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Konzept SU 2017

Summer Program - The Concept


1) Summary

The Summer University on Urban Concepts in Sustainable Transition will address controversial questions regarding urban lifestyle, its sustainable development, and innovative concepts towards a transition to green urban business and way of life. It will challenge students to bring the discussion on sustainability into practice through real world case scenarios with local partners in Emmendingen. Students will develop skills for a needed local and global transition to a sustainable future. The content of the Summer University is relevant to both nations of the Global South and to industrialized countries. Baccalaureate graduates and Bachelor students from different regions of the world will have ample opportunity to share their experiences from their diverse cultural perspectives. The exemplary case studies in Emmendingen enable the students to apply concepts and research methodologies in real world settings.

2) Introduction
Urbanity and Human Ecology - Modifying European Urban Life for Sustainability

The 21st century will probably go down in the history books as the century of megacities. Whether it will also go down in history as a century of urbanity, as an alternative model to that of pure agglomeration, or of the polis, or even of sustainable communities is a wide open question. It will not only depend on whether we manage to employ new technologies to make our cities and settlements more energy efficient, but also in crucial ways on our ability to come together in shaping this future and organizing it based on jointly accepted principles. For this reason alone, some believe that the future, for there to be one at all, can only be green and democratic.

(Javier Zarracina 2011. Urban Agriculture)

The city of the future is demonstratively stylized as an ecological alternative that is claimed to allow us to give peripheral spaces back to nature, to give wilderness its due place, by overcoming the city’s reliance on its hinterland as a resource for food and recreation. Modern urbanauts envision future cities not only as energy efficient places but also as sites of a new urban agriculture. Architects are already planning urban agriculture in skyscrapers where livestock keeping takes place on the 13th floor and is to be integrated into an ecological cycle with the aquacultures and vegetable gardens on the lower floors.

(Javier Zarracina 2011. Urban Transport)

Moreover, a new urban density in the growth centers is anticipated to reduce mobility needs since jobs will be located in city centers. Where road infrastructure is still required for mobility purposes, road pavements containing solar cells will even provide energy for the new urban green economy (see Andreas Menn 2011. Schwerpunkt Stadt 2, Kraftwerk Metropolis, Wirtschaftswoche, November 7, 2011 Green Economy, p. 14).

In the eyes of critics, such visions are [no more than] technocratic phantasms. Keeping dairy cows on the 13th floor has as little to do with maintaining animal welfare standards as hydroponic tomatoes deserve an eco-label. They see the shrinking and aging population in rural towns and villages as posing major problems to national economies in terms of the ability to ensure basic services. No longer cultivating fields and pastures is also vigorously criticized as a loss of cultural landscape. In Europe, in particular, the argument goes, we look back on a century-long history of landscapes bearing the imprint of culture that has defined the distinct nature of the high pastures in the Alps or the coastal wetland meadows. Europe’s characteristic landscape will thus disappear if, left to itself, forests and marshes are allowed to take over. Forgotten is the fact that only 400 years ago a metropolitan area, such as Berlin, could not grow beyond a small settlement if for no other reason than that the surrounding Brandenburg marshlands and the rampant malaria there prevented any such expansion.

At the onset of the 21st century, the trend toward urbanization has not only gained additional momentum in Africa, Asia, and the Americas but once again also in Europe. In Germany, rural migration to the cities, specifically to the few growth centers, the agglomerations Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, and Berlin, has long been a topic. Whereas the rural exodus of the19th and early 20th century was a flight from rural areas with high birth rates to the growing industrial cities, the rural spaces today are marked by low birth rates in the wake of demographic change, and the young who flock to the growth centers are leaving the old behind.

Berlin has long been experiencing a new growth frenzy. A population increase of 250,000 is expected already by 2030, which urgently demands that entirely new neighborhoods be planned and constructed, of course in line with environmental and sustainability standards. And as a matter of course, each and every individual is considered to have a share in the glocal responsibility for shaping new sustainable communities as outlined programmatically in the “Territorial Agenda of the EU. Towards a More Competitive and Sustainable Europe of Diverse Regions.” in 2007 as part of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities (Leipzig Charta zur nachhaltigen europäischen Stadt 2007 published by Bundesministerium für Verkehr Bau und Stadtentwicklung.).

