• Welcoming international professionals and students

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    MEDINT project MEDINT is an URBACt I Project which studied the integrated approach concept, which has become a characteristic feature of European urban development strategies. The work carried out in European cities shows that this concept has been interpreted and implemented in a variety of different ways (integration of local actors, of different economic sectors, of different initiatives, of different development tools and policies). The conclusions of the MEDINT network are summarized in the form of several pdf files.
    City Branding

    European cities are becoming more international and multicultural. Despite the rise of negative sentiments around immigration and the fear of loss of identity, for many cities, finding international talent is an economic necessity. They need engineers, scientists, knowledge workers, but also plumbers, nurses and truck drivers. There are simply too many job openings that cannot be filled by locals or nationals. Moreover, Europe’s universities are vying to attract international students: to make up for an ageing home region, or just as a means to pick the best brains…

    In the URBACT Transfer Network, titled “Welcoming International Talent”, we focus on the question of how cities can effectively deal with the challenge of attracting, welcoming, retaining and integrating international students and professionals.

    This poses a lot of questions that cannot be answered by the city alone: it involves many players, including the universities, employers, citizens, cultural institutions, etc. And it touches on many policy fields: social, economic, urban planning, housing….

    Especially for smaller and medium sized cities, this form of skills-oriented internationalisation poses new questions and challenges. Unlike larger cities and capitals, they never had such large groups of residents (temporary or permanent) from abroad, but now they are facing a new reality.

    The city of Groningen, in the North of the Netherlands, is a prime example. Being a student city, it saw the number of foreign students grow dramatically in the last decade. And, the scientific staff of its universities has become more international too. At the same time, the local economy is growing, requiring skilled people, but the population is ageing and the workforce shrinking. Thus, for Groningen, a key challenge is to try to connect the dots: if more internationals students would stay and find a job in Groningen after graduation –rather than leave for their home country or a big city- it would benefit the urban and regional economy and counter go against the ageing trend. And, as Jan Kees Kleuver, project leader, stresses, “Groningen is essentially a student city. We need to attract more international students, because our regional population is ageing, and student numbers may go down….”

    Welcoming international expats is hard work

    Easier said than done! There are many barriers. Without mastering the Dutch language, it is not easy to fully participate in society. Until recently, Groningen’s theatres and events did not cater for English speaking people; moreover, even when most Dutch people speak English, it can be hard to find your way into local sports or music clubs, understand the Dutch healthcare system, find an international school for your kids, or obtain an internship. And it turns out that despite a low language barrier, Dutch and international students hardly mix. Then, there are (student) housing shortages, a lot of red tape regarding immigration rules, etc etc. How welcoming is all that?

    There is a lot to be done in Groningen, on many levels, to become a welcoming city to international expats. Last year, a set of key stakeholders – city, universities, the academic hospital, and big employers - decided to join forces and develop an integrated strategy to attract and embed international people to Groningen, and make them feel at home. A number of concrete actions are being taken:
    - developing a cultural community platform;
    - setting up an international house in the city centre;
    - measures to ease the bureaucratic burden for internationals;
    - support for regional companies to hire foreigners or provide places for internships;
    - a buddy system, linking locals to internationals.

    Groningen is very active, a frontrunner in this field. Most importantly, it involves the international crowd in the design and implementation of every action or policy, to make sure it’s a good fit. After successfully applying for “URBACT Good Practice”, it now leads a growing network of medium sized European cities that share the same ambition. 

    Welcoming International Talent URBACT Network

    As it stands now, the cities of Bielsko Biala (PO), Debrecen (HU), Leuven (BE), Magdeburg (DE), Parma (IT), and Zlin (CZ) have joined the network. They share the fact that they are medium sized university cities, with a growing influx of internationals. They all have the strategic ambition to become more attractive and welcoming to international professionals and students, and they want to learn from Groningen’s example. The partners realise that a common vision and partnership is required to get things done; first of all between city and the university, but also with employers, cultural institutions, events etc.  This is far from easy to achieve, and there is much to be learned. The partners have their own very specific local issues, and have developed remarkable initiatives themselves already. All cities see the project as a catalyst for their own ambitions and strategies; by peer reviewing each other, they hope to be inspired and go home with fresh ideas. As the vice mayor of Zlin, one of the partner cities, put it: “we will not wait until the end of the project to change our policies: we hope to be inspired by our partner cities, and start bringing partners together from day one, developing actions together, and implementing them”.

    Main issues identified

    The partners identified a number of specific issues on which the collaboration should focus:

    • Attracting international talent (marketing of the region together)
    • Labour market integration of foreign professionals and students
    • Social & cultural integration
    • Internationalisation of urban services, facilities and amenities
    • Housing and accommodation for internationals
    • Internationalisation of higher education & research
    • The cross-cutting topic of governance: collaboration between stakeholders, involvement/engagement of internationals

    How does a tree grow - and can you transplant it?

    Transferring Good Practices is far from straightforward. In this project, we compare the best practice to a tree: a living creature, that took long to grow and flourish, and that has roots in a fertile soil. The trunk of the Groningen tree is the comprehensive strategy of the city’s key stakeholders towards internationalisation.  The projects and policy programmes are its branches and the leaves of the tree are the visible actions and results of the strategy.

