Playful Paradigm II map of partners


    • 1-TNM-Kick-off meeting - Virtual
    • 2-TNM-Grosuplie (Slovenia) - Virtual
    • World Play Day 2022
    • 3-TNM-Jelgava (Latvia) - Virtual
    • 4-TNM-Igualada (Spain) - Face-to-face
    • 5-TNM-Lousã (Portugal) - Presence
    • 6-TNM-Udine (Italy) - Final Meeting - Presence

    Playful Paradigm increases the capabilities of cities to answer global challenges including those emerged during covid19. It promotes inclusion, intergenerational solidarity, SDGs, resilience, healthy lifestyles. Play is a serious matter and can make the difference for a better urban future of cities. The Playful paradigm helps to re-think the community welfare and it is replicable adaptable to other urban contexts, since play is a universal principle, naturally practiced by every human being.

    Games for inclusive, healthy and sustainable cities
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  • Social Impact Bonds: the secret tool for effective public services?

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    In times of financial constraints, total government expenditures on public services are decreasing, while citizens expect more and more effective services. Social Impact Bonds may be the tool for providing funds and overcoming short-term focus, fragmentation of services and lack of innovation.


    Total government expenditure in the EU-28 decreased from 50% of GDP to 45.8% between 2009 and 2017. Similarly, local government spending fell from 12% of GDP to 11% between 2009 and 2015. Still, demands on services have remained intense, and spending on social protection as a proportion of total expenditure increased from 38.8% to 41.2% and spending on health increased from 14.7% to 15.3% in the same period. Cities provide many of those services, -and doing so while running on tight budgets causes significant strain.

    Besides shrinking budgets, providing effective services fail because they are often split between different departments, and a holistic approach is lacking. Cities are pressured to allocate resources to solving crisis-point situations instead of spending on prevention. In such a context, decision-makers opt for the business-as-usual approach without risking relatively unknown interventions that have a severe upfront cost.

    In the meantime, the idea of ‘socially responsible’ or ‘impact investment’ is emerging amidst a low interest rate environment. The trend of investing in the social environment has become a way for investors to give back to the community. Very often, companies are trying to expand their social responsibility. As a result, a growing number of investors are looking for forms of impact investments as a way to stand up for their beliefs and also make a profit.

    The relatively new tool for bringing together the investor and the public sector is the Social Impact Bond (SIB). It is a contract whereby the public authority or governing authority pays for better social outcomes in certain areas and passes the savings achieved to investors. Unlike a bond, the repayment and the return on investment are contingent upon the achievement of desired social outcomes. If a project meets the pre-agreed results, i.e. an improved social outcome that generates a cost-saving, the government (this can be local or national) pays the investors. If a project does not achieve its contracted results, the investors lose their money, and the government pays nothing.

    1. Figure: Social Impact Bonds’ theory of change. Source: University of Oxford, Government Outcomes Lab - An Intro to SIB.

    A Social Impact Bond may have many beneficial effects for cities, as Government Outcomes Lab states in its Evidence Report titled ‘Building the tools for public services to secure better outcomes’. It encourages collaboration by building on cross-sector expertise and bringing together multiple commissioners and multiple providers. It unlocks future savings by investing more up-front, enabling cities to focus on prevention and early intervention services that might otherwise not get funded. A SIB may inspire innovation by allowing new interventions and more flexibility. It also levels the field for involving voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. Last but not least, a SIB can improve performance management and provides a better quality of evidence.

    Many critics are contesting these benefits, saying that a SIB does not encourage genuine innovation. Investors will be looking for low-risk models that have been proven to deliver, as they want their money back. Moreover, a SIB is expensive to develop and leads to the financialization of the public sector, which is – for many - incompatible with the public service ethos.

    With evidence on both sides, Social Impact Bonds need more experimentation and evaluation. And despite these circumstances of austerity, some cities try to use the momentum to shift their approach towards this new tool. That is why 10 cities joined their forces in URBACT SIBdev Network to jointly explore how Social Impact Bonds, can improve public service delivery. The tool and the URBACT methodology, namely coproduction through multi-stakeholder local support groups and the development of local action plans fit perfectly.

    The network will examine service delivery concerning employment, ageing and immigration. Employment is an obvious choice since SIB is particularly well-suited to it, as demonstrated by the fact that it is the most common type of SIB worldwide. Ageing is the most massive pressure on social spending in Europe and affects a growing number of people, while immigration is the primary concern at the EU level (according to Eurobarometer).

    Is SIB going to be the new secret tool for providing adequate public services? Maybe it will be, maybe not. But it certainly is a promising new form of commissioning social services. If you are interested in Finance and/or Social Services, follow URBACT SIBdev Network to learn about how SIB might work for you!

    1. Photo: Harrie Lambrichts

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  • Urban Solutions: five early lessons from the URBACT Transfer Networks

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    Umeå leder ett europeiskt projekt för att stadsplaneringen ska ta hänsyn till både kvinnor och mäns behov. Det lokala ska stå i centrum. Åtta andra städer är med i samarbetet och tillsammans skaffar de sig mer kunskap.

    Cities face similar challenges wherever they are in Europe. Climate change, affordable housing and ageing populations are on most City Hall agendas, for example. The good news is that cities are constantly designing and implementing new solutions. The bad news is that they’re still not so good at sharing these. Why is this – and what can we do about it? To answer these questions, URBACT launched 23 Good Practice Transfer Networks in January 2019. One year on, at the midway point, we’re reflecting on their progress. Here, we lift the lid on five important lessons from their work so far.


    1. From the start, agree what success looks like.

    Good practice transfer can be a messy business. Just because a solution works in one place doesn’t mean it can be neatly applied elsewhere. This isn’t a matter of copy and paste. The transplant process is often complex, particularly when the Good Practice in question is deep and systemic.

    How are the network cities addressing this? One way is to focus on specific elements of the Good Practice, which each city can more easily adapt and implement. This acknowledges that although the original model may not – or cannot – be replicated in its entirety, elements within it have universal potential.

