Devoted to discovering Tailored and Innovative Logistic Solutions (TAILS) for the successful management of freight, this Action Planning network aimed on rethinking how freight can shape almost every aspect of our urban lives. The air we breathe, the noise we hear, the traffic we experience, the productiveness of our cities’ businesses, the quality of our surroundings and the liveability of our neighbourhoods. Everything can relate to a single question: how can we make freight transport more effective in cities?
Tailored approaches for innovative logistic solutions
The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.
The challenge of this Action Planning network is the activation of vacant buildings and building complexes for a sustainable urban development by self-organised groups. In many European cities smaller and larger derelict sites, underused premises, so called “voids” can be found in or near the city centre. These sites often have a negative impact on their surroundings, nevertheless they present a great opportunity: they can be used to complete a compact settlement structure, to provide space for needed functions in the city.
Cities that suffer from congestion, emission loads, social exclusion and, lastly decrease of the quality of life, have gathered in this Action Planning network. The road they have taken to tackle these challenges was the local adoption of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP), a concept for mobility planning that revolutionises traditional planning structures by placing people’s needs, integrated thinking and sustainablility at the centre of future developments. By sharing and addressing challenges of their mobility reality, the cities created a common vision towards identifying suitable measures and actions for the coming years and improving the competencies of all involved stakeholders.
Co-productive development of sustainable urban mobility plans
The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.
Becoming more resilient means that a city strives to enhance its ability to bounce back and grow even stronger and better in the face of the chronic stresses and acute shocks. As such, city resilience is a continuous challenge for individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and infrastructure systems to address current trends and future transitions. This Action Planning network looked at the challenges of achieving resilience in and of our cities in a comprehensive and holistic way, by applying the lessons from the innovative governance approach of Transition Management. This approach is a process-oriented and participatory steering that enables social learning through iterations between collective vision development and experimenting.
The focus of this Action Planning network was less about technology solutions per se, but more about governance structures, process and business models. The partner cities are specifically worked together to: develop models of how organisations can adapt their structures to deliver smart cities; effectively finance smart solutions and creating new ways of understanding value with co-investment strategies; develop and support innovation ecosystems within cities; explore the role of regulations and incentives, e.g. the carrot and stick approach; better understand how data integration and urban data platforms can support the smart city.
Cities, people and the promotion of smart, sustainable development
RiConnect is an Action Planning Network of 8 metropolises which aim is to rethink, transform and integrate mobility infrastructures in order to reconnect people, neighbourhoods, cities and natural spaces. We will develop planning strategies, processes, instruments and partnerships to foster public transport and active mobility, reduce externalities and social segregation and unlock opportunities for urban regeneration. Our long-term vision is a more sustainable, equitable and attractive metropolis for all.
The City of Milan decided to set up an urban coalition with a series of partners (Universities, companies, associations) in order to apply for the first call of UIA Initiative, with the desire to scale up this positioning in the peri-urban agricultural industry, setting up a stable growth and creating new jobs and skills.
OpenAgri is mainly an urban policy experimentation that follows the place-based approach, focusing on new skills for new jobs in peri-urban agriculture. The project area can be defined as an “urban fringe”, representing the transition zone between the consolidated part of the City and the agricultural lands. The challenge was to locate an innovative urban service aimed at creating new jobs, skills, start- ups and innovation in agri-food sector while increasing the level of resilience and sustainability of the City.
OpenAgri (1) improved entrepreneurship by fostering the creation of new innovative firms and social enterprises focusing on sustainability in periurban agriculture and the agri-food sector; (2) Contributed to the overall regeneration of a fringe area promoting a strong focus on social inclusion; and (3) Exploited the potential of several food policy experiments within a single integrated.
The innovative solution
OpenAgri is a step forward in the capacity to deliver an innovative integrated strategy. It represents experimental initiatives in the field of labour and innovation policy. The following solutions can be offered:
Solution 1: Educational and training environment: competencies validation and certification, educational services delivery, business planning, linkages with educational institutions;
Solution 2: Experimentation Lab: explores innovative techniques in urban agriculture and engage a series of partners on making the best use of public owned 33 hectares plot of land surrounding the south Milan Parco Sud boundaries.
Solution 3: Entrepreneurship: The process to find innovative projects, agriculture entrepreneurs, companies and/or startups and other organized parties.
