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‘I knew it would not be just me sitting around and sleeping in a conference’

27 May 2015

all participants were actively part of the whole process. This creates enthusiasm, which is quite fascinating.

As participants very simply put it,  the URBACT City Festival – even with more than 470 attendants - was not a usual conference: each participant was the author of her or his own learning path. In a way, there were as many experiences of the Festival as participants. Want to discover some of the backbones of the Riga URBACT City Festival experience? Here we introduce them in words, images and videos!

 

Moving

Cities are all about movement of people, so was URBACT City Festival! From the start of the Festival to the end, the participants were encouraged to move their bodies as well as their brains! There even was a tune to start the moving!

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Standing, walking, moving (light) boxes, going from one session to the other… some participants even found it physically quite straining! But… is this not 

one of the main features of participation in a Festival? A bit of tiredness, a fully fleshed experienced, engaging the body and mind, which stays for long with the person who experienced it? Surely it was the case in Riga!

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Some of these experiences are well revived by the Festival videos, such as in ‘10 walkshops in 3 minutes’, where you can follow the run of a super enthusiastic video team trying to catch in video the essence of the walkshops: urban safaris and interactive working sessions, introducing the knowledge produced in URBACT networks and visits of related sites in Riga.

Learn as well about interactive ‘Unpacking Knowledge’ sessions during which participants who had attended different walkshops exchanged on their experience and defined together what where the most challenging questions for those working on urban development in their cities.

 

Having Fun!

As Sally Kneeshaw, the Mistress of Ceremony of the Event, puts it ‘people learn better when they have fun’, so having fun was quite of a strong part of the Festival.

You can see for instance how using Lego is taken as a very serious way to make people exchange and learn one from the other in this video of the Walkshop of the URBACT Network Creative Spin, which focussed mostly on how best to connect cultural and creative industries and investigated the fascinating example of the Spikeri quarter in Riga. For those who preferred role games, it was also possible to follow some cooking lessons on how best to create jobs in a city with the ESIMEC II URBACT network : that’s addressing a very difficult topic in a definitely fun way! You can check the animation of their walkshop Cooking lesson here

 

Being Surprised, Unsettled, Provoked

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Being unsettled or provoked may lead to creative ideas and solutions and that was part of the game too…

From stars and questions falling from the sky at the opening to make people interact to the short Singing Flash Mob at the Ice Breaking Dinner during which everyone was invited to sing (in Latvian!) to unsettling questions they had to deal with, participants had to get out of their comfort zones and to really put themselves on the line to try to solve their cities’ problems… We let you judge the difficulties implied by looking at the whole wall of questions!

 

A Festive Atmosphere Orchestrated with Sustainable Festival Goodies

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This is a sider for sure, but one that is part of each Festival and an integral part of its atmosphere. It creates the feeling that ‘everyone is in the same boat’ and part of a unique experience! 

Each participant was given a Festival pack, including a backpack, a bottle to store water (rather than using tons of plastic water bottles during the conference), a rain coat (in case of bad weather for the walkshops), a notebook and a wristband. The furniture in the conference rooms was made of recycled cardboard making the whole space less formal and easier to move around and… there were even (locally sourced) ‘smoothies’ trucks welcoming back participants after the long walks in the streets of Riga! 

 

Learning and Finding Solutions!

But all this is just a creative way of learning, in reality the real goal and objective of the festival!

Through all these innovative methods, participants have engaged in finding solutions for their own cities, and there was some serious and very useful content for them to share.

The Masterclasses were probably the most formal part of the programme but they offered a more detailed input in a specific topic, for instance on the very burning topic of the sharing economy and its impact on city planning… BlaBlaCar, Air BnB, Uber: are those cohesive or corrosive for the City? asked Emma Clarence. The content of the Masterclass is summed up here in an online articleOn the topic of urban growth, to take another example,participants learned from Adolf Sotoca about urban policies, tools and specific actions used to control it. Specific examples from Europe and USA provided a holistic overview of different strategies seeking the control of urban sprawl. Adolf's article based on his speech can be read here.

Workshops  and ‘Meet the Cities’ sessions (see photo on the right from the Thessaloniki Meet the cities corner

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),  during which people could discover examples from more than 30 cities, presented in an informal way and directly by the practitioners, were made to disclose the knowledge acquired by cities during their involvement in an URBACT Network.

The best way to approach this content is to watch the videos dealing with the four main working streams in which all URBACT project findings have been integrated:

Do not copy others, find your own way, by involving stakeholders’ this is one of the main messages of the video on new urban economies. There you will discover how San Sebastian in Spain managed to build on its Surf industry cluster to trigger new jobs by involving stakeholders around a common objective. Examples of Linköping in Sweden, which worked on green solutions and of Cluj (Romania), which settled a successful IT Cluster are also enlightening.

 

Asking Questions and Working Hard, Scouting around for Ideas and Leaning In!

Solutions are not just easily replicable. Finding solutions requires from those delivering them to be able to challenge their preconceptions, to be ready to scout for new ideas that need to be reinterpreted and to make the effort to work with others to find the right solution for all.

Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent and can be smarter than the smartest people in them.

The learning process at URBACT City Festival was therefore going way beyond just access to knowledge but was that of an attitude: working together, working hard and playing the game most completely! 

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All participants involved fully in the experience, dealing with challenging questions and coming up with tailor made solutions.

A great experience that can be adapted in everyday working life while looking at the best solutions for one’s city!