    The roots of the tree are beneath the surface. You cannot see them but they are decisive for the tree’s development. They represent the underlying institutional structures that helped the partners in Groningen to collaborate: trust between the key players/stakeholders; a shared ambition to lift up the city as place for international talent; and the shared realisation that collaboration is needed in the wider region – as well as shared leadership, to take responsibility for something that stretches beyond the interest of the individual organisations/stakeholders.

    The soil stands for cultural aspects that make it possible for the tree (trunk, branches, leaves and roots) to grow. It is a main source of nutrients. In the case of Groningen, this represents the participative tradition of involving citizens (in this case: internationals) in the design of policies; and its ability to collaborate and allocate resources to the common goal, resolving any emerging conflicts of interest.  

    The tree can only flourish in the right climate and weather conditions. This includes the political climate (the city management and elected representatives supporting the policy direction) and social climate: a receptive and supportive local population that embraces internationalisation to a large extent. Weather and climate can change, with significant implications for the tree.

    What does this imply for transfer potential?

    First of all, transferring an entire tree to another place is possible but very difficult, because the life of the tree depends on so many factors. That does not mean that it is impossible. Transfer to other cities can be considered on the level of the fully integrated programme approach, or on the level of individual projects. The latter will be the easiest. Stakeholders in Groningen have highly detailed project plans which they are happy to share with other cities. Also, the digital platforms (the cultural events website Here&Now and the new general Groningen platform for internationals) are being designed under the Creative Commons licence to facilitate replication and transfer.

    The transfer of the fully integrated approach is certainly also feasible, but it will require more effort, strong political, top-level support, and may take longer to materialize, especially for cities that are in an early stage of co-ordinating their internationalisation strategies. Also, contextual factors will play an important role: the local culture of collaboration, power relations between key stakeholders, competences, etc.

    Last but not least: although Groningen is recognized as good practice, there is much to be learned from the others as well. For example, Magdeburg set up a very interesting welcoming ceremony for all new internationals; Zlin University set up a buddy system linking Czech students to international ones, to foster integration. There is much to learn from other trees in the European garden. 


    Visit the network's page: Welcoming International Talent

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  • While you were designing your city logo, they built an entire city from scratch

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    Adrian Docea gives cities a long overdue wake up call, suggesting they take a leaf out of the private sector to build their brands before it’s too late.

    He says: ‘We’re completely out of time. Europe needs to speed up or we will lose the global battle for attracting investors, tourists, students, ‘startupers’ and the best engineers, inventors and creative minds out there. We’re too slow, too conservative, way too relaxed about our future. Meanwhile the whole world is changing.’

    City Branding

    While you were designing your city logo, in Asia they were building entire cities from scratch.

    Europe needs to start invest strategically in city brands. Not logos. Brands.

    In the private sector, companies have been spending billions building their brand. Because they understand that people don’t just buy products, they buy stories. Perception. And the science of managing perception is called Brand Strategy. For all the leading global companies in the world, brand strategy is the foundation of their success. Because brand perception is everything. Research shows that 50% up to 100% of everything we buy is intangible, it’s pure perception. It’s brand.

    Less than 1% of all the European cities have a professionally managed brand

    So then how come less than 1% of all the European cities have a professionally managed brand? If the brand is the single most important ingredient in the success of every single important organization in the history of the humankind - even before we were calling it branding - how come we completely forgot to build brands for our cities?

    A few possible explanations:

    1. People often mistake brands for logos

    Many cities have contracted a logo design and now they’re happy that their city has a ‘brand’. It’s not a brand. It’s a logo. Creating brands is hundreds of times more complex than designing a logo. Without strategy, your logo means nothing. Your brochures are less effective. Your ad campaigns are less effective. Your online presence is less effective. Without a solid city brand strategy, your city is not protected on the global arena, where thousands of cities are competing for the same precious resources: investors, tourists, students, startupers, engineers, inventors, creative minds. Why would they choose your city? Because it has a pretty logo?

    2. The city branding science is new

    Many mayors have never met a city brand strategist to discuss how to differentiate their city from other cities. They don’t know how to find that thing that makes their city unique and capture that unique thing in professionally made campaigns, managed by actual professionals in communication. Most cities in Europe don’t even have a marketing department. Out of the few cities that do, the vast majority of them are led by people with no experience leading major brands in the real world. In the private sector, you are considered an expert brand strategist if you have at least 10 years in high level positions with relevant companies and you have managed at least 20 brands. In the public sector, it’s ok to lead the marketing team if you managed 0 major brands in your career but you have participated to fancy workshops and symposiums and graduated from a decent university. Why is that? Is your city less important than a bag of potato chips? Because the potato chips brand gets better marketing talent than your city marketing team does. And that can’t possibly be right.

