Heinz Vögeli – EPI

Head of Real Estate - Swiss EPI

Urban green

What is the perspective of a landowner or property manager, especially when considering a 20-30 year time horizon in highly dynamic urban areas where multiple interests often collide? This issue of Voices features Heinz Vögeli, Head of Real Estate at the Foundation, who has long held this position at the Swiss Epilepsy Foundation (EPI).

Trees and green spaces are experiencing a renaissance in cities around the world as a means to combat climate extremes and improve quality of life. For decades, urban development typically meant built-up or paved infrastructure. Today, many planning authorities view green and unpaved spaces as an integrated and important part of the urban landscape, on par with transportation, energy supply, and sanitation. Public space initiatives are flourishing, but to achieve the overall impact needed, private properties must also be included in this transformation.

As the longtime owner of a 12-plus-acre property in Zurich, now a prime piece of real estate overlooking Lake Zurich, the Swiss Epilepsy Foundation (EPI) has developed and managed an urban campus since 1886, where various types of green space actively complement the services offered in a range of healthcare, educational and residential facilities. As part of their concept, trees, productive areas and other biotope types ensure several functions that represent added value for patients, residents and employees, but also for daily visitors and the neighborhood.

1. How important are green spaces for the EPI campus and what types of tangible and intangible values do you see?

The ruderal and green areas, including tree plantations, make a significant contribution to the increased quality of stay on the entire EPI site.

On the one hand, the climate on site is positively influenced and on the other hand, fauna and flora with their biodiversity unfold in the best possible way in the networked green space, especially in the southern undeveloped slope area down to the lake.

2. What is the Foundation’s overall strategy and timeline in this regard, and how does it inform operational decisions? Are specific goals or metrics used to evaluate implementation?

The largely undeveloped “slope” with approx. 35,000 m2 already has many ecologically valuable areas; these qualities are to be preserved and strengthened. This sub-goal is also set out in the EPI site master plan with a time horizon of 2040 and has been lived and implemented for some time.

The high proportion of open space offers good conditions for achieving the goal of 15 percent of ecologically valuable green spaces, according to the Regional Structure Plan of the City of Zurich (2017).

3. As a property manager, what experiences and challenges would you mention to another property owner/manager considering a similar commitment to that of EPI?

In addition to the buy-in with the decision-makers, what is needed most is the professional staff for the outdoor space. In our case with the EPI site, this takes the form of a long-time landscape gardening manager with a master’s degree, Bernhard Lenz. He maintains the important sense of proportion on site, balancing the needs and wishes of users and the broad spectrum of different types of open spaces. Each of these open spaces holds specific ecological potential and fulfills a therapeutic function for our residents and guests.

4. The EPI property is special in Zurich because of its size and prime location in the urban area. Isn’t there pressure to sell part of the property to raise additional funds in a simple way? Or to use the undeveloped areas for newer buildings and more services?

The long-term goals are defined in the aforementioned EPI Area Master Plan, which means that there is no question of selling land from the core area, nor is there any intention of further building on the green space in the hillside area.

5. Ongoing maintenance costs play a major role in design and management decisions, especially for larger green spaces. This often leads to a simpler design. In your role, how would you compare the costs and benefits of the EPI approach, including in terms of resources and labor time required?

In addition to well-known measures, such as the use of native plant species or the planting of trees and flower meadows, other specific connectivity measures and habitats for flora and fauna can be developed with the help of appropriate professionals.

Such areas are often less maintenance-intensive than conventional green spaces. The specifications for site maintenance are defined by the foundation’s management, and the costs are transferred to the users on a joint basis via rental fees.

6. How is the cooperation with the local authorities, e.g. regarding urban development, land use and climate/biodiversity issues?

The Foundation Management maintains constructive cooperation with the authorities, which is also reflected in the considerable results of the jointly prepared feasibility studies, test planning and the EPI site master plan.

7. And what is your professional perspective, need or preference in terms of possible collaboration with organizations working on biodiversity aspects in urban areas?

The network “Ingenieur Hospital Schweiz” (IHS) and in particular the one within the hospital institutions located on Lengg (n.Ed. – area of the city of Zürich), the “Verein Gesundheitscluster Lengg” is valuable and important and should be maintained in the future.

8. What about integration and interaction with the neighborhood and visitors? Are you looking for direct feedback to define future developments?

In addition to the Lengg health cluster, the EPI maintains direct and indirect relations with its immediate neighbours – including the neighbourhood association – and actively involves them in planning projects.

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