Dresden - NbS for sustainable urban transition


The landscape plan, which is currently under development following the incorporation into the city of some surrounding areas, is intended to bring about a compact city, accommodating further development within the existing borders, and including a network of functional green spaces. The draft version, which underwent a public and stakeholder consultation process in 2015, provides detailed indications for future development and also seeks changes to existing planning documents (Dresden, 2017a), with a view to protecting and enhancing green networks and so ensure air and water quality, reduce the urban heat island effect and protect biodiversity.

The city is currently developing a vision for the city’s future, and is testing and implementing projects to achieve that vision (Dresden, 2017c). It participated in a competition organised by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) inviting cities to develop their visions. The process is at present being developed through intensive co-creation among bottom-up initiatives; to this end, workshops for citizens are organised in individual neighbourhoods and at city level.

The case study chosen by the FP7 project ARTS, focusing on the process of transforming allotment gardens into community gardens, showcases some elements of transition in the city. Community gardens represent an example of social innovation, and support for them is part of a strategy to create momentum for a transition towards sustainable, low-carbon urban lifestyles. Food production in community gardens offers the opportunity to connect actors/initiatives from different thematic backgrounds (nature conservation, biodiversity, health, food consumption and community building).


NbS project 1: transforming former allotment gardens into community gardens

The ARTS project in Dresden provided a framework for actors from community garden initiatives (Stadtverband der Gartenfreunde, Gartennetzwerk Dresden) to intensify contact/cooperation and liaise with public authorities (Grünflächenamt, Stadtplanungsamt). As a result, the network of initiatives succeeded in obtaining the rights to use areas for community gardening from the city administration, owner of the land in question (GartenNetzwerk Dresden – Eine andere Stadt ist pflanzbar!, 2017).

Allotment gardens were created in the 19th century in response to poverty in the fast growing urban and industrial centres. These small plots were developed to give city residents (crowded tenement dwellers, in particular) the opportunity to grow food, provide a substitute for the rural environments considered physically and socially more healthy than dense urban areas, and improve the diet of the urban poor. Nowadays, allotment gardens are still extremely popular, but these original goals have partly been replaced by the demand for individual green recreational space. Food production has now become a secondary function for most users, even though it is compulsory under the rules determining the privileged fiscal and legal position of allotment garden areas (Deutscher Städtetag, 2011).

Community gardens share some of the characteristics of traditional allotment gardens, for example the use of residual or vacant urban land. Community garden initiatives connect urban gardening and food production activities with social and political goals, including social learning, biodiversity conservation, improvement of the urban climate, and social resilience (Über Uns – GartenNetzwerk Dresden, 2017).

NbS project 2: landscape plan

The Municipality of Dresden has for some years been working on a new a landscape plan (following the incorporation of some formerly autonomous municipalities into the city). The plan is to create a ‘compact city within an ecological network’ intended to enhance connectivity and green areas in the city (Stadt Dresden, 2014). This concept gives rise to indications for urban planning instruments, which will gradually be translated into individual green and green/grey measures, for instance enhancing flood protection and ventilation so as to reduce the urban heat island effect, and improving infiltration, evapotranspiration and flood retention.

Lessons learned: 

The focus on participation and on bottom-up initiatives like the citizens initiatives for community gardening implemented in the ARTS case study is currently bringing about a change of practice in local governance, where the new initiative ‘Zukunftsstadt’ (City of the Future) builds on the co-design of a shared vision for the city. Members of the public and bottom-up initiatives are involved in both planning and implementation (Dresden, 2017c).


In Dresden, as in many other places, access to financing for bottom-up transition initiatives is difficult for two reasons: the design of funding opportunities is obviously informed by current policy agendas, so does not necessarily suit the needs, organisational patterns, and objectives of initiatives concerned with innovation. Furthermore, many small-scale initiatives are not aware of potential funding opportunities which might suit their needs, as they lack communication channels to institutional actors (see ARTS deliverable D4.2, ‘Exploring the Interaction among Transition Initiatives and its Impact on Accelerating Regional Transition’). Nevertheless, from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has been provided to the Dresden region, supporting the work of local transition initiatives. The fact that some city districts had been defined as functionally disadvantaged areas facilitated the ERDF support. National funds as well as funds from the Land, Saxony, have complemented the multi-level interactions (ARTS deliverable 4.3/4.4, p. 47)

At city level, Dresden uses a philanthropic fund (Fonds ‘Stadtgrün’) to develop and maintain urban green (Dresden, 2017). The fund relies exclusively on donations, and allows public green spaces (street trees, parks, etc.) to be maintained; it also collects donations for tree planting.


