical, and we will show some of the challenges ahead. Food Air-miles are misunderstood, since the distribution of food only accounts for 3% of their total energy use. Much more important is how old it is, where it was stored, and packaged. Local food can move around a lot. Vienna has very poor statistics on recycling, compared to the rest of the country. This is partly a question of better education, but also of providing better facilities, partcularly for used plastic. Guerilla gardening projects make little sense, without longer term care and watering of these romantic interventions. Architects increasingly choose light colours for their new buildings, in response to climate change, even though it will be at least 20 years before the city needs more energy for cooling than heating. Until then, dark coloured structures will retain more of the sun's warmth, and thus need less energy for heating.
The easiest way to be more green is not to scrap your car, but to call your pension company and ask them what they invest in. And then change to one of the many alternative funds, who invest responsibly. Investing in green makes sense, since coal and cars have no future.
And it is important to say that many of the ecological features in Vienna were brought in by the SPÖ. NEOS also have a major commitment to environmental strategy. But a third of cars sold in Austria in 2020 were SUVs, which means some people are not listening to the news, or understanding the science and urgency of action. Green voters in Germany are second most-likely to fly, after the CDU, and there is also great hypocrisy among Green voters here, with many owning second homes, cars to drive between their two homes, holidays in Vietnam and fancy burgers posted on Insta.
This tour is just one part of Whoosh's many events calling for greater ecological action: Eugene regularly celebrates urban walking in presentations and workshops, including to the UN; he leads tours on Smart City; live-blogged the trip from Wien-Oslo by train and bus to the Urban Future conference, and co-curated #kommraus – Forum Öffentlicher Raum for Stadt Wien, 83 events exploring, debating and bringing alive public space, including how to use it better, with climate change. He was DJ at Cargobike Fest in Alte Post, playing relevant music, also playing walking songs at Walk21 conference in Rathaus. He presented the CityBike Uphill Challenge Award. He wrote the introduction to Grätzloasen’s photobook collection of the best Vienna Parklets, and added jokes to a series of speeches Maria Vassilakou made in Asia and Australasia. He is an occascional teacher in the TU Raumplanung department, and is consulting with 150 BOKU cell researchers on making their work on combating climate change in plants more present in Austrian public life. He will moderate the 2021 Energy Cities Forum in NL, looking for innovative ways to make the energy transition, and present at BMK Forschungsforum Mobilität 2021, on: Lebendiger Asphalt - Warum wir unsere Straßen nicht den Autos überlassen sollten.