    This pragmatic approach is evident in a number of Transfer Networks. One of these is Making Spend Matter that aims to rewire public procurement for better local impact. In this case, each participating city has now designed and implemented its own local spend analysis as a starting point to build on. For some, this may be an end in itself, although for most it’s the platform for further work in this area.

    2. Identify quick wins

    Concepts imported from other places can meet local resistance. In the case of large-scale strategic solutions it may be hard to discern the potential results. To address this, networks have found it h

    elpful to identify tangible quick wins that can be rolled out in each participating city. 

    The C-Change network, led by Manchester, provides a good example of this. It champions the role of the culture and creative industry sector in reducing carbon emissions. In the lead city this has taken years to reach the current momentum. However, to accelerate transfer to other cities, C-Change has identified elements that can be rapidly adapted and implemented.

    One of these is the concept of Carbon Literacy Training, which creates a network of informed carbon reduction evangelists within key local organisations such as hospitals, schools and businesses.  Personnel have already been trained in each city, creating an immediate asset working towards the longer-term goal.

    3. Start with the end in mind – and utilise tools to help chart progress

    In each of the cases mentioned, partners agreed at the outset what a minimum level of transfer would look like. Each URBACT Transfer network produced a Transferability Plan, which each city partner complemented with its own statement of anticipated transfer progress. This follow’s the mantra of Stephen Covey – to start with the end in mind.

    Given that few partners will transfer the original Good Practice in its entirety, it’s important to understand what success will look like – and how cities know they’re moving in the right direction.

    Several networks have designed clever tools to track and monitor progress. One example is the Biocanteens network, led by the small French city of Mouans Sartoux (FR). This network seeks to replicate the city’s model of providing affordable, locally sourced organic food in public eating places. Each partner has produced a visual transfer module detailing their priority transfer components (see above).

    Across the Mediterranean, the BluAct network, led by Piraeus, focuses on growing the Blue Economy. It has developed a neat dashboard for their cities to check their progress at a glance, encouraging an ongoing peer review exchange (see right). Visual tools like these keep everyone on track whilst underlining each city’s stated goals.

    4. Jump in with small-scale experimentation

    URBACT networks give cities space for learning, innovation and experimentation

    Although each transfer network has a lead city partner with a Good Practice to share, we can see that the learning is going in all directions. It’s not simply a case of partner cities coming as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge! Each city brings its own experience and perspectives, and the Good Practice cities are absorbing these and improving their original concepts.

    Prototyping new approaches is important and some networks have a specific framework to support small scale experimentation. A good example is the On Board network that focuses on innovation in the education system. Within the project, all partners have committed to piloting an intervention developed by another On Board city. This includes the lead partner, Viladecans (ES), which is exploring the concept of an amateur radio space station pioneered by Poznan (PL).

    Another Polish city, Łodz (PL), leads the Urban Regeneration Mix project where multilateral learning and piloting are also evident. There, Toulouse (FR), Bologna (IT), Baena (ES), Birmingham (UK) and Braga (PT) have identified a menu of effective neighbourhood interventions (called ‘Foundation Builders’) including the pioneering Łodz approach involving residents as Lighthouse Keepers. A shadowing programme between partners in early 2020 will support this.

    5. Make sure you understand what’s going on – and explore different ways to tell the story

    The timeline for the URBACT Transfer network is short and intense. After eighteen months of activity, the second half of 2020 provides a platform to share and maybe even further cascade these replication experiences. In preparation for this, participating cities have been keeping track of their learning journey so others can benefit from their experience.

    Transfer network cities have been doing this through a variety of channels – including transfer diaries and short videos. True to the URBACT spirit, they have identified different stakeholder voices to capture the richness and diversity of the journey. By the end of 2019 we can already see a variety of fresh personal reflections that capture participants’ stories of transformation. As well as politicians and city managers, these feature the voices of teachers, beekeepers and cooks - each describing their own journey.

    What happens next?

    Later this year we’ll be taking these transformation stories on the road. The National Urbact Points will be working with Transfer Network Cities to showcase these experiences across Europe. This will be a chance to connect with participating cities and to see how these Good Practices can be adapted to meet your own city’s needs. Look out for further details coming soon.


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  • Re-grow City: turning disadvantage into opportunity

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    Regeneration practitioner and academic, Dr Hans Schlappa is the lead expert on Re-growCity. This network focuses on small and medium sized towns facing urban decline and shrinkage following Altena (DE)’s successes including starting an NGO such as the Stellwerk with minimal funding.

    The challenge urban shrinkage


    An increasing number of urban settlements in Europe and elsewhere is losing out in the fight for investment and growth, finding themselves on the sidelines of global shifts in production and consumption. Comparative assessments of urban shrinkage undertaken by the OECD and the UN show that large cities continue to grow, even in adverse economic conditions, while increasing numbers of smaller towns are beginning to shrink and quickly get locked in decline. By some estimates 40% of urban settlements in Europe are shrinking, with most of them being the small and medium sized urban areas where close to one third of the European population lives. In those towns and cites the control of decline, rather than the facilitation of economic growth, has become a strategic objective.

    The dynamics of long term decline are characterised by complex interactions between demographic change, economic contraction, sub-urbanisation and migration. There is a hotly contested debate about what constitutes urban shrinkage: is it significant population loss, reductions in jobs, collapsing property prices, an ageing population? Which of these are the most important indicators and to what extent do they need to be present to signify long term decline? Local and national governments struggle to respond to urban shrinkage, in part because these dynamics point to a ‘wicked problem’ of urban development, but also because decision makers realise that established approaches to encourage economic development have failed in urban areas that struggle with shrinkage. 

    Altena’s expertise in tackling long term decline

    The town of Altena (DE), which leads the Re-grow City network, has a track record of widely recognised good practices that facilitate the development of sustainable initiatives to tackle the causes and consequences of urban shrinkage. Many of these practices were created with a minimum of external resource input. This means that Altena provides examples where the response to decline is rooted in local resources and expertise. The experience of Altena shows that activating often dormant resources and opportunities requires a frank debate about the future direction of the town. Altena also shows how difficult this can be: a municipality that struggles for decades to reverse decline, closing nurseries, day centres, libraries, and sports facilities contributes, albeit unintentionally, to a discourse tainted by a sense of resignation about the state of affairs in the town. To initiate a debate about a sustainable future for the town, and to activate the resources a town holds, those in leadership roles need to initiate a conversation that builds a shared interest around the need to tackle problems with the limited resources that are available. Focusing on two specific practices, Altena supports Re-grow City partners in beginning such a dialogue with their URBACT Local Groups.

