RESOURCEFUL CITIES is an URBACT Action Planning Network of ten European cities. This project seeks to develop the next generation of urban resource centres, so they can serve as catalysts of the local circular economy, by adopting a participative and integrated approach. The resource centres strive to promote the positive economic, environmental and social impacts, notably for the circular economy. Thus, the network facilitates waste prevention, reuse, repair and recycling. The centres also work as connection points for citizens, new businesses, researchers and the public sector to co-create new ways to close resource loops at the local level. By bringing together interested actors to work alongside, the goal is to promote the change of values and mindset.
URGE, an abbreviation for 'circular building cities' is an Action Planning network on circular economy in the construction sector - a major consumer of raw materials. As there is a gap in circular economy principles' implementation in this sector, URGE brings together nine cities and their
The INT-HERIT implementation network brings together 9 European cities facing challenges related to the revitalisation of their cultural heritage. These cities learn from each other and help each other to develop local strategies in order to make their cities an attractive place to live, work and visit. The network focuses on the implementation of innovative models through integrated and sustainable local strategies. It will increase awareness of strategies and plans, improving the capacity of cities to manage their heritage and enable their social and economic development.
The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.
Kick-off meeting in June (Torun). Transnational meeting in September (Wolverhampton) about 'Making the case for investment in creative-tech talent' and 'How to make best use of Labour Market Information'. Transnational meeting and The role of culture.
'Transnational meeting about 'Smart Specialisation, Tech Hubs and Civic Tech Initiatives' transnational meeting in March (Coimbra); in July (Bologna) about 'Creative - Tech Talent Ecosystem Frameworks'.
City Development Forum in January (Poznan). Final event in April (Poznan).
Municipality of Athienou 2, Archbishop Makarios III Ave. 7600 Athienou Cyprus
Over the last decades, younger people have increasingly chosen to live in urban areas, whilst the share of older residents in cities has generally fallen. Nevertheless, the impact of wage levels and different unemployment rates across Europe has lead youngsters to move mainly to big cities. In this, sense this Action Planning network aimed on developing, attracting and retaining young local talent, particularly, the creative talent from the Generation Y - people who were born between 1980 and 2000 - within cities of all sizes.
Developing, attracting and retaining young local talent
Seeking answers on how to combat social exclusion through the redesign of public spaces in deprived residential areas by using the power and common language of sport, this Action Planning network found solutions through innovative urban sport actions, physical equipment and better orchestrated service delivery. Active living positively contributes to social cohesion, wellbeing and economic prosperity in cities. However, currently cities are challenged by the opposite: dramatic increase in the frequency of diseases as a result of sedentary life style and social exclusion. To tackle these challenges, European cities have invested in large scale sports facilities over the past decades. These strategies have a limited success, hence a new approach is needed: instead of ‘bringing’ the inactive citizens to the sports facilities, public space itself should be turned into a low threshold facility inviting all citizens to physical activity.
Urban sports promotion for social inclusion, healthy and active living
Who hasn't tried to get rid of old habits, whether in relation to the way we eat, sleep, interact with each other, work, travel, or do sports? Who hasn't ever faced the difficulty of moving away from anchored routines to newly adopted ones? Who has ever struggled to unravel the complexity of the psychological but also social, technological and infrastructure-related mechanisms that make it difficult to transition?
Changing is, indeed, difficult. Adopting new consumption practices in order to support transition towards a low-carbon society is even more difficult in this “Consumer Society”. As Zygmunt Baumann detailed in the 2007 “Consuming Life”, our space is an entangled web where social life politics and democracy, social divisions and stratification, communities and partnerships, identity building, the production and use of knowledge, and value preferences are entangled. Yet, it is crucial that we now, as citizens, change the way we consume according to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 and as recently emphasised in the IPCC Special report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC.
Supporting citizens in their consumption transition has been at the core of public policies for decades and is a constant challenge - as well as a realm for experimentation. 3 European initiatives: URBACT, UIA and the Urban Agenda Partnership on Circular Economy give an insight into key approaches in the way European cities are frontrunners, supporting citizens in their transition towards more sustainable consumption practices.
Identifying a key topical entry: a food story
Mouans-Sartoux (FR) is the lead partner of the BioCanteens URBACT network, transferring its practice of a 100% organic canteen. One key element for this shift is behavioural change and the education of children, as well as of their parents. This is done thanks to food education which includes making choices between portion sizes at the canteen (to empower them in identifying the right amount of food they require), tasting and cooking classes, gardening activities and visits to the municipal farm, as well as a special food and health program aimed at shifting families’ habits to eating local and organic food. With the support of a survey of consumers’ habits, it is part of a more integrated method.
“By focusing on school canteens, we are trying to develop a comprehensive approach to support new food habits of the children of Mouans-Sartoux, as well as for their parents: combining fighting foodwaste, training of kitchen staff, reducing costs, developing local economy, supporting sustainable urban planning and agricultural land use, and with a complete governance system composed of a food territorial management - as well as the creation of the Centre for Sustainable Food and Education (MEAD)”, says Gilles Pérole, elected representative of Mouans-Sartoux.
