• URBACT warmly welcomes the New Leipzig Charter

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    Check out the updated EU principles of sustainable urban development – and how URBACT contributed.

    Leipzig Charter

    The German Presidency of the Council of the European Union has delivered on its promise to renew the EU’s principles of sustainable European cities through a New Leipzig Charter (NLC). Adopted on 30 November 2020, the NLC updates the principles of the original and groundbreaking Leipzig Charter of 2007.


    In this article, we examine some of the key elements of the New Leipzig Charter and the way in which URBACT – along with other partners – was able to contribute its experience, expertise and the voice of Europe’s cities into the updating of this important political declaration for the future of urban policy in the EU.


    Why renew the original Leipzig Charter?


    The core messages of the original Leipzig Charter around the need to promote integrated and sustainable urban development have been inspiring urban policy in Europe since they were adopted in 2007. Whilst these principles remain as valid as ever, the context in which they are implemented has been changing rapidly.


    Major global trends are directly impacting towns and cities across Europe, threatening to increase disparities in our societies. The NLC identifies “climate change, the loss of biodiversity, resource scarcity, migration movements, demographic change, pandemics and rapidly changing economies” as well as the “digital technologies” which are offering both benefits and challenges as they “drastically transform” our societies.


    The Covid pandemic has obviously been a major disruptor in 2020, but the view of the German Presidency has been that this shock has only reinforced the urgency of the foreseen principles for helping cities to become more resilient and adaptive to sudden changes. Social distancing will (hopefully) not be around for the next decade, but the need for integrated, participatory and place-based approaches to developing urban resilience and quality of life will be.


    The original Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities was adopted under the German Presidency of 2007.

    The overarching political context of Europe’s urban policies is also increasingly prioritising sustainability, including the European Commission’s Green Deal, which aims to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent, the Paris Agreement, the New Urban Agenda of the United Nations, and the UN’s SDG 11 on making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.


    In this broad context, the New Leipzig Charter has a clear and practical aim: to provide “a policy framework to envision and realise these European and global agreements at the urban scale” in the EU.


    The transformative power of cities


    A key feature of the New Leipzig Charter is that it promotes the idea of urban policy for the common good. It emphasises “the transformative power of cities” to respond to the modern-day challenges facing cities in each of their social, environmental and economic dimensions.


    The New Leipzig Charter was adopted on 30 November 2020 under the German Presidency of the EU.


    The NLC thus highlights three forms of the transformative city which can be harnessed in Europe to enhance people’s quality of life:


    • (Social) The Just City -  providing equal opportunities and environmental justice for all, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, age and origin – leaving no one behind.
    • (Environmental) The Green City – contributing to combatting global warming and to high environmental quality for air, water, soil and land use, as well as access to green and recreational spaces.
    • (Economic) The Productive City – ensuring jobs while providing a sound financial base for sustainable urban development through diversified local economies and supportive environments for innovation.


    Delivering on the transformative power of just, green and productive cities requires implementation of key principles of good governance. The New Leipzig Charter defines these as being:


    • Urban policy for the common good – Public authorities should act in the interest of public welfare, providing services and infrastructure for the common good.
    • Integrated approach – All areas of urban policy have to be coordinated in a spatial, sectoral and temporal manner.
    • Participation and co-creation – All urban actors and citizens need to be involved in order to consider their knowledge and concerns and strengthen local democracy.
    • Multi-level governance – Complex challenges should be jointly tackled by all levels of urban and spatial policy – local, regional, metropolitan, national, European and global.
    • Place-based approach – Urban strategies and urban funding instruments should be based on sound analysis of the specific local situation.


    The 2020 German Presidency has provided a visualisation of the logic of the New Leipzig Charter principles.


    URBACT’s contribution to the New Leipzig Charter


    URBACT was actively involved as a partner of the German Presidency in developing the refreshed principles of the New Leipzig Charter. Notably, URBACT organised a series of four City Labs on key principles of sustainable urban development to help inform the NLC:



    A series of URBACT City Labs 2018-2020 provided input into the drafting of the New Leipzig Charter.


    Organised in collaboration with Eurocities and Urban Innovative Actions (UIA), the four URBACT City Labs drew on the experience of hundreds of cities, allowing direct exchanges with representatives of the German Presidency, the European Commission and the national level. All together, we reflected on the theory and practice of each principle in turn, highlighting aspects that the New Leipzig Charter should take into account based on the real-life experience of cities.


