An interview with 2016 Technical Committee Chair Ms. Monika Zimmermann

2020-06-19 14:19:49

Ms. Monika Zimmermann is the previous World Secretary of Deputy Secretary General of ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, who is also the TC Chair of 2016 Guangzhou Award. Recently, Guangzhou Award Secretariat had an interview with him. Here is what we have discussed.

In the previous cycle of Guangzhou Award where you served as a jury/TC member, which initiative impressed you the most, and why?

All examples are super impressive, the final selection was hard. After some years, the initiatives which are still specifically in my mind are:

Copenhagen with its nature-based stormwater management and La Paz with the “Zebras” raising awareness among car drivers. For both initiatives, I have particular pictures in my mind what indicates that visualization and finding the right pictures to explain an initiative are key. Particularly in Copenhagen, this new initiative combines so many advantages – ecologically, financially, for the well-being of people and more – that it should be standard in all cities.


The Guangzhou Award is a platform for sharing innovative experiences in urban development between cities and regions. How do you think the Guangzhou Award can help further communication and exchange of knowledge, expertise and experience between cities and regions?

There are several opportunities for increasing communication and exchange among cities and regions, some are already taken up by the Award, some could be strengthened:

a) Excellent description of the innovation which includes next to the “what” especially the “how”, including administrative processes, aspects of cooperation between the government levels, involving citizens, financing aspects etc.

Such a case description can be done on paper, on ppt, as video.
proposal: a very good case description as text (pdf) in itself and with pictures could be uploaded on your website, together with the ppt which had been shown. (for good case studies see: ICLEI case studies format)

b) A video format could be developed which would show the initiative even much better than on paper only.

c) City people need contacts from each other. Therefore: among the participating cities, the contact details should be exchanged much more. And to the public: for each award winning city an email contact should be provided for the public (website, case studies..)

d) The visits in awarded cities could be planned in a way that representatives from other cities can more easily take part. I had made proposals for this and can happily repeat this.

e) Innovative in itself would be to observe the awarded cities and re-visit their progress after 2,4,8 years. We all lack mid-term and long-term observations which finally indicate much better what is “show” and what is “real progress” than a one-moment impression.

f) The biggest and true innovation for such “observation” would be an online format. It should not be too difficult to develop such a format.


Citizens should be the prime beneficiaries of urban innovation. How can they participate more actively to improve urban governance?

Early and transparent information to the public and real participation in the design and implementation of local policies/ initiatives is key.


In your opinion, how can urban innovation better integrate with the Global Agenda and more specifically the SDGs and the NUA?

There can not be any urban innovation without being based on the values and goals of SDGs and NUA. But: real urban innovation could go beyond SDGs (eg touch issues which are not named in the SDGs) and must aim at comprehensive approaches and solutions.


As for urban governance, what new trends do you think there will be in the future?

· Strong, self-financed and self-responsible local governments (subsidiarity principle)

· High level of cooperation between the local, regional and national level in both directions (top down and bottom up)

· Lively debate locally on implementing sustainability and finding the right compromises

· Encouraging many citizens from all parts of society to take part in searching new ways of urban development

· Giving voices to those which are normally under-represented (olderly, women, children, poorer people)

· Protection, promotion and development of common goods and public interest as highest goal for decision making, rather than individualization, privatization and short-term gains.


What’s your expectation for the 5th cycle of Guangzhou Award?

Guangzhou Award 2020 can not happen without reference to Covid 19. At the same time, many responsible people in cities and regions have other concerns and priorities than filling out submission forms.

Therefore, my proposal is to

a) Aiming at fewer but high quality submissions (even with 50, there would be success in 2020!)

b) focusing the categories for submissions on a few questions which reflect the day-to-day concern of the target group and which would allow that the Award provides valuable contributions to the current debate.

c) Such questions can be

· Concepts for improving preparedness and resilience for unforeseen shocks

· Green Urban Recovery: How can programmes to stimulate economy and support people in need align with the urgent needs for transition of economy and society towards “low carbon”.

· Concepts for stabilizing public transport.