Let’s play! Using gamification as an incentive for new ways of consuming
Making recycling and re-use fun but also rewarding is the approach Santiago de Compostela (ES) is developing in its Tropa Verde URBACT transfer network. Citizens recycle and receive tokens (green points, civic and social centres, recovery points, etc.), they can exchange for sustainable – non production intensive – gifts, such as public transport tickets, haircuts, or meals. Partner shops are integrated in the daily lives of citizens, making participation easy, interactive and fun. A multimedia platform enables them to identify local shops in which the exchange can take place: it is the central point for interaction, easily accessible, but also transferrable to other cities to adapt to their local circumstances. Finally, this practice is making citizens responsible in their recycling habits, but also in a move towards more circular attitudes in other areas of their lives.
Combining online and offline activities
In Antwerp (BE), the City Administration took the opportunity of the development of a newly created district, the New South district, to position circularity as a community challenge. The plan? To engage its new residents in co-creating both online and offline initiatives to change their behaviours, in relation to energy and water consumption as well as to waste management. The UIA Antwerp Circular South project has enabled developing technical solutions such as photovoltaics, storage batteries, smart grids, smart meters and individual dashboards too. Local inhabitants experiment behavioural nudging, while receiving cues to adapt their consumption behaviour of energy, water and waste in the most ideal circular way. Circular behaviours will be automatically rewarded by an alternative online currency, the “circular coin”, through a blockchain - based reward and exchange system. Some of the most engaged Circular South participants will form a local energy community co-owning an innovative collective energy system. In addition, a Circular South community centre – the so-called CIRCUIT, has been set up to host a number of initiatives related to sharing, repairing and reusing activities. As Gabriëlle Van Zoeren, former project coordinator, said “nothing of what we do is new: our innovation is to bring it together and especially to combine the online and offline activities!”.
The catalogue presents and reviews critical success factors and transferrable qualities, of the resource centres. Their functions can be social (job creation, engaging the community in responsible consumption and disposal, or improved quality of life), economic (transformation of industrial sectors, entrepreneurship and new business models or co-creation in a circular economy) or environmental (waste prevention, waste management or boosting the market for secondary raw materials). They can be public, private or public-private. Creating such resource centres entails developing new ecosystems that can be useful for citizens. Yet, they are facing barriers such as access to space, legislation, waste quality, communication, reporting or funding. At the same time, they benefit from technology, stakeholder engagement, co-location, political support and strong links to the social economy. The city of Oslo is currently seeking to take this work forward with a follow-up network of peer-learning and exchange.
Is a circular economy approach the way forward?
Grassroots initiatives, market-based solutions and research are the bases for the above-mentioned cases. Yet, public authorities are steering these processes by experimenting new approaches, bringing them together, and supporting learning across the EU. As such, local public authorities have a key role to play in ensuring that an increasing number of projects are developed and evaluated for the concrete and operational change of consumer practices.
All 3 cases also show the need to adopt integrated approaches: in terms of topics, methodology, governance, stakeholders and territories. Circular economy is more than a buzzword. It is an overall encompassing approach. It could help cities develop projects, which support citizens to adopt new consumption habits and which encourage transition towards a new economic ecosystem, with the potential to offer long-lasting economic, environmental and social benefits.
As more and more people have adopted sedentary lifestyles, and as the associated health and social problems have worsened, governments have become increasingly aware of their role in promoting physical activity. Half a year after the close of the VITAL CITIES URBACT Action Planning Network project, the participating cities are ready to look back and assess the progress they have made and identify further gains that can be made.
Ten cities came together in VITAL CITIES with the objective of promoting active lifestyles and social inclusion in urban environments. The network was established as part of URBACT, a European exchange and learning programme. During their time in the network, the cities took part in an intensive learning process focused on the issue of turning public spaces into low-threshold sports facilities. This involved, inter alia, redesigning public spaces, promoting these spaces, initiating ICT innovation, introducing non-ICT hardware, and optimising services.
The result of this process is a set of innovative tools and methods that can be used in urban design and planning to reshape public spaces linked to sports and physical activity. Cities also worked with local stakeholders to each produce an integrated action plan (IAP). In what follows below, we place several concrete examples under the microscope to assess their impact six months beyond the project’s end.
Progress on implementation so far – challenges faced
Most of the cities have begun to implement their IAPs using their own means or by calling upon stakeholders. Some have started by picking low-hanging fruit to show commitment, e.g. implementing ICT tools, while others have completed physical interventions.
A lack of knowledge concerning the needs of the inactive
Poor articulation of the needs of the inactive
High organised sports drop-out rates at the age of 14
Lack of financial support for bottom-up activities
Low levels of physical activity among target groups in Horten’s main park
Horten’s ambition is to use the park to increase physical activity.
Horten’s main challenge is how to encourage youth participation in the planning of facilities. The city provides guidelines, support, and capacity building for a motivated group of young people. It reached out directly through schools and online tools.
Instead of buying equipment off the shelf, the city has purchased custom equipment that matches local needs and aesthetics (a key means of reducing vandalism).
Additionally, the city faced a challenge in that many locals complained about the possibility of increased noise pollution. City officials turned this into a positive by pointing out that increased activity would dissuade vandalism and drug use.
