Michael Häupl, Mayor of Vienna, Italy
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Mayor of the Month for August 2014
Mayor of Vienna (Wien), Austria
By Sven Krüger
7 August 2014: The longest-serving mayor of any European capital city has no plans to retire any time soon. Michael Häupl, who this year will celebrate 20 years as Mayor of Vienna, has given notice to political friends and foes that he will run again in next year’s elections. “I still have big plans,” he recently said and his chances to serve another term are good, even though his Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) is increasingly being challenged by smaller parties from left and right. When Michael Häupl took office in November 1994, he promised the Viennese a modern, vibrant world city, able to attract the brightest and best from Europe and beyond, but also a city that would develop in harmony with its environment and where the less well-off would be cared for. He also pledged that Vienna would be a welcoming city that would not turn its back to those seeking shelter from the world’s trouble spots.
• Environment & transport
During the past 20 years, Vienna has built on its cultural and architectural heritage - Mozart, van Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler and many others wrote some of best-known music in the city - to become one of the world’s most innovative and attractive cities. Home to many international organisations, Vienna has been named as the most liveable city by organisations such as Mercer and the Economist Intelligence Unit and crowned the most innovate city by the Innovation Cities Index.
Among European capitals, Vienna ranks among the top-ten for per-capita GDP, behind London and Paris but ahead of Madrid, Rome and Berlin. With a fifth of Austrians living in Vienna, the city contributes 25 per cent to the national economy. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of tourists increased from 4.2 to 5.8 million, with more than 75 per cent originating from outside Austria. During the first decade of this century accumulated foreign direct investment (FDI) increased from €20.4 to €84.5 billion.
In an international question-and-answer session organised by City Mayors, Mayor Häuple was asked how Vienna promoted itself as a modern European city that did not solely have to rely on its Habsburg heritage to attract tourists and business. In reply, the Mayor said that the city successfully encouraged science and research, creative industries and IT, industries where the jobs for the future were. “Vienna and the whole country must invest more in the knowledge economy to be able to improve social services and the general quality of life.” The Mayor also pointed out that the fall of Communism in neighbouring countries like Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics as well as Slovenia had offered Vienna a wide range of new perspectives, which the city successfully used.
Environment and transport
Vienna is proudly calling itself a model environmental city. it is one of the ‘greenest’ metropolises in the world. An analysis of aerial photographs shows that more than 51 per cent of the city is green space - statistically, there are 120 square metres of green space for every resident of Vienna. This percentage is growing steadily thanks to the planting of new avenue trees and municipal funding for projects to green up courtyards and building facades.
Vienna is also promoting measures and programmes to cut down traffic and reduce individual motorised traffic in favour of eco-mobility (the term denotes the combination of public transport, cycle and pedestrian traffic). Cycling is going to be a particularly important aspect in the future. Making pedestrian traffic more attractive will also contribute significantly to bringing down greenhouse gas emissions. The city offers cheap annual season tickets and operates all-night busses as well as 24-hour subway services on weekends. The city’s public bicycle-hire scheme CityBike was launched in 2003, four years before Paris introduced Vélib. There are currently 110 stations across the city. Rides cost one euro an hour, with no charge for the first hour.
In 2010, Vienna was awarded the title ‘World City closest to sustainable Waste management’ in recognition of the city’s efforts to put the idea of sustainability into effective practice and implement corresponding waste management strategies.
As a Social Democrat, Michael Häupl is proud of the fact that the gap between rich and poor in Vienna is much smaller than in cities like London and Paris. Throughout his 20 years in office, the mayor has implemented policies of social responsibility and security for all people who live in Vienna. But he admits that those who live in villas don’t need his party. “The rich don’t need a society that shows solidarity…the only thing they probably need is the police to protect them from burglars.”
Examples of social responsibility in Vienna include access to medical care as well as the right to grow old in dignity and receive the necessary nursing, irrespective of income. A free public school system is offered in Vienna as well as free day care for children from low-income families. The City of Vienna provides targeted assistance to those who need it - ranging from heating subsidies to an assistant-teacher scheme for children with special needs and free language courses for migrants.
In Austria, as in many other European countries, the mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties are being challenged from populists politicians over immigration. In the 2010 municipal elections in Vienna, the Social Democrats (SPÖ), the Conservatives (ÖVP) and the Greens all lost votes while the right-wing anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPÖ) increased its share of the vote from 14 to almost 26 per cent to become the second-largest party in the city parliament. Even though the FPÖ was only supported by 18 per cent voters in the May 2014 elections to the European parliament, the party will again fight for second place in next year’s local elections. Campaigning has already turned dirty, with the FPÖ leader labelling Michael Häupl as Vienna’s “Turkish mayor”.
Mayor Häupl believes that world cities like Vienna will not remain competitive without immigration. The great cities in this century will be those that have successfully fused their traditional strengths with the aspirations of new citizens.
Vienna’s mayor is realistic enough to know that an influx of foreign languages, cultures and customs will initially cause friction. He understands the concerns of ordinary Viennese who fear the city may loose its quintessential way of life but points out that Vienna has always been a city where people respect and support each other as long as everybody abides by society’s rules. For example, he is adamant that he will not tolerate instances where immigrant families do not send their daughters to school and has in the past used strong language to lambast Turkish fathers whose only concern for their daughters was that they are ‘marriageable’. “We have to learn together and from each other,” the Mayor said.
Foreign born citizens account for almost 20 per cent of the city’s population of 1.74 million. Some 121,000 immigrants came from former Yugoslavia, 44,000 from Turkey, 42,000 from other Asian countries and 13,000 from Africa. More recently, Vienna has welcomed an increasing number of refugees from Syria and other Middle East countries.
When asked what Vienna will like in 50 years time, Mayor Häupl says we can’t know what the city will be like but it is important to know what we would like it to be. “I, for one, will do everything that Vienna does not develop into a city where the less well-off live in some parts and the rich in others.”
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