Our Cities and Globalisation series continues

With Zurich by far the largest city in Switzerland, city management finds it essential to position the city as an open-minded, internationally engaged city – self-confident in the Suisse federal system.  A means to express that is the current city strategy “Strategies Zurich 2035”  which pursues a holistic approach to tackle the diverse challenges confronting the City of Zurich.

“As the urban heart of Switzerland’s biggest economic region, Zurich constitutes a “global city”. The city’s strength lies in a dense network of important relationships – regional, cantonal, national and international. ”

Taken from Strategies Zurich 2035

Zurich’s city strategy centers on and tries to find answers to three key questions:

  • What will we live on today and tomorrow?
  • How do we maintain our quality of life?
  • How do we organize ourselves?

Answering these interrelated questions requires input from diverse city management fields. This has led to pursuing a holistic city strategy while at the same time emphasizing certain areas, namely economy, social cohesion, and governance. A talk with Anna Schindler as Zurich’s chief city strategist focussed on the strategy development process, its acceptance, monitoring, and implementation as well as on Zurich’s cooperation with other cities around the world.

street in switzerland

Which process did you use to develop the strategy?

When developing Zurich’s strategy: “Strategies Zurich 2035” we tried to include participatory elements. Among these elements was a large city debate in 2010, which took place online, in writing, and via telephone and proceeded the evaluation of the already existing strategies.

We were quite early compared to other cities in using such means of citizen participation. However, including a broad base of people in the strategy development process while extensive was an expensive effort. So for the evaluation, we conducted a field analysis with external experts on one hand and the city administration and the government on the other hand.

For the future, we would like to continue to use citizen participation as a way of better understanding the specific needs of Zurich’s citizens. We created a guideline for e-participation in 2015, which we would like to further improve by looking at already existing real-world pilot projects that benefit from online participation.

Blended participation, large group events combined with methods for online engagement, is generally seen as an ambitious yet beneficiary tool that results in the highest return.

One issue, though, is that the same people always participate, those who are already engaged in various fields and interested in specific topics related to the quality of life in Zurich. This means that when it comes to citizen participation, expectation management is crucial.

Which feedback did you get for “Strategie Zurich 2035” internally and externally?

We received good feedback on our strategy, despite it primarily being a high-level strategy. For us, the strategy is a management and policy instrument. Specific departments derive their own strategies from it. Importantly, the strategy is an essential tool for recognizing current and future challenges.

How does Zurich assess if goals have been achieved?

We assess progress in each of our goals separately. Every department establishes unique measures to monitor their progress in achieving clear-cut target values for each year.

Which is the biggest challenge to the implementation of the strategy?

It depends on the specific area. Implementation of the strategies within every department works very well. But as in every other administration or big company with almost 30’000 employees there are certain difficulties in working horizontally between different entities and therefore, change management is crucial for a smart city. Proper change management will only work by looking at best practices and by forming a coalition of the willing.

Which diplomatic relationships with other cities does Zurich maintain?

There exist a lot of exchange with cities such as Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin, San Fransisco or Copenhagen and with associations like the EUROCITIES network or the Mayors Migration Council. What sets Zurich apart is that Zurich has established development aid in the form of city-to-city cooperation. For example, Zurich engages in Tyros (Lebanon) and wants to start engagements in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Freetown (Sierra Leone). The idea is to help those cities with the means of knowledge transfer directly.

Important in such engagements is that you have an intermediary. In the case of Tyros, this is UN-Habitat, which generally works on improving urban futures.  In offering development aid, Zurich wants foremost to support cities that face challenges related to being a destination for refugees as it is the case in Tyros.

Zurich was also among the first cities to have a partnership with a Chinese city. In the 1980s, the City of Kunming was given assistance in the form of developmental cooperation. Due to economic improvements, it has become by now an important strategic partner.

What difficulties emerge from the mentality gap between Zurich as the largest city in the region and the countryside?

The mentality gap is not so much an issue between the citizens of Zurich and those in the countryside. Rather it exists between those living in the inner-city and those living in the agglomerations. This is why we need to further improve living conditions in the outskirts.

Find more about city strategies: Have a look at our talks with officials from HelsinkiEindhoven, and Bochum to find out more about city strategies in the face of global competition.