Martin Horn, Freiburg, Source: Fionn Große

Freiburg is an excellently positioned and internationally renowned university and research location, ready for the challenges of our modern knowledge-based society

Freiburg is an excellently positioned and internationally renowned university and research location, ready for the challenges of our modern knowledge-based society

Interview with Martin Horn, Lord Mayor of Freiburg, Germany

Martin Horn was born on 7 November 1984 in Annweiler am Trifels. He obtained a bachelor's degree in International Social Work from the Protestant University Ludwigsburg in 2013, followed shortly by a Master's in European and World Politics at Bremen's City University of Applied Sciences.

In 2018, Martin Horn and his family moved to Freiburg, where he successfully ran for mayor later that year. He came out on top of the vote in the first round with 34.7% and in the 2nd round with 44.2% - enough to secure him the mandate. 

Martin Horn is also the president of ICLEI Europe and has worked as European and Development Coordinator for the City of Sindelfingen and as a freelance lecturer at the Ludwigsburg Protestant University of Applied Science.

Lord Mayor Horn tell us a bit about the city of Freiburg. What makes the city great and what are you and your team doing to make it even better?

We are a young, open and tolerant city in a wonderful landscape close to Switzerland and France. Freiburg is a "city of knowledge" with a whole range of attractive universities, numerous institutes of the Fraunhofer and Max Planck Societies, excellent libraries and a colourful urban and cultural life that is strongly influenced by the students.

All this makes Freiburg an excellently positioned and internationally renowned university and research location which is ready for the challenges of our modern knowledge-based society.

Due to Freiburg's high attractiveness, we have been a growing city for years. This means that there has been a great demand for affordable housing, like in many large German cities.

In addition, issues such as climate protection, sustainability and the turnaround in mobility are focal points of municipal politics. Freiburg has enjoyed the reputation of being a “green city” for many years. It is our goal to be climate-neutral by 2050. In order to achieve this target, the updated climate protection concept with a total of 160 measures was adopted in 2018/19.

The topic of digitalisation, that you have been discussing at the Mannheim 2020 conference, has only grown in importance over the last few years. How do you feel about the digital transition and the impact that it can have on the everyday lives of ordinary citizens?

Our living environment has been changing as comprehensively and rapidly as never before. Within a short time economy, everyday life, education, schools and much more have altered dramatically due to digitalisation. For me, digitalisation is a process that we want to actively shape.

Besides all the positive aspects, it also has an impact which needs to be taken into account, but, all in all, we should urgently seize the opportunities digitalisation is offering us. We clearly need a European image of digitalisation and better communication with our population.

As an administration, we often need a bit longer to get up to date. This leads to criticism, but it also offers the chance to learn from mistakes and develop digitalisation in a good process specifically for the purpose of public interest and sustainability.

As an administration, we can use digitalisation to get closer to people who are already used to using digital space. Citizens are urging to be in contact with administrative authorities and municipal politics in a digital manner and also have their questions and suggestions answered quickly. Yet this also calls for a cultural change in administration: more transparency and new forms of participation.

In terms of administrative capacity, how has the city of Freiburg managed its own digital transformation? How did COVID-19 impact your digital future? 

The COVID pandemic has given a major boost to digitalisation throughout society. Our roadmap for digitalisation in Freiburg is the strategy „“ (“shape Freiburg digitally”). We want to use digitalisation where it helps us to make our lives easier. Digitalisation must be oriented towards the user, public interest and sustainability.

We have designed our digitalisation strategy with people in mind and clearly defined goals, measures and risks. In doing so, we have chosen a sustainable, holistic approach and taken into account all areas of urban society. This also includes important ethical questions, data protection issues and the connection with gender and sustainability goals.

Our slogan is not digitalisation for the sake of digitalisation, because it is not just about technical matters and technology. It is about developing a liveable city for the future. And for us, that means developing a sustainable city that enables the participation of all citizens - regardless of gender, age, origin or religious affiliation.

Specifically, we recently received a funding of 8 million euros from the federal government through the Smart Cities 2020 model project. In this project, we want to use a digital data room in order to implement an integrated, sustainable and social urban development more effectively: we jointly look at data on climate, housing, society, commerce, infrastructure, nature and landscape, transport or tourism and make it accessible.

We think of the "urban system" as a whole. Such data space, including an open urban data architecture, is a fundamental component of digital infrastructure. For us, it is a very good way of showing how digitalisation can be in line with sustainability.

The novel coronavirus forced many changes onto local administrations around Europe. How did you deal with the outbreak and what are your plans going forward – both in terms of helping the local economy overcome the crisis and in terms of becoming more resilient and preparing for future crises?

Good crisis management means above all good communication. We try to inform the public on all channels as quickly and comprehensively as possible and answer their questions.

Here, too, the digital media are of enormous help. Only if we have the trust and acceptance of the citizens, we can get through the crisis well. After all, it depends on the behaviour of each individual.

I met members of the local business community very early on in the crisis to find out where we, as a city, can help. Of course, the major aid packages for the economy come from our federal and state governments. But we have also been able to provide some assistance here and there, for example by deferring or reducing trade tax, waiving or reducing rents for municipal buildings or allowing restaurants to offer more seats in the outdoor area. 

Transparency is an issue that you have put at the top of your agenda. How has your administration answered the concerns of citizens and have you been communicating with your constituents in order to deliver more transparent results of your policies?

As described above, good and consistent communication is simply essential in a crisis. In addition to our classic media tools, we have increasingly relied on the use of social networks with videos and online consultation hours. That has worked well and been well received. Besides, we are working closely with local media partners, who also pass on the news quickly.

As president of ICLEI Europe, you perhaps best of all know how valuable international cooperation can be. What has Freiburg’s experience been in that regard? How have you and your fellow mayors worked together to better your respective communities?

Visits to and from our sister cities around the world have, of course, been cancelled since April. But we have exchanged information or made phone calls via digital platforms. The exchange with neighbouring cities in Alsace was highly dramatic at the beginning of the crisis, because in Alsace there was no longer the possibility of receiving seriously ill patients in their clinics. We managed to fly patients out to Germany.

The crisis has taught us that European solidarity and cooperation is more important than ever. We found it very painful when the borders with France and Switzerland were closed for weeks in spring. This must never happen again.

Over the years, within the ICLEI network as well, valuable contacts with other cities have developed with regard to sustainability. It has always been of great importance to exchange ideas and learn from each other.

Freiburg is a city that has its eyes on the future – you have comprehensive plans and ideas on both the city’s green and digital transitions. Can you tell us a bit more about what we can expect from Freiburg in the coming years and how will the city change and adapt to modern challenges?

Using our digitalisation and sustainability strategy, as well as our manifesto for climate and species protection, we are well equipped for a sustainable and green future. We will work on this with all our strength and focus on our goals.

We want to realise the model city district "Dietenbach" for 15,000 people in the course of this decade in order to meet the requirements for housing better in the future. Dietenbach is to become a climate-neutral and inclusive district with short distances, open spaces, schools, sports facilities, day care centres and shopping facilities.

We will also continue to expand our urban tram network and promote sustainable mobility concepts. We can only create the city of the future through holistic urban development that is based on our sustainability goals.



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