Javier Zarracina 2011. Urban Energy)

Looking back to the 20th century, we see two counter-movements to urbanization. On the one hand, there was the garden city movement. Those inspiring the movement, such as Robert Owen, envisioned that “federated communities of three hundred to a maximum of two thousand people (…) would cover the earth, based on collective cooperativeness within and between them” (Ernst Bloch. 1969. Freiheit und Ordnung – Abriß der Sozialutopien, Reinbek, p.106; translated from German). On the other hand, there were geographers, such as Walter Christaller who developed his Central Place Theory in his economic-geographical studies in 1933 (Die zentralen Orte in Süddeutschland. Eine ökonomisch-geographische Untersuchung über die Gesetzmäßigkeit der Verbreitung und Entwicklung der Siedlungen mit städtischer Funktion. Reprint. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1980). Christaller’s model came to play a prominent role in regional planning in Germany in the second half of the 20th century and established the principle of maintaining an economic balance among the regions to prevent rural exodus. It was not before the 1990s, as the division of Europe was coming to an end, that criticism of this model of regional planning began to surface again. As a countermovement in the spirit of economic liberalism, this criticism has also branded efforts toward maintaining such a balance as an act of debt assumption in the recent debate on how to master the European financial crisis.

How then do matters stand with the future of the city from a human ecology perspective? Should we endorse increasing urbanization in the sense of promoting greater urban density for environmental reasons, or must we not explicitly support regions and rural areas outside of the so-called growth centers instead to preserve Europe’s distinct spatial structure? Or do we have to radically change our thinking by radically advocating the garden city concept against all forms of centralization in growth centers and megacities.

Are we not compelled to systematically consider Europe in its entirety when addressing these questions? And when we do think about Europe in its entirety, should we not consider the idea of wilderness as a possible goal of development at least for those parts of Europe lacking economic prospects. Does a human ecology perspective not require that the cultural landscape be given lower priority compared to the original natural landscape and its renaturation and that all development therefore be concentrated around a few growth centers? Or must we not rather overcome such dichotomies in order to preserve and further develop a “new harmony” in the European tradition of a moderate urbanity?

Human ecology, like no other concept, has made substantial contributions since its beginnings not only by critically accompanying these processes but also by contributing in the making of our futures in constructive and responsible ways. It has shown great awareness of the fact that the cities, in which the majority of the world population lives today, are, as Robert Park wrote almost exactly 100 years ago, much more “than a congeries of individual men and of social conveniences— streets, buildings, electric lights, tramways, and telephones, etc.; something more, also, than a mere constellation of institutions and administrative devices—courts, hospitals, schools, police, and civil functionaries of various sorts. The city is, rather, a state of mind, a body of customs and traditions, and of the organized attitudes and sentiments that inhere in these customs and are transmitted with this tradition. The city is not, in other words, merely a physical mechanism and an artificial construction. It is involved in the vital processes of the people who compose it; it is a product of nature, and particularly of human nature” (Robert E. Park [1916] 1952. The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment. In Human Communities. The collected Papers of Robert Ezra Park, Vol. II. S. 13).

Communication plays a major role in all of these processes; communication, however, cannot be had without inclusion and participation. For this reason, the tools that human ecology provides to promote the inclusion and participation of all fellow human beings, such as transdisciplinarity in particular, are indispensable for jointly shaping the future. As Park in reference to Dewey stresses elsewhere: society exists in the form and by means of communication. If we subject processes of social change to closer scrutiny, we can see that in consequence “the social element ceases to be the individual and becomes an attitude, the individual’s tendency to act. Not individuals, but attitudes, interact to maintain social organizations and to produce social changes” (Robert E. Park [1925] 1952. The Urban Community as a Spatial Pattern and Moral Order. In Human Communities. The collected Papers of Robert Ezra Park, Vol. II. S. 173 f.).

3) Objectives

The proposed summer university will offer the participants transdisciplinary[1] skill-building and problem-solving practice, integrating theoretical concepts, a core knowledge base, and practical challenges of vital concern to human well-being. The University will take place in Emmendingen, in collaboration with community partners. Students will be introduced early on to new frameworks in sustainable development and business, urban and regional design, and human ecology that will help in developing solutions to key challenges for local businesses, regional and local organization and administration. After visiting local businesses, organizations and the municipal administration, students will organize themselves into small groups to analyze the unique challenges of one partner business or organization and evaluate the potential to incorporate these frameworks into its strategy. Simultaneously, students will work as a whole group to analyze the local and regional development and its sustainability, integrating key aspects that would ensure a future prospect in urban and regional planning including mobility and logistic in an European corridor likewise the Upper Rhein Valley.

