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City Lights: Thomas Madreiter, Director of Urban Planning, City of Vienna

SmartCitiesWorld talks to Thomas Madreiter, Director of Urban Planning, City of Vienna, about the city’s climate change focused strategy and how the term "smart cities" should be replaced with "sensible cities".


Vienna has placed the climate at the centre of its smart city strategy, recently introducing curbs on new buildings within three "climate protection areas", unless they can hit environmentally friendly targets. The city aims to cut local greenhouse gas emissions per capita by 85 per cent by 2050.


SmartCitiesWorld: What is the main purpose of your role?


Thomas Madreiter: As Director of Urban Planning, I coordinate the activities of a number of municipal departments as well as other public institutions responsible for – among other areas – strategic urban planning, district planning, zoning, urban design, energy planning and surveying. Furthermore, I am in charge of Vienna’s Smart City Strategy.


SCW: What does the term ’smart city’ mean to you?


Madreiter: I am actually no big fan of the term ’smart city’ as it is often associated with a purely technological approach. If I could miraculously change the worldwide discourse on state-of-the-art concepts for future-proof cities, I would rather speak of ’sensible’, ’prudent’ or even ’wise’ cities: We have to work on innovative solutions to sustain or even increase the quality of living in cities while facing the climate crisis among other challenges. This of course is no goal a city administration can achieve on its own. In order to succeed the entire urban community has to engage.


SCW: What are some of the key milestones/initiatives in your smart city journey so far?


Madreiter: Passing our first Smart City Framework Strategy in 2014 was a major milestone in my opinion as it established that the Viennese approach to a ’smart city’ puts people and their needs at the centre, not technology. Back then that was quite revolutionary – also on the international stage.

"In order to battle climate change, the entire urban community has to engage"

Quite recently, Vienna founded an advisory board on matters of climate change consisting of international scientists and experts as well as representatives of the city administration and civil society. This body will counsel directly the mayor and the vice mayor in charge of urban planning. I think this expertise will help city politics to find optimal ways to achieve our climate targets.


SCW: What is your number one priority right now?


Madreiter: We are at the point of leaving the stage of pilot projects behind us. Now our work is about mainstreaming measures of climate mitigation and adaptation into our standard processes. This means that the governance has to be adapted, which is always a tricky.


SCW: What do you see as your biggest achievement since you started the role?


Madreiter: I hope to have raised a number of people’s awareness for the big issues regarding our city’s future.


SCW: What is the best part of the job?


Madreiter: My position grants me a broad perspective and gives me the chance to broker holistic solutions. That is very gratifying.


SCW: What is your biggest challenge?


Madreiter: One thing is always an issue in urban planning: dealing with conflicting goals. Take housing for example: to provide affordable housing for all has been a major priority of Vienna city politics since World War I. If you want to steadily increase building standards in order to tackle climate change mitigation on the one hand and keep rents low on the other hand, you have to find innovative solutions.


SCW: If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?


Madreiter: That’s hard to say, but in any case, it would be dealing with questions of future societal life – how people are going to live together contentedly and productively.

"Dealing with conflicting goals is always an issue in urban planning"

SCW: What keeps you awake at night?


Madreiter: Fortunately, I am quite good at powering down after work… However, when I compare the urgency of the climate crisis with the often wavering resolve to fundamentally change our lifestyle, I sometimes get worried.


SCW: If you could make one change in your city tomorrow and money was no object, what would you do?


Madreiter: I would make it mandatory to install external sun protection systems on all buildings, starting at south-facing facades. Vienna recently established subsidies for retrofitting buildings with shutters – an important initiative. We have to bear in mind that even if we succeed in stopping climate change, summer temperatures will become an increasing problem in places like Vienna. We have to get ready for that.


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