Location: Essen, Germany
City population: 576,013
Project duration: 2005 - 2020
Project cost: Above 4 000 000 EUR
Financing source(s): Public regional budget, Public local authority's budget, Corporate investment, Funds provided by non-governmental organization

Restoration of the Emscher River


The river Emscher is the symbol of one of the internationally most renowned industrial regions: the Ruhr area with its 5 million inhabitants and an important location of key industries such as steel, chemical, and materials industry. The revitalisation of the Emscher over the last 20 years marks a new phase in the region‘s history and is an impressive example of ecological and socio-economic transformation affecting all aspects of life along the river (1).

Urban setting

  • Grey infrastructure with green features
    • Alley and street trees/hedges/greens
    • Green playground/ school grounds
    • Riverbank greens
  • Parks and (semi)natural urban green areas
    • Large urban park or forest
  • Blue areas
    • River/stream/canal/estuary
  • Green areas for water management
    • Sustainable urban drainage systems
  • Derelict areas
    • Other

Key challenges

  • Climate action for adaptation, resilience and mitigation (SDG 13)
  • Economic development and decent employment (SDG 8)
  • Environmental quality, including air quality and waste management
  • Green space, habitats and biodiversity (SDG 15)
  • Health and well-being (SDG 3)
  • Regeneration, land-use and urban development
  • Social justice, cohesion and equity (SDG 10)
  • Water management (SDG 6)

Main beneficiaries

  • National-level government
  • Local government/Municipality
  • Public sector institution (e.g. school or hospital)
  • Non-government organisation/Civil Society
  • Private sector/Corporate/Company
  • Citizens or community groups
  • Disadvantaged groups
Project objectives
1. A central goal of the Emscher Park project was to clean up the Emscher River, which runs through the very middle of the green plan and stretches a distance of 70 kilometers from east to west through the region. For decades, the river had a reputation of being a biologically dead "open sewer," acting as a waste water canal since the end of the late 19th century (2). 2. To prevent abandonment and dereliction of many steel works (2) 3. To improve employment situation of the area (2) 4. To give the region a greener image (2) 5. To improve living conditions of the local population (4) 6. To increase biodiversity in the area (7)
Implementation activities
Now that much of the mining in the region has ceased, underground sewers have been installed to carry waste away from the river and promote its re-naturalization. Additionally, the river has been re-profiled to allow for better flooding management and, to slow the speed of the currents, part of the river's course has been changed from a straight narrow concrete channel back to a wide curved pool. Trees and native plants have been introduced along the bank, which has improved the water quality as well as the ecosystems in the area (2).

Type of initiating organisation

  • Non-government organization / civil society

Management set-up

Co-governance or hybrid governance (mix of responsibilities between government and non-government actors)

Participatory approaches/ community involvement

  • Co-planning
  • Dissemination of information and education
  • Consultation (e.g. workshop, surveys)
  • Citizen oversight (e.g. boards, advisory)
Details on the roles of the organisations involved in the project
The restoration of the Emscher River was initiated by the Emscher Genossenschaft (5). The Emscher region has set an example for civic participation in regional planning. The Emscher – Zukunft (future) is a strategic master plan for regional development that has been developed through an intensive dialogue process involving a wide range of stakeholders and effective public participation. This process has enabled many of the Emscher cities to conceptualize a family-friendly, multi-generational living environment (Seltmann, 2007) (5).
Project implemented in response to ...
... an EU policy or strategy? Yes
EU Water Framework Directive (5) is an operational tool, which sets the objectives for water protection in Europe.
... a national policy or strategy? Yes
1. Regional development strategy by the Ministry of Urban Development, Housing, and Transport in Nord Rhein- Westphalia (1989). One of the key components of this strategy was to bring an International Building Exhibition (International Bauausstellung - IBA) to the region. The IBA initiative was designed to instigate integrated development and regeneration in the region, with architectural competitions playing an important role. Thus it implied that the re-development considered not only economic and job creation factors, but also criteria such as society, the environment, and culture. This initiative was later termed as IBA Emscher Park (5). 2. “Future Convention for Stormwater in the Emscher Catchment” (5). See comments.
... a local policy or strategy? Unknown
Expected impacts
  • Environmental quality, including air quality and waste management
  • Green space, habitats and biodiversity (SDG 15)
  • Regeneration, land-use and urban development
  • Water management (SDG 6)
Details on impacts and indicators used 1. 20 streams of the Emscher system rehabilitated (7) 2. The quality of sand substrate in the rehabilitated areas improved (7) 3. The streams have been colonized by about 400 species of invertebrates (mainly mollusks, crustaceans, oligochaetes and aquatic insects) and variety of fish species increasing biodiversity in the area (7) 4. Some rare species appeared in the coastal areas that indicates the overall improvement in the environmental conditions of the Emscher area (7) 5.The monitoring program for the Emscher includes water quantity, water quality, biological indicators and morphological structure. (7).

Presence of formal monitoring system


Presence of indicators used in reporting


Presence of monitoring/ evaluation reports


Availability of a web-based monitoring tool

  • Restoration of the Emscher River
    Restoration of the Emscher River
    Photographer: Ilias Abawi, retrieved 08/29/2018


Disclaimer: The data collection was carried out between June and August 2017, the information presented has not been updated afterwards.