Our current URBACT Action Planning Networks are now moving into full gear. After two years of development, and despite the serious difficulties all municipalities and stakeholders have been facing during the disruptive Covid-19 pandemic, transnational and local action intensifies markedly. This is certainly true for our CITIES4CSR network; the first URBACT-network aiming to create a rich toolbox for civic leaders and administrators in order to engage with local businesses, non-profits and citizens under the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’-umbrella. On top of the ‘to-do’-lists for our ten partner cities you will find the lesson-drawing from our Small Scale Actions (SSA) and translating these findings directly into local action planning for the Integrated Action Plans (IAP). Yet, which topics have been chosen by the Urban Local Groups that have had the power to not just stimulate interest but truly galvanise SSA-action and cooperation?
For CITIES4CSR, two major topic groups could be identified. On the one hand, local business and stakeholders are very passionate about tackling inequality, social exclusion and neighbourhood disadvantage in all forms. But remarkable interest has also been generated by the theme of urban action in the field of climate change mitigation and environmental protection. Against the backdrop of hotter European summers and increasing hazards such as widespread flooding and devastating forest fires that can all be linked to climate change dynamics, the ‘green’ urban agenda has gained traction in particular amongst local authorities, businesses and citizens in the cities of Vratsa and Sofia (both Bulgaria), Budaörs (Hungary), Bratislava (Slovakia) and Kekava (Latvia). The reminder of this short article will focus on these ‘green’ actions in more detail.
If you ask what kind of ‘green’ Small Scale Actions can be singled out, then two key approaches come to mind. Arguably, tree planning has gathered the strongest local support. The noteworthy developments in Bratislava, for example, reflect what more and more European urban populations want – more trees around them in order to improve both the local air quality and urban aesthetics while further de-carbonising our world.
In the context of Bratislava’s ’10 000’-tree initiative, a dedicated municipal officer coordinates and advocates the tree planting action that so powerfully unifies city, people and businesses. Moreover, a well-designed and much-visited website informs the reader about the individual tree planting initiatives, ways to contribute either financially or in person, and, not least, about the actual number of trees being planted. At the time of publication of this article in mid-October 2446 new trees had been planted since 2019! URBACT - as engagement platform and capacity-building exercise - supports the tree planting initiative by contributing a dedicated website component and establishing a purpose-directed training programme. All these achievements in Bratislava were proudly presented by the local URBACT-team during our recent, digital transnational meeting.
A second environment-targeting approach focusses on ‘green’ mobility aspects. The objective is to promote much-needed sustainable transport in our cities that will keep not only our environment clean but will also make our populations heathier. The small city of Vratsa in Bulgaria has shown real dedication and perseverance in driving ‘green’ mobility-initiatives as part of the local SSA. In June 2021, the busy local URBACT-team, after some initial setbacks, organised a successful environmental awareness raising event for the local community. Yet it got even more serious with impact when the city procured eleven bicycles in order to set-up a pilot for a local bike-rental scheme. Current efforts concern the digital and business sides of this exciting initiative as well as building the required institutional support for long-term success. Importantly, businesses and business associations are an important part of the stakeholder support system for Vratsa’s new ‘green’ rental initiative.
Tackling the climate crisis and promoting ‘green’ transitions for European industries, regions and cities is – of course – not just a concern for URBACT-municipalities and local stakeholder groups. This important objective sits right in the heart of the EU Green Deal, and other high-level initiatives across our continent, and in fact, across the world. Just think about the upcoming 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow.
Our last transnational CSR-Academy explicitly highlighted the importance of linking up the innovative, ‘green’ but still small-scale initiatives under way in cities such as Bratislava and Vratsa with the high-level strategies and long-term funding commitments that characterise the European green transition. The task ahead for our CITIES4CSR network is clear: to help those cities with climate and environment-directed projects as CSR-engagement stimulus tools to successfully move from SSA to IAP, and from encouraging pilot action to well-funded and well-governed long-term strategies that actively incorporate local enterprises, non-profit organisations and citizens.
Article written by the Lead Expert Steffen Wetzstein