It is possible to swim again in the former industrial river Ruhr in Essen, Germany. An urban success story regarding environment-friendly development. For about 46 years, people were not able to take a bath owing to the contaminated water with its harmful substances. As of late, this has an end. Thanks to Ruhrverband’s 72 sewage treatment plants, being a decisive factor in the success of the improved water quality in the last few years, Essen’s river Ruhr now meets the requirements of the EU bathing water directive. Since the 1980s, millions of euros were invested in waste water removal for a clean Ruhr future.
Cutting the Green Ribbon at The Inauguration Ceremony for The Bathing Area Seaside Beach Baldeney
— EssenGreen.Capital (@GreenCapital17) 23 May 2017
“It is an indescribable feeling for me as well as for the people of the city of Essen to be able to open the swimming area on the Ruhr and to be able to acknowledge the years of research and the commitment of the Ruhrverband, the city and its partners,” said Thomas Kufen, Lord Mayor of Essen. And even European champion Christian Keller attended the event. He was jumping into the Ruhr water for the first time.
However, it’s officially prohibited to swim in the Ruhr river. No one can say for sure that the water exceeds certain limits again, in particular if sewage flows into the river untreated during heavy rains. Swimming is only possible in designated bathing places. The Ruhr river with a total length of 218 kilometers flows into the Rhine within the city limits of Duisburg, Germany. As early as 1911, the German zoologist August Thienemann complained about the dirty water. He described the water as brown-black slop which strongly smells like hydrocyanic acid without any oxygen and declared the river to be dead. Ruhr’s dirty era started with the discharge of waste water into the river as a result of industrialization in the 19th century. A pollution control law in 1913 laid the groundwork for a tedious recovery process with a setback during the economic miracle in the 1950s.
European Green Capital Essen Convinced With Its Water Management System
Since 21 January 2017, the city of Essen can be proud of its award “European Green Capital 2017”. The title was handed over from the former Green Capital Ljubljana by Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Essen competed against twelve other candidates such as Istanbul, Lisbon or Porto according to the Technical Assessment Synopsis Report.
European Green Capital Essen convinced the European Commission with the following features:
- Reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 40% by 2020;
- A water management system with multifunctional green areas used for rainwater management, flood prevention and groundwater recharge results in 15% less rainwater entering the combined sewer network in the area served by those sewers;
- 29% less car traffic by 2035;
- No garbage dumps of domestic waste since the 1960s;
- With 376 kilometers of cycle tracks, by 2035 Essen intends to increase cycling by 25%;
- 20,000 new green jobs by 2025;
- 95% of Essen’s population now dwelling within 300m of green urban areas;
- Noise-optimised asphalt applied on 128,000m2 road surface;
- Recycling ratio of 65% by 2020.
Thomas Kufen said: “This award is recognition of Essen’s great efforts to establish itself as a city in transformation; overcoming a challenging industrial history to reinvent itself as a Green City. We strive to be a leading example for other European cities in finding sustainable solutions to urban challenges. We also wish to thank our citizens, as it is their ability to change and their engagement that has been key to our success. We are very excited to show the rest of Europe what Essen has to offer in its year as European Green Capital 2017.”
Based on twelve environmental indicators, former winning cities of the 2008 launched initiative are Stockholm in 2010, Hamburg in 2011, Vitoria-Gasteiz in 2012, Nantes in 2013, Copenhagen in 2014, Bristol in 2015, Ljubljana in 2016, and Essen in 2017. The winner for 2018 is already clear now: Nijmegen, a city in the Dutch province of Gelderland.
In order to fulfill its role as European Green Capital 2017, Dr. Barbara Hendricks, German Federal Minister for the Environment, recently presented the white paper “Urban Green Spaces“. The white paper includes “central fields of activity and measures for securing and categorizing green areas and open spaces”. The Federal Government of Germany will follow up with these topics in the following years.
“Without green spaces, everything is gray: nature in the city improves the air quality and urban climate, minimizes the effects of heat waves, and reduces noise. Green areas, parks, allotments and community gardens promote human contacts and social cohesion, and are beneficial to health and relaxation. And not least, urban green spaces serve to protect the climate and the environment, provide important habitats for flora and fauna, and increase species diversity. Green cities are liveable cities. In order to ensure that this remains the case in future, the Federal Government will support in particular municipal administrations, but also others planning urban green spaces, in categorizing and strengthening urban green spaces,” says German Federal Minister for the Environment Dr. Barbara Hendricks.