The European Green Capital –

Essen 2017 creates harmony

between urban life and greenery

June 29, 2017


The City Garden Essen is the city's oldest publicly accessible green space

IMAGE: Johannes Kassenberg

The decision was made on 18 June 2015: the City of Essen, a major city in the west of Germany, with just under 590,000 residents, had achieved its goal of bringing the title of “European Green Capital” to the Ruhr metropolis. For the first time in its history, the European Commission thus awarded this title to a city that has developed from its history as an industrial city of coal and steel into a green and vibrant metropolis. This demonstrates how much the city has changed in recent years: the history of its successful transformation into the greenest city in North Rhine-Westphalia, and third-greenest in Germany, is a role model of structural change for many cities in Europe.

The title


The title of “European Green Capital” is awarded each year to a European city that has demonstrated high environmental standards and consistently pursues ambitious targets to further improve environmental protection and sustainable development. Since more than two thirds of Europeans live in cities, this is where many environmental protection efforts originate. The competition is intended to motivate cities to take further action, and to offer a platform for presenting successful approaches, as well as to promote communication between European cities.


Within the framework of the competition, the participating cities are required to answer specific questions on the following 12 topics:


  • Climate change: mitigation and adaptation
  • Local transport
  • Municipal green areas that include sustainable land use
  • Nature and biodiversity
  • Air quality
  • Quality of the acoustic environment
  • Waste production and management
  • Water management
  • Wastewater management
  • Eco-innovation and sustainable employment
  • Energy efficiency
  • Integrated environmental management system


The winning city takes a pioneering role in environmentally friendly urban life. Before Essen, the title was awarded to Stockholm (2010), Hamburg (2011), Vitoria-Gasteiz (2012), Nantes (2013), Copenhagen (2014), Bristol (2015) and Ljubljana (2016). The European Green Capital in 2018 will be Nijmegen. Winning the title has an enormous positive effect, both locally and on a European level. It offers an opportunity to communicate the future issues of climate change and environmental issues on all levels, and to sustainably anchor them in the city. It also provides a special means of supporting the existing efforts of the City of Essen to guide the structural change into a “green future”, and to sustainably make the city an even better place to live.



Radschnellweg RS1: Essen's cycle superhighway

IMAGE: Jochen Tack

Climate protection in the City of Essen


The city at the centre of the Ruhr Metropolis takes responsibility for climate protection, and has set itself the objective of implementing sustainable thinking in its urban development. By 2020, it is planned that CO2 emissions will be reduced by 40%, and by 2050 the city aims to achieve a reduction of 95%.


In the effective implementation of climate protection, it is the cities and municipalities above all that play a very fundamental role. Ultimately, climate protection can only be implemented on a municipal level and taking into consideration the local circumstances. Like many other cities, Essen also accepts its special responsibility for climate protection with great commitment. When it comes to public services for the residents of Essen, the City of Essen considers the sustainability and environmental friendliness of its municipal business a very decisive concern. The maintenance of the municipal green areas and other local recreation areas, and the further expansion of the cycle paths and footpaths, is once again of great importance. Furthermore, it is once again the cities and municipalities that represent the first point of contact for the concerns of members of the public. The City of Essen was thus also once again given the decisive task for 2017 of initiating and promoting a wide range of environmental projects in the political, social and cultural fields. In particular, those in positions of responsibility in the City of Essen consider it their duty to inform the members of the public living in Essen about climate protection, and to motivate them to personally make an active contribution to improving their environment.


Growing sunflowers in the Rüttenscheid district

MAGE: Nina Gschlößl

Integrated Energy and Climate Concept


There are many specific measures and projects: in 2009, Essen developed its first “Integrated Energy and Climate Concept” (IECC), which was fundamentally reviewed and expanded in 2013. On the one hand, it focuses on the expansion of cogeneration, solar-thermal energy and wind power, and on the other hand also concentrates on the modal split and thus the proportion of traffic accounted for by cycling. In 2011, the City of Essen already pooled its entire climate protection activities under the aegis of the “klima|werk|stadt|essen” project. The success of the City of Essen in achieving its targets is reviewed annually with the help of the IECC balance report, and every two years with the greenhouse gas balance report. In the regional land-use plan, corresponding targets and principles have been defined, and priority zones identified for wind power. The City of Essen not only actively engages in climate protection, but also investigates climate changes and their consequences for the city as a whole, and develops courses of action for adaptation to climate change. With the aid of the Guidelines for energy-optimised urban planning, the structural plans of almost all homes have been reviewed for energy optimisation.