    3. Mayors don’t see their city as a product

    They think cities are such complex creatures that city brands can’t be designed using methods that have been tested for decades in the private sector. And they’re right, a city is indeed a complex thing. And you do need experts specialized in city branding. But don’t blame it on complexity. Everything is complex: a global company - often bigger than whole countries - is a complex entity. Even designing personal branding for a celebrity is a complex matter, because humans are complex and it’s difficult to design a brand strategy for a human being. But you can’t postpone building a brand strategy for your city just because a city is a complex thing. Everything is complex. Since when did we stop doing things because it’s difficult, Europe?

    Let’s go back to basics: if there’s an audience that needs to know things about your city and you’re trying to reach that audience with the right message, what you’re dealing with is a product. Whether you like how ‘product’ sounds like, your city is a product. Its success or failure depends on how people perceive your product. And brand = perception. So unless you are prepared to treat your product as a brand and manage it strategically and professionally, your city is on its way to lose the battle.

    Brand building is necessary for your city to be visible in the international arena

    Let’s play a little game: pick 10 random cities in Europe. Normal cities, smaller than 1 million people, not megacities and country capitals - Now Google “visit [name of the city]” and “invest in [name of the city]”. You will realize that most cities use the same cliché phrases and pictures, same online strategies and tools to promote themselves. Moreover, even their slogans are almost identical: “Come to [name of the city], a city for people” (like there are cities out there that were not designed for humans). Or “[Name of the city], more than you expect” or “[Name of the city] is a [wonderful/amazing/fantastic] experience” or “Invest in [name of the city], a great place for business”. Their communication is so mediocre that you will forget what you’ve seen before you even get the chance to share it with another human being.

    The human brain is exposed to more than 3000 commercial messages every day. Every. Single. Day. It remembers 1%. Unless your city brand communicates better, smarter, more creatively than 99 other cities, your message will be wiped out from their brain so fast, they won’t even know they’ve ever seen it. Why is that? Why is it so hard to come up with great advertising campaigns, slogans, websites, social media content for your city? Because we don’t treat city branding seriously. Because it is priority #326 on our list. And it’s never important enough to dedicate time, energy, money and hire the right people to do it right.

    Brand building is so important that, for many successful global companies out there, it is often the #1 priority. The one thing that can determine their success. Because perception is everything. And brand = perception. And brand strategy = managed perception. And without a professionally managed brand, your city’s reputation is in danger. Don’t forget you’re in competition with thousands other cities from all around the world. And they’re all competing for the same finite resources.

    The success story of Alba Iulia (RO)’s branding

    Alba Iulia is not even in the top 30 largest cities in Romania but the ancient capital of Transylvania is the first city brand in Romania and one of the first professionally built brand strategies in Europe, the first Smart City in Romania, the only city in South Eastern Europe to be invited in the CityLogo URBACT Network, first city with a long term marketing strategy, first city with a direct partnership with the World Bank and the list goes on. How was that possible? One of the explanations is that 10 years ago Alba Iulia was already working on its brand strategy, a strategic vision that brought consistency across all the initiatives launched by the city.

    Discover Transylvania Regions’ brand

    The regional brand of Transylvania is most probably the first in the world to be created 100% by private initiative, without any help from public institutions and government. The project attracted private funding and managed to launch a series of initiatives, among them the official travel website, the most complete source of information for tourists interested in Transylvania and the region's most important business conference, that brought together company founders, 7 European embassies and chambers of commerce, start-upers, cultural projects, media. The launching campaign of the regional brand aimed to attract to Transylania the British start-upers unhappy with the Brexit results. The campaign made it to the global media and was covered by The Guardian, Stern, Business Insider, RFI.

    The brand of Transylvania is the living proof that you don't need initial public funding, huge teams and a lot of resources to build a local or regional brand. "Build it and they will come": the project is today completely self-sustainable and growing every year."

    See your City as a Startup

    This is why Europe needs ‘City-as-a-Startup’; a method so simple, so agile, yet so brilliantly effective to help European cities build solid brand strategies. A method designed to help cities find their greatness, tell their story to the world and attract investors, tourists, students, ‘startupers’, engineers, inventors and creative minds. The only downside is that the current ‘City-as-a-Startup’ transfer network led by Alba Iulia can handle up to 7 European cities at the same time and help them build their brands. There are more than 700 other cities in Europe that need help.

    Europe, it’s time to get to work and build strong brands for our cities. It’s time to find our greatness.

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  • Every single house is interesting!

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    There is a little square two-minutes from your flat. You have seen it many times on your daily route. You perhaps even recognised that it is somehow unique. Nothing special, no outstanding architectural value, but lovely and always full of life. And would be great to explore once.

    A week-end of Open Houses initiated in Budapest (HU) (budapest100.hu)

    City Branding

    All of us are surrounded by places and buildings like this. All of us are excited what and who is there behind the doors. Who lives there now and who has lived there before and what stories they could tell. The ‘Come in! – talking houses shared stories’ URBACT Transfer Network is centred on the good practice entitled Weekend of Open Houses. It is an easily adaptable community festival in Budapest called Budapest100 celebrating the city’s built heritage and common values. This good practice might help the inhabitants of eight European cities to explore their own built heritage, those little squares only two-minutes from their homes and get local communities closer to each other along this journey.