Solution 4: Resilient territorial development: The peri-urban transformation of Milano changed due to OpenAgri capacity to create strong, mutually supportive linkages between rural and urban areas and to engage stakeholders, like MMA spa, with the capacity to promote further investment.
A collaborative and participative work
OpenAgri partnership is a good example of a participative approach, since it brings local stakeholders from education and training, agricultural, cultural, social and policymakers. It is a very complex and integrated project because it keeps together many different dimensions and makes them work in a specific place, but also in a city systematically. It was an opportunity to relate areas of competence of the administration that are very different from one another and that are used to look at problems from their single point of view. This project necessarily had to confront with the people responsible for environment, urban planning, agriculture, labour. Such an integrated project forced to create new relationships and we learned something from this collaboration.
The impact and results
The agro-ecological and landscape design developed by the 30-hectare Masterplan created a new locality for the city. This means designing for shared access to systems and services, planning functional infrastructures, and activating networks between people, places and products.
The focus was on business development and innovation. The best example is the incubation and startups support that developed innovative projects in agriculture and circular economy, with particular focus on the water resource and its use within the food supply chains, along a cycle that goes from production, to transformation, to consumption, to waste and reuse of waste.
Acting smart in the context of OpenAgri was not only about technology, but more about the smart use of local resources and amenities and finding the right balance of business diversity, to create an economy that is specialised but still resilient.
Why this good practices should be transferred to other cities?
OpenAgri is an experimental project that challenge existing practices and regulations in cities, regions, policy fields and local contexts. The project proved to be an excellent opportunity to experiment a hypothesis of work that is inherent to UIA program. This is very interesting because it means to start not from a regeneration of the container, but from the activation of new economic dynamics.
It was an opportunity to relate areas of competence of the administration that are very different from one another and that are used to look at problems from their single point of view. This project necessarily had to confront with the people responsible for environment, urban planning, agriculture, labour.
OpenAgri is now a hub for the agri-food sector but the city wants it to be a more complex hub that will work not only on the themes of peri-urban agriculture, but also on circular economy, trying to put them in relation. They have understood that there are interesting connections between peri-urban agriculture and for example the water cycle, thanks to the nearby water purifier. There is clear evidence that the core principles and components will now apply at a larger scale within Milan but also in other European cities.
Across the EU, URBACT-inspired towns and cities are in the front line supporting the ‘Just Transition’, ensuring a green recovery while involving citizens in the process. URBACT Programme Expert Eddy Adams looks at how URBACT is helping cities experiment new, cross-cutting interventions that are good for people and the planet…
But first, what do we mean by ‘Just Transition’?
“A code red for humanity”- these are the words United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres used to describe a new report from the IPCC, the UN climate change assessment body, in August 2021. He said the only way to stay below the internationally agreed 1.5 °C global warming threshold is “by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path”.
Cities are central to this story. As consumers of 78% of the world’s energy and generators of over 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, they are part of the problem, but also key to the solution.
The European Commission’s ‘Just Transition Mechanism’, launched in 2020, is part of the EUR 1 trillionEuropean Green Deal which aims for a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050. While every part of Europe and every industry sector will have to adapt, some regions are more vulnerable – mining areas for example. Targeting a fair and just green transition, the ‘Just Transition Mechanism’ will support workers and citizens in places most impacted by these structural changes, mobilising around EUR 100 billion over the 2021-2027 period.
Cities are home to the widest social and economic inequalities. As Europe is transformed, what steps can urban practitioners take to ensure that the journey to climate neutrality does not hit the most vulnerable citizens hardest, through lost jobs, declining industries or higher energy bills? How can we ensure that climate justice and social justice go hand in hand?
These questions are central to the new URBACT IV programme, with its reinforced focus on capacity-building and citizen engagement in cities as motors of a just, green transition. This builds on URBACT’s 15-year legacy of promoting integrated, sustainable urban development. Let’s take a quick look at some recent examples…
The URBACT networks Zero Carbon Cities and Urb-En Pact both focus on energy efficiency and production. Carbon budgets and local energy pacts are among the tools they are implementing to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while involving citizens.
Vilawatt is helping a network of European cities take up good practice in energy transition from Urban Innovative Actions work in Viladecans (ES). This small Catalan city provides a template for actively engaging citizens and local businesses in improving energy efficiency. For example, they established a local energy consortium jointly owned by the municipality, citizens and a clean energy provider. Supporting carbon reduction activity within the local business supply chain has been an integral element, in addition to a high-profile communications campaign to get citizens on board.