    The links between these City Labs and the principles of the NLC are clear to see. For example, the first City Lab on ‘participation’ highlighted that we needed a stronger framework for promoting new ways of participation. This is reflected in the NLC encouraging “co-creation and co-design in cooperation with inhabitants, civil society networks, community organisations and private entreprises”.


    Equally, the NLC text built on the fourth and final City Lab on ‘place-based approaches’ in explicitly recognising that, even at the ‘city level’, delivering just, green and productive cities requires consideration of appropriate measures at three spatial levels. Local authorities are responsible for local urban development. However urban challenges are often more pronounced at neighbourhood level, requiring localised innovations. At the same time, sustainable urban development takes place within a regional or metropolitan context that relies on a complex network of functional interdependencies.


    URBACT also contributed strongly to the German Presidency’s Europe’s Cities Fit for Future Conference. URBACT experts moderated three consecutive workshops on innovative city approaches around the themes of ‘productive’, ‘just’ and ‘green’ cities. Each workshop highlighted the cases of several URBACT cities in the process.


    URBACT’s commitment to the New Leipzig Charter


    URBACT was not only instrumental in developing the refreshed Leipzig Charter with the German Presidency, but is explicitly recognised as a key partner for continuing to build the capacity of Europe’s cities to deliver on these principles and illustrate their implementation at local level.


    An accompanying note by the Ministers responsible for urban matters sets out a number of key aspects for Implementing the New Leipzig Charter, with particular reference to next steps for the Urban Agenda of the EU and multi-level governance. This document recognises the valuable contribution of URBACT on two separate occasions.


    Firstly, the note states that “Knowledge exchange as well as capacity and knowledge building should be supported by the Cohesion Policy programmes and initiatives, in particular by the European Urban Initiative and the URBACT programme.”


    Secondly, it encourages local and regional authorities to continue to “reinforce city-to-city collaboration at the European level, including for example through the URBACT programme”.


    The challenges are great, but Europe’s cities have the power to deliver on the ambitions of the New Leipzig Charter. Through the future URBACT IV Programme, we look forward to continuing to support Europe’s cities – both small and large – with thematic expertise, opportunities for peer learning, and the complete set of tools and resources they need to deliver integrated approaches based on multi-level governance, stakeholder participation, and place-based approaches.


    The new URBACT toolbox will continue to support cities with the tools and resources they need to implement the principles of the New Leipzig Charter.


    URBACT will continue both to identify and share good practices that illustrate implementation of the NLC and to feed lessons and messages from cities into the EU policy agenda, notably through ongoing participation in the Urban Agenda for the European Union.


    We invite you to join us on this exciting journey for the future of Europe’s cities!


    For more information


    Visit the URBACT website’s thematic section on the New Leipzig Charter, including the summary videos and output papers from the four URBACT City Labs, a set of recent URBACT articles on the NLC and, of course, the New Leipzig Charter itself.


    Check out the URBACT summary of the German Presidency’s Europe’s Cities Fit for Future Conference – as well as the recordings of the webinar sessions from September 2020.


    Finally, don’t forget to check out the URBACT toolbox of tools and resources for cities on how to design and implement local policies in an integrated and participative way.


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  • The German Presidency conference ‘Europe’s Cities Fit For Future’

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    Subjective notes by URBACT Expert Iván Tosics on this input event for the New Leipzig Charter.


    Leipzig Charter

    The German Presidency conference on cities and on the New Leipzig Charter (NLC) had to be organised online. The digital webinar sessions were spread across three weeks in September 2020, starting with a half-day discussion about challenges and possible approaches, continuing with a full day on innovative city approaches in economic, environmental and social fields, and finishing with a half-day political discussion about implementation.


    All the links to the recordings of the five sessions and all presentations and supporting documents are available on the official event website.


    Overview of the event and key topics


    This was a large conference: over 500 visitors followed the conference on YouTube on the first day (the popularity of the thematic sessions was lower, at close to 100 participants). My personal interest to follow the 13.5 hours of conference discussions was based on my curiosity to get answers on the following questions. What is the novelty of the NLC? How did the main messages change as a consequence of the pandemic? To what extent can it help cities to achieve a greater role in EU policies? Besides, I was also interested in the selected innovative city approaches.