    The Budapest100 community festival was started in 2011 by the Open Society Archives and the Contemporary Architecture Centre in Budapest, celebrating houses turning 100-years old that year during a thematic weekend. The event became a yearly festival, always celebrating buildings that were 100 years old in the given year. Since 2015 the celebration of 100-year-old buildings is not possible anymore due to WWI, so each year the focus is on different themes (2017: buildings along the Danube, 2018: buildings around squares).

    Exploring our community through our built environment

    Nevertheless, the main method is the same, expressed well by the festival’s motto: every single building is interesting and important. This is a two-day long festival co-organised by local residents and a massive group of volunteers to highlight values of the built environment as well as common values to decrease urban isolation. The main aim of the good practice is primarily not to protect buildings, but to encourage civilian power alongside the built environment as a catalyst. Its broad mission is to initiate a common discussion about urban revival and to inspire the establishment and strengthening of residential communities and to take action against urban social isolation by using cultural heritage and built environment as a tool.

    Each year approximately 20 000 visitors come to look behind the doors of 50-60 open houses of downtown Budapest, explore hidden treasures and listen to urban stories told and shared by local residents and volunteers. This rather attractive urban initiative is definitely not about money: the whole programme costs about 20 000€ each year including the development of a website and the salary of a part time employee.

    The Come in! URBACT network is led by Municipality of Újbuda, the multifaceted 11th district of Budapest, a district whose downtown area is usually very active in Budapest100. The municipality also has a strategic relationship with the Contemporary Architecture Centre to boost local dynamics of the creative sector. Using the Budapest100 good practice as a method, Come in! focuses on mobilising residents and raising their awareness towards the values of their built, mainly residential environment, which is not necessarily protected by law, and not necessary old, but where there is an intangible identity, spirit or story behind, on which a community building process can be strongly built. This is to be done by involving volunteers to make research on houses to be involved (collecting facts, stories and histories about houses and their residents), as well as residents putting together the programme (organising for example walks or programs with residents of the houses).

    Promoting engagement with cultural heritage

    The Weekend of Open Houses is about creating an opportunity for citizens to uphold cultural values and traditions and to promote positive societal change. The aim is to “allow and encourage individuals to become more active in every aspect of cultural heritage. A thorough understanding of local culture and environmental issues will render any participation more effective.” says the Turku Manifesto 2017 (Taking part in cultural heritage matters, European Heritage Congress, 2017 Turku), which is also the main philosophy of the good practice and of the Come in! URBACT network. This highlights the fact that it is really in line with contemporary trends of cultural heritage management and integrated urban development in the EU.

    Europe is celebrating its diverse cultural heritage at all levels in 2018 through the European Year of Cultural Heritage, the aim of which is to “encourage more people to discover and engage with Europe's cultural heritage, and to reinforce a sense of belonging to a common European space”. The slogan for the year is: Our heritage: where the past meets the future.

    Historic Urban Landscape approach of the UNESCO as a backbone for action

    Come in! is taps on an important thematic field: perceptions of cultural heritage in Europe – which is extremely rich in cultural values - is changing. It is not anymore seen as a financial burden, but increasingly recognised as an asset, which can provide a catalyst for enhanced growth and wellbeing. Since the adoption of the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) approach by the UNESCO’s General Conference in 2011, cultural heritage is a very important reference point and crosscutting field in urban policies both on global and European level. The UNESCO’s HUL Recommendation seems to be the alpha and omega regarding cultural heritage, and indeed most urban policies are rooted in that framework which stresses the importance and urgency of involving communities in the valorisation and conservation of the built environment.

    Residents and Volunteers: keys to success of Budapest100

    The widest possible participation and interaction with residents and communities is a priority both for cultural heritage agendas and social innovation policies. A community festival celebrating a given city's built heritage and common values clearly contributes to relevant EU priorities and is in line with the Historic Urban Landscape approach as well. The good practice provides a rather simple model to mobilise residents as well as volunteers to engage with their own cultural heritage and communities while also helps to decrease social isolation.

    Of course Budapest100 does not stand alone, there are many similar concepts in Europe and worldwide. The most well-known initiatives are perhaps Open House and the European Heritage Days. But there are two crucial differences between Budapest100 and other similar initiatives: the involvement of residents and initiators of activities supported by volunteers and having a strong social focus besides the architectural one. For Budapest100 every house is interesting, not only those with outstanding architectural value or the ones protected by law.

    The combination of the three pillars (built environment, but not only outstanding values, strong involvement of communities supported by involvement of volunteers) makes Budapest100 unique in the EU context.

    Budapest100 for everyone: the Transfer Potential of the good practice throughout Europe

    The ‘Come in! – talking houses shared stories’ network provides exchange and learning activities for a number of cities and their stakeholders coming from different corners of Europe and having a residential area with strong spirit, to understand the good practice, prepare local plans for its adaptation and test its reuse on small-scale.