Reducing waste is a priority that cuts across all themes. In Europe, this has particular implications for ‘red zone’ industry sectors, such as construction, currently accounting for 25% of overall waste generation. Achieving the EU targets set for the sector will require a complete mindshift, as we transition to circular practices.
The URBACT URGE network involves nine cities focused on driving circularity in the construction sector. One of the most eye-catching approaches is in Munich (DE), where an entire neighbourhood is being developed on these principles. This will rise on a 50-hectare site formerly occupied by the Bayernkaserne military barracks, creating 5 500 rent-controlled apartments in the north of the city. Of the 1.2 million tonnes of rubble arising from the demolition of the old military buildings, 50% is due to be recycled onsite – meaning 90 000 fewer truck journeys. The project comprises an important training component, as construction workers acquire new circular skills, as well as an extensive process to enable citizen participation.
Another example is BioCanteens II, led by the inspiring city of Mouans-Sartoux (FR). This URBACT Transfer Network is enabling more cities to embrace urban agriculture, replicating Mouans’ approach to promoting affordable, local, organic food – one of the keys to a climate-neutral Europe. Along the way, this is providing new skills, creating jobs and ensuring that all citizens can benefit from the results.
Tourism is another sector facing significant re-adjustments as people will have to travel less and more sustainably, in order to reduce carbon emissions. This may not be a welcome message in an industry already ravaged by Covid since early 2020. However, these harsh lessons may help the industry adjust to combine the desire to travel with the overriding priority of saving the planet. The URBACT TOURISM-FRIENDLY CITIES network, led by Genova (IT), includes partners like Dubrovnik (HR) and Venice (IT) whose starting point is the unsustainability of established tourism patterns. Network partners are exploring practical steps, such as plastic waste reduction and incentivising public transport.
The biosphere and citizen engagement are central themes in the URBACT network RU:RBAN. Here, partner cities learn from Rome’s (IT) urban gardens management model, which develops and sustains green urban spaces through effective city planning, citizen engagement and capacity building. Budding urban ‘gardenisers’ supported through RU:RBAN operate as new community ambassadors, mobilising their peers to assume a more active role in greening our cities.
The URBACT C-CHANGE network promotes a model for engaging the arts and culture sector in sparking local climate action. The approach was initially transferred by Manchester (UK) to a network of partner cities including Mantova. Now, with URBACT’s support, the Italian city is sharing the good practice with other towns and cities across the country, helping them mobilise their own creative and culture industry sectors to take climate change action. The approach involves practical steps to change mindsets and cultures, such as carbon literacy training. But it also offers a new paradigm for the way in which culture is presented and consumed.
The URBACT City Festival, in ‘Grand Paris’ in June 2022, will be URBACT’s first big climate-neutral event, generating experience and tools for our networks and partner cities to use. It will be one of the final events of the French EU Presidency, whose climate-related priorities include emissions trading, enhanced circularity and enhanced clean energy production.
Beyond this, URBACT will continue to work closely with other EU programmes. For example, with UIA, as well as piloting a new transfer mechanism, URBACT is an active participant in UIA’s knowledge management work on ‘Just Transitions’.
Creating a climate-neutral Europe without leaving any person or place behind will require new approaches from city authorities and an even stronger commitment to integrated working. As a programme, URBACT continues to champion and support this, through its capacity-building work with cities, and its growing repertoire of tools to support active stakeholder participation.
Cities in the URBACT Urban Energy Pact network are meeting at the UN Climate Change conference in Scotland, where they will showcase their participative approach to reaching ‘net zero energy’ by 2050. Their key message: cities of all sizes have a central role to play in tackling climate change and reaching the COP26 goals. The network’s lead partner Clermont Auvergne Métropole (FR) will be represented by a team of elected officials and energy transition experts. Among them, Nicolas Bonnet, Delegate Councillor for Renewable energy, found a moment to talk to URBACT’s Amy Labarrière before boarding the train to Glasgow.
What are you looking forward to achieving at COP26?
In Scotland, we’ll hold our first face-to-face meeting with ‘Urb-En Pact’ [URBACT Urban Energy Pact] partner cities from around the EU since Covid. Many of us have only met via videoconference. It will be really useful to finally meet in person, share knowledge and exchange ideas on energy transition, then come back home and make changes to improve the lives of our residents.