    The first two questions were quickly addressed at the beginning of the conference. According to Tilman Buchholz (Deputy Head of Unit, German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community) one of the unique selling points of the NLC is the idea of urban policy for the common good, addressing the fact that resources are not infinite. Participation and co-creation became stronger and there is a focus on implementation – a whole chapter deals with empowerment of cities.


    Silke Weidner (Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus – Senftenberg) addressed the new, and for many people controversial, topic of digitalisation, which has been given a large weight and put as a cross-sectoral dimension to the NLC, additional to the three main pillars: just, economic, green.


    The original ideas of the NLC have been modified in the light of COVID-19: besides densification and inner cities, also other issues have to get higher importance. However, there is no suggestion in the document that social distancing should become the major principle: it is still integrated development that is the focus and digital tools can help to avoid gentrification and urban sprawl.


    As Jonas Scholze (Managing Director of the German Association for Housing, Urban and Spatial Development) explained in a recent interview with URBACT: “Covid-19 gives a whole new meaning to the concept of city resilience … it is closely linked to the triangle of sustainability: communities with a functioning economy, environmentally and climate-friendly ‘green’ solutions and a socially just urban society are demonstrably more robust to crises. Other indicators of ‘strong’ cities are the provision of services of general interest in the social, educational and health sectors as well as digital infrastructures and services.”


    A dynamic opening half day


    The introductory half day of the conference brought a surprisingly dynamic three hours to the listeners. The tone was set by the disruptive keynote of Niklas Maak (book author and writer for the F.A.Z. feuilleton), who painted a radically different future, which will need different solutions. In his view the Coronavirus has highlighted the contradictions and inequalities of urban development and in this light we have to completely rethink how we live in cities.


    There is a threat that cities will lose shops, offices, and even cinemas. Although smart city planners have ideas how to reform the cities, in Maak’s opinion other ideas are needed. Cities should be rebuilt on the ruins of the previous uses: millions of square meters become vacant, giving opportunity to bring back affordable housing, small shops, new functions into the heart of the city, functions which were kicked out when plot prices were enormously high.


    New public living rooms might be developed like museums, new, more inclusive ways of education can be developed. Europe has chances to develop a third way (based on innovative, new understanding of cities), opposite to the market and state-dominated systems. Digitalisation might make middle and smaller towns attractive again, instead of forcing rural residents into small and expensive flats in large cities.


    In order to achieve radical changes, politicians have to take back power - market reactions cannot address these challenges. Public control of land has to dominate, pushing back private interests and unlimited speculation. In the digital age, the collective ownership of data (instead of expropriation of data by tech giants or authoritarian states) is of crucial importance. Digitalisation will ensure more return on economic activities and this money should be distributed in a more just way, compensating those people who still have to work in physical or service jobs.


    The inequality issue was also addressed by Anna Geppert (University Paris-Sorbonne). People not able to home work, would not only need compensation, but a decent life based on increased work-related wages – otherwise large protest will change the present status quo. She supported the NLC in giving greater importance to the functional urban areas and regional policies, thus bringing the problems of neighbourhoods into the right spatial scale.


    Wolfgang Teubner (Regional Director of the European Secretariat of ICLEI) talked about the choices and conflicts in the different dimensions of transformation, such as technological aspects, socio-economic challenges, and spatial restructuring. He suggested decarbonising energy systems, changing mobility systems (with lower number of cars); and addressing the big divides in the job market with strong social compensation systems (people in precarious jobs are preparing and delivering parcels to people sitting at home in home office). He challenged the view of Maak regarding territorial restructuring: to move away from large cities would either lead to sprawl or to destroying the original character of the small and medium cities by densification.


    Innovative city approaches


    Three consecutive workshops on innovative city approaches were moderated by URBACT experts, highlighting the cases of 3x4 cities in the economic, environmental and social fields, through presentations, panel discussions and Q&A sessions. (For more direct experiences of hundreds of cities inputting into the New Leipzig Charter, see the content and outcomes of the URBACT City Labs.)