The city of Dresden is situated in the valley of the river Elbe, and claims to be one of the greenest cities in Europe, with around 62% of the urban area being green space or forest (Dresden, 2017b).

River flooding is a serious challenge for the city. In the past two decades, it has suffered severe flooding and several extreme precipitation events at an almost bi-annual rate. During the Elbe flood in 2002, parts of the historic city centre had to be evacuated. There were other almost as serious floods in 2006 and 2013 (Landeshauptstadt Dresden, 2017).

Between 2008 and 2013, Dresden took part in a research project to develop, together with regional partners from other policy levels, and from the fields of economics and science, an Integrated Regional Climate Change Adaptation Programme for the Model Region of Dresden (REGKLAM).[1] The part of the strategy dedicated to human settlements investigated the urban heat island phenomenon for the city of Dresden (Wende, Rößler and Krüger, 2014). Among the recommendations for urban adaptation, green and open spaces play a central role, and the benefits provided by different forms of urban green areas were assessed with respect to their potential in relation to climate change (mitigation, adaptation, and vulnerability to future climate aspects, biodiversity, connectivity, cost effectiveness and capacity for raising urban (real estate) values (Wende, Rößler and Krüger, 2014, p. 64). The strategy highlights the city’s landscape plan, which is based on the concept of a compact city within an ecological network as a best practice example.

While the city as a whole has a high percentage of green areas and the river area, with its wide meadows, provides both ventilation and flood protection, the historic city centre is densely built and has scarce ventilation (Wende, Rößler and Krüger, 2014).

[1]    The project was part of the KLIMZUG initiative, financed by the German Ministry of Education and Research, which sought to support the development of innovative strategies for adaptation to climate change and related extreme weather events in the regions (BMBF-Klimzug: About KLIMZUG, 2015)

Table 1 - Ecosystem Services*

* adapted from CICES/MAES-urban

Living lab: transforming former allotment gardens into community gardens

Water management: 
Water flow regulation and run off mitigation
Air quality: 
Regulation of air quality by urban trees and forests
Sustainable urban regeneration: 
Food provision
Social justice cohesion: 
Nature based education
Green space management: 
Habitat and gene pool regulation
Links to further Ecosystem-based Approaches: 
Green Infrastructure (GI)

Urban landscape plan – ecological network

Water management: 
Water flow regulation and run off mitigation
Air quality: 
Regulation of air quality by urban trees and forests
Urban temperature regulation
Social justice cohesion: 
Nature based education
Green space management: 
Habitat and gene pool regulation
Lifecycle regulation
Links to further Ecosystem-based Approaches: 
Ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA)
Green Infrastructure (GI)

Transforming former allotment gardens into community gardens

The action was intended to promote bottom-up initiatives for community gardening in the city of Dresden which would create and enhance urban green spaces for food production. It helps reduce the urban heat island effect and increases water retention capacity and groundwater replenishment. It will also provide benefits connected to urban green spaces and biodiversity, such as community gardening initiatives to protect native species and apply principles of organic agriculture. The connected learning and interaction processes are intended to boost community building and increase urban resilience.

Landscape plan

The landscape plan indicates several functions of connected green areas in the city - flood protection, reduction of drought risks and reduction of the urban heat island effect. The planning documents contains detailed analysis of the functions of green areas that maintain the city’s resilience, by for instance improving air quality, reducing runoff and mitigating the urban heat island. Measures implemented on the basis of these indications will help improve the quality of urban life in disadvantaged and urban renewal areas, and the city’s attractiveness for investors and tourism. The aim is to reduce further land take for urbanisation outside the city area and make the urban areas that already exist more compact, thus combining the urban qualities of the city with attractive green spaces, and room for agriculture on the outskirts. Reducing urban sprawl helps avoid CO2 emissions arising from land-use change. Compact cities also have multiple benefits in terms of energy efficiency, on account of more efficient transport facilities.

