Villab – Exploration of a Villach innovation laboratory for the cooperative development of sustainable neighbourhoods

The "Villab - Probe" project serves to check the feasibility of an urban innovation laboratory to accelerate the transformation of Villach districts towards climate neutrality. Assuming positive feasibility, the cooperation with relevant stakeholders will be deepened and a business plan drawn up for a future innovation laboratory.

Short Description


completed (December 2022)


The city of Villach is an innovative industrial location with leading international companies, an important transport hub for the Alpe-Adria region, a research center in the field of microelectronics and, with a population of around 64,000 people, the most important school, sports and cultural city in Upper Carinthia.

The mission statement of the municipal council of the City of Villach defines sustainability as a natural basis for decisions. These principles are anchored, for example, in the urban development concept "STEVI: Concept 2025" (with the aim of compact, sustainable urban development) and in the internal mission statement of the Municipal Council of the City of Villach ("Villach lives green" - guideline or climate-neutral city council by 2030). In line with the Paris climate goals, the city council's internal strategies and initiatives are now to be transferred to the rest of the city.

This need for transformation in the city of Villach was the central motivation for the start of the "City of the Future" project "Villab-Probe" in 2021. This exploratory project served to check the feasibility of an urban innovation laboratory in order to accelerate the climate neutrality transition in the city of Villach and to increase the effectiveness of climate protection measures. Sustainable urban development, as the central key process of this transformation in the city of Villach, is the core topic of the exploratory project, since the municipal council of the City of Villach has very specific scope for action in this regard:

  • within the organizational structure of the municipal council of the City of Villach, including the further development of municipal instruments for the increased consideration of climate neutrality,
  • in the cooperative, future-oriented development of districts with property owners, property developers, infrastructure operators and users and
  • in their own sphere of influence of city-owned buildings, streets and squares as well as urban infrastructures.

As part of the "Villab-Probe" project, it was therefore evaluated which measures are required for an urban innovation system in the city of Villach on the part of the municipal authorities and the city of Villach's own companies, but also in cooperation with third parties, in order to achieve climate neutrality by 2040.

The "Villab Probe" funding project was implemented in close coordination with another "City of the Future" project, the R&D service "vilFIT - Villach Fit 4 Urban Mission". This parallel project served to revise the overarching strategies with the target horizon of 2030 in order to take into account the increased requirements of the Paris Climate Protection Agreement and the changed European requirements.

The two projects are therefore important local activities for the future development in Austria. They create the conditions for targeted action by the relevant key stakeholders in the sense of a climate-neutral city and will thus make strategic decisions and laws of the EU, the federal government and the state of Carinthia more effective. This applies, for example, to the Renewable Heat Law or the EU Building Directive, which sets ambitious goals with the decarbonization of the heating sector by 2040 and represents a major challenge for the stakeholders involved in implementation.

Initial situation

The city of Villach differs structurally from the other large and medium-sized cities in Austria and thus faces special challenges. Building projects in the city of Villach are relatively small in size: an average-sized residential project contains around 20 residential units. Furthermore, the municipal council of the city of Villach do not have their own municipal utilities: apart from the drinking water supply and waste water disposal, municipal services such as electricity supply, district heating and mobility services are operated by third parties. In addition, the majority of the existing buildings and the properties designated as building land are not owned by the municipal council of the city of Villach. This means that the transformation towards climate neutrality in the city of Villach is heavily dependent on third parties and can therefore only succeed in cooperation with the responsible companies and owners.

Individual cooperation successes, for example in the area of heat supply with renewable energy, have already been achieved in the past: KELAG Energie & Wärme GmbH has been able to reduce the CO2 emission factor of heat generation since 2007 from 220 kg/MWh to 42 kg/MWh in 2021. Currently, more than 80% of district heating supplies come from renewable energy (biomass and solar) and waste heat sources. At the same time, district heating sales rose from around 95 GWh to over 200 GWh in the same period.

In the future, the transformation towards climate neutrality will require an increased use of resilient urban infrastructures, the further development of smart city districts (in new buildings but especially in existing buildings) and the expansion of sustainable, networked mobility solutions. In the heating sector, these are, for example, district energy concepts based on geothermal energy and energy networks, standardized models for phasing out oil heating and, very importantly: energy efficiency programs in the building sector (keyword: renovation wave). In addition, there are infrastructure tasks in the electricity sector (local production based on renewable energy sources, storage, sector coupling, distribution, etc.), in climate-friendly, urban mobility (e-mobility, charging infrastructure, shared mobility, small vehicles, etc.), the design of public spaces (space for people, measures to adapt to climate change, etc.) and generally in the precautionary defense against climate-related natural disasters (floods, drought, strong wind events, etc.).

In addition to technological solutions, the municipal council of the city of Villach therefore needs cooperation with the relevant key stakeholders in order to make private capital available for sustainability-oriented investments. In particular, it is evident that this joint development process with private groups of actors requires a further developed form of public city administration: net-worked organizational structures for cross-departmental cooperation and coordination, adapted processes within the administration, but also in cooperation with climate relevance assessments and climate impact assessments, in-depth climate expertise of the departments involved, simplified methods and tools for establishing new, climate-focused work routines and, last but not least, additional resources for the introduction and operationalization of these adjustments.