    The Productive City workshop included:


    • the Urban Innovative Action (UIA) BRIDGE project from Rotterdam South (NL): linking the youth of a deprived urban area with local growth sectors through innovation within the city administration and co-creation with society.
    • the URBACT good practice of Preston (UK), recognising the power of public procurement in the local economy. Aiming to locate more spending in and around Preston, contracts are divided into smaller lots which are more attractive for local entrepreneurs – and local anchor institutions are approached to expand the procurement basis.
    • Mouans-Sartoux (FR) has an interesting story of a tiny city fighting the large international food industry. Their URBACT good practice, ‘food sovereignty’ started with school canteens, supplied with affordable, locally sourced organic food. The implications became significant, in terms of governance, planning and the local economy, preferring close-by producers and reducing food waste.
    • The UIA funded Aveiro (PT) Steam City project aimed to change the post-industrial (ceramics) city into one of Portugal’s first digital hubs, through innovative Tech Labs in schools, providing talent for the city’s growing tech industry base and encouraging the city’s best qualified citizens to stay in the area and boost the local economy.

    The Green City workshop focused on the following innovative city cases:


    • In Umeå (SE), a unique project aimed at halving the use of energy in a housing estate through: photovoltaic cells on the roofs; 137 new sustainable apartments with high energy efficiency; 405 renovated apartments; nearly fossil fuel-free district heating; and individual metering. With the help of the University, options were evaluated on how renovation could be completed as sustainably as possible while not increasing the rents more than 10 percent.
    • Ghent (BE) introduced a large car-free city centre, carefully selecting and communicating the precise narrative: not against all cars users but against those who use the city centre without having a destination there. Six sectors were designed and directly crossing from one to another was prohibited. A citizen council of 150 citizens was formed which judged the options and developed compromise solutions.
    • Wroclaw (PL) made innovative investments towards climate change adaptation. In a poor inner city area, where most buildings are privatised, but courtyard areas remained in municipality ownership, efforts were taken to green the courtyards with nature-based solutions. The interventions were planned together with the residents and, as a result, 90% of rainwater is kept within the area.
    • Stuttgart (DE) has an innovative planning and co-funding scheme for the development of green infrastructure in the Stuttgart Metropolitan Region. Some 160+ projects have been implemented throughout the region, covering all aspects of green infrastructure. Through a 1.5 million EUR regional fund, municipalities can get 50% co-financing for development of open spaces, allocated competitively.

    The Just City workshop introduced the following innovative city examples:


    • In Brussels (BE), CALICO is an intergenerational and intercultural co-housing project to preserve some neighbourhoods from gentrification through a partnership of eight organisations. Based on land owned by the Community Land Trust of Brussels, the land is safe from speculation, provides housing for lower-income families, includes Housing First units for homeless people, housing units for poor and single women, a community-oriented birth and end-of-life facility, and a community space open to local neighbourhood initiatives.
    • Athens (EL) launched the SynAthina platform to bring together the large number of diverse bottom-up initiatives. Over 450 community groups participate, and from their examples urban innovation prototypes are created, such as new ways of cleaning streets and empowering refugees (Co-Athens) – a contemporary art project in a physical space which is mostly inhabited by migrants.
    • In Barcelona (ES), Fundació Hàbitat3 manages 520 properties that provide adequate housing for 1 400 people at risk of housing exclusion. Fundació is acquiring and renovating empty homes together with local social enterprises which train and employ socially excluded people. Different types of subsidies by city councils are combined: private people lease to them the empty flats slightly below market price, while municipalities give allowances to people to pay the lower rent.
    • In Gdańsk (PL), many participatory tools are used to involve citizens in decision-making and co-creation processes. Citizens’ Assemblies are organised, Neighbourhood Houses are established, five million EUR budget is devoted to participatory budgeting and Thematic Councils are set up to monitor the implementation. The city acts as a broker on the basis of a new way of governance, a new profile of civil servants and improved relationships between public city administration and different city players.

    Closing sessions of the conference


    The closing half day of the conference dealt with implementation issues. Susanne Lottermoser (German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community) mentioned the Urban Agenda of the EU as a potential vehicle for the implementation of the NLC. There are, however, changes needed, such as a secretariat to monitor and assess partnerships and more legal expertise for partnerships to work on better regulation and financing. The dissemination of outputs has to be improved by dissemination hubs in all Member States (national contact points).


    Wenke Christoph (Permanent Secretary for Housing, City of Berlin) argued for giving higher political importance to the Urban Agenda. In this spirit, the European Recovery Initiative should involve cities, not to repeat the mistake of the European Semester in which cities are not involved directly.