    Partners of the Re-grow City network transfer practices in relation to two broad themes that are central to any strategy concerned with tackling long term decline, namely economic revitalisation and developing civil society. After analysing the needs and capacity of Re-grow City partners two thematic packages were identified for transfer: one concerned with utilising vacant premises in town centres and the other with harnessing the resources, skills and networks of the town’s inhabitants. Within the thematic package of utilising vacant premises the transfer will focus on practices concerned with pop-up shops. The other thematic package will focus on transferring practices associated with the establishment of an NGO platform.

    Establishing a NGO Platform: first focus of the Good Practice transfer

    Municipalities of towns struggling with long term decline tend to suffer from severe budgetary constraint due to falling tax revenues and lack of external investment. At the same time, the high proportion of older, unemployed and vulnerable people in the population requires increasing amounts of often costly services. Fostering the engagement of inhabitants who are not in paid employment but have access to skills and resources to help support those in need builds the capacity of civil society to engage with often complex social problems in a structured way. Altena founded its NGO platform in 2008 and called it Stellwerk, the title implying that its function is about co-ordinating and directing activity. The Stellwerk started without a budget. The municipality made available premises, paid the energy and cleaning bills, provided a minimum of administrative resources. Currently the Stellwerk has 8 volunteer workers who co-ordinate several hundred volunteers providing disability support, arts and music groups, home visiting and home care services, refugee integration and much more. The Stellwerk provides an essential channel of communication between civil society and municipality. Stellwerk does not have a representative function but it reflects the nature of local civil society and is independent from the municipality.

    Establishing pop-up shops: second focus of the Good Practice transfer

    Economic decline and outmigration of economically active populations result in an over-supply of retail premises. Town centres are especially affected by this because commercial rents tend to be higher than elsewhere and traders move to cheaper quarters in order to make ends meet. Pop-up shops provide an effective way to populate the town centre with new enterprises. The goal is to support entrepreneurs in testing the viability of their business in that particular location and then facilitate the transition into permanent rental agreement with the property owners. The municipality carries some costs and also risks during this period and needs to be prepared to overcome resistance from existing shops and also the owners of empty premises. Altena experimented with two models, succeeding the second time round in establishing 14 pop-ups of which 5 are now trading as permanent, regular businesses on the high street. Achieving this in a context of long term decline, financial austerity and without external subsidy is an achievement locals are rightly proud of.

    Focus on small and medium size towns

    Re-grow City deliberately focuses on small and medium sized towns, not only because they make up the majority of urban settlements dealing with decline in Europe, but also because they face distinctive challenges in terms of constrained resources and limited technical capabilities when compared to larger cities. These constraints offer opportunities, however, for example robust social networks with high levels of ‘social capital’ and short decision making routes that speed up the adoption of untested or controversial methods. Taken together with the resources and skills local people have, shrinking cities are places of opportunity and can demonstrate considerable resilience even where they face severe constraints. By initiating a process of critical reflection on the opportunities the town can create on its own, Re-grow City assists partners in the development of a strategic approach towards re-envisioning their future, where the complex task of re-growing smaller, and perhaps better, will be continued beyond the duration of the network.


    Visit the network's page: Re-GrowCity

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  • Vital Cities under microscope!

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    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.

    Horten Municipality/Vestfold Region: how to involve young people? How to overcome criticism?

    Horten highlighted five key issues:

    1. A lack of knowledge concerning the needs of the inactive
    2. Poor articulation of the needs of the inactive
    3. High organised sports drop-out rates at the age of 14
    4. Lack of financial support for bottom-up activities
    5. 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.

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  • Welcome to the European Playful Cities!

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    Games offer unique opportunities for engaging stakeholders in contemporary cities says Ileana Toscano. While European cities face challenges of ageing, climate change and social exclusion, we need to find enjoyable ways to co–create solutions. The URBACT Playful Paradigm transfer network is based on the use of “games” for promoting social inclusion, healthy lifestyles and energy awareness, place-making and economic prosperity.

    What’s in a game?


    An easy tool as a “game” can help cities to face contemporary challenges. Ageing population, migration, social exclusion and climate change are the main challenges tackled every day by European Cities. Cities need to define enjoyable and easy tools for engaging citizens and stakeholders. A Paradigm based on the use of “games” and “gamification” could be the answer.

    The Municipality of Udine (IT) has developed an urban practice focusing on the use of games as flexible, innovative place-making paradigm for fostering an equitable and democratic society. Games are used as vehicles for addressing healthy lifestyles and energy awareness. Games foster the inclusion of migrants, the involvement of elderly people and promote a better relationship between parents and children.

    Games in Udine have become an urban policy priority that enables citizens’ participation and a peaceful civic environment. The ‘Playful Paradigm’ initiatives are part of a comprehensive strategy that the Municipality has been implementing for years under the umbrella of the Healthy Cities Project (World Health Organization) and the European Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

    “Playful Paradigm” is one of the 25 Transfer networks funded by URBACT. It aims to adapt and reuse the good practice of “games for fostering inclusion, health and sustainability” in other 7 European cities: Cork (IE), Klaipeda (LT), Esplugues de Llobregat (ES), Larissa (EL), Novigrad (HR), Bratislava (SK) and Katowice (PL).

    Why are games so important for cities?

    Paolo Munini, chief officer for gaming activities of Udine Municipality, says “Games are essential for child development. Games are also important for elderly people because they maintain the physical and cognitive activity and prevent mental cognitive decay. Playful activities are powerful tools when applied in cities. Games can be used for working in deprived neighbourhoods with local community or in schools with students. They can trigger the participation of civil society, engaging citizens and local associations.