Gender also became an issue. Boys like to play with balls, etc. but girls like to climb and hide. Thus, during the design process, options for separate and mixed-use were incorporated.
In the run up to winter, Horten decided to ban cars from parts of the market square and instead use it as an ice ring. A local NGO then arranged for a group of refugee children to have their first ice skating experience. For the summer, the city painted lines and patterns on the ground to inculcate a sense of play.
Liepaja, the city where wind was born: how to reduce red tape for volunteers and their initiatives?
While developing their plans Liepaja bumped into one main issue: citizen involvement. The city has a good track record with, e.g., volunteering related to disabled people for which the city pays special attention to in city planning. Everywhere in the city on the pedestrian sidewalks
there are special white ribbed guiding tiles for the visually impaired. Additionally, special locally developed hearing buoys have been installed in a designated area on the Baltic Sea facilitating independent swimming for this target group. They also provide special wheelchairs for driving into the sea and an NGO run by volunteers provides the services. To tackle the city’s hesitation in reaching out to youths in the deprived Karosta quarters, a special session during the international exchange was planned with the Karosta kids. A rapid co-creating session led to many ideas for reconstruction. These contacts are still thriving today.
The main complaint expressed by citizens was about the length of time it took to get things done. This prohibits stakeholders from taking the initiative to build or organise things. Therefore, the city has cut red tape by developing a new workflow involving all departments. An app will reduce the wait from 12 to 3 weeks.
Burgas – European City of Sports 2015 – How to inform better citizens
Through the Vitalcities project Burgas became aware of its unique character: wedged between the Black Sea and salt lakes, it is a dense city with mixed districts, green public spaces, and good public transport. Urban sprawl is mostly absent and this provides ample opportunities for active transport, an important ’built in’ daily physical activity.
During the transnational peer reviews, the city was advised against interfering too much with the ’retro’ style of the Rosenetz area. The city became aware of the value of existing public spaces, facilities and initiatives and decided upon stakeholders’ wishes to ’disclose’ information as a first action within the integrated action plan. An online map of the facilities for sports and physical activity on the territory of the municipality has been made available at www.sport.burgas.bg
Short-term actions and results are necessary to prevent Burgas from falling back into ‘democratic participation fatigue’.
Birmingham – How to deliver services differently given a diverse & deprived population
Birmingham’s overall challenge is to overcome the inactivity of over 80% of its diverse citizenship, given the fact that 408.000 Birmingham citizens live in the top 10% most deprived in England.
This situation, combined with tight budgets, results in a need for creative solutions to tackling inactivity in a different way: by taking it to the streets and people instead of attracting people to large centralised and expensive facilities.
In its local action plan the city mainly targets cooperation with citizens and volunteering is at the heart of its approach. Active streets, active parks, and active citizens are the adagio.
The city looks at those groups that will result in the biggest impact. The strategy is to focus around ‘activity’ bringing forth social cohesion. Therefore, the city strengthens existing approaches like street closure for play, activities in the park like yoga, tai chi etc.
The VITAL CITIES project helped to bring The Active Wellbeing Society into existence. It is a concept that was thought about before the Vital Cities Programme, however, the programme allowed greater interaction with experts from the programme and colleagues from other cities to emphasise the wider whole system thinking about open spaces, physically active for all and not just the keen sports athletes.
Loulé – How to activate and involve all citizens and especially those in deprived areas?
The municipality of Loulé puts four central ambitions in its IAP: promoting an active and healthy lifestyle amongst the general population, doing the same for the older population, fighting sedentary lifestyles, and fostering social cohesion. It does this by using public spaces as active and dynamic areas and by organising activities.
The city has chosen three small public target areas: the Stuttgart/Hanover streets have been completed even within the Vitalcities project lifespan! A deserted public space between larger blocks has been converted into an ambient public space with play equipment for children and fitness equipment for the elderly while offering room for ball games as well. The green has been balanced with the harder structures and car parking is foreseen at the edge of the quarters.
The city provides several different programs that have become a big success. Lots of activities are also organized in deprived areas. Tennis club de Loulé is one of the main promoters.
All in all the city offers activities on all different levels from dancing for elderly to boxing for youngsters. By involving 20 Local Partners more than 200 events/activities are organised reaching over 20.000 participants.
The five cities portrayed here have embarked on the journey of actually delivering on what they listed in their IAPs. During their journey, they have chosen to start with easy-to-organize actions involving local stakeholders. By aiming for the so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’ they have built trust. Yet they had to rethink things like information functions, the organisation of internal processes, and providing services tailored to local needs. There they had to think of aspects such as gender, social inclusion, demographic spread, diversity, and more down-to-earth things such as vandalism, security or air pollution. The cities seemed to have succeeded by staying close to their local DNA and their citizens.
Chantal van Ham, European Programme Manager Nature Based Solutions and Katharina Dropmann of International Union for Conservation of Nature Brussels European Regional Office share their enthusiasm for the EU Horizon 2020 project GrowGreen and nature based solutions as seen at URBACT City Festival, through examples from Bologna (IT), Manchester (UK) and Stavanger (NO)
Building cities may be humans’ greatest achievement, but at the same time they pose great threats for the future of the planet. For hundreds of years, people have called cities their home. Settlers started to make use of land alongside of rivers, in coastal areas and on fertile soil, providing increasing prosperity and wealth. Cities became the centre of commerce, culture and livelihood. Today, we depend on these complex systems.
