Vision Rheintal

From Municipal Cooperation

Vision Rheintal
Service Areas: Administrative Services and Tasks, Culture and Education, Socio-Economic Development, Environment, Infrastructure, Social Services, Solid Waste Management, Transportation, Urban Planning, Water Management
Country: Austria
Municipalities: Altach, Bildstein, Bregenz, Dornbirn, Feldkirch, Fraxern, Fußach, Gaißau, Götzis, Hard, Höchst, Hohenems, Kennelbach, Klaus, Koblach, Lauterach, Lochau, Lustenau, Mäder, Meiningen, Rankweil, Röthis, Schwarzach, Sulz, Übersaxen, Viktorsberg, Weiler, Wolfurt, Zwischenwasser
Contact persons: Martin Assmann
Legal form: Public law agreement
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Coordinates: 47° 30' 11" N, 9° 44' 49" E
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Description of the problem/need for IMC

The Vorarlberg Rhine Valley has experienced a massive change over the past 50 years. The population has grown from 140,000 to approx. 240,000 inhabitants. There is no other region in Austria that has experienced comparable growth in the same time frame. This strong growth in the population can be seen in the development of settlement areas. The number of buildings has almost tripled (1960: 19,096, 2001: 53,294). The built-up areas have increased eightfold (!). From 29 scattered and spread out separate municipalities and small towns, the valley has seen the formation of a fairly dense urban ribbon from Bregenz to Feldkirch. Further sprawl of the boundary areas of settlements into green areas has only been able to be prevented through stringent regional planning countermeasures. However, leaving or entering a new municipality is mostly only recognizable by means of place name signs.

It is not just a result of the spread of the settlement areas that has caused the merging of the Rhine Valley. Owing to a high increase in mobility, it is no longer to be expected that the population’s requirements can be all met in the residential community/municipality they are resident in. The way in which different kinds of important facilities in the Vorarlberg Rhine Valley (polycentric) are spread across many locations and municipalities means that nowadays we take advantage of the Rhine Valley as a whole. We live in the countryside, work in a business park in a neighbouring municipality and take advantage of the cultural life in another municipality etc.

Description of the IMC practice

Vision Rheintal is a projekt of the regional government of Vorarlberg and the municipalities within the area of the Rheintal (Rhine valley).

Establishment of the IMC practice

Interestingly enough, it was a high-rise building scheme that caused a great deal of regional planning discussions in Vorarlberg’s Rhine Valley and ultimately gave impetus to the project. On the outskirts of Lustenau, the highest building ever to be seen in Vorarlberg was to be built, with 23 floors and a height of 83m. Heavy public discussions regarding the heights of buildings followed. In conjunction with the recognition that a regional approach cannot just be limited to the height of buildings but should also encompass a full range of regional planning, the first process outlines of “Vision Rheintal” slowly began to materialize. This was followed by a survey in 2003, which involved questioning 89 “key persons”. The aim of this survey was to sound out the “starting point to explore ideas”. The results showed that the time was right to hold a broad public debate on the future of the Rhine Valley. The initial responsibility was to be held by the state government of Vorarlberg. Furthermore, it was discovered that the vision could be developed both on the level of the entire Rhine Valley with regard to competing with other regions, as well as inter-municipal cooperation in Vorarlberg’s 29 “close-knit” Rhine Valley municipalities.

After further in-depth preparations, the mission statement process of “Vision Rheintal” got underway in May 2004. Over the next two years, a mission statement for regional planning and cooperation was to be developed. This process was successfully completed in the summer of 2006 and the objectives, guiding principles and mission statement were presented to the public. The key messages of the mission statement visualize the future of the Rhine Valley as a region where:

  • important economic, cultural, educational, retail, recreational and administrational institutions should be divided up across different locations (polycentric) as part of a balanced regional development plan,
  • areas between settlement and open countryside should be maintained with structured and high-quality urban devlopment taking place within these borders
  • development of public transport in particular is critical when considering where different forms of living and economic activity take place,
  • open spaces are linked to a green network for agriculture, ecology and leisure time and
  • quality business locations for innovative production enterprises are given support.