    The gaming approach could open opportunities for urban renewal. This is why Udine Administration uses “games” as a flexible co-created place-making paradigm. This innovative gaming approach works with participation to stimulate responsible change, and promote an healthy environment, by turning urban settings into incubators of sustainability and wellbeing (physical, mental and social/relational).

    In Italy the importance of games was recognized by the National Law 328/2000 (“La legge di riforma dei Servizi Sociali - Dal centralismo sociale al federalismo solidale”) that introduced the possibility of launching the Ludobus-initiatives in cities. The “Ludobus” is a van full of games moving through city neighbourhoods and bringing playful activities making games available to local population. In Udine the Ludobus began as a grass-root initiative thanks to a voluntary organization and later turned into a permanent activity, managed and funded by the Municipality. In Italy the Ludobus-initiative was a starting point to raise awareness on the value of games and to implement the first ‘gamification’ policies and actions in many cities.

    The Toy Library

    “Games are tools for social inclusion” says Furio Honsell, member of the Regional Assembly of The Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Mayor of Udine for 10 years (until May 2018). “We decided to establish a permanent Toy Library in Udine, which could also play the role of a hands-on science museum. The idea was to have a meeting space for families, elderly people, children, for all. The Toy Library has been a successful initiative and has provided answers to concrete needs of citizens to be active subjects and not mere passive spectators. The permanent toy library is a truly place for empowerment.

    In 2012 the Municipality of Udine decided to make the Ludobus-initiative a permanent experience, opening a “public Toy Library” in the city centre. Since 2013, 40.000 people have visited it. It is fully accessible and there is no age, gender or language restriction. It has become the emblem of social inclusion, cognitive stimulation, entertainment and lifelong learning in the city.

    During these years, the Municipality has invested about EUR 150 000 a year for the maintenance and equipment of the infrastructure and staff.

    Udine leads the way

    Since 2010 the City of Udine has been the leading city of the Italian Playful Cities Movement (GIONA), coordinating and sharing knowledge and experience with about 30 cities in Italy willing to implement ‘gamification’ strategies. Udine is also a member of the national association “Ali per Giocare”, which gathers private and public organisations at national level.

    On 25 November 2017, Udine launched the Italian National Games Archive aiming to establish the first Italian classification of traditional and modern games. The cataloguing activity of the Archive will rely also on crowd-sourcing in the coming years. The National Games Archive has been financed by the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia with an amount EUR 400 000 (for the period 2016-2020), according to the Regional Law n. 30/2017 ‘Regulations for promoting the right to play and to engage in play, physical and recreational activities’. It is worth mentioning that the Archive’s location was meaningfully chosen to be in Udine’s regenerated slaughterhouse.

    Moreover, Udine has a rich yearly calendar of events where games and ‘gamification’ strategies are meaningfully put into practice. The events are very popular across the region and bring many visitors to Udine. For example: CamminaMenti – Move your minds - run in community centres for dementia prevention and inclusion of elderly people, as well as the Energy in Play annual Fair, the World Games Day, Pi Day, Darwin Day, The library of living books, etc.

    Can gaming control gambling?

    A healthy gaming habit prevents the problem of gambling” says Munini. “The Municipality of Udine is developing a new project funded by Friuli Venezia Giulia Region to counteract the problem of gambling and promoting healthy games

    Gambling is increasing, especially among youths around Europe. According to the GuardianAbout 370,000 (12%) children in England, Scotland and Wales have gambled in the past week, the commission found. (...) They spent an average of £10 on gambling a week, more than a third of their £28 income from work or pocket money, with 8% claiming to have spent more than £40. Almost 1% of children aged between 11 and 16, or about 25,000, are defined as problem gamblers, with a further 36,000 at risk of developing a problem.

    The Municipality of Udine has been promoting an innovative project to fight gambling. Bars, Pubs and restaurants have been engaged by providing a tool-kit of “healthy” games replacing “slot-machines”. Unfortunately, the latter are more and more present in public venues, especially in deprived urban areas. Low income households are more deeply affected by gambling, which contributes to further deprivation. The introduction of healthy games in such areas can therefore be seen as an important form of prevention and protective factor for the most disadvantaged.

    Furio Honsell sums it all when he says that “to those who claim that games can be excellent tools for something else, I like to state that games are pointless and they don't have ulterior motives, much as music, mathematics, poetry, and love. But they can bring forward excellent fruit.

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  • Are Urban Gardens the place for modern community hubs?

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    From Rome (IT) to Vilnius (LT) and A coruna (ES), Urban Gardening plays a key role in creating social links and is at the forefront of social innovation.

    Urban Gardening is a now widespread concept. That is how Wikipedia proposes to define it: "Urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around a town, or city. The concepts in Urban Gardens and the associated facilities have received significant attention and popularity in the last 10 years and are growing to meet the needs of the ever-developing urban life."

    But what happens in real life in European cities and towns? How can one build and manage urban gardens? Are Urban Gardens just about gardening in public or private plots, or are they creating something else, that one could call real community hubs?


    Implementing successful actions that result in improved citizens’ quality of life, actions that are also supported by local authorities, is both a target and a great challenge for modern cities and societies.

    During the last decade intra - and peri – urban agriculture expanded rapidly. It went beyond the initiative of self-organized citizens or associations. Urban and peri-urban gardens are becoming a promising trend in some cities & towns all over Europe.

    Benefits of Urban Gardening

    Urban gardening and agriculture plays an important role in enhancing urban food security. Urban agriculture contributes to local economic development, poverty alleviation and social inclusion of the urban poor, as well as to the greening of the city. The importance of urban agriculture is increasingly being recognized by international organisations like UN-Habitat & FAO (World Food and Agriculture Organization).

    Today associations managing urban gardens already often at the forefront of innovation: they put in place new techniques such as permaculture, use new technologies, create green parks for leisure and therapeutic purposes, stimulate citizens participation to all environmental activities through the abolition architectural barriers – in particular of those with motor disabilities and the visually impaired – they improve social inclusion and integration, disseminate the culture of sustainability and resilience by raising awareness among citizens, families, groups, associations and institutions on the need to safeguard and regenerate the territory through self-management processes of common goods and self-organization.