Objectives and changed framework conditions

The overarching goals of the "Villab-Probe" project are to accelerate the transformation process towards climate-neutral districts and to increase the climate impact of implementation measures. Climate impacts are understood in terms of climate protection and climate change adaptation.
According to the call for proposals "Preparation of real laboratories - the climate-neutral city" of the City of the Future program in 2020, the original intention of the exploratory project was to develop a concept and prepare an urban innovation laboratory in the city of Villach. With the financial support of the "City of the Future" program, this laboratory should be operated as an independent organization by relevant partners in the form of an innovative service hub and close the existing gaps in achieving the overriding goals.

In the first half of 2022, the BMK set four priorities with the topics of energy transition, circular economy, mobility transition and climate-neutral city and thus further developed the funding instruments. One consequence of this process of realigning the BMK is that the planned components of the originally planned innovation laboratory are now assigned to various new tendering programs. An urban innovation laboratory in the form of an independent organization is no longer part of the program strategy.

The content of the exploratory project was changed to the effect that the development and preparation of the innovation laboratory in the city of Villach in the form originally planned was no longer appropriate. However, it was an advantage that the content developed up to that point within the framework of the project corresponded very well with the content-related realignment of the "City of the Future" program. The identified support needs are reflected in the "pioneer city partnership":

  • Governance: Organizational development for climate-neutral urban development in the municipal council of the city of Villach:
    Further development of the administrative adjustment needs for climate-neutral urban development.
  • Implementation: Energy and mobility transition as part of a demo project:
    Further development of the climate-neutral future quarter Westbahnhof together with the partners ÖBB Immobilienmanagement GmbH and KELAG Energie und Wärme GmbH. Active participation in future research initiatives and projects.
  • Learning environment – both within the municipality and in interaction with local actors
    For the project team, the adjusted project goals and project results continue to form the basis for future strategic and operational development steps in the city of Villach. The main result of the exploratory project has now been conceptualized as an integrative, urban innovation system for the city of Villach.

Project content and methodological approach

The starting point for the content of the "City of the Future" project "Villab-Probe" is a sufficiently high technological readiness of green tech and smart services as a basis for the development of climate-neutral city districts: there are sufficiently good energy, environmental and mobility technologies and services available on the market with which the goal of a climate-neutral city can be achieved. Nevertheless, this transformation process is not yet succeeding at the required speed.
There is a need for improvement on two levels for climate neutrality in the city of Villach:

  1. within the municipal council of the city of Villach: structurally and organizationally in the sense of climate-oriented organizational development in connection with the adjustment of sovereign and non-sovereign instruments used in the direction of climate neutrality
  2. in innovative urban development projects in cooperation of the municipal council of the city of Villach with partners such as property owners, property developers, infrastructure service providers (especially for the areas of energy and mobility) and users

The core idea of the exploratory project was therefore to identify exactly those specific interventions with which the existing gaps within the municipal council of the city of Villach and in dialogue with the partners required for the development of climate-neutral urban districts can be closed. In this development process, the relevant topics for climate-neutral districts were dealt with: infrastructure and services for energy and mobility, green & blue infrastructure, digital systems and data, processes, know-how, business models and financing, contractual measures, participation and communication.

In addition, individual aspects of this integrative, urban innovation system for the city of Villach were tested as examples in order to get the first innovative, climate-neutral district (referred to in the project as "Innovation District") in the city of Villach on the way. This happened specifically in the Westbahnhof development area as a joint initiative by the municipal council of the city of Villach, ÖBB Immobilienmanagement GmbH, KELAG Energie und Wärme GmbH and other specialist partners. This future Innovation District should establish itself as a space for experience, role model and driver for sustainable urban development in the interest of all stakeholder groups in the city of Villach. It is planned to transfer the methods and instruments tested in the Innovation District to the administrative processes and thus apply them throughout the city.

The development of the integrated, urban innovation system for the city of Villach consisted of the following core work steps:

  • the updating and deepening of the general conditions and the detailed analysis of the ex-isting ecosystem in the city of Villach
  • the conception and feasibility study of the components for an integrated, urban innovation system for the city of Villach
  • the further, needs-based development of the innovation ecosystem for the development of climate-active future quarters in the city of Villach
  • the determination of further steps for the development of an integrated, urban innovation system for the city of Villach

The processing steps mentioned are integrative, which means that they have been developed in feedback with the affected municipal departments and the key stakeholders involved in the Villab exploration project.

Based on the results of the Villab exploratory project, it was clear that the urban planning departments can exert the greatest influence at the start of a construction project, a district development or an urban infrastructure project. In the course of planning the project and its implementation, the sphere of influence is shifting more and more in the direction of the (private or public) developers and / or infrastructure operators involved in the project.

A future Villab has the task of balancing the interests of the developers involved in the respective project and the city administration, and of working out common development goals and the associated qualities in a cooperative manner. The quality goals achieved in this way can form the basis for private law agreements between the city, the property developers and the urban infrastructure operators involved.

