Corine Mauch: A passion for the city

15.03.2016 | Alumni Portraits

By:  Samuel Schläfli

With a degree in agricultural science from ETH, Zurich mayor Corine Mauch has dedicated her life to combining scientific environmental analysis with political involvement.

Bild: Tanja Demarmels  
Bild: Tanja Demarmels 

Corine Mauch, Zurich’s first female mayor, seems to be doing something right: according to the latest poll, 98 per cent of the city’s residents are happy or very happy to be living in Zurich, and 89 per cent of them rated the quality of life with a 5 or 6 (out of 6). The city is on solid financial footing, and Mauch can depend on support even from outside her party. For six years, Social Democrat Mauch has embodied the cosmopolitan, dynamic and sustainable facets of Zurich. She rides her bike to work, wears fiery red suits, and in her free time plays bass in the rock band Trugschluss. Mauch was born in the USA, speaks six languages, is an art lover and makes no secret of the fact that she is in a relationship with a woman.

“Something with nature and the environment”

Corine Mauch’s path to the city on the Limmat River went via ETH. She was born in Iowa (United States), because her father, an ETH structural engineer, was completing his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Four years later, the family moved to Oberlunkhofen, which at the time was still a 500-person farming village in the Swiss canton of Aargau. Mauch enjoyed living there and developed a strong bond with nature. While growing up, she helped out from time to time on a local farm, where she learned from the farmer that agriculture was something you could study. “I knew very early on that I wanted to do something with nature and the environment,” she says. “If I chose today, I would probably study environmental sciences.” Her interest in these issues had a political aspect as well, as she grew up with the environmental

movement. The anti-nuclear protests in the 1970s, the push for twelve car-free Sundays, the “albatross” initiative against air pollution caused by vehicles – Mauch was right on the front lines, gathering signatures before she was old enough to vote.

A further political influence was the feminist movement. Swiss women had won the right to vote in most cantons by 1979, when Mauch’s mother Ursula became the first woman to represent the Aargau canton on the Swiss National Council. A member of the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland (SP), she would look on proudly 20 years later as her daughter was voted Zurich’s first female mayor as a member of the same party. When Mauch began her agricultural economics

studies in 1980, she was often the only woman present at the lectures. It didn’t bother her, and today she still gets enthusiastic about the diversity of her fellow students. Many were from French- and Italianspeaking regions of Switzerland, and several

were children of academics as she was; others were sons of farmers who were in line to one day take over the family farm. Among these “wild” classmates, where there was always something going on, Mauch felt especially at home. For her mandatory practical semester, she toiled for half a year on a farm in the Bernese Oberland. Three months of that were on Spätenalp, a mountain about an hour’s hike from Wengen. The farm kept pigs, billy goats, horses, and cattle. Cows were milked by hand, cheese made over an open fire, and Mauch slept in the same room as the farmer and his farmhand. This simple, old-fashioned life suited her quite well – “it was good to realise that I can get along just fine with a simpler lifestyle.” And the alpine experience was also a good preparation for her thesis. Knowing that her father Samuel Mauch was a pioneer in system dynamics, her professor encouraged her to use system dynamics to analyse the extent of the connection between forest dieback and the conditions for making a living in mountain agriculture. Back at MIT in the early 1970s, Samuel Mauch had come into contact with associates of Jay Forrester and Donella and Dennis Meadows, and was inspired by the ground-breaking modelling put forth by the Club of Rome and the book “The Limits to Growth”. After returning to Switzerland, Mauch’s father founded Infras, one of the first agencies for scientific policy advice and still active today. For her thesis, Corine Mauch still had to map the relationships among various influential factors by hand. It wasn’t until years later when she was researching sociological issues of sustainability at ETH’s Geographic Institute that she would become familiar with computer-based system dynamics as well.