Cities are an essential platform for communication, interaction, creativity and innovation, however, the relation between humankind and cities has always been a double-edged sword. As a result of industrialisation, the overexploitation of natural resources and unsustainable land use, cities face rising temperature and sea levels, natural disasters and extreme levels of pollution. Cities consume more than half of the world’s energy and cause over 70% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. At this critical crossroads, it is essential to benefit from the creative and innovative power of cities in responding to these challenges and exploring the value of nature as a part of the solution in combatting climate change and its impacts.
Not only vital for the world’s major capital cities, it is also vital for small and medium-sized cities, to have a platform for exchange, as they are equally important in creating sustainable change: “think global, act local”. The URBACT City Festival gave cities a unique chance to be in the limelight and exchange experiences. On the 13th of September 2018, Bologna (IT), Manchester (UK) and Stavanger (NO) presented their approaches to using the ground-breaking concept of nature-based solutions to respond to a range of challenges in their cities, and to meet national, as well as global sustainable development goals. These cities understand that nature-based solutions adapted to their unique local context, are highly valuable in fighting climate change impacts and improving quality of life for their citizens.
Introducing nature-based solutions
Many cities are already active in improving their green footprint and creating a more sustainable attitude for future development by cutting emissions, using renewable energy and reducing pollution. However, we need to think further. Now, more than ever, there is a need to reconnect with and integrate nature in the urban fabric. Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that aim to support addressing society’s challenges in sustainable ways. Nature-based solutions are a new and largely untapped opportunity for cities to obtain not only ecological but also social, economic and health benefits. By delivering multiple co-benefits through enhanced ecosystem services, such as air and water quality and biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, jobs and economic opportunities, nature-based solutions are crucial to increase the quality of life in urban areas.
Bologna – how to combine cultural heritage with today’s most pressing environmental challenges
In Roman cities, the sense of dense urbanity is distinctive. Winding alleys, towers and especially archways characterise Bologna and reveal its great history. In the face of increasing water scarcity, extreme weather events like heat waves and heavy rainfall in urban areas, Bologna is an outstanding example of a city that is able to protect its cultural heritage while adapting to climate change by implementing highly innovative solutions. Bologna is a coordinator city of the EU Urban Partnership on Sustainable Land Use and Nature Based Solutions and strives to promote nature-based solutions as a tool for building sustainable and liveable urban areas. The Bologna Local Urban Environment Adaptation Plan (BLUEAP) was developed as a template to identify vulnerabilities related to climate change and to design a scalable information system about the risks of climate change. This EU Life+ Project can be considered a good practice for results achieved and the methodology used can be useful for other cities.
The City of Bologna shaped different nature-based solutions pilot actions, which explore and test the concept of the Adaptation Plan and assesses their efficiency on a small scale. The EU Horizon 2020 project ROCK implements measures including a roof garden for the historical Opera House and “greening” the University’s Scaravilli square. The project considers historic city centres as extraordinary laboratories to demonstrate how cultural heritage can be a unique and powerful engine of regeneration, sustainable development and economic growth for the whole city.
Manchester - how to prevail naturally over flood risks
As one of the frontrunner cities of the EU Horizon 2020 project GrowGreen, Manchester focuses on tackling high surface water flood risks by increasing sustainability and business opportunities to create a healthy, liveable and climate resilient city. The project supports local partners and stakeholders to design and deliver a detailed green infrastructure masterplan for one of the neighbourhoods, West Gorton. To create green and blue spaces in urban areas with the overarching aim to manage water through water cycles and enhance the quality of life in the city, Manchester has developed several funding schemes and programmes. Since 2016, businesses and government in Greater Manchester promote green and blue Sustainable drainage solutions (SuDS) as an opportunity to manage wastewater more effectively and save costs. If implemented at a city wide level it not only improves mental and physical health, air quality and decreases surface flood risks, but it also offers direct financial savings, which can be re-invested. This successful concept can serve other European cities and sets an exceptional example to invest in nature for solving water management problems.
Stavanger – a green city that is leading the way
Stavanger, the fourth biggest and most densely populated city of Norway, is one of the nation’s leading oil industry cities and itsContinuous Urban Green Structure is a true green miracle. As member of the EU Urban Agenda and thanks to a very strong leadership and dedicated network of planners and initiatives, Stavanger developed over a period of more than 50 years a continuous public green infrastructure throughout the whole city. Since 1965, several legally binding green infrastructure action plans were adopted, undergoing multiple stages of implementation with the vision to create a coherent green trail system across Norway supported by the Norwegian Trekking Association and the central government. Since then, Stavanger’s responsible communities have put a lot of effort into preserving green areas and constructing new trails.
Today, more than 99 % of the citizens have access to the green trails within 500 meters from their home. Stavanger’s green structure is based on sound knowledge of the relationship between green urban infrastructure, public health and the health of the urban environment at large. Secrets for its success are: a great vision, political determination and courage, as well as the ability to implement the plans. Stavanger’s next steps focus on targets and indicators for nature-based solutions and green infrastructure and to collaborate with other cities to invest in new solutions.
