In the framework of this course, in cooperation with the SASMob project, they did not only deliver lectures: the lecturers gave priority, besides practical knowledge, to value orientation and the linking of different local players. At the end of the course, the lecturers invited Sándor Nagy, Vice Mayor for City Development, as a guest to speak to the students about the vision for Szeged. The university students were given an opportunity to reflect on Szeged Vision (about which Mátyás Szerdahelyi spoke). As another invited guest, Anna Mária Ballai, President of the Csongrád County Association of Blind and Visually Impaired People, also joined the conversation.
The vision for Szeged seems quite simple – at first sight – said Sándor Nagy, Vice Mayor for City Development. – An increasing number of television newsreels have coverage for green news, and the importance of creating a more sustainable world is becoming an ever stronger part of public discourse. Meanwhile, Szeged as an organisation, as a working “thing”, is a pretty complicated “structure”. If we break what we should do for sustainability down into the level of our everyday lives, we do encounter difficulties. Szeged has a vision at the political level, which exists as a declaration: we want to be the greenest Hungarian city. For this, we should do certain things. But, in this scenario, Szeged also has a certain amount of room for action, which is determined – and, sometimes, also restricted – by legislation. As an example, the city is responsible for the financial management of kindergartens but not that of schools. Neither is the city an authority to approve schools’ pedagogical programmes. We do take part in the organisation of local community transport – but have a minimal say in public intercity transport. Szeged can participate in a geothermal heating project with district heating – and yet it is very difficult to convince the users of individual heating systems (i.e. house owners) to change their heating system if an upfront investment cost must be borne by them. In other words, there are certain limitations – but, at the same time, I also think that when we declare a high-level political goal and keep communicating it we actually try to somehow motivate those players who are outside of our scope of competence. And I think it works.
Why do we cycle so much in Szeged? Also because it’s cool!
Sándor Nagy also spoke about the importance of everyday cooperation schemes, besides that of political, official ones. These everyday schemes are the ones about which no formal agreements are signed – but still work in practice. The fact that the ratio of bike users is higher in Szeged than in other Hungarian cities of a similar size is also the consequence of a number of individual decisions. We cycle a lot not only because of the development of the local bike path network. But these decisions are impacted by those of the city: if the inhabitants of Szeged see that it is cool to cycle in the city, they will be more likely to use their bicycles.
What can a large city do to heat in the winter with as little air pollution as possible?
Practically, this is what Szeged is working on in the 21st century: in the past one and a half – two decades, as many prefabricated concrete blocks in housing estates were ‘wrapped up’ in insulation as possible, and some prefabricated brick-block buildings also received the same type of façade insulation. – This prefabricated block building programme is one of the best examples of how the national subsidy system can boost the progress of such a programme. This block reconstruction programme was financed by the state, the city and the actual dwellers in equal, one-third proportions. At this point, I’d like to note that, at that time, the municipal government had more money to finance such schemes – added the vice mayor. In the end, this “block wrapping” programme did bring benefits to the apartment owners as they have to spend less on heating, these buildings use less energy, and the heating companies must work less – which also means lower levels of pollutant emission. A logical continuation of this prefabricated block programme is the switch to geothermal energy.
What can we do with separated heating systems for individual houses?
In this area, the municipal government has less room, admitted Sándor Nagy, since we do not have the power to check if someone, for instance, puts PET bottles in their furnace at home (we do believe this does not happen – editor’s note). – We try to do something in this area, too: in the past two heating seasons, we launched mini campaigns with the assistance of Edvin Mihálik, Councillor for the Green Programme. In these campaigns, we called people’s attention to the fact that it is not a good idea to use garbage and waste for heating. We know that there is energy poverty, i.e. we know this is an unavoidable problem for some – but it is also true that a significant percentage of people think this is OK, and only the lack of information is behind the problem.
SASMob: Sustainability in Three Different Ways
About SASMob the vice mayor said the project actually means three things: environmental sustainability, the sustainability of the mobility system and the financial sustainability of the transportation system. – The “all problems existing” example of the last, i.e. financial sustainability, is the sustenance of community transport in Szeged. In other words, this matter is not so simple as it may seem. Continuing sustenance as the topic: the budgets are also development limitations. As an example, the development of electric buses is an investment that increases costs of operation, and now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, such problems must be tackled very carefully. Not only infrastructure development matters: it is also important to talk with people about these things, so that all factors are clear to them. It was through these discussion initiatives that we have got to the employers, and this is how this SASMob programme was formulated. We knew already before the programme that a significant part of movements, i.e. transport, is travelling to and from work, i.e. how we get to our workplace is a very important factor.