I’m excited about discovering how energy transition and climate issues are tackled in other countries. To drive global change, respond to a global problem, it’s important to understand each other, and identify hurdles so we can try to remove them. Energy transition is complicated if everyone does their own thing. So I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together! We have a long way to go, but I hope these talks will help us all progress.
On Thursday, 4November, I’ll speak at an event on city energy transition: “When non-Capital Cities deliver the Green Agenda!”, along with mayors from Europe and the US, the Leader of Glasgow City Council, and hopefully other cities from our network. We’ll present URBACT, Urb-En Pact, our method, and highlight the role of non-capital cities like ours in reaching the COP aims of CO2 reduction.
Why are cities so well placed to drive this move to renewable energy?
It’s as the saying goes, “think global, act local”. Cities can act fast, innovate and make changes for a more sustainable future. Each territory is different, so if we want to implement solutions that correspond best to the needs of the territory and the expectations of residents, it’s important for reflections and dialogue to take place at city level.
Nicolas Bonnet, Clermont-Ferrand (FR): "The best energy is the energy we don’t consume at all!
What are the sorts of local actions cities can take?
Mobility is one area where city authorities can make a big difference, reducing energy consumption and Greenhouse Gas emissions. In Clermont-Ferrand, the Métropole is responsible for managing travel between sectors of the city. It’s up to us to encourage people to take the bus or a bike instead of their own cars. Clermont-Ferrand – like many other cities – has a lot of catching up to do compared with Copenhagen for example. So, we’re launching actions to develop sustainable mobility: like cycling, walking, or public transport.
As for locally produced, renewable energy, we’re now planning a scheme to collect methane from organic waste. This biogas will power buses, bin lorries, heating…
What are the main ways Urb-En Pact network is helping Clermont-Ferrand drive this energy transition?
Using URBACT’s approach, we’re co-producing a plan of action together with local partners. We want to support new actions they’ve proposed – such as developing biogas-powered vehicles.
The idea is to find solutions to improve the city so it requires less energy to function – and produces more renewable energy. For that to work, it’s important for public authorities to involve all the right stakeholders. When we agree on who can do what, actions are more likely to be implemented.
Energy ‘sobriety’, encouraging people to consume less energy, is a big Urb-En Pact focus. We launched a survey, working with researchers, to meet local residents and get a better understanding of their views on saving energy, what actions they’re ready to take, and what their limits are. This is important for Urb-En Pact because energy-saving is one of the hardest issues to tackle in energy transition: it means rethinking our way of life. People will have to give up certain things, saying “I can live without this, it’s not in the general interest as I’m consuming energy and increasing Greenhouse Gas emissions: is it really worth it?”
This is your first experience of URBACT: what have you found most interesting so far?
Probably the way URBACT brings together communities, towns, cities, from all over Europe. French cities like Clermont-Ferrand, meeting cities in Romania, Finland... We’d have a hard time working together without URBACT putting us in touch around a common project.
And through Urb-En Pact, we’ve started a dialogue between local stakeholders, many of them with different interests, different visions, who might otherwise never meet: people working in energy companies; climate action groups; public transport; construction; urban development... In small workshops with five people around a table, everyone has to talk to each other. It's constructive as it forces you to confront other points of view.
Can you give a practical example of a local energy solution where it helped to bring such different groups together around a table?
Our work on resident-managed solar power projects – a sort of citizens’ cooperative for renewable energy production. People invest in setting up the panels themselves, and the income from selling the energy pays back their investment. This was an action proposed during Urb-En Pact local discussions. Politicians can’t act alone: it takes time to convince people to step up and install solar panels on their roof. And not all roofs are suitable for solar panels. Local group discussions helped people understand why the project would take longer than they might expect.
What factor is common to the eight Urb-En Pact partner cities?
Our shared ambition to work together and develop a local, sustainable energy balance. In other words, each territory wants to produce the energy it consumes. And if we’re producing our own energy, the best energy is the energy we don’t consume at all!
But we also have our differences: different countries, climates, environmental settings. That allows partners to go deeper into aspects specific to their own territory. And some cities are more advanced on certain points, so there’s an interesting exchange of knowledge.
So you’re not all leaders in renewable energy?
