Vienna’s many green spaces bring together all walks of life

More than half of city’s physical space devoted to green space

By Abbie Smith

The courtyard in the middle of the
Vienna City Hall houses trees, bushes
and a water feature for visitors and
employees to enjoy.

VIENNA, Austria – With approximately 50 percent of its physical space devoted to some type of park, garden or green space, Vienna is making the most of its ample rainfall and love of the outdoors.

The diversity of green spaces in the city is one reason that for the past seven years, Austria’s capital city has been ranked the most livable city in the world out of 230 surveyed by international consulting firm Mercer.

This impressive dedication to planned green spaces includes the formal gardens of palaces and museums, large wooded parks, lush vineyards and a multiplicity of variously sized neighborhood parks.

“There’s a huge number of people who have really tiny houses and tiny apartments, and of course for those, the public space or the green spaces especially are some kind of extension of their living room,” said Lilli Licka, head of the Institute of Landscape Architecture at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. Licka also has her own landscape architecture firm, where she and a partner design some of the city’s parks.

Palace grounds

“Living room” would not have been an accurate description in centuries past, however. Until the late 1700s, the city’s world-renowned gardens were largely reserved for royalty. Austrio-Hungary’s Emperor Josef II opened the palace gardens of Schönbrunn, for example, as well as the vast hunting grounds of what is today called the Prater to the public in 1779, according to the Schönbrunn website. Today the Prater houses an amusement park with the second oldest Ferris wheel in the world.

“There’s a famous anecdote,” said Gretl Satorius, author of “Gretl Goes Vienna,” a virtual tour of Vienna available as a smartphone app. She educates people on the history and culture of Vienna daily in her own tours. “A horrified noblewoman said to [Josef II], ‘But your Highness, if you open the parks to the lower classes, where will we nobles go to be with our own kind?’ To which he responded, ‘My dear lady, if I wanted to be with my own kind, I would spend all of my days in the Imperial Crypt.’”

Locals gather in Karl’s Garten to eat
lunch on a sunnyFriday afternoon.

One of the city’s many green spaces is tucked in a corner of Karlsplatz, a central gathering area that houses one of the country’s most renowned churches, Karl’s Church. In this quiet area is Karl’s Garten, which is used both for display and for research, according to its website at Initiated by Simone Rongitsch in 2014 to study how gardens might function in urban settings, the garden is also open to the public.

“It is quiet; a good place to read,” said Danielle Bucher, a frequent visitor of the garden.

Rosemarie Wünscher, assistant manager of the garden, said the park is unlike most of the city’s parklands.

“If you looks at most parks, they are mostly just green grass, cut really short, really neat and green, and they have flowers,” she said. “Here, you get the fruit and the vegetables and the production of it all. . . . You get inspiration from here.”

Students from the nearby university often drop by to eat lunches, and a few locals come to the garden sometimes once a week to talk to the gardeners and ask them questions in order to apply that knowledge to their own gardens back home.

Karl’s Garten also welcomes Viennese school children on field trips to the park.

“There are a lot of Viennese people and a lot of children that don’t know how a tomato looks or how different mint varieties smell,” Wünscher said. “You can show them and that’s actually something that I really like”

Not only is Karl’s Garten a space of cultivation and study, but it also offers a unique area for the community to gather, socialize, and learn about the use of green space in their city.

Communal backyards

Because so many Viennese live in small apartments, many retire to neighborhood parks to relax in. Milan Eder, a Vienna local, enjoys meeting up with his friends on the weekends to play soccer.

Patrons at Science Fiction Im Park blanket the
grounds of Bruno-Kreisky Park watching that
night’s film, Time Crimes.

Bruno Kreisky Park “is nearby all to our houses, and we come in the cages to play around,” Eder said. “We are watching the games on TV so much, but it is nice to go outside and do it ourselves.”

Nicky Hurst, a salesman, said he often walks his dog in Bruno Kreisky Park, where Lucy can hunt down the park’s many birds. He and his wife live in an apartment nearby. On most weekends, he said they make a trip to Donaupark, a park built on a former landfill along the Danube River. There they like to walk the many moorland paths or sit and enjoy the atmosphere.

During evenings after work, however, Hurst turns to his neighborhood park – Bruno Kreisky.

“I work hard every day from one place to another place,” Hurst said. “But here, I enjoy the green.”

Preparing for the future

People spend their afternoon surrounded by
flowers in the rose garden in Volksgarten Vienna

Unfortunately, as the city grows, more pressure is put on Vienna’s green spaces. By the year 2025, the city is predicted to grow to 2 million people from 1.75 million today, according to Vienna’s Urban Development Plan.

According to Licka, advocates for green space are fighting for every square meter. Fortunately, city mandate requires that at least 40 percent of public property in Vienna be dedicated to green space, she said.

“I think it’s necessary to ensure some of some larger, public open green areas,” Licka said. “It’s necessary for social health.”

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