    Rome (IT) has been awarded the URBACT Good Practice label for its participatory urban gardening project. The city has a long tradition of urban gardens but the novelty is that the City Council of Rome recently approved a regulation for Urban Gardens. Urban Gardens are now on expected to fulfil social, environmental and cultural goals for the inhabitants following clear steps for their establishment, but also their management.

    Ru:rban: Transferring the Urban Gardening Good Practice

    The Ru:rban project is one of the 24 new “Transfer Networks”. It focusses on the aspect of urban gardening, transferring knowledge and valuable experiences from the lead partner to the other participating cities and backwards. Urban gardening is a tool to include disadvantaged people (including refugees), to encourage citizens to reconnect with nature, notably if it involves schools, the young and the elderly. In terms of social inclusion, urban gardening also helps reduce the risk of mental health diseases, promote a

    healthier diet and lifestyle. Urban Gardens can combine cultural activities with societal wellbeing and spread democratic values, as it offers the occasion for social and political engagement, citizenship rights.

    Ru:rban Transfer Network is an opportunity to make urban agriculture a valued and essential element of policy in favor of green urban infrastructures.

    The cities involved in the network (Rome, A Coruna, Vilnius, Thessaloniki, Krakow, Caen and Loures) will exchange on methodologies in order to improve the impact of their urban gardening practices focusing on the policy topic management. The project will involve a wide range of stakeholders that have a strong relation with the existing gardens in each city, but also people responsible for the management of city gardens on behalf of the cities.

    The targets set for the network are to enrich Rome urban gardens regulation with new ideas, to transfer this updated regulation to the other cities, to assist these cities in improving their urban garden practices, to train in a vocational way people to manage urban gardens (Gardenisers) as parts of a small scale action plan for each city that will be prepared early 2019. The small scale actions plans will aim at increasing inhabitants’ interest, in order for them to be involved for the first time in urban garden projects and make of these places interesting community hubs.

    3 different views and practices of urban gardening from 3 cities visited so far within Ru:rban.

    While comparing the cities experiences, different approaches appeared. The first community Urban garden in Rome was implemented in 2009: Orti Urbani Garbatella. Today more than 200 community-run green areas are mapped. A regulation for the Assignment and Management of Municipal Green areas and Allotments was approved by the COR in July 2015. According to this Regulation, community gardens are considered as agricultural activities places, public spaces, green areas and community associations, all at the same time. They must conform to the prescriptions that each of these domains imply. Consequently, they are expected to fulfil social, environmental and cultural goals.

    The city of A Coruna uses its own budget and human recourses to fund the urban gardens infrastructures and organisation. This self-government policy challenge is a core element of the city action plan.

    Vilnius has a long history of urban gardening. They were mostly created by the institutions. There are very few examples of community based gardening actitivities but the potential is huge due to the amount of green public and private spaces avaialble in the city.

    Identifying common challenges beyond each city’s expectations Each of the city visited by the partnership so far has expressed its own expectations as regards to the network:

    • Rome would like to learn from the other cities in order to improve its existing regulation.
    • A Coruna would like to transfer elements of the good practice about management of urban gardens and would like to understand how to access funding to support of this specific policy challenge.
    • Vilnius would like to design a model for the continuous growth and expansion of community led gardens in the city; one that is sustainable and beneficial to everyone, notably by engaging public and private stakeholders. Vilnius would also like to review - and if necessary revise – the functioning of the municipal company in charge of public parks (Vilniaus Parkai) for it to focus more on community gardening.
    • There is also a critical common challenge for all cities participating to the the network: to improve their governance effectiveness in managing urban gardens through an improved city regulation.

    Through the Ru:rban project, the partners want to meet those objectives, notably by exchanging on the existing knowledge and practices that exist today in Europe.

    They wa

    nt also to work in the direction of building a European Urban Gardens City Network. It is a great opportunity to explore the situation of urban gardening in Europe.

    But above all these objectives there is also a very ambitious goal: that of inspiring new people to involve in community gardening and to make of urban gardens modern community hubs, in which people meet daily and act together with other people.

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  • 'Volunteering Cities' a Powerful Model for European Cities

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    To develop the innovative policies necessary to face the currently emerging multidimensional social needs in cities such as elderly and children care, social isolation and depression, poverty, addiction, just to name some, it is necessary to create collective learning processes based on exchange and peer to peer learning.


    European social policies have been in a central position in the last Cohesion Policy frameworks. However, the last mid-term report has shown that in spite of a general improvement of the economic indicators, poverty and social inclusion have not registered the same positive evolution. In this framework, the community involvement and participation is getting an increasing importance either to identify the problems with more accuracy, but also to create the solutions that are closer to people in need and more adequate to the problems.

    In order to facilitate the peer learning among cities, URBACT has promoted the Transfer Networks. “Volunteering cities” is one of the 25 transfer networks approved by the URBACT Secretariat in April 2018. This network is led by the city of Athienou (CY) that was awarded URBACT Good Practice in 2017.

    Transfer of the volunteering governance model

    The transfer network “Volunteering Cities” aims to promote the transfer and adaptation of this Good Practice, consisting of volunteering structured and intergenerational processes, to the partner cities as leverage to improve social inclusion, to fight poverty and raise better levels of citizens’ quality of life in a more cohesive society. In this structured participative Governance Model to design and implement the municipal social policy, the volunteers play a key role.

    Municipal Council of Volunteerism (MCV)

    Framed within a national Programme, Athienou city has established a Municipal Council of Volunteerism (MCV), chaired by the Mayor, with 48 members elected by the community (local organizations, political parties, parents associations, church and sponsors). The MCV is an umbrella Council for four programs, each one with its own Council of volunteers, supporting the programs ‘staff in their tasks and responsibilities. The four programs are: an Elderly Home, a Center for Adults with initiatives related with occupational activities for isolated people and day care activities, the Municipal Nursery Center and the Social Welfare Committee. This latter Committee, chaired by the Mayor and with a close collaboration with the Social Welfare Office and the Ministry of Education, is a kind of a social department of the municipality but working with a participative structure. 