Not at all. In Clermont-Ferrand, we hope to find better renewable energy solutions, but we’re not aiming to be leaders: the importance is to make progress together. It’s to show what we can do, to pick up good practice from other cities within and outside the Urb-En Pact network, to find better ways of doing things, try them out, experiment. We want to prove by our actions that cities can make a big difference. And we hope to inspire other cities to take action too!
Visit the URBACT climate action knowledge hub: a gateway to resources and good practices helping EU cities boost local actions to combat climate change and improve resilience.
URBACT has had sustainability at the core of its work with European cities for over 15 years. Supporting urban areas to transform in an integrated and sustainable way, it has practically tested and built up substantial knowledge and identified valuable good practices in the field. In the run-up to URBACT IV, the programme is now going a step further: alongside European and global commitments for climate protection, the green transition will be promoted across URBACT’s actions on programme and network levels.
The new URBACT IV programme, which launches in 2022, will mainstream the green transition as one of its cross-cutting elements. This is an opportunity to embed sustainable thinking and practice in every aspect of the programme’s work, including the future URBACT IV networks and the action plans their cities will develop.
URBACT cities at the forefront of climate action
Over the past few years, the conversation around climate change has accelerated from activist and scientific circles to mainstream media and society, leading to long-overdue political commitments such as the Paris Agreement or the European Green Deal. 2019 started unprecedented citizen mobilisation for climate, with young people at its forefront, taking to the streets weekly to demand climate action.
The eight partners of the Urban Energy Pact network, led by Clermont Auvergne Métropole (FR), are working to become net-zero energy territories by 2050. Each city in the network is bringing local stakeholders and citizens together to prepare action plans for local and renewable energy sources in their communities.
To become #bettercities, the Urb-En Pact’s partners have launched a large-scale survey to point out what are the citizens’ expectations towards public authorities about energy transition. #Strongertogether. Let’s start the week with a smile from one of these consultations pic.twitter.com/cnVSekaeZo
Reduction and eradication of GHG emissions requires systemic change on many fronts – from the way we produce energy, food and goods, to the way we consume, travel, design and build our cities and protect nature and biodiversity. While individual commitments to climate protection, whether by citizens or single organisations, are very important, it is systemic thinking – accompanied by political will and ground-breaking policies – that is the real gamechanger. URBACT cities have long understood this.
The RiConnect Action Planning Network is rethinking our transport infrastructures, while the BeePathNet Transfer Network promotes biodiversity and food self-sufficiency through the creation of ‘bee-friendly cities’. The FOOD CORRIDORS network connects European regions for sustainable food production, while Health&Greenspace is enhancing urban greenspaces to improve the mental and physical health of local communities. Name a sustainability-related challenge and URBACT cities are already tackling it.
URBACT IV to provide new carbon-neutrality training for cities
Among URBACT’s new green commitments is a Capacity-Building programme, planned for 2022, to help URBACT IV networks embed carbon-neutral perspectives into their work.
Clémentine Gravier, URBACT Capacity-Building Officer, says: "it's very important that URBACT cities find the right tools and trainings to support them in their carbon-neutral transitions. There is so much we can already learn from some URBACT cities who have led the way to tackle climate change. We will package this learning and add it to the URBACT Toolbox to make it accessible to a wider audience."
Meanwhile, the URBACT Secretariat has decided to evaluate its own carbon footprint to inform its future decarbonisation actions.
The URBACT City Festival, set to take place in June 2022 under the French presidency of the Council of the European Union, is being organised as a carbon-neutral event. This is a challenge in itself – even using an eco-oriented venue powered by renewable energy, with local, seasonal and plant-based food, waste collection and composting, we cannot escape the need for carbon offsetting to compensate for participants’ travels and the remaining carbon footprint.
This experience is not only a practical reminder of the complexity of the carbon neutrality challenge at any scale, but it is also proving to be a catalyst for human creativity and ingenuity to come up with exciting, more nature-friendly solutions. The 2022 City Festival will hopefully pave the way for further carbon-neutral events and project practices throughout URBACT.
Climate action knowledge hub
Last but not least, URBACT gathers and builds on all the sustainability knowledge and good practices developed by its cities, networks and initiatives. Recently, URBACT launched a climate action knowledge hub: a gateway to the good practices, ideas, articles and other resources on how cities are boosting local actions to combat climate change and improve resilience. The climate action knowledge hub is going to gain prominence in the upcoming months towards URBACT IV, so make sure you keep up-to-date!