Building a personal bond with a political declaration does not seem the most natural thing for a young professional to do. However, when it comes to the Leipzig Charter – and its 2020 successor, the New Leipzig Charter (NLC) – I must say this is what has happened to me.
The first time I heard of the Leipzig Charter must have been during my Erasmus semester in Poznań, Poland, in 2012. I took a course on ‘the European city’, during which the Leipzig Charter was presented as a milestone in terms of understanding the specificities of this specific ‘type of city’. This made sense to me: the German and Polish cities I had spent considerable time in until then seemed to have much more in common with each other that with the U.S. metropolises I had visited the year before.
Fast forward to 2020 and I’m part of a fantastic team* tasked with further developing the Leipzig Charter into a document fit for the 21st century. A (non-binding) document fostering integrated urban development for the common good, the New Leipzig Charter will provide a framework for local and regional authorities, Member States and EU level authorities to foster more resilient and sustainable cities and urban areas. It is a document that speaks to today’s interrelated challenges, mindful of socio-technical and environmental developments both heavily affected and (re-)produced by urban dynamics.
As a result of a co-creative writing process that started in 2018, the NLC’s current draft version comprises no less that 11 pages, but the main elements almost – to cite a popular German expression – ‘fit on a beer mat’:
Mind the Space
Peoples’ everyday interactions take place at different spatial scales, comprising the neighbourhood, the given place/town/city according to administrative and political boundaries, and the functional area. The NLC addresses all of these spatial levels, taking into account their respective needs and potentials.
This means ‘three city dimensions’ (rather than three real cities), in line with the traditional sustainability triangle, covering the social, ecological and economic aspects of sustainability. For the NLC, this triangle was converted into the just, the green, and the productive city. Combined, these ‘three cities’ possess a considerable transformative potential. Digitalisation, an increasingly important aspect of contemporary urbanism, is seen not as an individual dimension but rather as a major cross-sectoral trend, affecting all dimensions of sustainable urban development.