Students will learn practical skills and methodologies that can be applied in other settings. These include:

  • Sustainable business analysis, examination of the value proposition, strategic alignment and ability of an enterprise to create economic, social and environmental prosperity.
  • Systems analysis, or the analysis of the regional system from production, distribution and consumption including mobility, logistics and inputs through waste management as a complex system, with trade-offs among, for example, economic efficiency, ecological integrity and building social capital
  • Power analysis, or the identification of the kinds of power that different regional and urban actors hold and the relative vulnerability of different actors.
  • Gender analysis, or the identification of prescribed gender perception in the regional system and how males and females are empowered or disempowered thereby. Gender analysis will include social inequalities and the discrepancies in class and race.
  • Community food assessment, or identification of the major assets and barriers to community nutrition systems that can ensure meal security for all members without threatening people’s health and environmental quality or social wellbeing of the community.
  • Teamwork, or the ability to work together on a shared goal while appreciating and accommodating different backgrounds, skills and styles of communication.

In combination, these skills will allow students to identify the levers of change or transformation in a regional system in which multiple goals can be achieved simultaneously. This is at the heart of multifunctionality and sustainability, concepts that are widely understood as a virtuous cycle in which sociocultural, economic and environmental dimensions are combined in order to reinforce and strengthen one another. This set of skills is increasingly important in preparing students to address real world challenges of the present and the future.

Experienced faculty members from the organizing institutions will work with students to guide their learning, while respecting individual interests and creativity, and encouraging students to self-organize on topics of their choice. Students may elect to create a network to maintain exchanges after the class is over.

The Summer University on Urban Concepts in Sustainable Transition will be grounded in human ecology, a branch of Liberal Arts that focuses on the relationship between human societies and the natural environment. Human ecology, as it is taught in the organizing institutions, emphasizes the personal development of students by encouraging their self-initiative and self-learning and furthering their consciousness for self-responsible action regarding the environment. Human ecological approaches always include philosophical and ethical dimensions because the relationship between humans and the natural environment necessarily entails questions of the just distribution of environmental risks and amenities, just allocation of resources, and gender equality. The Summer University will explore these philosophical, ethical, and rights-based dimensions along with technical and economic questions of how to develop a region in a sustainable way and how to ensure widespread participation to it.

4) Student Projects and Charrette

Students and faculty will discuss the potential projects early in the schedule. All of the five to seven co-operation partners will be visited within the first few days. The students will then choose one partner to work with. They will organize themselves in groups and develop their projects. Throughout two weeks, students will have ample group work time, in which they will arrange to work with their local business or organizations as well as in our collective working space. Students will incorporate the concepts introduced throughout the two weeks into their project work, including frameworks for entrepreneurial ventures that both build prosperity and rejuvenate the environment. Advanced students will be challenged to go a step further in providing recommendations for the company or organization. All of the projects will contribute to understanding the role of these businesses, institutions and organizations in a sustainable development of the region and town of Emmendingen.

The project work is organized as a Charrette, a workshop open to the public. Every morning students and teachers will meet for planning and discussion. Important input in form of subject matters and methodology will be given, before the groups grab their bikes or shuttles to ride to their partners and start their daily project work with the support of our faculty. In the evening we will all meet again for a sum up. Interim results will be shown and discussed publicly. Interested citizens, members of organizations and people, who were interviewed by student groups will be invited to attend and participate. On our last day the students will present the results of their projects. Group presentations may be in the form of an exhibit made up of posters and models or PowerPoint presentations accompanied by short oral explanations and ample time for discussion with the audience.

5) Possible Working Group Themes

The topics of nutrition, sustainability and food or meal security in the perspective of entrepre-neurship and innovative business concepts will be approached from at least four different per-spectives: food production and processing, food marketing and trade, food consumption and food ways including meal preparation with respect to social and cultural preferences as well as food waste and other losses.

