Listening to Local Leadership in Stuttgart: Lord Mayor Wolfgang Schuster

February 16th, 2012

As part of our Good Ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal Leadership on Immigrant Integration, we  ask mayors and city leaders for their views on immigration, local initiatives and future plans.

Dr. Wolfgang Schuster
Lord Mayor of Stuttgart

Why are immigrants important to Stuttgart?

Because in the 21st century we will be an international city or we will be a provincial city with no chances. That’s very clear. Either we are open, open to people from all cities and counties in the world, or say what? That we are not interested in people? That we just want to sell our own products and have no contact with the people? See, that’s no way. Either we are open and live globalization through our industry, research and universities or we do the contrary –and tell the people what the consequences are. For me, it’s clear, we are a city that must be an international city, that we are an international city. No city in the world is without products from Stuttgart.

Walk through the streets. [Immigrants are] not only in Toronto. People from all countries are coming and living here in Stuttgart and that’s an incredible achievement.

Successful cities, in this century, are cities that are open, international, that really promote tolerance, and intercultural dialogue. Through this they also promote creativity [innovation], promote opportunities to increase their exports, have better chances to understand the culture of customers. So even if you don’t think about the humanist or social perspective, you must think about the economic perspective which is an advantage.

Can you describe one initiative or program that you are very proud of that relates to immigrant integration?

I think, for me, the most important thing is the common understanding that everybody living in Stuttgart is a Stuttgarter. We do not have foreigners, we have just citizens. And if you think in this way, it becomes clear that [you must also consider] what are the living conditions, what are opportunities are there? especially for the children. For example, we started a program called Bildungspaten gesucht! which means ‘become a godfather’ to a child. We have promoted this for quite some many years, and now have thousands, most of them older, retired people, who are engaged in this program. For the next 30 years, this program will add value to their lives, while giving youngsters a chance. Being with them, learning with them, reading with them, taking them around in the city to cultural activities, helping them be successful in school, and then to find a job. Then you can really say, I have given a youngster a good future and that’s a great feeling. This way we also link the generations and create a family connection. The feedback we have received from this project has been very positive. At the moment this is my favourite baby.

If this is your favourite ‘baby’ at the moment, what comes next?

First, we want to improve the opportunities of children whose parents may not be very well-integrated -because of migration background, language or whatever – and may have psychological challenges [refugees] or experienced hatred [racism] in their life or at school, for example. Now we want to figure out how to improve and empower the parents. So we will start a program for the education of parents, outside what you can do in a school. It’s a very informal way of helping the parents.

Can you give me an example of something happening around integration in other cities where you said to yourself, I would like to do this in Stuttgart?

I always thought of Canada as a very open and intercultural country. As a result you have less tension in your society, because of its openness and flexibility. So that’s just one example.

At the moment we are seeing differences between economically strong cities and many cities, even here [in Europe], with terrible problems –in Greece, parts of Spain and Portugal, where 50% of their people are jobless. It’s not acceptable to have in the European Union over 5 million young people without jobs. We need them, we need the youngsters. Yet they get left out and are not a part of our society, without opportunity. This feeling, to be without a chance, of not being welcome, is an awful feeling. At the moment, because we have a demand for qualified workers, we are trying to help to bridge with some of these cities. They can send their youngsters to us where they stay for some years, become more qualified and then go back. That is one of the projects I am working on

Today is a very special day for you, do you want to tell us why?

Yes. We are launching a very important traffic project [Stuttgart 21] to improve the railway station and connect Stuttgart to a high-speed train system in Europe, so that trains coming from Paris to Vienna will stop in Stuttgart as a central city. That’s a major investment by the ¬¬ European Commission and the federal government, with a small part from the city of Stuttgart. It’s major investment of about seven billion Euros. [In Stuttgart], it means the tracks can disappear (since its going by tunnel) and the city will have about 1000 acres of land for new development the next 10 to 20 years. I think it’s great for our children and grandchildren because it is a very important environmentally to the future development of the city. It’s my vision, my wish to build a carbon-free city centre, free from construction, from traffic. So it’s a very ambitious project.

As you know, here in Stuttgart we are ambitious. We have to be, and that’s a great project for our future.

The interview was conducted by Ratna Omidvar, President, The Maytree Foundation as part of the Maytree’s German Exchange – Good Ideas from Toronto: An Exchange of Immigrant Integration Practices.

Dr. Wolfgang Schuster has been Lord Mayor of Stuttgart since 1997. He graduated in 1969 in Tübingen, Geneva and Fribourg Law and Political Sciences. He was deputy chairman of the Senate of the University of Freiburg and has received his doctorate in civil law. He has also studied at the École nationale d’administration in Paris.

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