Testing the City of the Future

A living and working experiment for a climate neutral city of Görlitz

The project idea – "Testing the city"

In the project "Testing the City of the Future - A living and working experiment for a climate neutral city of Görlitz", potential newcomers are given the opportunity to stay in Görlitz for three months, free of charge. The participants use the stay to engage with the topic of climate neutrality and sustainable urban development as part of their work and to bring their knowledge and skills to the city. Various working models are envisaged for this purpose: internships in companies, academic guest stays, start-up activities and even stays by freelance artists. The accompanying research will include a view of both the guests and the host city community.

The occasion - immigration needs and climate protection

As the easternmost city in Germany, Görlitz is located directly on the border to Poland and is renowned for its large historical building stock of around 4,000 individual monuments. However, the city is also affected by the larger demographic and socio-economic changes occurring in the region of Lusatia. In order to stabilise the number of inhabitants in the long term, Görlitz, like many other peripherally located medium-sized cities, is dependent on immigration. Against this background, the city is trying to preserve its historic building fabric, provide attractive public infrastructure, maintain the labour force potential and promote a lively and committed urban society in the context of sustainable urban development. With regard to further raising the profile of the city of Görlitz in the competition for workers and city residents, stabilising its demographic and economic profile, and revitalizing the city in terms of urban development and urban society, there is a great interest on the part of the municipal stakeholders to focus more strongly in the future on encouraging people to migrate to and stay in the city.

The targeted transformation to a climate-neutral city in 2030 requires professional competence in various fields of action, but also sustainable ways of living and working. Published in 2020, the "Leitfaden Klimaneutralität" [Climate Neutrality Guide] describes efficiency potentials for electricity generation, heat supply, industry and transport sectors on the basis of an analysis of the current situation. The guide shows the challenges facing the city of Görlitz, which can only be overcome in cooperation with businesses, political and administrative stakeholders, and citizens.

The project goal

The project aims to draw attention to Görlitz as a place to live and work and at the same time determine what opportunities a targeted immigration of people offers for the implementation of sustainable urban development.

The goal is to gain insights into the location requirements and perspectives of qualified workers.

  • What makes them settle in certain places and specifically in Görlitz?
  • What might prevent them from taking the step to Görlitz or to another small or medium-sized town?
  • What significance do sustainable ways of living and working have for location decisions?

The research perspective

The scientific evaluation focuses on the following research questions:

  • To what extent can a clearly profiled urban development in the direction of climate neutrality and sustainability be used to generate a targeted immigration of qualified workers in smaller cities undergoing structural change, and thus contributing to the development of a conscious and committed urban society?
  • To what extent can targeted immigration to smaller and medium-sized cities contribute to their transformation towards sustainability?

Through surveys and interviews with the participants, the location requirements, prospects of staying and experiences of the test residents are recorded on site. In addition, the perspective of the urban society on a qualified immigration is analysed as a prerequisite for the transformation of the city towards more sustainability. In various formats (e.g. focus group discussions, workshops), the experiences of the participants, the partner institutions and also the urban society will be reflected upon.

The findings from Görlitz are intended to provide information for urban development policy at the federal and state levels and to be condensed into possible options for action at the municipal level, especially for smaller cities. The current case study is also part of an series of projects that ran for several years, where knowledge about experimental approaches in urban research can be gained and further developed.

The background

The continuing dynamism of many large cities and metropolitan areas continues to lead to congestion in these areas. From a spatial planning perspective, it therefore seems reasonable to profile urban centres in peripheral locations. With a view to facilitating resource-efficient settlements, the use of existing buildings and the utilisation of existing technical infrastructure in shrinking or stagnating cities offer immense potential. The digital transformation and other developments in the wake of the Corona pandemic could also have a positive impact here as they make new forms of work possible, such as remote work. Only the future will show to what extent these trends could positively impact the development of small and medium-sized cities.

Environmental policy demands for climate-neutral lifestyles and economies as well as systemic transformation processes towards sustainable development represent new requirements, but also opportunities for the development of smaller cities. A local transformation to a sustainable and especially climate-neutral city can only be achieved with conscious behaviour and lifestyles as well as the commitment of the city population. This can include sustainable mobility and consumption behaviour, nutrition or the way each individual lives, but also involvement in urban society. A medium-sized city with compact infrastructure and networks, easy access to political and administrative stakeholders and a stable civil society offers favourable conditions for this. However, in order to cope with the energy transition, the local and regional economy, crafts and scientific institutions are also dependent on specialised professionals from outside the region.