Table 2 - NBS Multiple Benefits**
Enhancing sustainable urbanisation: 
Increase communities’ sense of ownership
Increase stakeholder awareness & knowledge about NBS
Social learning about location & importance of NBS
Restoring ecosystems and their functions: 
Greater ecological connectivity across urban regenerated sites
Increased cultural richness and biodiversity
Developing climate change mitigation: 
Carbon sequestration and storage
Developing climate change adaptation; improving risk management and resilience: 
Increasing infiltration
Reduce run-off
Reducing temperature at meso or micro scale

Urban landscape plan - ecological network

Enhancing sustainable urbanisation: 
Changing image of the urban environment
Improve air quality
Increase accessibility to green open spaces
Provision of health benefits
Restoring ecosystems and their functions: 
Improve connectivity and functionality of green and blue infrastructures
Increase Biodiversity
Developing climate change mitigation: 
Carbon sequestration and storage
More energy efficient buildings
Developing climate change adaptation; improving risk management and resilience: 
Increasing infiltration
Reduce run-off
Reducing temperature at meso or micro scale

Spaces for urban agriculture and allotment gardens are part of the green network within the green compact city defined as the Leitbild, or concept, of the new landscape plan (Stadt Dresden, 2014), and urban agriculture is indicated as a sustainable form of land use for the urban centre in the regional strategy for climate adaptation (Wende, Rößler and Krüger, 2014). The urban landscape plan represents a reference for future urban planning and flood risk management in the city.

Stakeholder Participation/Participatory Planning and Governance: 

The ARTS case study sought to connect bottom-up initiatives for community gardening with the city administration, and this has improved the credibility of those initiatives in the policy arena and helped them reach the public.

The Municipality of Dresden is extending its participative urban policy as part of the urban vision building for the ‘Zukunftsstadt’ project, which is based entirely on citizen’s workshops. In 2015, the landscape plan was subject to a more conventional, yet ambitious, participation strategy, with public meetings as well as the obligatory online posting of all planning documents for public consultation (Dresden, 2017a).

Potential for new economic opportunities and green jobs in the EU and in global markets: 

Upscaling and embedding transition initiatives may result in small-scale growth in those initiatives which may lead to the creation of some jobs for activists. An upscaling of urban gardening initiatives could represent a basis for economic activities involving gardening, and for a transition towards a green economy. Nevertheless, the opportunities for a basic or citizen’s income for the development of transition initiatives have been discussed as part of the project. No figures are available, however.

The idea of the compact city is to create attractive urban spaces and so improve living conditions for residents and attract both investment and tourism activities as motors for economic development.

Success and Limiting Factors: 

As a research project, ARTS had to establish links to local initiatives, which provided positive outcomes for both sides. Interaction between research and local initiatives needs to be handled sensitively, as the goals and objectives of researchers and local activists do not necessarily coincide. In the case of ARTS, researchers succeeded in collaborating with local initiatives because they shared the same goals (transition towards a sustainable and low-carbon future society). The attention paid by the local research institution helped raise the initiatives’ reputation within the city.

Prior to the design of the landscape plan, the city had failed to preserve the historical landscape. For example, following the construction of a four-lane bridge across the Elbe valley, UNESCO removed the city from the list of world heritage sites.[1] In a referendum, a majority of the public had voted in favour of the bridge across the river, hoping for improved transport links.

Access to resources and funding is a serious limiting factor for the work of bottom-up initiatives, which rely on the voluntary work of members.

[1]    http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/522/


River flooding in 2002 served as a wake-up call with regard to climate resilience and has increased support for improvements and the consideration of climate change impacts.

Monitoring and evaluation: 

It is difficult to measure the success and outcomes of transition processes highlighted by the ARTS project in the short term. Nevertheless, some of the transition initiatives involved in the ARTS case study saw greater recognition of their activities, and this has translated into an increase in membership, better access to funding and better communication channels with the public.

Impacts of EU research and innovation projects: 

The ARTS project resulted in greater collaboration between urban community garden initiatives and the municipal green spaces department (Grünflächenamt) (D6Arts, Transition Reads Key Messages.pdf) on green areas management.

The collaboration between the ARTS team from the Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER), a renowned research institution, and local transition initiatives has furthermore increased the visibility and credibility of the initiatives in the local community and in policy circles, resulting in these initiatives having better access to local resources (political influence, procedural/legal recognition, and funding).

The transition roadmap, albeit not systematically analysed by the city administration, and the mapping of initiatives and their representation in the thematic urban plan (Themenstadtplan Dresden: Powered by cardo.Map, 2017) on the initiative of the ARTS case study have both helped increase the visibility and credibility of civil society initiatives at city level.

