Exploring the Transformative Power of Urban Climate Experiments: A Case Study of Graetzlmarie, Vienna

GCHU Postdoctoral Research Fellow Astrid Krisch outlines the insights of her newest research paper published in the journal ‘European Urban and Regional Studies’

Dr Astrid Krisch

GCHU Research Fellow

Email: [email protected]

In the ever-evolving landscape of climate and sustainability initiatives, a recent research paper from GCHU Research Fellow, Dr Astrid Krisch, has highlighted insights that hold implications for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners alike. The paper, co-authored with Dr Johannes Suitner and titled “Navigating context in a non-technological experiment: The case of Graetzlmarie, Vienna” explores factors influencing the success of urban experiments, shedding light on the profound implications for reshaping our approach to climate action.

Research Insights: Unveiling the Contextual Tapestry

The research, based on a comprehensive screening of over 1,400 experimental interventions in Austria, selected 218 non-technological climate experiments for analysis. The pivotal research question was, ‘To what extent do local structural conditions, political-institutional embedding, and future visions impact the implementation and success of these experiments?’

The study honed in on Graetzlmarie, a local governance experiment in Vienna, which emerged as a beacon of success. The experiment, initiated by the City of Vienna, aimed to co-produce urban climate adaptation measures through collaboration between local civil society groups and city administration.

Policy Dynamics: Navigating the Political-Institutional Landscape

Graetzlmarie’s success was the result of meticulous political-institutional embedding. Aligned with Vienna’s urban renewal programme and strategic plans, the experiment showcased the transformative potential of breaking down silo structures within city administrations and between policy domains. By learning from past participatory budget pilots at the district level, Graetzlmarie introduced a participatory budget for neighbourhood urban renewal projects, ensuring local agency wasn’t sidelined. The experiment adapted to complex political dynamics, leveraging local power structures and quickly disseminating its success within the political-administrative system.

Practical Realities: Lessons from Graetzlmarie

At its core, Graetzlmarie exemplifies the power of engaging citizens in the decision-making process. Through an ideas competition, the initiative invited residents to submit climate adaptation ideas (e.g., raised vegetable beds in public space, repair cafes, or exhibitions of everyday life in the neighbourhood), fostering a sense of community involvement. It emerged as a result of a failed participatory district budget, building on its prior knowledge of funding structures and co-production of non-technological innovation on the neighbourhood level. The experiment’s success wasn’t confined to immediate local impacts; it permeated the institutional fabric of the political-administrative system, exemplified through the launch of a larger and more intensely promoted initiative with a similar approach and orientation on city scale at almost the same time. It showcases how co-creative approaches can advance urban climate adaptation agendas.

The study’s key takeaways:

1. Context Matters: Deep understanding of local conditions, political dynamics, and societal visions is crucial for the success of climate experiments.

2. Flexibility is Key: Successful experiments must navigate unforeseen challenges and adapt to changing contexts.

3. Empowerment through Inclusion: Engaging diverse stakeholders, particularly citizens, is fundamental for transformative outcomes.

4. Local State’s Role: The local state plays a pivotal role in facilitating and integrating experimental interventions into urban policy and planning.

Conclusion: Paving the Way for Just and Inclusive Transformations

In essence, Graetzlmarie serves as a testament to the transformative power of urban experiments. While some may view it as a tool that caters to the city’s interests, the experiment’s co-creative approach empowers a diverse citizenry to shape their urban environment. The success of Graetzlmarie hinges on contextual knowledge, reflexivity, and flexibility, emphasising the importance of these capacities in the realm of experimentation.

Graetzlmarie navigates the complex landscape of climate action. It showcases that experiments, when skilfully integrated into the local state’s repertoire, can be powerful instruments for promoting just and inclusive transformations. The journey toward resilient and sustainable urban environments requires a thoughtful approach that takes account of the context and considers the unique tapestry of each locality.

Suitner, J., & Krisch, A. (2023). Navigating context in experiments: The “real,” the roots, the rationale. European Urban and Regional Studies, Article 09697764231205218. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/09697764231205218