In 2016, a design and consultancy firm, Arcadis, along with the Centre for Economic and Business Research published an interesting list of cities. The list seemed to indicate the most prosperous cities in the world and answer the question ‘In the face of environmental and economic disaster, which cities would cope well?’ The list was titled ‘Most Sustainable Cities in the World’ and Zurich walked away with the crown.
Two years later, Zurich still holds the crown in a stranglehold, although cities like Singapore, Stockholm, and others are reaching for it.
What pops into one’s mind while thinking of Zurich? The uber high standard of living? The wildly successful economy? The clean mountain air, maybe? The chocolates, the skiing, the mountaineering? All this luxury seems only to be the tip of the iceberg. Have we ever paused to think how a town nestled among snow-capped peaks with sparse population has grown into such a renowned social, economic, educational, and now, green, haven?
We could start by recognizing the efforts of its citizens. Switzerland is the nation of recyclers, after all. Instead of the conventional garbage dumps or incinerators, there are special ‘collection points’, where the recyclable materials like glass and metals are sent. These are successful in achieving their objective, considering the fact that 94% of glass is recycled. In India, this concept remains just that, a concept.
While it is undeniable that the country is naturally blessed with lush green forests, meadows and plenty of green cover (as, in fact, all nations once were!), all previous governments have ensured their protection and conservation. It is safe to say that their toil has paid off.
Grün Stadt Zürich (GSZ) is the Office of Parks and Open Spaces, a civic body responsible for maintaining parks, swimming pools, sports facilities, urban forests and other public areas. The city forest (3000 acres of vegetation), municipal plant nursery and as many as 6000 garden allotments are all sustainably managed by the GSZ. An additional 18 parks are in the planning stage, which would amount to 610900 hectares of area. Needless to say, the CO2 levels in the city are at an enviable low.
Zurich’s public transport system is highly efficient and sustainable. It is a well-connected, interlocking, multi-modal transit system of buses, trams, and trains. Most of the citizens reportedly prefer public transport over driving themselves because of the efficiency and speed. Heavy tolls are imposed if cars are driven in the main populated areas and around 4500 sensors have been installed to keep tabs on the traffic flow. The public-favouring transit system has succeeded in keeping the car ownership rate in the city below 50%. Also, parking spaces are kept at a minimum and bikers and pedestrians are given wider road space.
Zurich’s ambitious goal of using only 2000 watts of energy per person by 2020 was mentioned in Arcadis’ report of 2016. The city seems close to achieving it, considering the lucrative investments made in sustainable energy sectors and alternative technologies.
A popular centre of learning, the city has gems like ETH Zurich (ranked among the top 15 universities in the world) and the University of Zurich. These colleges work on cutting-edge research and are known to be extremely friendly to international students.
An important financial centre in Europe, finance and business generates a third of the wealth of Zurich. Tourism also rakes in Francs. Zurich is in a comfortable place in terms of the world economy.
The question, then, is really, how we can start working towards these, albeit zealous, goals. So that, one day, one of our own cities may feature on that list and actually be visible to the world.