Another essential component is the central information and interface function of a future Villab as a "connection node" between the key stakeholders involved. As a neutral information and coordination hub, affected property developers and infrastructure operators can be networked and informed within the framework of a cooperative development project. Particularly in the case of an integrative development project, the necessary information, involvement and activation (participation) of interested citizens can be provided via the Villab.

Results and conclusions

The "Villab-Probe" project has defined six components as essential bundles of measures for the further transformation towards climate neutrality. These components are structurally based on the groups of key stakeholders relevant to the transformation towards a climate-neutral city.
The components and the corresponding groups are:

  1. Climate-neutral city development through climate-oriented organizational development in the municipal council of the city of Villach with the components of climate-neutral processes and administrative structures, additional resources, in-depth climate skills and digital tools and data for climate-neutral management ("municipal governance for climate-neutral urban development")
  2. Cooperation processes for climate-neutral districts as a common interest and interaction of the municipal council of the city of Villach with property owners, infrastructure operators and property developers for the development of innovation districts with specific supporting services along the development process.
  3. Activation of private climate initiatives of the population with a focus on information, campaigns, participation and one-stop shop
  4. Market revival with a focus on companies in Villach with a focus on innovative companies, research, networking and test platforms
  5. Climate cooperation with municipalities and cities with a focus on information exchange, monitoring, city-surroundings cooperation, Beyond Carinthia
  6. Networking and dissemination to activate supporters and multipliers with a focus on state administration and state organizations, opinion leaders, interest groups, the financial market and the media.

In terms of resource-side feasibility, the leverage of the interventions and the visibility of results and effects, the components "Municipal governance for climate-neutral urban development" and "Cooperation processes for climate-neutral districts" were prioritized for the first phase of the innovation laboratory.


The results of the project are used by the project team to initiate concrete next steps. Here, the realignment of the "City of the Future" programs is used in a targeted manner as a motor for further transformation:

The BMK call for proposals "Pioneer City - Partnership for climate-neutral cities 2030" is targeted for the structural and organizational development of the municipal council of the city of Villach. This includes in particular the development of human resources, the deepening of competencies for climate-neutral urban development, the procedural adjustments in urban development projects, the expansion of the database and the provision of decision-making bases within the framework of sovereign tasks.

In addition, a strategic support process is to be set up in the city of Villach for joint further development, quality assurance and the exchange of information between the relevant actors. This accompanying process consists of:

  • Coordination of climate agendas in the municipal council of the city of Villach
  • Further initiation of future demo and implementation projects, particularly in the case of brownfield sites and existing quarters
  • Continuous monitoring and periodic evaluation of the integrated, urban innovation system
  • Network support and information exchange within the framework of the entire Villach eco-system: ongoing dialogue of project results and project knowledge with the Carinthian state government as well as with cooperation and surrounding communities in central Carinthia and with innovative green tech companies.

The BMK new call for proposal "Technologies and innovations for the climate-neutral city 2022" is intended for the development of the climate-neutral district at Westbahnhof. As part of this co-operative process, the support priorities defined as part of the exploratory project are being tried out in concrete terms. In particular, the relevant partners were involved in the conception of the demo project in good time. The consortium for this demo project currently consists of the Universi-ty of Technology of Graz - Institute for Thermal Engineering, KELAG Energie & Wärme GmbH, ÖBB-Immobilienmanagement GmbH, municipal council of the city of Villach - Building Department with the Office for Sustainability and Energy and the Department for Urban Planning, Büro für resiliente Raum- und Stadtentwicklung e.U. and smartwärts e.U. (in cooperation with reacct e.U.). The main goals of this planned project are an ecologically and economically optimized supply concept as well as qualitatively and quantitatively defined quality assurance agreements for the future climate-neutral innovation district "Villach Westbahnhof".


  • Highlight #1: Project results coincide with the realignment of the "City of the Future" program
  • Highlight #2: Exchange of knowledge in the municipal council of the city of Villach and perception of an important future topic for the city of Villach
  • Highlight #3: Specific support services in the process for the development of innovative, climate-neutral districts and thus scalability given by further climate-neutral quarters
  • Highlight #4: Concrete next steps have been initiated with the preparation of the submission for the "Pioneer City" call for proposals and with the demo project at Westbahnhof

Project Partners

Project management

City of Villach

Project or cooperation partners

  • smartwärts e.U. - DI Gerhard Lang
  • Silicon Austria Labs GmbH
  • KELAG Energie & Wärme GmbH
  • Zentralraum Kärnten+ - Association for the promotion of intermunicipal cooperation for the central area of Carinthia
  • Office for resilient spatial and urban development e.U. - DI Ernst Rainer (Contractor for work)
  • reacct e.U. - Mag.a Karin Schreiner (Contractor for work)

Contact Address

City of Villach, Energy coordination
MMag.a Ursula Lackner (Stadt Villach, Energiekoordination)
A-9500 Villach
Tel.: +43 (4242) 205-4012