“And yet when you look at all ETH has done for our residents, educational policy and urban development, it’s clear that Zurich won the big prize!” Corine Mauch, mayor of Zürich

Struggling with doubts

At the time Mauch completed her degree in 1986, the Swiss agricultural sector was dealing with excess: mountains of butter and lakes of milk. “It made no sense to me to figure out how to cope with this kind of firstworld problem,” Mauch recalls. Finding herself at a bit of a loss, she considered getting involved with development work, but she was plagued by doubts about that as well. This was due to an internship she had done on an irrigation project in Nepal: “It felt strange to go to the locals as an ‘expert’ and tell them what they should do with their land.” Nowadays she is of the opinion expressed by the Berne Declaration development organisation, which she helped guide over many years as a member of the board: “It is more important to take less than to give more”, as they say in their motto. Mauch adds: “We, and the Swiss especially, should push for fairer trade relations.” When it came to deciding on her career, the freshly minted agronomist ultimately reconsidered her original interest in the complex relationships between the environment, economy and society. Right up until she was elected mayor, Mauch advised politicians and federal agencies on environmental issues, got a waste and recycling system up off the ground as Uster’s first environmental commissioner, and evaluated business innovations for the Swiss Parliamentary Services.

Diverse ways of life

Although she grew up in the country, Mauch is now an urbanite through and through. She moved into her first shared flat in Zurich 33 years ago as a young student. Since then her loyalty to Zurich has been unwavering and she is now the city’s biggest champion: the cultural scene, the different kinds of people and their ways of life, the energy, the dialogue that results from the friction of people living closely together – Mauch loves Zurich’s urban diversity and openness. She quotes Swiss writer Hugo Loetscher, who spoke of cities as the “greatest possible synchronicity of human possibilities”. And at least since 1999, when Mauch was first elected to the city council, she has been active politically in trying to realise these possibilities. “Today in Zurich, people from 170 countries live together in peace – without ghettos or parallel societies. This is immensely valuable, and we invest a lot in it!” At present, however, this diversity has come under pressure from right-wing populist circles. Mauch counters with facts. Figures from a recent study by the mGrosse Kernstädte interest group show that

between 2002 and 2008, the economic strength of Switzerland’s ten largest cities grew by 3.2 per cent more than it would have without the free movement of persons. And Mauch emphasises that innovation and creativity often come from the outside – that’s the only way Zurich could become the melting pot of science, culture and enterprise that it is today. ETH has been a key part of this process for more than 150 years, the mayor was quick to point out: “The University’s talented

graduates are among the most important reasons why innovative companies like Google, Disney and IBM open locations here today.” After Bern was named the federal city of Switzerland and was crowned with the parliament building, ETH in Zurich was initially seen as a consolation prize, Mauch says. But then she adds, grinning, “And yet when you look at all ETH has done for our residents, educational policy and urban development, it’s clear that Zurich won the big prize!”

Zur Person Corine Mauch

wurde 1960 in Iowa City (USA) geboren. Vier Jahre später kehrte die Familie in den Aargau zurück. Von 1980 bis 1986 studierte sie Agrarökonomie an der ETH Zürich, danach an der Universität Zürich vier Semester China-Wissenschaften. Von 1989 bis 1993 war Mauch Abfall- und Umweltbeauftragte der Stadt Uster. Danach forschte und lehrte sie bis 2000 bei der Gruppe Humanökologie am Geografischen Institut der ETH Zürich. 1990 trat sie der SP bei. 1999 wurde sie erstmals in den Gemeinderat der Stadt Zürich gewählt, wo sie unter anderem in der Stadtentwicklungs- und Rechnungsprüfungskommission mitwirkte. Am 29. März 2009 gewann sie die Stichwahl für das Stadtpräsidium gegen Kathrin Martelli. 2014 setzte sie sich erneut durch, diesmal gegen Filippo Leutenegger.


Die ETH und die Stadt Zürich

Die ETH ist vielseitig mit der Stadt Zürich verbunden. Das energiepolitische Modell «2000-Watt-Gesellschaft» beispielsweise wurde in den 1990er-Jahren an der ETH Zürich entwickelt und 2008 als Ziel in die Zürcher Verfassung aufgenommen. Beide

Institutionen unterstützen die private Initiative «DigitalZurich2025 », die Zürich als Innovationsstandort für digitale Technologien stärken will. Und nicht zuletzt arbeitet die ETH auch im Rahmen des «Masterplan Hochschulgebiet Zürich Zentrum» eng mit der Stadt zusammen.

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