    Normunds Popens (Deputy Director-General for Regional and Urban Policy at the EU Commission) was convinced that the urban dimension should get stronger through Functional Urban Areas and urban-rural links. In the new EU programming period, cities will be supported by thematic calls. For the first time ever there will also be a territorial priority objective: if PO5 is part of the national strategy, direct work with urban authorities will be possible. However, he could not give any positive answer on how local municipalities could manage to be involved in the process of national recovery planning.


    In the final political debate, the main message that was formulated was that a true translation of the principles to the ground is needed, which is up to politicians at all levels. The NLC should become a leading document for the next decade – allowing for local and regional politicians to be able to go to their national politicians and ask them why they do not implement these policies.


    My conclusions

    This conference nicely ‘unpacked’ the main principles of the New Leipzig Charter, while interesting and thought-provoking keynotes showed how important these principles are for the future. The 12 city cases shown during the three thematic workshops proved the usefulness of good practices, if applied in a correct way.


    While the Urban Innovative Action (UIA) programme helps pre-selected innovative ideas to develop fully, the URBACT Transfer Networks help to spread and adopt good ideas in a progressive way. All these principles and practices are needed to address the mounting urban challenges of the future.


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  • Is Covid a game-changer for the New Leipzig Charter?

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    Expert Eddy Adams asks about the latest developments and impacts of Covid-19 on the renewed Leipzig Charter.

    Leipzig Charter

    The renewed Leipzig Charter was already in preparation long before the Covid-19 pandemic. Have recent experiences forced the German Presidency of the EU to re-think its

    whole vision for the future of urban development? Or has Covid-19 only reinforced the need for the principles set out in the draft document? We spoke to Jonas Scholze, Managing Director of the German Association for Housing, Urban and Spatial Development to find out.


    URBACT has supported the process through a series of City Labs related to the Leipzig Charter principles. Details can be found below:

    1. Participatory approaches – September 2018 (Policy paper, Video)
    2. Sustainable urban development – July 2019 (Policy paper, Video)
    3. Integrated approaches – October 2019 (Policy Paper, Video)
    4. Place-based approaches – (Policy Paper, Video)


      On 1 July 2020, Germany assumes the EU Presidency for six months. The last German presidency in 2007 produced the Leipzig Charter which became a cornerstone of EU urban policy. Now, at an auspicious moment for Europe, Germany will refresh the Charter during its 2020 EU presidency.

      On behalf of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, Jonas Scholze, Brussels Office Manager and Managing Director of the German Association for Housing, Urban and Spatial Development, has been centrally involved in the drafting of the New Leipzig Charter. He shared his thoughts on the latest developments and the impact of Covid with Eddy Adams, the URBACT Programme Expert who has been leading URBACT’s City Labs as part of the new Charter process.

      Jonas Scholze, co-author of the New Leipzig Charter, presenting at URBACT City Lab#4

      Eddy: The German EU Presidency has been in planning for a long time. Why did you decide to revisit the Leipzig Charter?

      Jonas: Even before this current pandemic, there was evidently growing pressure around urban issues. ‘Fridays for Future’ demonstrations, heatwaves, dealing with refugees, inner-city driving bans, exploding rents and land prices – these all dominated the urban development debate until recently. Not surprisingly, these issues were prominent in the Europe-wide dialogue in preparation for the German Presidency and, within it, the New Leipzig Charter.

      Eddy: Then suddenly, the Coronavirus pandemic crashes into all of this. Does it fundamentally alter everything?

      Jonas: Well, during the Corona pandemic, content-related themes seem to shift literally overnight. This might make us ask whether we need a Leipzig Charter with completely different objectives and principles. But the fact is that the pandemic has shed even more light on the key urban issues – for example, urban density and city resilience. The current draft version of the New Leipzig Charter already provides valuable answers to such problems. We can see, for example, that an integrated, participatory urban development policy, which is oriented at the common good and, at the same time, balances and links ecological, social and economic goals, is more important than ever.

      Eddy: It is still early days, but what do you think has been the impact of Covid-19 on urban development policy?

      The crisis manifests itself in the shape of a completely new reality and its long-term effects on urban coexistence are barely predictable. It poses important questions for urban policymakers: Do we need to put aside problems that were relevant ‘yesterday’? What about our proven guiding principles of urban development? For example, will the primacy of density and compactness vanish due to health-promoting urban models, such as garden cities? Will urban-regional supply models gain new significance? A pressing practical question for us is how the New Leipzig Charter whose development process is almost complete should respond to the situation.