    Kyriacos Kareklas, Mayor of Athienou and Lead Partner of the present Transfer Network states that “Although, volunteers take the decisions, the committee operates under strict standards, it reports for its actions and it is audited by the legal authorities. Since its establishment in 2012, an average of 40 individuals is supported at any given time. The support is also in full collaboration with the rest of the programs of the MCV”.

    The MCV as a whole uses a bottom up approach, with the institutions achieving a vertical and horizontal integration that allows the volunteers to take decisions with the necessary validation.

    Intergenerational work: a sustainability factor

    A key sustainability factor of these initiatives is the intergenerational element, joint initiatives of different age groups of the community. The children begin very early to participate in volunteering activities as well as are also beneficiaries of volunteering activities fostering a continuity culture from generation to generation. As an example can be mentioned the weekly regular visits of the children to the elderly home in order to have some joint entertainment activities with the old people. Another example is the frequent visits that volunteers make to schools with storytelling initiatives to encourage the volunteering engagement of children and young people.

    A strong corporate social responsibility of local companies

    Furthermore, there is an additional element based on a strong Corporate Social Responsibility component from the main Employers’ Associations of the Region. This rather extraordinary support given by the private sector to the social welfare of the region has some reasons. In the first place it is necessary to mention that the economic tissue of the area is essentially based on agriculture, cattle breeding and other related industries. For instance, this Association is providing the Elderly Home with 30 liters milk a day and 20 Kg meat a week free of charge. These sectors are essentially family rooted with a strong intergenerational succession in the businesses. This succession feeds the continuation of the existing cohesive culture and the solidarity principle in the society; another relevant factor is the isolation of the city due to the special geographical location in the middle of the United Nations buffer zone between Cyprus and the Turkish occupied territories, around 80% of the agricultural area of Athienou.

    Kyriacos Kareklas also says, “Athienou Good Practice was generated in the city for many years. Its key-strength is the inter-generational collaboration, in which different age groups of both volunteers and individuals facing social problems, work together towards a sustainable evolution of the quality of life within local society”.

    The Transfer Network

    The network involves seven partner cities that are geographically distributed across Europe in order to enable a wider testing of the necessary approaches in different contexts and Governance Models: Capizzi (IT)) and Athy (IE) are already full partners in the first 6 months phase of the project and Ratlin (PL), Altena (DE), Altea (ES), Arcos de Valdevez (PT) and Pregrada (HR) as network enlargement partner cities.

    The biggest challenge for the transfer network is the identification of the elements and methodologies for the transfer that suits better each one of the partner cities having in consideration the wide variety of socio-economic characteristics. The population varies from around 3,000 inhabitants to 23,000, the volunteering structures are differently organised and the social hot spots are also diversified (high unemployment rates, brain drain, ageing population…).

    To be able to face the above mentioned challenges it is fundamental to create the conditions for a wide involvement of stakeholders and to promote their empowerment and capacity to participate in the identification of the good practice elements that can support adding value to the already existing volunteering structures. To do this, each city is setting-up an URBACT Local Group (ULG), a group of the stakeholders that can play a key role in the transfer process. The ULG’s will be the necessary vehicle to foster integrated and participative approaches to the urban policies thematic areas Social inclusion and Governance, and for the elaboration of an implementation action plan. The main elements emerging from this very early stage of the work seem to be: improving participative decision mechanisms using volunteers, if possible by reinforcing the respective institutionalization, reinforcement of intergenerational actions in the volunteer activities, intensification of the private sector citizenship and the reinforcement of the volunteer work in the implementation of the municipal social policies.

    At a further stage, in the second phase of the Network, the ULGs will be the key success factor for the implementation of the Action Plan of the Transfer Network during the respective 24 months duration.

    More on Transfer Networks methodology.

    The spirit of volunteerism

    Through the practice of volunteerism the Transfer Network is based on a participatory approach that uses the main resource of a community, the citizens themselves, and focuses on their social needs and priorities. The spirit of volunteerism promotes a strong sense of solidarity and cohesion to a group and as a consequence a sense of belonging to a well-functioning community context. The Transfer Network offers a well-defined horizontal integration at the level of the cities and their inhabitants, as well as a vertical integration of volunteerism within the governance structure.

    To finish we would like to highlight that Mr. Kareklas stated: “The URBACT Transfer Networks are a great challenge to promote the transfer of the Good Practice in the other cities. We understand that transferring is not an easy process, but with the help of the Lead Expert and our willingness to accomplish it, we are confident for the good job we will finally have. URBACT gave us a great opportunity and we are all planning to go on to succeed”.

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  • Vital Cities

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    With recent changes in our life styles, opportunities to be physically active are decreasing. This phenomenon is especially apparent in urban areas where sedentary lifestyle is the new norm amongst the working age population. While there is a body of empirical evidence showing associated health risks, it has also been proven that anyone who increases their level of physical activity, even after a long gap, can obtain health benefits irrespective of their age. In other words, it is never too late to start.

    To promote a healthy and physically active lifestyle in the urban environment, a group of cities have joined forces and created the VITAL CITIES network. The network was formed as part of URBACT, a European exchange and learning programme, with the purpose to facilitate social inclusion and combat inactivity. Participating cities entered a dialogue and learning process to find out how to redesign and reconstruct public spaces and turn them into a low threshold sport facilities close to people's homes.

    The result of the process is a set of innovative tools and methods to be used in urban design and planning to reshape public spaces linked to sport and physical activity. The findings and conclusions of VITAL CITIES are relevant for the different governmental levels, including the European Commission.


    The concept

    The trend of decreasing physical activity shows a strong correlation with gender and socio-economic status. The strategy to invest in large sport facilities with special attention to equity, deprivation and vulnerability have only been partly successful in European cities. Participation in organised sports is still decreasing and engagement in physical activities is simply too expensive for many.

    Therefore, a new angle has been explored: 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 use it. Opportunities for physical activity need to be created close to where people live and the design of the wider urban context have to encourage participation.