    On the one hand, as the good practice is really not complex (it is “just” a two-day event) it could be easily replicated in almost every residential environment of any European city having a strong local ‘identity’ the community festival can be built on. Searching and analysing these identities behind residential areas of candidate cities was the most important factor while building up the partnership. The good practice will be adapted in various built environments, e.g. in the historical centre in Gheorgheni (RO) with its unique and mostly unexploited Armenian heritage; in Forlì (I) focusing on its sensitive rationalist heritage or in Varaždin’s looking at its (HR) untapped modern buildings just next to the beautiful Baroque city centre, and will be even tested in newly built environments as well (e.g. in modern housing estates in Újbuda (H) or Pori (SF)).

    On the other hand, the other two pillars (community engagement and volunteering) of the good practice highlight serious challenges related to the overall transfer potential of the good practice, simply because it can be difficult to boost these factors as they are deeply

    rooted in the socio-economic environment and cultural attitudes of the given country. Tackling a strong local spirit (‘our heritage’) linked to a partly unexploited heritage, positioning and marketing the theme in a contemporary way fitting urban trends, incentivising volunteers and residents, especially young ones and putting the theme into a broader context seem essential in the transfer process to overcome those challenges around community engagement and volunteering.

    Last, but not least, for adapting this community-led initiative we need municipalities that are able to facilitate bottom-up developments without controlling what is uncontrollable, act as matchmakers, and harvest and accelerate the results of such a community festival by crossing silos (the cultural department is most likely the one responsible for the festival, but its potential spill-overs refer to social and other departments too).

    Proper motivation tools, team and capacity building for URBACT Local Group members to overcome resistance and create quick wins is also essential for Come in! partner cities.


    Visit the network's page: Come in!

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    During the meeting celebrated last february in the city of Kortrijk, in the Crown Room of the Texture Museum, one session was also opened to other participants and live streaming through Facebook Live and included interactive Q&A.

    City Branding

    The theme of the session: How can a contemporary use of heritage buildings and sites add value to its conservation? "Conservation through development" from the point of view of:

    Ralf Coussée (Architect, Coussée & Goris), He showed greater concern to respond to the new function of the spaces in his projects of recovery of heritage sites, more attentive to new concepts than to nostalgia. Function can help to conserve and to reduce energy consumption

    Frederik Mahieu (Flemish Heritage Department), presented a rich inventory of monuments, landscapes and protected sites, with a diversity of examples.

    Lode Waes (CEO Vanhaerents Development) talked about the atmosphere of heritage spaces, and how heritage can be an inspiration for master planning, the connection of neighbourhoods and the incentive of place making.

    Leo Van Broeck (Bogdan & Van Broeck), “Heritage building cannot become ‘frozen’”

    Pascal Vandenhende & Annemie Bernaerts (Theoria Bookshop). A bookshop conceived as a house, open 7 days per week. A place with open walls and windows to meet, to create, to talk...

    Adriaan Linters (Heritage specialist). More sustainable building is this which always exists..., Don't fear promoting and accepting the opinion of the citizens..., time is quality and returns are more important than costs…

    Interactive Q&A

    To what extent should heritage be protected by the Government? (All types: 55,2% ; The most important: 44,8%)

    Important heritage should stay in public hands? This is the only way it will remain accessible to the public. (Agree: 17,1%; Disagree: 82,9%)

    Heritage is always on the losing and when opposed to projects which are deemed to have an economic importance. (Agree: 51,5%; Disagree: 48,5%)

    According to you which types of heritage are popular in heritage redevelopment? (Industrial heritage: 30%; Religious heritage: 27%; Castles, mansions…: 26%; Specific heritage: 17%)

    Please do not miss the video:


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  • All about our network

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    Wondering where to find info and documents about our project? Check all the links here...

    City Branding

    They say all good things come to an end. It may well be true, but there are memories to share that cannot be cancelled... especially if they look towards the future, instead of simply dwelling on the past. Would you like to browse through the pages of our "UrbanGuide" handbook (available also on LuluPress)? Or would you rather sit comfortably on your chair and watch the video-documentary by Paolo Guglielmetti, telling you our complete and unabridged story?


    MAPS URBACT / A journey on the re-use of the former military assets


    If you don't have 17 minutes to spend all in one go, you can take it in smaller "doses" both on our YouTube Channel and Wordpress website: five episodes taking you - after a brief introduction to our project and an overview on the URBACT world - from the involvement of local stakeholders to the work of the ULG, from the local problems that needed be addressed to the themes developed, right to the lessons learnt during this adventure.

    MAPS project introduction (00:48)


    What about URBACT (01:41)


    Involve the local stakeholders (02:05)


    The work done by the ULG (01:54)


    How address the local issues (01:50)


    Themes developed (03:12)


    Lessons from the network (03:09)


    Wherever your choice leads you, what you'll find is more than a simple overview on two and a half years of work as partners of an URBACT network. There are feelings, expectations, plans and an essential philosophy: bringing dismissed military assets back to life means waking our cities up too. Maybe not with a prince's kiss, as in fairytales, but with a new approach to urban planning policies, which you may discover in each of our IAPs. You can find them all here, among the documents in our URBACT MAPS Library, which you can access directly from this page, or in the dedicated section of our Wordpress website: indulge and enjoy!