Jumping into the cool waters of the Ruhr

IMAGE: Sascha Kreklau

Water, the Elixir of Life


In 2017, the Ruhr and Emscher can be seen from a new angle: They are the blue stripes in the logo of the European Green Capital, accentuating the green areas between the new Emschertal valley in the north and the Ruhr Valley in the south.

The new swimming spot on Lake Baldeney and the renaturalisation of several streams in the course of the Emscher conversion additionally make one thing more than clear: Clean water is still a sign of a high quality of life today.


European Green Capital - Essen 2017 opens the first swimming area on a former industrial river in Europe- swimming again possible in the Ruhr after 46 years. For over forty years, the people of Essen were unable to go swimming in "their" River Ruhr. But now the wait has finally come to an end: numerous guests visited the official opening of the Baldeneysee swimming area. After the starting signal by Thomas Kufen, the mayor of the city of Essen, some enthusiastic visitors joined former swimming world and European champion Christian Keller in jumping into the cool waters for the first time.


Over recent years, a research project sponsored jointly by the Ruhrverband, the IWW Water Centre and multiple universities has demonstrated that the hygienic water quality at the Seaside Beach on Lake Baldeney is good on dry summer days. In the event of heavy rain, however, the water quality worsens, which requires occasional temporary bans  on swimming. Swimming in the Ruhr is now made possible by an  early warning system, which predicts fluctuations in the water quality at the Seaside Beach, and which will make up-to-date, daily statements possible. On this basis, the operator will open or close the swimming spot. By comparison: Had this early warning system already been in place during the relatively dry summer of 2015, swimming would have been possible on as many as 50 days.


The Ruhr in Essen-Steele

IMAGE: Daniel Müller

The Ruhr has become progressively cleaner over recent decades. The consistently falling concentration of organic substances, of nitrogen and phosphor, and the improved hygienic situation, create the conditions that allow swimming again in the Ruhr. The Ruhrverband and the Association of Waterworks on the Ruhr (AWWR) have been issuing a Ruhr Quality Report each year since 1973, which provides information about the condition of the water bodies. Stadtwerke Essen AG, the Essen Municipal Utilities, is responsible for drinking water in Essen. Together with Gelsenwasser AG, through the joint venture Wassergewinnung Essen GmbH, it operates the Essen combined waterworks, one of the most modern water treatment facilities in Europe. The quality of the water is ensured by means of regular samples from the water catchment plant, and at 80 locations within the Essen municipal area. The results show that Essen’s water is high-quality drinking water, which can be used safely for the preparation of food for babies and children.


While it is finally possible to swim in the Ruhr again in this Green Capital year, the Emscher is being converted from an open sewer into a natural river. The Emscher conversion multi-generational project demonstrates how important modern water management infrastructure is in the city. Two thirds of the wastewater in Essen is disposed of via the Emscher system. In Essen-Karnap and Altenessen, the river was straightened over 100 years ago, and its tributaries, such as the Berne, Borbecker Mühlenbach and Schwarzbach streams, were turned into concrete-lined open sewers. As a result of coal and steel production, untreated wastewater was still being dumped into the Emscher until the 1990s. Since 1992, the public water management association known as the Emschergenossenschaft has been handling the conversion of the Emscher system. Each water body is being given its own underground sewer, through which wastewater is channelled to the wastewater treatment plants. Throughout the entire Ruhr Area, 400 kilometres of new sewers have been laid underground, 45 kilometres of it within the Essen municipal area. The streams above ground have thus become free of wastewater, and can then be restructured to a near-natural condition. Where the available space allows, the rivers that were once technically straightened are once again being allowed a meandering course. Part of the work in Essen has already been completed. The upper section of the Borbecker Mühlenbach has been cleared of wastewater and restored to a near-natural condition, the mid-section of the Läppkes Mühlenbach at the city limits of Oberhausen, and the Kesselbach in Nachtigallental have likewise been renaturalised.