What could be easier than just helping nature in what it does best?
Nature-based solutions present an innovative approach that respects the usability, multi-functionality and ecological benefits of green and blue spaces in urban areas. Through their integration in complex urban systems, we are one step closer to ensure human wellbeing and economic benefits to society. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go – more cities need to develop and test new ways of integrating these solutions in their planning processes to improve strategies, spread ideas and build alliances for action. It is pivotal to attract public and private stakeholders to invest in nature-based solutions and to improve assessment methods for mapping ecosystem services to be able to make the business case. In order to attract more investors and raise financing to scale up the implementation of nature-based solutions, GrowGreen is organising a conference on innovative financing for creating greener cities in March 2019.
Magda Kubecka, one of the trend spotters who actively followed the discussions at the URBACT City Festival to identify ground breaking ideas and solutions for the future concluded:“We need to deliver nature as part of everything we do in cities - it’s not a nice to have, it’s essential and crucial.” Nature-based solutions allow us to breathe fresh air, clear our heads and co-create greener more liveable cities. They benefit us all now and beyond, will benefit future generations.
One of the main challenges for cities in the coming decade is how to make their citizens become physically active again.
Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles have become a leading risk factor for health. Cities are affected by the dramatic increase in the frequency of chronic diseases related to physical inactivity amongst their citizens. These chronicle diseases like coronary heart and respiratory diseases, colon cancer and obesity are resulting in high and early morbidity, loneliness and social exclusion. Collectively physical inactivity has substantial consequences for direct health-care costs but also causes high indirect costs due to increased periods of sick leave, work disabilities and daily care. With decentralising tendencies of tasks like (un)employment, social care and basic health care from national levels to local levels, cities have become a key player in keeping their citizens active.
This article offers an overview of this challenge advocating this theme as an integrated part of sustainable urban planning in Europe.
Many cities all over the world have recognised the urgency of action related to physical activity as well as the competitive advantage that stems from making it into a priority of action. Several municipalities, private companies and research institutions have adopted specific planning and design strategies in recent years in order to promote physical activity in urban settings.
After the intense wave of criticism and scandals for child labour, the Corporate Social Responsibility of the multinational corporation Nike Inc.US changed towards more socially minded undertakings: in 2012 Nike published a report entitled Designed to Move, a global initiative created with the aim to reverse the trends and re-engineer physical activity back into everyday life. The report has ringed the alarm bell saying that “ if no action is taken, half of the Chinese and American populations will be physically inactive by 2030 along with a third of British and Brazilian populations, totalling 1 billion people”. This inspired many cities worldwide to take the first steps.
Soon after the release of the report, New York City followed suit by publishing its Active Design Guidelines for New York City (PDF) coordinated by the Centre for Active Design, a not-for-profit organisation committed to making health and physical activity a central priority in the design and development of buildings, streets, and neighbourhoods.
In the UK, inspired by the Design to Move initiative an All-Party Commission on Physical Activity was created in 2014 that advocates for a new approach to tackling the inactivity problem on a national level. It emphasises a cross-sectional working method and managed to create a nationwide coalition with leading third sector organisations such as the British Heart Foundation or Young Foundation. For the same reasons, the Design Council launched its initiative Active by Design in 2014. It aims to help national and local governments, developers, designers and communities to encourage active living by providing leadership, training and project support for newly designed places and redesigning existing infrastructure.
Besides these coalitions and initiatives, other city governments are also taking the first steps in the UK. For example, Liverpool has developed a cross-sectorial strategy to combat lower-than-average life expectancy and inactivity. Edinburgh is progressively investing in cycling schemes year by year, while London Boroughs are advocating for the default 20 miles per hour (about 30 kilometers per hour) limits to encourage active transportation.
In Europe, Copenhagen is a benchmark city for championing active living strategies. It is characterised by experimental, out of the box thinking. The city is working close together with the academia, and the third sector like the Foundation Culture and Sport and the Centre for Sport and Architecture based at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Copenhagen. The latter was among the first to develop guidelines for better integrating sport into the built environment. Their Activating Architecture report (2012) showcases several best practices along with useful measures and everyday ideas on improving the built environment. The results of cities investing in physical activities in public spaces are already visible. For instance, in Copenhagen, the increased investment in public space since the 1970s has been linked directly to a 65% rise in the number of cyclists and a significant drop in both the quantity and speed of automotive traffic. Copenhagen has also pursued pioneering work on developing schemes to reach out the most vulnerable groups including ethnic minorities.
Beside the stellar examples, there are many cities who invent, practice and creatively open up spaces for enjoying physical activities collectively, often with no large amount of funds, but with the power of new ideas.
Health, sport and urban planning in URBACT Vital cities network
The Vital Cities network works on how to (re)design public spaces using the power and common language of sport for the promotion of healthy lifestyle with a special focus on deprived residential areas. Vital Cities partners believe that instead of bringing inactive citizens to sports facilities, public spaces should be turned into a low threshold facility inviting all citizens to engage in physical activities. Opportunities for this need to be created close to where people live while also creating cleaner, safer, greener and more activity-friendly local environments.