If a group wants to pursue another topic area, it may do so after clearance with the teaching faculty. In each case, the group will analyze the current conditions in Emmendingen and pro-pose how they can be improved to create greater sustainability in the whole regional system. Students will conduct a strategic analysis of an enterprise. They will identify the competitive advantages and potential threats to a venture and recommend sustainable business models and practices to increase financial, community and ecological returns.

a)       Urban development: These students will work about urban planning and design in Emmendingen on four different sites in different scales and aspects. Reconstruction of the Baroque Karl-Friedrich-Street; reconstruction of medieval urban gardens; planning a new neighborhood integrating elder people and their needs, improving a 50 years old neighborhood in energy and resource saving to become carbon free..

b)      Environmental industries: Some students will assess where waste is being gener-ated and how it is currently being recycled in Emmendingen (e.g., as compost or as an energy source). These students will identify the role of environmental industries in the region especially in the realm of waste management, resource recycling and water management in Emmendingen and the region. Students will consider the po-tential of green industries for future prospects..

c)       Higher Education as a regional incubator: These students will identify and ana-lyze the role of higher education modeled by the College of the Atlantic as a chance for sustainable development of the town Emmendingen and the region. Students will work on future prospects and plans to integrate a college with a city campus just in the heart of Emmendingen.

d)       Food production marketing and trade as a regional business: These groups will focus on organic as well as conservation agriculture and urban farming, and iden-tify the contributions that each can make to food and meal security. Sustainability topics in this area will include trade-offs between production of biomass for energy and the potential of organic farming to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in topsoil. Students will consider the degree of food self-sufficiency that is desirable, and how trade relationships reflect power dynamics in the food system.  The advantages and different marketing options for farmers will be considered, e.g., direct versus wholesale or retail markets. Urban agriculture might as well have other positive effects in the social and communication system of a community like Emmendingen.

d)     Mobility and Logistic: As Emmendingen is located in the upper Rhine valley, connecting three countries with a vivid industrial ecosystem of innovative SME and forming the vital European North-South corridor for logistics, some students will assess mobility and production patterns for passenger transport and logistics. Future mobility will be sustainable and hyperconnected, enabling an individual modal mix using (automated) cars, public transport and bikes, by integrating the potential of sharing-economy, digitalization and decarbonation with regard to their economic, environmental and social impact of transport-systems. The research objective of developing more sustainable transport schemes for the area will be pursued through analysis and co-design including users, infrastructure, operators, industry and pub-lic institution to shape sustainable offerings optimizing present systems as well as creating input for a sustainable Transformation process.

In addition to the public Charrette and interaction with local people through interviews and visits, we will invite eminent authorities of human ecology for our evening lectures. These lec-tures will be designed to offer potential solutions to current food system problems and stimu-late discussion.

6) Program Location


The Summer University will be conducted in and near Emmendingen, a town near Freiburg im Breisgau in southern Germany. This region offers a variety of potential links to the University, including a long tradition of exceptionally high-quality production and processing of food-stuffs. It is a hotspot of the anthroposophically oriented Demeter Movement (biodynamic ag-riculture). The region’s population is known for its appreciation for high food quality; and not surprisingly, it hosts a Slow Food association.

Additional points of interest are the State Viniculture Institute in Freiburg, associated with the Faculty of Biology of the University of Freiburg, and the Agricultural School Hochburg in Emmendingen.   Emmendingen has several remnants of medieval gardens, and plans to restore them as historical sites. Originally these were farmers’ gardens outside the town that became integrated into a newly built quarter during the Baroque Period. Traditionally they were used not only for production of food and medicinals, but also for flowers. The industrial highlight of the town, the Wehrle-Werk AG, develops and builds equipment for energy and environ-mental technology. It is exploring the possibility of urban roof farming on its factory building.[2]

A successful interdisciplinary experiential learning process requires the cooperation of enter-prises and people of the town and the region. The groups will conduct their project work in co-operation with approximately seven local enterprises and organizations. The partners in-clude a dairy producer, horticulture, food marketer, organic shops, wholesalers, rural organiza-tions and charity organizations.


[1] „…transdisciplinarity implies a fusion of disciplinary knowledge with the know-how of lay-people“ (Pohl, C. and Hirsch Hadorn, G. (2006). Gestaltungsprinzipien für die Transdisziplinäre Forschung. München: Oekom)

[2] See http://www.wehrle-werk.com/dynasite.cfm?dssid=4773.