In terms of outcomes, the case study produced knowledge which provided input for the city’s successful participation in the German national initiative ‘Zukunftsstadt[1] (Dresden, 2017c); this has started a process for local vision building, planning for implementation, and in a final stage, implementing elements of the vision in urban living labs (Reallabore). The initiative is financed by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research and targets projects by local actors to bring about resilient and sustainable cities (Umsetzung der Leitinitiative Zukunftsstadt: Forschung für klimaresiliente, sozial-ökologisch gerechte und lebenswerte Städte – FONA, 2017).

[1]    Pilot interventions (Modellvorhaben grüne Stadtlabore) have been financed in Bochum, Halle/Saale, Leipzig, Ludwigsburg, Rostock and Weinstadt



Norbert Rost, Landeshauptstadt Dresden

Further information

BMBF-Klimzug: About KLIMZUG, 2015. Accessed April 29, 2017. http://www.klimzug.de/en/160.php.

Deutscher Städtetag, 2011. Leitlinien des deutschen Städtetages zur nachhaltigen Entwicklung des Kleingartenwesens in den Städten, Berlin.

Dresden, 2017a. Landschaftsplanung. www.dresden.de. Accessed May 19, 2017. https://www.dresden.de/de/stadtraum/umwelt/umwelt/landschaftsplanung.php.

Dresden, 2017b. Umwelt. www.dresden.de. Accessed May 19, 2017. https://www.dresden.de/de/stadtraum/umwelt.php.

Dresden, 2017c. Zukunftsstadt Dresden. www.dresden.de. Accessed April 12, 2017. https://www.dresden.de/de/leben/gesellschaft/buergebeteiligung/zukunftss....

GartenNetzwerk Dresden – Eine andere Stadt ist Pflanzbar!, 2017. Accessed April 11, 2017. http://www.dresden-pflanzbar.de/.

Landeshauptstadt Dresden, 2017. Hochwasser in der Vergangenheit. Accessed May 12, 2017. http://www.dresden.de/de/stadtraum/umwelt/umwelt/hochwasser/vergangenhei....

Stadt Dresden, 2014. Landschaftsplan Entwurf. http://www.dresden.de/de/stadtraum/umwelt/umwelt/landschaftsplanung.php?....

Themenstadtplan Dresden: Powered by cardo.Map, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2017. http://stadtplan2.dresden.de/(S(m0ahj54g1qroe5invsttcbei))/spdd.aspx#.

Über Uns – GartenNetzwerk Dresden, 2017. Accessed May 2. http://www.dresden-pflanzbar.de/wir-ueber-uns/.

Umsetzung der Leitinitiative Zukunftsstadt: Forschung für klimaresiliente, sozial-ökologisch gerechte und lebenswerte Städte - FONA, 2017. Forschung für nachhaltige Entwicklung (FONA). Accessed April 12, 2017. http://www.fona.de/en/umsetzung-der-leitinitiative-zukunftsstadt-forschu....

Wende, Wolfgang, Stefanie Rößler and Tobias Krüger, eds., 2014. Grundlagen für eine klimawandelangepasste Stadt- und Freiraumplanung. Publikationsreihe des BMBF-geförderten Projektes REGKLAM - Regionales Klimaanpassungsprogramm für die Modellregion Dresden 6. Berlin: Rhombos.

Green in the City federal German initiative, White Paper at http://www.bmub.bund.de/fileadmin/Daten_BMU/Pools/Broschueren/weissbuch_stadtgruen_bf.pdf

ARTS deliverables and publications:

D 4.3 / 4.4: Model and gaming based exploration of acceleration dynamics and strategies Report with assessed acceleration potential of strategies, policy instruments, incentive instruments and policy mechanisms – D 4.3 / Synthesis Report I: (Co-)Assessed potential of acceleration strategies from five transition regions – D 4.4

D 2.2 Governance context analysis of all transition regions, Work Package 2 - Deliverable 2.3

D 3.2 Case-study reports, background reports and reports on transition initiatives

D 6 Transition Read #2 – Nature-based solutions, 8 September 2016. http://acceleratingtransitions.eu/wp/?wpdmdl=1501

D 6 Transition Read #6 – Key Messages, 14 December 2016. http://acceleratingtransitions.eu/wp/?wpdmdl=1548

Dresden | Accelerating Transitions Blog, 2017. Accessed 10 April, 2017. http://blog.acceleratingtransitions.eu/?cat=6.

Conference Report, Informed Cities Forum, 2016. 11 August 2016. http://acceleratingtransitions.eu/wp/?wpdmdl=1483

Report, Dresden Roadmap [German]. 5 January 2017. http://acceleratingtransitions.eu/wp/?wpdmdl=1563