Since 2016, the Schurenbach has been splashing along its new bed at the foot of the spoil tip of the same name, too. The wastewater may still be running above ground at the Katernberger Bach, it should however be banished to a new underground sewer within the next couple of years. As with the neighbouring Schwarzbach, the construction work there is running under full power this year. The renaturalisation of the Berne is now also getting close to the fi nish line. The sewer construction work began there at the start of 2016, meaning that wastewater will soon be running underground, and the clean water will fl ow through the river landscape.



Cycling on the new Ruhr promenade in Essen-Steele

IMAGE: Jochen Tack

Best practice


The City of Essen is already the greenest city by area in North Rhine-Westphalia, and the third-greenest city in Germany, and has over 3,100 ha of green areas and woodlands. More than half of the municipal area is made up of green areas and open spaces, such as water, woodlands, fields and urban green spaces. And over recent years, a fact originally perceived as a major burden has developed into a privilege: in contrast to many concentrated urban areas, which urban planners find e.g. in Munich or Vienna, the Ruhr Area has large areas of disused land, previously utilised by industry. Over the past ten years, the municipal action programme, “Essen New ways to the water” has created 150 km of footpaths and cycle paths between the Emscher Valley in the north and the Ruhr Valley in the south, which have eliminated the urban separation of north and south in the Essen municipal area. Green urban development has acted as a driving force for urban development in general over the last ten years. This means that the creation of green areas, expanses of water, footpaths and cycle paths, which were networked between the district areas and regions, formed the starting point for the successful urban development of larger areas, as a strategy of integrated adaptation to climate change.


In the City of Essen, there are two parks that symbolise the development into a green city in a most remarkable manner. Between 2007 and 2012, a park was created on the former grounds of the Krupp cast steel factory, forming an inviting space for local recreation at the edge of the city centre. The park includes a lake, which amongst other things is fed using rainwater from the roofs of the ThyssenKrupp headquarters. From the lake, the water is again fed into a natural stream. Around the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site, nature has reconquered the mine areas. The species diversity in the Zollverein Park is impressive and unique: 540 species of ferns and flowering plants, 100 species of lichen, around 60 species of birds, 20 of butterflies and 6 of amphibians are now at home there. Some of the resident species are also exotic. This is because the transport of goods from around the world has also resulted in rare plants settling on the grounds.


Particularly when it comes to mobility, a number of changes are planned in Essen over the coming years. The Ruhr Area is a region characterised by cars, and the greatest potential for cutting back on CO2 thus also exists in this area. The City of Essen wants to use the Green Capital year to initiate a transport transition. By the year 2035, it is planned that the following modal split should be achieved: 25% of transport users should be travelling by bicycle, 25% by public transport, 25% by car, and 25% by foot. The RS1 represents a flagship project in the region: the first fast cycleway in Germany, connecting the cities and municipalities of the Ruhr Area, from Hamm to Duisburg. When the RS1 is completed in 2020, it is planned that 52,000 car journeys can be saved per day, and thus 16,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. In the Green Capital year, a “Green Ticket” has also been developed, making it possible to use both local public transport and a hire bicycle and electric car system.



Overlooking the beautiful Krupp Park

IMAGE: Johannes Kassenberg

Future plans


The City of Essen sees its year as European Green Capital as the opening act in a green decade throughout the entire region: the Emscher conversion will be completed in 2020, the results presentation of the KlimaExpo.NRW will be hosted in 2022, and last December the region also won the bid for the International Horticultural Exhibition 2027. The Ruhr metropolis has set itself ambitious targets; and the successful transition, which has been recognised by the EU Commission, will continue. Essen will continue to develop into a city that will be even more social, climate-friendly, low-carbon and resilient in future, and which provides a high quality of life for its residents.






To find out more about the successful transformation story of a coal and steel city to a European Green Capital, please visit the official Essen 2017 website:





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