Barking up the Wrong Tree

I suppose if you are going to assist one of your children in a school biology project about leaves and trees, it is no disadvantage to live in the capital of Austria. The reason for this is that not content with being the number one city for life quality, the number one city in the Roland Berger smart city index, and the number one city in 2020 for empty five star hotels, Vienna can now add another title to the trophy cabinet: the World’s Greenest City.  

Back in April, it was announced that Vienna had come top of a survey of fifty cities carried out by the Canadian based Resonance Consultancy, who, I have since learned, specialise in a “proprietary approach to benchmarking places” and “best city” reports which are used by companies and government agencies to “help design, develop and promote the best locations around the globe”. I also use a proprietary approach to life, or would do if I knew what it meant, but rest assured, I can report that the ranking is based on some serious data:

Percentage of public green spaces, (perfect for discarded single use masks), percentage of total energy needs from renewable energy (mostly hot air produced by all the whinging), percentage of population who use public transportation to go to work (currently with masks below their noses), level of air pollution (pretty low but huge increase in summer when the barbecue season begins), per capita water consumption (people in Vienna rarely shower), walkability (yes and no), availability of city-wide recycling (true, all true), availability of city-wide composting (see here), and, wait for it, number of farmer’s markets.

Indeed, in their summary of the winner, they describe the birthplace of modernism (that’s Vienna) as having a “bounty of fresh ideas about mobility and public parks” with a commitment derived from a “history of methodical city planning that has given the world everything from the English garden-inspired City Park (opened in 1862) to an actual national park just outside of town (Nationalpark Donau Auen)”. (Hang on there’s more.) It is also a “European benchmark for public transit, with almost half of the city’s population holding an annual transit pass—and using it religiously”, in the sense they pray they never have to travel on the underground U6.

But what of the evidence? Well, according to the Municipal Department 49 (Forestry Office and Urban Agriculture) green areas “define Vienna”. This means that almost 50% of the surface expanse of the city (about 200 square kilometres) is covered in bushes, meadows and trees, comprising of the “city’s green belt, home gardens, recreation and sports areas, parks, small gardens and green-lined residential complexes.” 

When it comes to districts, the 1st, 4th and 9th, you will be pleased to learn, exhibit “little greenery”, whilst the 13th, 14th, 17th and 19th have between 60 to 80% of “green space” (when it comes to farmland the 21st, 22nd and – this may surprise you – the 10th district are top). Help is at hand for some of the inner districts, however, in that the many enclosed courtyards are especially important for the maintenance of a “green experience”. So, for example, according to the city wallahs, this makes up over 70% of the green area in the posh 8th district (the rest is used to stash expensive looking prams and stolen e-scooters).

There are of course many parks (about 5% of the city) but it is perhaps the woods and forests (18%) which are a defining feature of the city itself, providing numerous areas for recreation, recuperation, and a chance to be chased by wild boars (no more so than our esteemed ambassador, Leigh Turner). What I am trying to tell you is that the Forestry Office is quite busy, espousing the principles of “semi-natural woodland maintenance in its work in the Vienna’s woods” where tree species are “selected based on natural local conditions, and the woods are rejuvenated naturally.” In short there is a lot of vegetation, in natural woodland reservations, biosphere parks, city woods, source protection forests and, critically, our garden. And if that wasn’t enough, there are even guided woodland tours and a special project called “Woodland Education” where young people are press-ganged into special planting projects like this one:

Which is all well and good and the least we should expect from the city I call home (and other things I can’t write here for fear of being sued). However, as I mentioned at the start, the “green” bit of the “green city” which is of pressing interest to Barratt dynasty this autumn, although technically brown at this time of year, are trees and leaves. Yes, people, it’s school project time and what timing! Luckily, we have been home-schooling for most of November (zee upper school since half-term) which as we all know is the perfect conduit for parent/child concord. Yes, yes, some of you might need to work a bit, fiddling with Microsoft Teams and trying not to look down at your camera so your colleagues can see up your nose. But which parent can honestly say they don’t enjoy playing the role of ersatz teacher for a few hours? I know I do.

As luck would have it, however, home-schooling has also coincided once more with a need to stop travelling for work (my work). Deep down I knew, therefore, there was only so long I could drag out emptying and loading the dishwasher to avoid the inevitable (donning my supervisor badge). But first, with the sound of the school bell ringing through the depressingly painted corridors, one last cup of tea in the makeshift staffroom.

(We shall return after milk, biscuits and playtime in part two …)

© 2020 RJ Barratt