How EcoMobility is taking back the streets: an interview with Monika Zimmermann, DSG of ICLEI

(c) GIS 2017
Interview conducted by Anne Gadel, Head of Public Affairs at Autonomy


 ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability is the leading global network of more than 1,500 cities, towns and regions committed to building a sustainable future.


ICLEI’s EcoMobility Alliance seeks to use cities’ existing resources to curb pollution and congestion. What sort success stories have you seen come out of this program so far?

The biggest success in my eyes is how the program is encouraging and growing the important discussion about the need for alternatives to a car-centered urban development. To help do so, we have developed the EcoMobility Festivals. In one of our member cities, we implement the slogan “One month, one neighborhood, ecomobile” (or car-free). Both, the preparation and the implementation of the festivals cause a lot of debates within the local administration, within stakeholder groups and within population. People are forced to reflect on what they want their neighborhoods to be like. Not all prefer car-free areas and these are often the people who raise their voices the loudest: shop owners, car commuters and others. But during the car-free month, many residents can observe and enjoy a lifestyle they have never experienced: lesser noise and air pollution, streets to walk on and play in, public areas for people and not for cars. Such Festivals have taken place in Suwon, Korea (2013), Johannesburg, South Africa (2015) and Kaohsiung, Chinese Taipei (2017).

Do you see a difference in major mobility trends between Europe, Asia and North America?

The most relevant differences in trend are between cities, not between continents. However, there are trend setters and forerunners in each region. What we also see is that policies – eg on public transport or walk-friendly urban development –which are still exceptional in North America are meanwhile standard in Europe. In other words, many North American cities are far behind. Asia is experiencing many exciting, new trends as well, such as the proliferation of public bikes and the promotion of e-cars. The Singaporian concept of “car-lite cities” is another such example. The country-city of Singapore has started to implement a policy to limit the car ownership in 2018. All in all, the trend away from car-centered urban planning is certainly strongest in Europe.

Collaborative governance is a major theme of the ICLEI World Congress 2018 in Montréal. How can the various sectors of society come together to produce innovative sustainability transportation solutions in cities?  

The first step is to identify a goal which can best drive local change. This can be air quality improvement, reduction of GHG emissions, zero fatality-rate on our streets, noise reduction etc. Secondly, the most relevant actors (stakeholders) need to be brought together. Not all will follow the same goals nor will agree on a common path to reach a goal. Talking to each other, however, is key. Workshops, on-site-visits, round tables, joint excursions to other cities and more can help at the beginning. To start such cooperation, we can call upon the facts and figures which show that business as usual is not in their interest, even for those who still benefit from unsustainable transportation means.

Alternatively, or better in parallel, it is necessary to mobilize people: citizens, parents, residents, shop owners etc. They must express their own interests and wishes, especially since it is not the loudest ones who should be heard most (often this means middle aged men with big cars), but those who need the streets and public space for much more than cars: for walking, cycling, moving and selling goods, playing and enjoying. Mobilization includes hearing everyone’s voice. It can also include provocative action, sit-ins, demonstrations. Often, this is the only way to wake up local media.

What are some big upcoming projects for the ICLEI network?

Going forward we have three main projects. First, some years ago we developed the methodology SHIFT which allows cities to identify their status in sustainable mobility planning and priorities for further needed action. We will now update this methodology and adjust it to some country circumstances, including China and India. Second, in early 2018 we have started the project “EcoLogistics – Low Carbon freight in cities” which allows us to address the fastest-growing reason for CO2 emissions. Lastly, we are currently searching for a host for the next EcoMobility World Festival.

How do you like to move around your city?  

Within my hometown (Freiburg) and the city I work in (Bonn), I normally move by bike only. This is fast, healthy, communicative, and I enjoy this much more than any other way of moving. For holidays, I enjoy taking my time with biking and hiking tours in the surrounding areas more than long-distance trips by car or plane.