      Eddy: You spoke about urban resilience. Is the pandemic redefining our understanding of this?

      Jonas: Yes. Covid-19 gives a whole new meaning to the concept of city resilience. In this new context, it is closely linked to the triangle of sustainability: communities with a functioning economy, environmentally and climate-friendly ‘green’ solutions and a socially just urban society are demonstrably more robust to crises. Other indicators of ‘strong’ cities are the provision of services of general interest in the social, educational and health sectors as well as digital infrastructures and services. Successful urban development, high-quality green and open spaces, public places that invite people to linger and a proper functioning of neighbourhoods are factors of great importance. Added to this are principles of flexibility and adaptability, mainly supported through urban development instruments.

      Eddy: What does this mean for local authorities in Europe?

      Jonas: Covid-19 shows once again that in our global, highly networked society the cause and effect of events no longer need to be geographically related. Whole national economies are brought to their knees, showing the vulnerability of societies to external influences. Covid-19 may be spreading worldwide right now - but we have to deal with the virus locally. However, this ‘capacity to act’ of our cities is endangered in many places: even before Covid, many municipalities and cities lacked sufficient financial and human resources. In addition, the collapse in tax revenues that is now to be expected will be of enormous influence.

      Cities and municipalities therefore need support - through national programmes and transfer payments, but above all, through European money, for example, from the EU Structural Funds. Their significance for integrated urban development concepts is more important today than ever before. In addition, European cooperation and exchanges between cities might help to deal with crises such as Covid-19. After all, such formats guarantee the strengthening of municipal competences throughout the EU. The EU Urban Agenda partnerships and the URBACT networking programme in particular provide valuable services in this context.

      Eddy: So, it sounds like the New Leipzig Charter points us in the right direction?

      Jonas: To put it in a nutshell: the results achieved so far in the European and national dialogue process for the drafting of the New Leipzig Charter do not need to be overturned in any way. Both, the old document from 2007 and the emerging New Leipzig Charter, with its integrated, participatory and place-based approach, identify fundamental principles that help cities to become resilient and adaptive to sudden changes.

      A core element of the New Charter is also the aforementioned increased power of municipalities to act in order to transform their urban development policy and to orient it towards the common good. This means in particular that public authorities should act for public welfare and provide appropriate services and infrastructures. It also includes active and strategic land policy and land use planning, as well as the shaping of the digital transformation – all for the benefit of society as a whole.

      Eddy: You refer to the need for a balanced approach. How do you respond to those who say we need to put economic growth at the forefront of the recovery?

      Jonas: The crisis is far from over. Thus, we should have the courage to re-open debates. We should not carelessly throw away proven concepts and objectives of ecological sustainability. Quite the opposite, these principles remain as valid as ever. They should not be neglected in favour of a sole focus on economic reconstruction. In the end, it is these concepts and objectives linked to the triangle of economic, environmental and social sustainability that will help us to develop effective long-term solutions to meet our needs - in light of both the current situation and future challenges.

      The New Leipzig Charter will be published in November 2020.

      In September, The German Association for Housing, Urban and Spatial Development and the German Federal Ministry of of the Interior, Building and Community will be organising a web series "Europe's Cities Fit for Future", to discuss current and future approaches for a successful integrated urban development in Europe. Find out more about this event and register here.


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        1. Bringing (more) sustainability to cities: 5 golden rules

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          How are cities putting sustainable urban development into practice?

          Here are 5 golden rules from URBACT's City Lab.

          Leipzig Charter

          The second URBACT City Lab took place in Brussels (BE) on 2nd and 3rd July 2019: “How are cities putting sustainable urban development into practice?” wa

          s the core question that drove us through general and specific considerations in the fields of Air Quality and Mobility, Energy Transition and Climate Adaptation and Sustainable Food Systems. When seeking to feed into the work of the updated Leipzig Charter, it appeared that on the one hand sustainability is still a complex paradigm to get into and embed for a city, but on the other hand, cities are leading the way in what can be done.

          Here are 5 golden rules for cities to become sustainable.

          1. Sustainability is polysemic

          Angeliki Stogia, Councilor at the City of Manchester (UK) asked us: “what do you, what do we, actually mean by sustainability?”. Although its official definition from the 1992 Brundtland Report is unambiguous, but, what does it mean and how should cities approach it? The realm of participants showed a variety of understandings. For example, for Filipa Pimentel from the Transition network it is for society to become more resilient, which in turn would make our ecosystems more resilient. From a people-based approach, to a planning-based one, focusing on regeneration (or the inclusion of environment in local policies) can only bring in consensus and a chance for all stakeholders to adjust their visions and priorities.