    Piacenza IAP / Former Pontieri workshop a place for the new social deal for the city: increase the urban population of the centre; building a reference model in the field of urban planning approach; reuse the area to increase sport, cultural, educational facilities in a sustainable city strictly connected to the river Po. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Piacenza posters!

    Serres IAP / The former military heritage as a cultural and social HUB for the entire city. A new narrative for the tourism development of the city: from “sun and sea” to “history, heritage and culture”. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Serres posters!

    Varazdin IAP / Former Optujska military complex as a new urban model (city sub centre) to balance the urban quality and life in all the sectors of Varaždin. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Varazdin posters!

    Szombathely IAP / Former Hussar Barracks: a new green city centre for the innovation (social, cultural, and for business) and for a sustainable lifestyle. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Szombathely posters!

    Telsiai IAP / Former Soviet Army camp: a place to drive business development (local or from other Countries) in close relation with the vibrant cultural and social core of the city. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Telsiai posters!

    Koblenz IAP / Fort Asterstein a new cultural HUB for the city. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Koblenz posters!

    Longford IAP / The Connolly Barracks: a new urban HUB to drive the city and the territory. The former military heritage as a driver to provide the link to the heritage and history of the town, improves the physical connections in the area, and provide a social dividend for the people of Longford. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Longford posters!

    Espinho IAP / The Atlantic Park. Sport, wellness, environment, culture and social integration: these are the ingredients used by the city of Espinho to support the reuse of the former military heritage. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Espinho posters!

    Cartagena IAP / Los Moros fortress: a reversing perspective for the city. The project of reuse of Los Moros fortress will be a reference model (integrated urban approach) for the surrounding neighbourhoods, and for the entire city: social cohesion, inclusion, local cultural offer and cultural reference in the Mediterranean Arc. These are the keywords from the city of Cartagena. For a synthetic reading of the IAP, look at the Cartagena posters!

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  • Digital cities: Amsterdam’s ecosystem of cooperation

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    RUnUP Lead Expert report following the opening conference in Gateshead, February 2011.
    City Branding

    The role of the EU in the digital market started gaining more importance during the Estonian European Presidency in the second semester of 2017 to some extent. Google, Facebook and Apple were forced to start paying taxes for transactions carried out in EU countries. This strengthened the position of the Digital Single Market, an EU strategy to ensure access to online activities for individuals and businesses under conditions of fair competition, consumer and data protection, removing geo-blocking and copyright issues. Furthermore, the EU Urban Agenda is looking into ways to improve funding, policy and knowledge within the process of Digital Transition, for which the responsible partnership of Member States, cities and relevant NGOs should soon publish an Action Plan.

    These international debates are locally translated in cities, which are confronted with many of the daily externalities of digital platforms and applications. The City of Genoa challenged Airbnb to pay local tourist taxes as hotels do, bringing the case to national court. The action forced Airbnb to enforce the taxation payment to individual room renters. The City of Ghent together with Ghent University are working on developing their own internet platform ensuring data ownership in the public domain. The City of Alba Iulia, as part of the national Smart City Strategy, is creating a local platform to establish a regular collaboration with key ICT players. Clearly the relationship with these companies is very relevant for cities but the way in which each one approaches them is kaleidoscopic.

    The City of Amsterdam has taken on a front runner role, establishing a relationship with the large ICT companies that moves from conflict to cooperation, following the “Polder Model”. In fact, Amsterdam signed an agreement with Airbnb in order to monitor the number of nights rented out on the platform by each apartment, enforcing severe fines on owners transpassing the established limit. The city has also created a Smart City Amsterdam multi-stakeholder platform bringing together all relevant stakeholders from public, corporate, civic and research sectors, a cooperation that contributed to the nourishing of an impressive innovation ecosystem. In November 2017, as part of an Interactive Cities partners’ site visit, we organised a series of meeting with City Departments and local stakeholders in order to better understand the Amsterdam digital strategy.

    Platforms for urban cooperation

    In 2016, Amsterdam received the European Commission’s Innovation Capital Award: a recognition resulting from years of work in building an innovation ecosystem the city. This work also corresponds to the transformation of city policies, moving from top-down masterplanning towards a focus on creating an economically strong and sustainable, as well as a creative and just city. Digital  innovation is at the core of these policies, generating new partnerships and tools to help the city’s transition to a knowledge-based economy. One key element of the city’s digital transition is its digital infrastructure: the Amsterdam Internet Exchange is one of the main hubs in Europe, and an important reason for many companies choosing Amsterdam as their European headquarters. But even more important in this transition is a densely interconnected network of civic initiatives, enterprises and institutions.

    A central actor of this ecosystem is Amsterdam Smart City (ASC), a public-private partnership organised within the Amsterdam Economic Board that includes 11 partners, including public authorities, knowledge institutions, civic spaces and private companies: the Amsterdam Municipality, the Amstelveen Municipality, the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, Pakhuis de Zwijger, the Waag Society, Amsterdam Arena, post.nl, KPN, Liander, Engie and Arcadis. Amsterdam Smart City was born from the recognition that despite of the presence of many start-ups and smart citizens with ideas in Amsterdam, demand and supply do not easily find each other. ASC aims at filling this gap: initiated by the public sector and funded by the private sector, it is representative of a specifically Dutch governance structure, working with a variety of stakeholders on key urban transition elements, helping Amsterdam position itself as a competitive and future-proof European region with an improved liveability.