Vital Cities network has identified five key themes to be investigated during the learning process: (1) identifying community-based initiatives (2) IT-based actions to redesign public spaces linked to leisure sport activities, (3) better orchestrating the services of the city to promote healthy lifestyle, (4) designing innovative physical activities to promote sport in public spaces and the organisation of innovative events to promote healthy lifestyle. Cities partnering in Vital Cities have already experiences in planning physical activity in public space: a look into their stories serves the purpose of showcasing what cities do and could do.
The city of Usti-nad-Labem has two interesting practices promoted by individuals deeply rooted in their community. Their ideas created simple and efficient examples easy to adopt and adapt in different contexts.
The first is the Predlice primary school serving the Roma community.
The Headmaster of this school, Martin Kosnar is an iconic sports figure being a champion in weightlifting, which becomes obvious while visiting his room full of trophies. Sure his physical appearance in such a rough environment can be of advantage however through his gentle way of operating he managed to get extra investment in sports facilities and additional guarding capacity through an employment scheme. This means that the outdoor sports facilities can be kept open after school hours, inviting over the parents to become physically active together with their children. This idea has been a success and it has been largely appreciated by the community.
The second one is the "6 minutes for health" path. A local cardiologist found out that over time people came often too late to hospital as to check their physical status related to heart, lungs and arteries. She took the initiative to install the "6minutes for health" path in the free accessible Metsky park, through which citizens can check their condition. It consists of a route with milestones as distance markers and a clock (stopwatch) with the purpose of monitoring one’s performance on the track. One simply starts walking or running the route in this public accessible space while using the clock as a stop watch set for 6 minutes. Through the milestones one can monitor the travelled distance while reading the information shields one gets an indication of his/her own health status. Telephone numbers and a website address refer people to doctors. The funding for this project comes from health insurance companies and the initiators budget while the city provided the facilities and space.
Reclaiming (unusual) sports areas: the idea of Horten (municipality in Vestfold county, is partner of Vital Cities)
In winter the parking lot of the city of Horten went unused by cars because of the freezing cold and a large amount of snow. The municipality came up with the idea of turning this space into an unusual spot for ice-skating. The trick has been simple and almost at zero cost. The surface of the parking lot has been cleared out of the snow and the parking lot covered with water soon turned into thick ice. This created an amazing ice-skating park in the middle of the city. Locals initially surprised, then started to enjoy it during day and night. The city offered special lightening for evening ice skating, and a group of volunteers distributed ice-skates to those who did not have it. “It was amazing to see how people welcomed the renewed spot for sport. This parking lot became the new meeting place for a lot of kids at different ages, and for their parents as well. It is free and open to everybody open during the day until 10 in the evening. [...] It is a place for integration as well: new comers as refugees newly arrived in Norway never experienced such cold winters, and had here their first ice-skating training with locals.” ( Helge Etnestadt, Municipality of Horten)
Active Parks initiative in Birmingham
The city of Birmingham, with one of the poorest census track in the UK and with a large migrant community has to deal with severe challenges in terms of considerable differences in lifetime expectation and health amongst its citizens, depending on the neighbourhood they live in. To overcome this, Birmingham decided to deliver its sports services in a different way namely by no longer building and constructing new capital intensive facilities, but rather using ‘what is already there’. This is also a consequence of the budget cuts in a period of financial austerity. As result, Birmingham decided to roll out the Active Park programme with free activities in over 80 parks and green spaces across the city
The Birmingham Active Parks programme offers free sessions e.g. Zumba and Thai Chi at various parks across the city with the aim of encouraging people to enjoy being active in a sociable and inclusive atmosphere. It aims to tackle health, financial, ethnic minorities inequalities and social inclusion. It helps to bring some previously underused parks into use. Liz has been a volunteer for Cotteridge park for over 25 years now. She, as many citizens, values the parks as a ‘community asset’, and act as custodians of the local environment.
“Active Parks” - a strong brand now - is managed and administered by the Wellbeing Service and Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, through its staff and dedicated trained session leaders. The programme successfully involves the cooperation of various stakeholders from public sector organisations, NGOs and private companies. The Parks and Ranger service, various volunteers and Friends of Parks groups support the programme as I could experience ‘with the traditional English tea after’, provided by a charming over 80 years lady! Since 2014, there have been 114,000 participants in the 80 parks. Over half of these live in the most deprived areas of Birmingham. It is financed by the Birmingham City Council, Sports England and Coca-Cola Zero Parklives programme.
Health in cities and the Urban Agenda for Europe
The challenge of fighting inactivity relates to several strategies like compact and mixed urban planning, active and public transport, ICT and social services. For this, it can be considered a complex and integrated challenge, that calls for a multi stakeholder and a multi-level governance approach, with strong partnerships at the local level. If we add the financial/affordability implications and personal consequences, it is rather surprising that ‘health and physical activity’ is not yet explicitly covered by the Urban Agenda (UA). Clearly many of the topics covered by the UA affects health e.g. air quality in considering respiratory diseases and environmentally friendly forms of transport; or housing determinant for a healthy & active lifestyle. In addition, vulnerable groups living in urban poverty tend to be less healthy than average for a number of different reasons, amongst others quality of food and less physical activity. Appropriate health provision is also a growing issue for cities welcoming refugees and sport and physical activity in public space are to be considered important in facilitating short and long term integration. The experience of Vital Cities demonstrates that it is crucial to advocate health and physical activity in cities, upscaling the theme to a wider EU debate as an integral part of the challenges to be addressed in the near future.
