«Climate Talk with Bettina Walch»

Cracking Asphalt to Protect the Climate – In 2024, we are spotlighting people who are committed to climate protection and whose actions can serve as an inspiration for others. Bettina Walch and her team from the Asphaltknackerinnen (the “Blacktop Busters”) project are joining forces to free Zurich from sealed surfaces and regreen them. They show that small measures can make a big difference. They have quickly attracted a lot of attention and upgraded a lot of areas, including right on myclimate’s doorstep in the Kulturpark.

Let’s get started.

  1. Why do you think there should be fewer sealed surfaces?

Because we create a better quality of life by making our squares, town centres, roadsides, etc. as natural as possible. By doing so, we store water locally and reduce heat instead of draining the water straight into the sewage system or even having some areas flood when it rains more and more heavily. And we create habitats for plants and animals.


  1. What motivated you to get involved as an “Asphaltknackerin” and unseal surfaces?

The need to get involved and be part of the solution by helping residents adapt their surroundings to a changing climate and at the same time promote biodiversity in urban areas.


  1. What challenges and prejudices do you face when persuading landowners? What are your convincing arguments?

That it’s much less time-consuming and complicated than people think, partly because we can offer everything from a single source: advising, ensuring compliance with regulations and finding partner companies for the actual work and to dispose of the asphalt correctly. The convincing arguments are that you are not only creating a more beautiful environment for yourself but also giving something back to nature. You’re also doing something about the heat during the day and at night.


  1. What changes would you like to see in future urban planning?

The new problems we are confronted with in urban spaces have become so complex that we have to rethink and reinterpret the standards that have been used up until now – also because legislation is, understandably, lagging behind. My preference would be to rethink the space, firstly as a social space for people who want to spend time there and as a habitat for wildlife. Then I would like to rethink it for pedestrians and cyclists or public transport, and only at the end would we consider motorised through traffic, which neither lives here nor adds any value. It starts with the natural water cycle, continues with the utility lines and tree planting campaigns and ends with the design of car parks and public spaces in general. In view of all the challenges we face, I would like to see more pragmatism and, in particular, more courage to try things out and take an interdisciplinary approach. I hope that doesn’t sound presumptuous… I’m well aware that successful urban planning that isn’t immediately politically undermined is one of the hardest things in the world to achieve, and I have a great deal of respect for this task. Yet I continue to stick to my core message: more courage and a greater focus on people.


  1. Which area in Zurich would you most like to unseal?

Any area that has been unnecessarily sealed, as long as it’s greened in a natural way. Relying solely on technical solutions falls far too short of the mark. Throughout Switzerland… and, within our network, across Europe.


  1. Who or what inspires you most in your work?

That changes constantly. But at the moment it’s the idea of the “sponge city”, individual companies from the private sector and courageous heads of administrations who just get on with it and have a clear goal that they want to achieve together with others as well as being open to constantly fine-tuning the process. 

A lot is happening with the sponge city concept at the moment. A lot of money is being invested, though unfortunately not always with a holistic approach. As we adapt our surroundings to climate change, it makes sense to use this opportunity to create ecologically valuable areas. So while we need to think and research in terms of “grey engineering”, we also have to consider things in terms of “blue-green infrastructure”.

We have to think of the climate and nature as a unit – because that’s exactly what they are. If we don’t, we’ll miss out on huge opportunities, which will ultimately cost us even more dearly. Here’s a small example where synergies are obvious. If we are already tackling district heating pipelines and tearing up half of our cities anyway, then why don’t we take advantage of this and consider each time whether those areas actually need to be resealed. Often, gravel roads are enough.


  1. What can actors in the environmental sector do to make sure that biodiversity, climate adaptation and climate protection are increasingly thought of and implemented together?

By talking, educating, sensitising and raising awareness of how everything is connected. By showing how relevant ecosystems are for our economic system, which will collapse if we continue to simply do as we’ve “always” done.

Nature is our best ally when it comes to being resilient to extreme weather events in the future and having an environment worth living in – for all of us.



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