    Within these domains the project concentrated on the following themes

    when designing for PA in deprived areas:

    1. Implementing community-based actions to redesign public space
    2. Implementing IT-based actions to redesign public space
    3. Better orchestrating the services coordinated by the city to promote healthy life style and contribute to social inclusion
    4. Establishing innovative physical (not IT) equipment to promote sport in public spaces
    5. Organisation of innovative events to promote healthy lifes tyle


    The process

    As a first step, each partner city went through a systematic self-review process and identified development challenges in their own target area or topic. As part of this exercise, they questioned their policy development and implementation practices in relation to providing infrastructure for physical activity. Cities focused on policy and planning including monitoring aspects, socio-spatial profiles as well as financial and management issues.

    Building on the self-analysis exercise, 10 Deep Dive visitations (micro-consultancy sessions) took place. Each participating city nominated local experts with relevant experience and knowledge who would visit host partners and assist them in developing solutions to their issues. After interviews, and site visits experts provided an external perspective on the target area and made suggestions for its improvement.At the end of the process, a Deep Dive report was drawn up by the visitation delegation of 2 or 3 cities which summarised the results of the workshops and the recommendation for action plans.

    Integrated Action Plans (IAPs) were drawn up by URBACT Local Groups, which bring together key stakeholders interested in designing for the improved conditions for physical activities and design. IAPs were designed as integrated local strategies to tackle the particular problems of physical activity levels of the population specifically in the field of social and built environment and governance. They integrate the lessons from the Deep Dive Process and differ for each participating city according to their needs. During the lifetime of the projetc, cities have implemented a number of small pilot activities such as delivering new PA activities on public spaces and working on their media presence.

    Another outcome of the process was developing a feasibility study for the creation of a label that would be funded on the VITAL CITIES principles. The label would represent the commitment of cities towards the common goal of the network and become an internationally recognised brand.


    Lessons Learnt

    The VITAL CITIES network of the ten partner cities identified and agreed in the need of policy changes, which are to facilitate physical activity promotion in deprived ideas. The lessons cities learnt throughout the process can be grouped into 5 main categories:


    1. The necessity to establish more inclusive governance

    The Integrated Action Plans which were some of the key outputs of the process contain a number of area based strategies. Partner cities acknowledged that achieving the objective of these strategies requires improving their governance mechanism on a horizontal as well as vertical level. The horizontal dimension of governance means cooperation arrangements between different fields (sports, public health, economics, environmental). It is important that different departments adopt promoting PA as a priority and consciously focus on collaboration.

    The vertical dimension refers to a well-established system that provides the operational framework for neighbourhood level decisions to be channelled into city level strategies and thereby ensuring their timely implementation. The action plans need to be closely related to the formal planning system and make links to spatial strategies.

    In terms of community engagement, the importance of clear communication and active participation was highlighted. Following-up with participants after engagement exercises can foster a continuous interest in the cause and prevent consultation fatigue.It is also recommended to let communities have a say in practical decisions such as budgeting.


    1. The need to enhance monitoring

    In the Baseline Study, it was stated that there is a lack of systematic monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes of sport or physical activity-based projects.This is partly due to the difficulty in defining and measuring outcomes; the spontaneous nature, or short-term duration of such projects and limited funding.

    Using technology and collecting data more efficiently has proven to help understand who participates in PA and what is the barrier to those who do not. Birmingham has provided a great example by gathering a series of data and maps that provide a strategic demographic understanding of the city. The audit shows the footprint of the existing wellbeing service delivery and helps to highlight opportunities such as the abundance of green space that could be utilised to create ‘wild’ routes in the city.

    In many cases, the necessary data already existed in some shape and form but was often held by different organisations. Bringing these sources together and managing them in one place allows for a deeper analysis of the available information.


    1. The need to improve social inclusion

    Social inclusion related to increased PA is the most common issue for the VITAL CITIES partners and the one which partners found most problematic. Firstly, social inclusion had to be defined in such a way that permits measurable indicators (e.g. income, employment, education, gender, ethnicity, religion, culture, migrant status and social capital etc.)

    As part of different governmental programmes and other projects a number of actions were carried out in target areas with the aim to facilitate inclusion and social cohesion. However, partners were unable to report many tangible results in overall participation in PA. With regards to the VITAL CITIES topics, partners could rarely demonstrate with data the eventual link between social status and physical inactivity.

    It was concluded, that when looking at physical activity promotion in general, and in the case of socially disadvantaged groups, the main difference is the “how”. It matters greatly how targeting is done, how interventions are delivered and how much the reports to reach the respective target group can be increased. There is a need for more intensive support at all stages, including project time duration, funding and capacity-building needs.

    The key question is how to change people’s mind-set towards physical activities, achieving behaviour change. Organising social activities and building connections within the area (reach out to schools; the local community etc.) are some of the tools that can help motivating people to participate. Rebranding as part of the regeneration programme and publicising success stories is also a positive measure that targets the image of the area.

    Raising awareness about existing PA activities and facilities is another crucial step. Reaching out to target groups has to be done with sensitivity, keeping in mind that no one likes being labelled as `disadvantaged`. Communication, in persion as well as through social media is key to success in order to increase outreach. Incentives such as rewards for participation or PA related beenfits ast work are also promoted as positive tools.


    1. The need for improving facilities

    The target areas of the VITAL CITIES partners are mostly public spaces in proximity of housing estates, urban green spaces (parks and forests) and waterfront areas. These areas suffer from a number of issues such as the lack of green spaces, increased car traffic as well as neglect and vandalism which can make them feel unsafe and unattractive. Due to the broad definition of PA, there is a need to apply multiple interventions to different aspects and features of the built environment (streets, public space design, public transport, road network etc).

    Many cities for instance are going through a bike revolution. However there is still so much to learn about maximising the economic benefits of cycling and perfecting the infrastructure for users. Some countries in the EU, like the Netherland and Belgium have already systems put in place like the bicycling ‘nodes’ network’ that could be explored by other partners.