    ASC acts as an innovation platform both in a digital and a physical sense, offering space to share initiatives in the domains of infrastructure and technology, the circular city, energy, water and waste, governance and education, citizens and living, and mobility, with digital connectivity and data as transversal themes. In recent years, it has shifted from a curated website towards an open platform where anyone can upload projects or products and can initiate actions and different forms of cooperation, helping initiatives gain visibility within Amsterdam and beyond.

    Amsterdam’s innovation ecosystem stands on many pillars and ASC’s members themselves act as platforms of knowledge and exchange. Waag Society, for instance, is a laboratory for technological innovation and open government initiatives, aiming at bringing ICT knowledge and skills to public administrations, opening public data to communities and developing platforms that enable citizens to provide feedback to administrations or to connect with each other in fair economic exchange. Representative of this latter ambition is Fairbnb, a spin-off of a Waag Society project that aims at creating a platform for responsible tourism that benefits local communities instead of extractive mechanisms. Another member of the partnership, Pakhuis de Zwijger is a physical venue with over 600 events a year that has in the past years become one of the main centres to discuss the future of cities in Europe and beyond.

    To frame the discussion within the Amsterdam Smart City ecosystem, academic partners like the University of Applied Sciences and AMS Institute lay out the theoretical frameworks, bring in existing knowledge and evaluate projects.  But the ASC partnership is only the core of a broad network of initiatives, organisations and platforms for public-private-civic cooperation in Amsterdam, including engagement projects like De Stem van West, collecting proposals for Amsterdam West, digital participation tools like Open Stadseel, or matchmaking and management platforms like Transform City. 

    When bidding for the Innovation Capital Award, Amsterdam’s was the only proposal that included many stakeholders as opposed to a solely municipality-driven application. The iCapital award proved the success of the “Amsterdam approach,” that is, getting on board a variety of actors to discuss solutions for the city’s challenges. The award allowed the partnership putting forward the bid to strengthen and expand their ecosystem: two thirds of the prize was reinvested in local initiatives by city makers, active citizens and social entrepreneurs addressing themes of health and talent, through “Amsterdammers, Maak je Stad,” an accelerator programme for urban initiatives.

    Platforms for marketing

    Platforms are not only used in Amsterdam to foster cooperation between actors of the region, but also to attract tourists and investors to the city. The promotion of the city as an attractive destination is at the centre of a city marketing strategy which saw a continuous evolution in the strategic use of different social media platforms.

    The creation of a coherent digital storytelling portal, presenting interesting stories and viral contents to be shared through a social media ecosystem managed by the Amsterdam Marketing in collaboration with the City Hall, is the final result of a process involving communication professionals, developers, social media strategists committed to enhance the city experience for locals and visitors. Small experiments on new functions and contents and fast learning from failures are decisive elements for the success of this social media strategy which is continuously refined and adapted to the changes of algorithms decided by the big companies. The selection of the content to be shared on social media and the choice of the platforms where this content is promoted, play a relevant role in a cross-channel strategy with different targets, such as residents, visitors, business and talents. To tell the same story with different emphasis on different channels is the choice made by Amsterdam, which is constantly improving the personalization of research and the connection with locals, in order to make their tools not only a showcase of the city attractions but useful resources to find events and discover new venues.

    In order to focus on users’ needs and provide them with more personalised information, new functions such as a chat bot on Facebook Messenger called Goochem were recently created to better guide users through all the different events organized in Amsterdam. Launched in Dutch in beta version last August, the chat bot is a perfect example of the interactions among different databases made possible by software applications combined with social media functions. The dialogue with development companies and Facebook to get the chat bot approved involved also the Privacy Commission of Amsterdam in order to guarantee high data protection standards.

    The strong connection with the ICT and social media strategy of the city will lead to the realization of new functions similar to Goochem (whose desktop version is going to be launched in 2018), with the aim of better guiding users through the enormous amount of information available on the IAmsterdam platform. Social media are contributing in a decisive way to foster the engagement of the users around the content published on the website, which is the most visible outcome of a branding strategy started in 2004 to present the city as innovative and creative. Social media are used as data entry points (only 5% of the visitors land on the webpage) and the analysis of the interactions provides useful information on the needs and the opinions of visitors and residents. The objective is to drive quality traffic on the website focusing on different categories of users reached mainly organically and just with a limited investment on social media advertisement. Quality content and great use of photos and videos (often live streamed) are contributing to make the Amsterdam pages more visible and engaging. These elements are contributing to include in the digital storytelling also original content such as the campaign on neighborhoods or the one on cultural diversity called 180 Amsterdammers, which are completing urban storytelling with fresh stories going beyond the traditional tourism promotion.    

