Kindergarten in Vienna: free for all, 50% of the city’s area is public green space

  • 17 март 2017, 06:00
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Thomas Reindl is an economist and a Chairman of the City Council of Vienna. He is a social democrat. Mister Reindl came to the Bulgarian capital for the days of Vienna in Sofia. He had a meeting with the creator of the Portal of the Bulgarian municipalities - Boyan Tomov.

- Mr. Reindl for a seventh consecutive year, Vienna was announced as the best city to live in and do business. What kind of know-how will you give to Sofia?

- Vienna is a city with tradition which goes back almost 100 years. Next year is the 100th anniversary since a socialist or social democrat is governing the city. Well, we have to exclude the period during World War II. In fact politically, the city is very stable. 2018 will mark the 100 anniversary of the end of the First World War and respectively the end of the Austrian Empire. During the time of the first Republic, Austria began its transformation from an absolute monarchy to a republic. During this period many socially oriented measures have been taken such as social housing, construction of new infrastructure and schools.

The measures taken after the First World War have been taken again after the Second World War, when the country was starting to recover from the devastations. Nowadays, we keep on working in the same spirit. The investment in educational infrastructure is huge - kindergarten is free of charge for all children living in Vienna. We are building new schools and renovating the existing ones. Currently, in the healthcare sector there is a huge reform which aims to unite the 13 hospitals in the city, so they can be reduced to 8 hospitals with common administration and the same medical staff. The aim of the reform is to create a balance in the allocation of patients. So far in the western part of Vienna there were many free places for patients and in the north (which has increased its population) – we are currently building a new hospital. Something else typical for Vienna, is the fact that 50% of the city’s area is public green space. We have taken a decision to keep this percentage despite the growth of population. To everything I mentioned so far, I have to add that what makes Vienna a good city to live in is the mixture of transport and cultural infrastructure and the qualified experts who live in the city.

- How do you manage traffic in the city? Could you tell me more about the project "Gold baton" - in Vienna, is it your idea or you have you taken this good practice from another municipality in the world?

- We have been governing in a coalition with the Green party for the last 6 years and we have managed to have the traffic under control. Currently, anyone who wants to park a car in Vienna is obliged to pay for it, while couple of years ago the paid parking zones were only in the city center. There is an area for a short-term parking which is available for residents and they can park their vehicles there if they have a sticker which costs 100 euro per year. Those who do not have a sticker pay € 2.10 per hour. This measure dramatically increased the number of people who travel by public transport. Eight or nine years ago, we had around 450,000 annual cards and currently they are 750 000. Not only the Viennese are buying such subscriptions but also people from the surrounding areas who travel to work in Vienna. We have made an agreement with the province of Lower Austria for provision of parking spaces near the train stations. As well as this we have built a number of parking zones around the city. We are currently trying to encourage cycling in Vienna and also we have already determined a person in charge of the pedestrian mobility. The main responsibility of this person is to suggest good solutions for improving the pedestrian mobility in the city center. "Green baton" was part of a project. Due to this project we have installed in the traffic lights special sensors which detect if the pedestrian want to cross the street or just wants to pass by it. This project receives now a "Gold baton" because it increases significantly the comfort of pedestrians. The idea is very simple if the pedestrian is on the sidewalk and stops to cross then the sensors will register him and the traffic signal will turn green.

- According to you what is the best formula for collaboration between the state, municipalities and private business? Recently a new Concessions Act was voted in Bulgaria, which was supposed to regulate a public-private partnership, but has been vetoed by the President.

- Infrastructure projects with public-private partnership have their pros and cons. This matter has been discussed in Vienna as well due to the restrictions of Maastricht. The restrictions are mainly about the budget for example: we have to build a school campus which consist of a kindergarten and a school for children between 6 and 15 years old and we have to do it with public-private partnership. If we finance this project from the budget it will cost us 50 million euro. If we create a model for public- private partnership for a period of 25 years the project will cost us between 70 and 75 million euro. The private partner will increase the expenses and will ask for some profit as well as this the issue of maintenance have to be carefully arranged. In my opinion the cheapest option is the project to be financed only by the municipality. This is the reason why projects with public-private cooperation should be considered carefully. We have to think in advance who will benefit. Therefore, in terms of infrastructure the sustainability of the company, which is a potential partner is of extreme importance. For example, for the new hospital, which will cost 1.1 billion euro, we wanted to make a public-private model for cooperation.  But this would have increased the cost to 1.7 billion euro. This is the reason why we have decided to do it on our own. And we as a local government, look for private partners who share our belief that the provision of public services should be performed by the municipality only and should not be privatized.

- What do you think about the future contest "Mayor of Europe”?

- Every city needs good vision, good ideas and sustainable projects which can attract citizens. The mayors of Europe must have a good vision for the future and plenty of ideas for urban development. Regarding to this the contest "Mayor of Europe" could help citizens to be engaged more actively in public life. I have a motto which applies to the ideal mayor:

“You have to identify the trends of our time ", second -" Do not be blinded by your own delusions "and the third -" Do not let power corrupt you", I have not invented these rules I just read a lot. Fortunately, I have many friends in the political circles that adhere to these rules.

People can clearly see who works and who does not. The best formula for success for a mayor is to be close to the people, which does not mean to do what they want. The mayor must walk his path but together with the people. Every mayor should have a vision for the future, he has to be brave to and he has to be able to disseminate his ideas.