Sustainability from the Point of View of Participation: Szeged’s Development Programmes Are Exemplary
Reflecting on the messages of Vice Mayor Sándor Nagy, Anna Mária Ballai, President of the Csongrád County Association of Blind and Visually Impaired People, emphasised that they highly appreciate the opportunity to take part in these processes and their development – especially those inhabitants of Szeged she represents. – To us it is key that we can access buildings using community transport, whether such buildings be our workplace, institutions or a school. In this respect, Szeged has developed immensely over the past five-six years, yet, there is still room for development. We have problems other people do not even think about. It is in vain for the city to buy low-floor vehicles if the platform or the stop is not properly prepared, and one cannot get into the bus in a wheelchair. Or when we hear on the tram after it stops “please watch your step” we know anyone confined to a wheelchair will not be able to get off at that stop without help. Or the passenger information system should be both sound-based and visual, or an application used by blind and visually impaired people should not be accessible only through Apple phones and the application ought to know when buses, trams and trolleybuses come – said Anna Mária Ballai, who emphasised that cooperation with them in Szeged is exemplary and so are the development projects implemented so far.
She also said if one thinks about it when they are given attention in the course of development, attention is paid by investors to the elderly and families with small children and using prams and pushchairs. In other words, it is not only about being nice guys and doing something that is ‘compulsory’ when we pay attention to our physically challenged and blind or visually impaired neighbours.
Szeged Vision: Challenges Are Huge
Speaking on behalf of Szeged Vision, Mátyás Szerdahelyi said to university students that, in their project, they had performed an experiment on how the challenges of sustainable development could be successfully addressed and what responses should be given to the questions raised by climate change by 2050. – This whole thing is really complex: establishing our position but not feeling stupid at the same time requires a lot of knowledge. These are mutually impacting systems, and there are a lot of things we can only try to imagine in advance. And we also know in regards to this that it would be good to do something – but we do not know more than this. This is one of the biggest challenges in this whole exercise. Communication has become very fast and, at the same time, very simplified. Twenty years ago we were switching between television channels, not really watching them but surfing, rather. This is what has moved to our timeline on Facebook, and this is what you find on Instagram, too. It was this communication-related aspect that we had to use with a topic which makes no sense to talk about briefly – and yet, we must catch people’ attention, participants should be made to think. This is why Szeged Vision has become what it is like – said Mátyás Szerdahelyi, according to whom their website is a guided tour which one can take part in and see what the city will be like by 2050. Szerdahelyi also mentioned that they did not want to be know-it-all researchers – this is why they began to make interviews when they were compiling Szeged Vision: they had discussions with university people, as well as with the employees of Szeged Transportation Company (SZKT).
– Within three decades, urbanisation will reach a level where villages will become empty: this is something we cannot forecast for sure as there are factors that point in the opposite direction, for instance, if cities prove unliveable, and everyone who can will move to small towns and villages. But it can easily happen that the village of Öttömös, for example, will become unpopulated, but, on the other hand, there may also be a positive scenario, as the village is in an area excellently suitable for a huge water reservoir – noted Mátyás Szerdahelyi, who also considered it important to mention that Szeged Vision is a Szeged-related project also in the sense that only Szeged-related people were interviewed in the project preparation phase.
– Did the coronavirus pandemic change these plans? The majority of the preparation activities were carried out prior to the pandemic – asked Ágnes Szőke-Tóth, representing SZKT. Such a pandemic was not expected, admitted Mátyás Szerdahelyi, yet they try to ensure that Szeged Vision is scalable in its content, i.e. it can be improved and digitised. Moreover, it is also possible to increase its coverage, with the involvement of the population.
At the end of the lecture, under the leadership of Boglárka Méreiné Berki and Barbara Mihók, the students also had the opportunity to ask questions of the guests: Kitti Szeidler, a student of psychology, wanted to know about Szeged Vision if the project can be enlarged with proposals and inspiring ideas which are relatively easy to implement and which would not bring the apocalyptic world that is found on one page of the website. Mátyás Szerdahelyi answered that attention was paid to enabling the expansion of the project content. – There are things, of course, on which we have no influence. It is not our decision if Paks 2 is built, for instance. At the same time, the website already has parts which are not at all sure to become widespread reality. However, we have already hinted at continuing and further opportunities. On Szeged Vision’s Facebook site, we have provided details of such topics, as there was more room there for such descriptions. The next step really is what one can do as a citizen. On this point, we must realise that opportunities at the level of individuals are badly restricted. Typically, progress can be made in the area of transportation: one can decide what vehicle one uses and how. The other opportunity for development at the level of the individual is separated waste collection.