Densification of urban areas beyond the core of the cities is not an easy task but it is a challenge worth taking to fight against urban sprawl.. City centres, which are usually already dense and mostly regenerated, are surronded by transitional belts (sometimes called fringe areas) which have diverse urban functions with lower density, offering in principle good opportunities for densifying interventions towards the aim of compact city development. However, the task is not easy at all: physical interventions to achieve environmental benefits have high risks of negative social externalities; moreover they require substantial financial means in a period when the public sector suffers from the consequences of the financial crisis.
The challenges of densification are first discussed from a theoretical point of view and illustrated by city examples. Then the approach of the URBACT Action Plannig Network sub>urban is highlighted, showing innovative approaches in four of the project partner cities. Finally a snapshot is given about the dynamic way in which sub>urban is dealing with this challenging topic in transnational meetings.
Density is one of the central issues in the recent debates about the urban future. The reason for that lies in the contradiction between the private and public interests in relation to the density of urban living: most actors (households, developers, businesses, etc.) strive to increase their individual, private benefits which, however, can only be satisfied at the expense of public interests. For example, most families prefer less dense urban forms, and their dreams result in sprawling suburbs which are very harmful from the perspective of sustainable urban development.
This contradiction between individual interests and their disastrous collective consequences is described as the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (Hardin, 1968). The problem lies in the fact that the gains (returns) and the costs are neither accrued to nor born by the same actors. Moreover, the gains are often abstract and lie in the future while the costs are concrete and fall due in the present. This is a big challenge of the future: how can the – in the long run – more sustainable forms of (compact) urban development get more accepted by households, against their own immediate preferences.
This challenge is further complicated by the fact that density is not the only aspect of sustainable urban development. Sustainability in a broader sense should mean a dynamic balance between economic, environmental and social considerations. Therefore, in the end it is not density in itself that is interesting, but the relationship between the economic, environmental and social outcomes produced by different density levels. However, the environmental and social aspects of densification get often in contradiction with each other. Transitional areas are usually dominated by lower income residents, who are endangered by densification, at the risk of being pushed much further away from the central areas, and therefore with lower chances (and higher costs) to access inner city jobs. In that way the environmentally positive densification usually leads to negative social externalities, combined with the often occurring gentrification effects which decrease social mix.
Pictures 1-2. Suburb in the making close to Madrid in 2009; A typical transitional area in Rotterdam in 2016
The challenges of urban development – and among them densification, as one of the tools – are present in all growing cities. In a recent seminar (Amsterdam, 2016) the case of the dynamically expanding Amsterdam was presented, which has to build 300 thousand new units by 2040. All traditional reserve areas (hospitals, military, etc) have already been used. Some reserve still exists in empty office and factory buildings and through densification, which would allow for 40 thousand additional housing units. For the other 260 thousand units only quite inconvenient options exist: super densification, demolishing 19th century areas in good shape; constructing on the green wedges (fingers), protected since many decades; or densifying Almere and the other new towns, outside the administrative borders of the city. Thus in the (extreme) case of Amsterdam the ‘normal’ practices of densification would not even be sufficient to answer the challenge of dynamic growth. Even so, densification (and keeping the already existing dense areas liveable) is unavoidable.
The sub>urban approach
The URBACT Sub>urban network, led by the city of Antwerp, followed by the Lead Expert Maarten van Tuijl, concentrates on the urban fringe. This is defined as the often non glorious post war area surrounding the historic city, encompassing a mix of large modernist housing estates, low-density private housing, malls, logistical companies, recreational areas, businesses and industrial zones (van Tuilj, 2016). The aim of the network is to explore and compare the options to densify the urban fringe in an integrated way, taking both the physical and social characteristics into account. Densification through the „Regeneration in the urban fringe should be aimed toward mixed cultural and ethnic backgrounds and people of different incomes, education levels and ages. Therefore, the challenge also lies in spreading the benefits of growth and of regeneration equally and in providing affordable housing, jobs and facilities for all.” (ibid)
The conditions for densification of the fringe areas in the partner cities of sub>urban are not optimal, to say the least: the financial position of the municipalities is bad, the once dynamic public actors (e.g. housing associations) are in financial troubles, the banks are very cautious to invest in anything. On the top of all these in most cities properties in the fringe area are privately owned, both by big corporations and private households, thus the planning influence of the municipalities can only be indirect and limited.
Under such circumstances cities have to find new, innovative approaches to achieve their strategic aim, the densification of the urban fringe in an integrated way, i.e. avoiding negative social and environmental externalities. The general approach of sub>urban is described here.
Below, I describe how 4 of the sub>urban cities try to engage all potential stakeholders, such as owners of land and buildings, investors, developers, residents, workers and potential newcomers in their strategies.