    The right type of intervention is to be identified by thorough analysis and people’s involvement. It is important to think about the wider infrastructure (paths, lightning, road and pedestrian access) as well as the equipment that is installed onto public open spaces. Accessibility needs clear organisation of urban flows and continuity of the street pattern, linking open spaces and the core areas of the city. Routes which integrate active travel means, public transport and well as cars create vital artilleries for the city. Connectivity is also crucial for those who are involved in activities such as skating or water sports. For new equipment, recycled materials which are sourced locally can be ideal low cost solutions.


      5. The need for shared responsibilities

    As already stated in the governance chapter above, there is a need for new governing spaces that allow for social innovation and experimentation between public, private, voluntary and academic sectors. Urban projects require moving beyond binaries of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ governance and create a cooperative environment where stakeholders share problems and address them together. A collaborative approach - `co-production`- can catalyse grassroot initiatives which otherwise may have a low capacity and increase awareness and involvement in shaping public spaces.

    Regarding PA promotions in terms of facilities and activities, the involvement of the community has far reaching benefits. It increases the liveability of the neighbourhood, contributes to safety and decreases criminal and anti-social behaviour and as an overarching result people identify with their neighbourhood and public space and feel ownership towards. Where communities are actively involved in the management of their open spaces (e.g. , municipalities benefit from reduced maintenance costs.

    One of the key recommendations for creating a collaborative environment is being strategic about forming connections with partners. Expectations towards all parties should be clear and it helps if their motives are understood from the beginning. An agreed vision should be established, expressing what people think their particular neighbourhood should be like in a given period of time and that the planned activities are designed to serve the achievement of the agreed vision. The strengths of the area (e.g. heritage, tourism destination, great food venue) can be built on and used for branding.

    Author: Twan DE BRUIJN

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  • McAuley Place for older people


    The game changer in city centre revitalisation

    Sonya Kavanagh
    Director for Services, Economic Development, Kildare County Council
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    20 002


    To ensure the quality of life of its older people and their independence, Naas (IE) developed an alternative model to the institutional residential care one. McAuley Place is a non-medical, intergenerational and not-for-profit housing association located in the city centre, its 53 apartments are allocated both socially and privately to 60 people. McAuley Place aims at bringing older people to the heart of the vibrant Naas community. Activities such as the popular Arts and Crafts programme, by attracting inhabitants of all age, ensure the social inclusion and integration of the tenants. Since 2008, McAuley has been providing an environment in which all stakeholders, residents, workers and volunteers (often students), can connect.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    McAuley Place offers the following: • It indicates the primary importance of operating to a Value-System. This is seldom the case in urban plan-making. Stating a value-system up front means you have to carry it through into policy, plan, and operational life; • McAuley is driven by the UN Principles for Older People, indicating clarity in its philosophy and ethos, but also indicating how these principles are put into practice; • McAuley offers a model of sustainable urban living, with a town centre location and a mixed-use campus, where culture operates as a critical platform, accessible to both resident and visitor alike; • It has been achieved through networking a cross-institutional approach and leveraging vertical integration through support from government, local authority, local business, and community groups; • In terms of both policy and operational fronts, McAuley Place strives to achieve horizontal integration through synthesising strategy which links social, economic and environmental perspectives; • McAuley illustrates inter-generational participation through activities which draw in all age groups into an intentionally mixed programme.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    • McAuley Place is guided by a holistic thrust. It works to achieve an awareness of the total systems it operates within, is inspired by its vision of the shape of future success, and applies strategy, action and tools to achieve it; • While working within a systems approach, which acknowledges the complexity of urban places, a thematic framework helps to structure this complexity, and suggests the need to achieve sustainability under key headings, e.g. social sustainability, cultural sustainability, economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, movement sustainability, and the spatial sustainability of urban form; • Key areas of performance include the re-use of under-used and vacant town centre sites, the application of mixed land use, combining the diversity of complementary activities in a mixed programme; • McAuley reduces the need for vehicular use, through its town centre location, which prioritises pedestrian access through walking and cycling; • McAuley Place achieves environmental objectives through recycling, water conservation, sourcing local food products for its tea rooms, and by providing ecological green spaces.

    Based on a participatory approach

    Openness, transparency, and communication. It strives to create an environment in which all its stakeholders, residents, workers/volunteers, can communicate, connect, and collaborate. • McAuley Place encourages and relies on a wide range of support from local government, local business and community group stakeholders; • It is the practice in McAuley Place to encourage a wide cross-section of stakeholders to become available for interviews for media/research, etc.; • High levels of participation in its Arts and Crafts programme reflect the critical importance of creativity, and help build a culture of social contact.

    What difference has it made?

    • The UN Principles on Older People hang in the foyer, the mixed-use campus sits around you; tea rooms, 53 apartments, Arts Hub, community centre, walled garden and Health through Learning Project [Phase 1]; • The events programme is real, varied, and very well supported; • The tea rooms are a huge success, a bustling meeting point for the town, where young and old mingle, where wonderful food is served, and where up to 35 volunteers support the full-time staff; • McAuley is a huge positive statement in a town centre which has suffered economically, and where there are many vacant buildings; • It illustrates how top-down governance, and bottom-up community energy can combine to tackle what appear to be intractable social issues, e.g. the isolation and poor quality of life suffered by older people; • The model of McAuley Place has drawn much interest from media and TV, and has been endorsed by the President of Ireland; • Evidence of huge ongoing community support. Evidence of lived lives.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    • The relationship of society to its older generation is a universal issue. McAuley Place shows how this issue can be approached, and how existing poor practice can be challenged; • It demonstrates an inter-disciplinary and inter-sectoral approach embedded in a campus where the mix of residential, Arts Hub, community centre, restored garden and tea rooms creates the kind of rich ecology which produces daily minor miracles, and sustains mental health and human existence; • McAuley is socially innovative, it has created a new kind of infrastructure, and it has done this by working in a cross-institutional manner, building bridges between top-down governance and a bottom-up “can-do” mindset; • It has used a hard infrastructure from a past legacy and fused it with the soft infrastructure inspired by a value system expressed in the UN Principles for Older People; • McAuley Place is an innovative contemporary institution which attracts and retains an impressive contribution from volunteers; • Every city and every neighbourhood would benefit from a McAuley Place.

    Is a transfer practice
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