The content process has been led by specialist teams. This style of processing was complimented by wide public participation. Altogether more than 800 citizens, experts, municipal and state politicians have actively participated in this open planning process. Numerous opportunities were on offer to get involved. Rhine Valley forums, planning workshops, think tanks etc made more detailed information and debates possible but also enabled development of visions and vision statements. Field trips at home and abroad provided the opportunity to analyze and discuss successful projects home and away. And many information events took place in municipalities to inform a wide range of interest groups, clubs etc. This is where interim results were passed on and there was plenty of room for discussion and exchanging of views.

“Vision Rheintal” gained the support of the general public – as spring 2006 got closer discussions arose regarding the necessity of continuing the “Vision Rheintal” process. The guiding principles and mission statement were now to be finalized and implemented. A first important step in this direction was the official recognition of the mission statement by the state government of Vorarlberg. The state government made the necessary decision on 12.9.2006. The municipality of Zwischenwasser had drawn up a similar decision shortly before the official release of the mission statement in May 2006, most of the other municipalities followed from the autumn of 2006 to the spring of 2007.

In the autumn of 2007, after a one-year “interim” phase, in which the structure and its continuation was clarified, the implementation phase was “officially” launched.

Benefits and shortcoming of the IMC practice

State and municipalities

A central aim of the project from the outset was that it had to be a project that was part of the state and the municipalities. It seemed to be essential to break the existing hierarchical structures. Things needed to be worked out together on an equal footing. In other words, neither a command planning from above via the state, nor exclusive design from below via the municipality. These efforts are reflected in different ways in the structure of the project and process flow. This meant that the steering committee was composed equally of representatives of the state and municipalities. This balance was also an important aspect when putting together the professional teams. And the project office was not in the government building but set up outside of the “state-governing house”.

The fact that the state and municipalities have wanted to pull together is most clearly illustrated in the Rhine Valley Conference. Once or twice a year, members of the state government, members of the state parliament of the Rhine Valley as well as the mayors of the Rhine Valley municipalities meet at a round table to discuss the results of the ongoing project and advise the next steps. An institution like this did not exist until the setting up of “Vision Rheintal”. The Rhine Valley Conference has taken a major step forward since the first meeting in February 2005: from an advisory body to a decisionmaking committee. The presidency has also changed. The conference now has a political chairman with a Rhine Valley major and the respective state councillor responsible for spatial planning. The growing political importance of the Rhine Valley Conference has therefore made its mark.

Rhine Valley regional contract

In this context it was the decision of the Rhine Valley regional contract that was of importance in the 5th Rhine Valley Conference. But also for the rest of the overall process, the signing of the “Rhine Valley Contract” represented the biggest milestone to date. With this, the state of Vorarlberg and the 29 Rhine Valley municipalities, strengthen their joint responsibility for Vorarlberg’s Rhine Valley and their willingness to cooperate. They commit themselves to lead the project together as an open process. The state and the municipalities view themselves as a region that is part of a constant learning process and the mission statement is to be used as a future guide for action. By signing the Rhine Valley Contract, there is another important aspect involved. Since them the municipalities participate in the costs. The project is now funded in equal parts by the state and municipalities!

Future plans for the development of the IMC practice

In order to maintain necessary transparency and flexibility, it was agreed to initially continue the “Vision Rheintal” project until 2010. The central objectives have been to define the following in as many minds as possible: implementation of the objectives named in the mission statement, processing of high-priority issues, further development of the Rhine Valley Conference as well as anchoring the findings of the process to date.

Main lessons learned on how to establish IMC and make it a success

Looking at interim results to date, it can be recognized that we have come substantially closer to the project objective, which is to recognize Vorarlberg’s Rhine Valley as a living space and to develop this space together. People are becoming increasingly aware of the responsibility for this living space. Municipal co-operations have received impetus in many ways. Various interlinked municipality border projects were able to be launched or are currently in the making. The fact that the end of the project has not yet been reached must also be clear to us all. And there will most certainly be many challenges in the future to be overcome along the way to “29 municipalities – one living space”. The fact that it is worthwhile taking such challenges on board with the ultimate goal of overcoming them, has already been clearly demonstrated by “Vision Rheintal”.

Readiness to support other municipalities to establish IMC

Questions about the vision Rhine valley can be asked to Martin Assmann.

Further information (in German language) can be found at the project website