Antwerp experiences a strong population growth outside the inner city. It has selected 7 action planning areas from the large territory of the urban fringe, with very different challenges and identities. Lageweg, a formal industrial site, is one of them. The area is characterised by a high number of owners with small plot sizes. There, the municipality applies specific pilot measures to speed up the development process (van Tuilj, 2016). It organises activities such as mind opening dialogues and kick-off discussions to explore collective ambitions for the area, co-creative design tables involving an interactive scale model of different scenarios in order to build collective trust, guided walks with all stakeholders with a brochure showing possible future scenarios, adaptable spatial and financial calculation models to test the feasibility of several options. Thanks to these tools most of the land owners were gradually convinced and decided to sign a declaration of engagement to work and invest together in the project. The success of the initiative was that it allows to work across property borders and to make an effective plan for the whole area, for a step-by-step development.
Oslo wants to solve the conflict of dynamic growth versus spatially limited urban area (the city is surrounded by highly valued green belt which can not be touched) by densifying former monofunctional industrial areas, within the city border but outside the city core. 5 pilot project areas are selected to test a new process, with the objective to make transformation more flexible. The city focuses on the essentials and leaves room for private parties to come up with their own ideas. A Planning Program defines general guidelines, urban development principles and rough parameters for land use, height and utilization (van Tuilj, 2016). This is extended by a Principle Plan for the Public Space, which defines the boundary, size and desired qualities of public spaces, identifies and describes public projects and builds in a certain flexiblity, so that market parties can fill in the rest.
Brno has been characterized by heavy suburbanization in the last two decades. To mitigate that, the city is looking for opportunities of densification within the city border. Two action areas have been selected. They are relatively close to the city centre (10 minutes by tram). A dynamic university campus has been built in the area, which is still surrounded by little gardens. Some of the gardens are already abandoned as the owners know that the area will change: the future use will be housing – although no infrastructure and transport links exist yet. Brno municipality decided for an experimental approach instead of the usual top-down decision-making. As a first step links have been created between the relevant municipal departments, the mayor and the 3 affected district mayors. Nearby residents were waiting for the municipality’s ideas (e.g. immediate re-zoning) and were prepared to oppose these. To their greatest surprise they were approached by the municipality and asked about their ideas. This new type of planning process is unusual in post-socialist cities, it has to be explained not only to the different units of the city and district administrations but also to the politicians. The URBACT project and the need to create Local Support Group was a good occasion to start this journey towards an uncharted territory in policy-making.
Casoria is the largest municipality in the northern Naples area, only 10 km away from Naples. The population (around 78 000) has been decreasing in the last two decades. From the late 1970s on, Casoria has lost its role as major industrial centre: production activities stopped, factories and industrial sites were abandoned. The city developed a strong services sector but today even the services sector finds itself in crisis. Local residents are leaving the area due to traffic congestion, unemployment, low quality settlements, poor quality housing, inadequate infrastructures (roads, facilities) and lack of public green space (see Sub-urban Baseline Study, 2016:95). In Casoria, the need for densification comes not from urban growth or suburbanization but from the high number of underused areas and buildings from the industrial and services sectors and from the plans of the municipality to create large suburban public parks. The city promotes flexible planning in transparent arenas, testing tactical urbanism. Instead of top-down decisions, the public administration wants to work with private owners and city users (associations). Cooperation with other municipalities is planned towards a strategic plan beyond the municipal borders.
The four cases show the different circumstances and reasons under which densification of the urban fringe might become an important aim towards more sustainable urban development: not only in dynamically growing cities (Antwerp, Oslo) but also in stagnating (Brno) or even shrinking (Casoria) cities. These cases also illustrate that cities have to start dealing with their transition areas even before having completed the regeneration of their inner cities. Even if inner city renewal is unfinished, to continue it might be very costly and cities may decide to change priorities towards cheaper interventions in the transitional belt, where more flexible approaches are possible.
Sub>urban in action: Messages for the Future of Casoria
The Casoria transnational meeting of the sub>urban network included discovery walks of the city in small groups and provided the opportunity for partners of the network from other cities to leave their messages for the future of Casoria. Have a look!
Pictures 3-4. The urban walk in Casoria: the map and the group underway.
Pictures 5-6. The sub>urban group in Casoria’s largest brownfield area.
The walk was followed next day by an urban gardening action in the course of which all partner cities got the opportunity to plant a tree and leave in this way their message for the future development of Casoria.
Pictures 7-8. Urban gardening and peer review discussion about the Local Action Plans in the Contemporary Art Museum
Electric Vehicles in Urban Europe (EVUE) focuses on the development of integrated, sustainable strategies and dynamic leadership techniques for cities to promote the use of electric vehicles. Urban initiatives to encourage the public and business to use EV's will contribute to EU clean air and car fleets targets, making cities more attractive and competitive. Between 2009 and 2013, nine citiesacross Europe: Beja, Katowice, Frankfurt, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Oslo, Stockholm, Suceava and Zografou, supported by the URBACT programme, worked together to share knowledge and experience of how EVs can be implemented in the urban environment under the EVUE project.
Further activity has been undertaken through Pilot Delivery Network funding to look at the outcomes from the Local Action Plan process. EVUE II concludes in March 2015.