          2. Sustainability should be tackled at all levels

          Our discussions started with Thomas Béthune from DG REGIO, European Commission, stating his needs to be in touch with cities themselves to feed sustainability into European policies. They were wrapped up by Filipa Pimental who expressed the leadership of citizens who become actors of change. In between the two, the Leipzig Charter is focusing on neighbourhoods and Alicja Pawlowska, Head of EU projects and mobility management at the City of Gdynia (PL) stressed the importance of this in their daily work. Cities are where changes take place and these considerations stress the need for territorial and contextual approaches. This would be impossible without the collaboration and inputs from member states, as Olli Maijala, Adviser at Finnish Ministry of the Environment suggested.

          3. Sustainability requires a new mindset

          Experimenting in cities is not new, yet they need to keep on being innovative, combining social and technological innovation (e.g. Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) Vilawatt project in Viladecans (ES), developing market-based instruments (e.g. Stockholm’s successful congestion charges), in addition to nature-based solutions (e.g. Chinese sponge cities, which mainstream urban water management into the urban planning policies and designs), and consumption-based approaches (e.g. URBACT BioCanteens network) and to focus on processes.

          Increasingly, cities need to change their vision, and to think out of the box and take risks. The inner change needs to look beyond traditional city-makers, including other profiles such as psychologists (as strongly supported by the Transition network and already tested in Gdansk (PL).

          4. Sustainability applies to all

          Sustainability applies to jobs and skills creation such as a Food Innovation Hub in Milan (IT) within the UIA OpenAgri project, as well as to the city of Gdynia seeking to make freight transport more effective in cities within URBACT FreightTails. Not to mention the H2020 Ruggedised where Rotterdam (NL) experiments smart city developments.

          Mobility. Energy. Food. Air quality. Digitalisation. Health and well-being. Urban planning. Sustainability should be a transversal approach, and “business as usual” as Angeliki Stogia phrased it. In order to support this process, city governance should be rethought to be bold and to be participatory, with citizen scrutiny.

          New forms of involvement and partnerships should be promoted as with the engagement of citizens in air quality control within Helsinki’s (FI) UIA Hope project; the public-private-citizen partnership for energy production in Viladecans’ UIA Vilawatt project; or the use of culture and arts to mobilise citizens to address climate change in the URBACT C-Change network.

          Sustainability also requires cross-departmental collaboration such as in the City of Schaerbeek (BE) cross-cutting solutions which tackle social environmental and neighborhood issues within an action-research project on organic waste transformation, Phosphore.

          5. Sustainability requires strong leadership

          Leadership for sustainability can happen at all levels of cities. Angeliki Stogia from Manchester, Gilles Perole from Mouans-Sartoux (FR) (lead partner of BioCanteens) and Laura Rodrigues from Torres Verdas (PT) (2015 Green Leaf Capital City) are the elected representatives who took part in this second URBACT City Lab, confirming their city’s commitment to this challenge. This is just the beginning of a global movement of awareness and action towards more sustainability in cities.


          Read on the first City Lab: URBACT’s City Labs on Participation: Refreshing Europe’s urban policy principles

          The key principles of the original Leipzig Charter provided the focus for each URBACT City Lab.

          Explore the related outputs on Participation, Sustainability, Integration and Balanced Territorial Development.

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        2. URBACT’s City Labs: Refreshing Europe’s urban policy principles

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          The 2007 Leipzig Charter established the EU’s urban policy principles. Ahead of its 2020 EU Presidency, Germany is refreshing this key document. URBACT’s City Labs, linked to the Charter’s principles, are supporting this process. The Labs will identify what works, where cities are struggling, and how we can build their capacity to build a bright sustainable future.

          The Leipzig Charter

          Leipzig Charter

          What comes to mind when we think about effective urban policy? We’d probably say that it should be sustainable, focusing o

          n the best use of our resources and the wellbeing of the planet. We might add that it should involve different levels of government – including cities themselves – in decision-making. As levels of trust in politicians are historically low, we might also underline the need for participation – particularly the involvement of citizens – in our processes.

