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2nd Chance network – Waking up the sleeping giants

19 April 2016
Interview with Gaetano Mollura, City of Naples, Lead Partner of the URBACT 2nd Chance network by Nils Scheffler, Lead Expert of the network

Gaetano, why did your city decide to set up an URBACT Action Planning Network?

Since the very beginning of URBACT I Naples has taken part in URBACT networks. We have collected very good experiences with the exchange with other European cities, both, as partner and as Lead Partner. It nearly has become a tradition being part in an URBACT network.

Who was behind the initiative to set up the network ?

For the city council it is a high priority to find and develop tools to activate the abandoned buildings in Naples. Many of these buildings are in public hands and for the city council it is important to develop them with the notion to strengthen the common goods. An important part of it is to gain the citizens as new partners for it. These issues are also on the top of the mayor’s agenda. The Councillor of urban planning took up this political priority and decided to work on it. This decision was around the time when the 1st call for URBACT Action planning networks came up. And as working with citizens is at the heart of URBACT networks and the activation of buildings was somehow to follow up with the last URBACT network USEACT in which Naples was involved, I proposed to work on these issues within an URBACT network. As we have so good experience in our municipality with URBACT this ideas was immediately picked up by the Councillor.

Why are the activation of the abandoned buildings and the involvement of citizens so important for the city council?

The economic crisis has set a new scene. The abandoned buildings, which are in public hands, are seen now as an opportunity. Their reuse with the idea of common goods can be a tool to support the neighbourhood development based on the needs of the inhabitants. And due to the economic crisis the municipality relies more on the active engagement of their citizens in the urban regeneration process as private investments has decreased significantly. So citizens are seen more as a partner to develop together new opportunities for the neighbourhoods in Naples.

Why did you choose to address this issue in the framework of an URBACT network?

As already said, we have very good experience with URBACT networks. It gives us the opportunity to network with other cities on that issue. We will receive feedback and ideas of them. We see how in other European cities it is deal with that issue. We can learn from them. And this time I would like to use the network also to bring our stakeholders of the Local Support Group more in contact with the stakeholders of the other Local Support Groups. I hope that this experience, to have a dialog with similar people and organisations from other cities, will be as valuable for them as it is for me. And that this positive experience will push their further engagement on local level.

So what will be the URBACT Action planning network exactly about?

The network will be about the reactivation of vacant larger buildings or areas with large number of vacant buildings. The reactivation should be linked with the neighbourhood development. In the best case the reactivation of the building will initiate or be an important corner stone for the further development. And the large buildings should provide space for what is needed in the city, in the neighbourhood. Possible private exploitation interests should be linked with public neighbourhood interests.

What concrete results do you expect to achieve through this URBACT network, both, at local and at network level?

At local level we want to develop concrete tools for the regeneration of the buildings together with the community. We hope to develop a new approach for the reactivation of abandoned buildings with the experience of the network. Also we want to improve how to engage the community in the regeneration process as active stakeholders, as new partners. At the network level we want to share our experience and gain an overview what is happening in other Europe cities. In particular we want to see how they want to engage the citizens in reactivation process of vacant buildings and how “Illegal” occupations from some groups of inhabitants  can be transformed in “legal” actions  and the role that could play the Local administrations to support and/or  facilitate these kind of experiences in a sustainable framework.

How did you set up your initial partnership? Did you approach them? How was the process?

The initial partners I knew from other common URBACT networks. From that cooperation I knew that this issue could be of interest for them. So I contacted these partners and based on the feedback I received I decided with whom to start the network and work on the application for the 1st call.

Just recently you have completed the partnership from the former 4 partners to 11 partners. How did you decide about the new partners? How was the selection procedure?

After it was published on the URBACT website that our application was approved for the development phase we received more than 100 requests to join the network. To decide whom to include in the partnership we send all of them a questionnaire with a quite short deadline to send back the questionnaire. Based on the sent back questionnaires and the URBACT criteria for the partnership composition we decided finally which city to invite to join the network.

The network has been approved in September. The kick-off meeting with the initial partners has just taken place. What will be the next steps for you as lead partner to prepare the final application? How will you involve the other partners?

At the kick-off meeting with the initial partnership we shared our ideas what could be the main issues to work on and which questions we should have in mind, when we try to reactivate our vacant buildings. Now we have to do the same with the new partners, to get to know if they have the same ideas or new ones. For this we will visit them. The visit we will also use to explain to them what the network is about, what is expected from them, but also to get to know what they expect from the network. Another important issue is to define with all partners on which concrete issues we want to exchange and learn from each other and how the exchange and learning will work. Also we have to think about what will be the LAP about, we have to think about possible tools and instruments which should be developed during the implementation phase for the reactivation of the buildings. All this has finally to be discussed and agreed on at the 2nd meeting with all partners in February.