          Back in 2007, the principles behind this approach to urban policy were captured in a single EU document for the first time. Under the German EU Presidency, the Leipzig Charter proposed a model of effective urban policy – sustainable, integrated, participative, multi-level – which anticipated much of what we take for granted today. For example, we can see these principles reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Urban Agenda for the EU, which continue to shape much of our work in cities.

          URBACT City Labs

          In the second half of 2020 Germany will assume the EU Presidency again. In anticipation of that, work is under way to refresh the Leipzig Charter’s relevance for Europe of the 2020s and beyond.

          URBACT will support this through a series of City Labs related to the Leipzig Charter principles. The first, exploring the principle of Participation took place in Lisbon (PT) in September 2018. The second, in Brussels (BE) on 2nd and 3rd July, examined the principle of Sustainable Development. The final City Lab in Berlin (DE) will combine our key messages in the spring of 2020.

          Each Lab will explore how these principles are understood now. There will be space to examine what works well – how cities are embedding these principles in their approaches – as well investigating where the barriers are. A key question relates to the obstacles preventing more cities from adopting these principles – and what needs to be done to support them.

          Participative Cities

          From our City Lab on Participation it was clear that 2019 looks very different to 2007. Linked to diminishing levels of trust in established institutions, we see declining levels of political participation, particularly at the local level. There are also rising incidences of civil unrest, combined with the growth of populism in many parts of Europe.

          These are fast changing developments to which many city authorities are struggling to respond. However, our City Lab activity shows that many cities are adopting a proactive approach, with a willingness to experiment and to redefine the working relationship with citizens. The driver for this is recognition that our established governance tools no longer meet our needs – particularly in the digital age.

          Our first City Lab report captures some of the headline activities. Amongst these is Decide Madrid, a leading digital platform for engaging citizens in urban decision-making. It has grown from a modest process to redesign a city square to one with almost half a million registered members.

          Citizens have submitted more than 20 000 proposals via the portal, which commits the city to implementing those receiving enough backing from citizens. Voting is a mix of postal and digital platforms, with over 200 projects funded to date through a budget of EUR 100 million.

          The importance of mixing digital and face-to-face mechanisms is also a clear message from other cities. Influenced by their monumental and greatly missed former Mayor, Pawel Adamowicz, Gdansk (PL) has also pioneered new ways to engage citizens in decision-making, not least through the design and implementation of Citizens Assemblies, a methodology which is attracting a growing volume of interest amongst decision makers. At the City Lab, officials from Gdansk spoke about the influence of URBACT in shaping their approach to citizen engagement.

          Devolving financial decisions also emerges as an important way to increase levels of citizen engagement. Participative budgets are another effective tool to enable this, as two URBACT good practices demonstrate. Paris (FR) has a large sophisticated model operating at city and neighbourhood level as well as involving young people through schools. However, the city of Cascais,

          in Portugal, shows that these approaches work in cities of all sizes. Its model now accounts for 18% of the total investment budget and has directly involved 115 000 citizens, more than half the population.

          Nearby, the Portuguese capital, Lisbon (PT), has also experimented successfully with the Community Led Local Development (CLLD) model. The subject of an earlier URBACT article, this approach has focused on the city’s most deprived 67 neighbourhoods, enabling investment of over €9 million channeled through over 250 projects. Two interesting dimensions of the approach are its strong focus on neighbourhood capacity building and the requirement placed on grassroots organisations to collaborate. This URBACT Good Practice is at the heart of a Transfer network called Com.Unity Lab.

          The City Lab also underlined ways to involve specific sections of our communities that may be under-represented. Braga (PT) explained their approach to youth engagement, building on their URBACT experience, whilst Parma (IT) shared their work to encourage women to be more actively involved, a key dimension of URBACT’s Gender Equal Cities campaign.

          What's ahead?

          The URBACT City Labs are shining a light on effective city solutions. They are also underlining where we are getting stuck, and what must be done to implement more effective urban policy. In this way, they are feeding directly into the future version of the Leipzig Charter, and a better future for Europe’s cities.

          You can join us, by following our City Lab news (@URBACT #CityLab), and by participating in future events.

          Consult URBACT's City Lab Report "Reflections on citizen's participation in Europe's cities"


          The key principles of the original Leipzig Charter provided the focus for each URBACT City Lab.

          Explore the related outputs on Participation, Sustainability, Integration and Balanced Territorial Development.

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