    From experiments to strategies

    These partnerships carried out by Amsterdam are not fixed models but a trial and error process trying to establish a way forward, also for other cities, when dealing with the challenges of digital transition. Building a local ecosystem with public administrations, knowledge institutions, private companies and civic organisations does not only make Amsterdam more participated and competitive, but it also strengthens the position of the Municipality when negotiating with multinational ICT companies. In the meantime, for digital strategies to be effective, they must be connected to other relevant policies and actions carried out within the administration. Nevertheless, the way is still not fully defined, not for Amsterdam, nor for other cities.

    In fact, whilst the Dutch capital city has a strong leverage with big players, due to its strong public administration structure and tradition in relating to private sector, how should other cities with a weaker position, for example small and medium sized cities, build a relationship with such stakeholders? As the Interactive Cities project comes to its conclusions, partners are exploring different aspects of this question. Throughout Europe, new strategies are being built through prototypes carried out in different cities, for this reason creating an overview of what is happening in Europe, and beyond, is essential. For this, the Action Plan of the EU Urban Agenda partnership on Digital Transition will be very valuable. At the same time, a permanent observatory would be useful, with a more capillary and stable network of cities debating on such issues and regularly feeding into EU policies. This could be help integrate the existing European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities and the EU Open Data Portal. 

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  • Urban evolution towards resilience


    The successful story of a city's transformation strategy

    Asier Abaunza Robles
    Deputy Councellor of the Urban Planning Area
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    In 80 years, Bilbao has transformed itself from an obsolete industrial city into a knowledge-based economic centre. Investments in infrastructure have successfully rejuvenated the city and resulted in better social cohesion. A wide range of single interventions in the fields of the environment (the clean-up of the Nervion river), mobility (the underground's construction) and culture (the building of the Guggenheim Museum) have been integrated into a coherent vision. The implementation of these projects was possible thanks to a combination of different mechanisms: a perspective on urban development that goes beyond the city's limits, a multisector governance involving both the public and private actors, and an inclusive public participation. 

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    Bilbao's urban evolution is the result of a wide range of single interventions integrated into a common, agreed and coherent city vision. Some interventions stand out for being not only emblematic, but for acting as catalysts in the development process. a) Environmental restoration of the heavily polluted waters of the Nervion river and estuary. b) Elimination of railway barriers and obsolete associated infrastructures, releasing public space for multiple uses c) Improvement of mobility and accessibility by means of the construction of the underground, the tram and new bridges. d) Massive regeneration of urban public space and social housing development in the river banks in Abando- Ibarra, with the construction of the Guggenheim museum as an outstanding landmark. The implementation of those projects was possible thanks to the combination of different mechanisms: a) A supra-municipal perspective of urban development, i.e. consideration of the interventions in the context of Bilbao's metropolitan functional area b) Multisector (horizontal) and multilevel (vertical) governance approach with different formulas and ad hoc public-public and public-private partnerships in place. c) Public administrations at all levels participating and contributing with a land property, resulting from abandoned infrastructures and industrial uses. d) Truly inclusive and open public participation, facilitated by external professionals in the context of the Plan for Urban Zoning.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    Bilbao's urban evolution has built upon the principles of sustainability, resilience, inclusive urban development and regeneration. Bilbao has used a holistic and integrated approach in order to cope with its social challenges (poverty reduction, social exclusion), its environmental problems and the loss of competitiveness in the context of a deep economic decline. The transformation strategy relies on one hand on the horizontal integration of interventions that combine physical, economic, social, environmental and climate resilience dimensions, and on the other hand vertical integration with a multi-stakeholder cooperation at all levels of government and local players (local administration, civil society, private sector, etc.), between different levels of governance (local, regional national, EU), and finally territorial integration of interventions in the functional urban area represented in the Bilbao Metropolitan Area. The city strategy aims at contributing to the objectives of the EU Operative Program of Sustainable Growth: OT2: Smart City approach in the field of mobility and lighting. OT4: Boosting the transition to a low carbon economy OT6: Rehabilitation of urban areas, and greening of urban spaces towards flood risk reduction OT9: Development of cultural, social and entrepreneur activities in old and disused industrial facilities OT11: Developing institutional capacity, and promoting efficiency in public administration.

    Based on a participatory approach

    Since the post-industrial transformation governance, the lessons learned materialised in a mature, robust, transparent and truly social participatory and inclusive planning process. Open public participation facilitated by external professionals has been incorporated by the municipality in the context of the Plan for Urban Zoning, as a key component of the continuous urban regeneration and transformation process. The progress of the new General Plan of Urban Zoning is open to participation, allowing a redefinition of the city model for the next years. Many participation processes have been carried out, and were nourished with contributions and suggestions concerning the articulation of the city transformation strategy. Bilbao offers a multisector and multilevel governance approach with different formulas in place, depending on the needs of each project and intervention.

    A) Public-public partnership: in the early 1990s, Bilbao Ria 2000, an ad hoc public company, was created for the land management and urban regeneration operations in metropolitan Bilbao. It represented an effective framework to align government, business and the community towards a shared vision for the city.

    B) Public-private partnership. For a project such as the Zorrotzaurre Peninsula, an alternative model was created, namely the Commission Management.

    What difference has it made?

    The experience of Bilbao as a comprehensive city project, incrementally executed through more than 25 urban projects over 30 years and still ongoing, has achieved a profound transformation of the city. Bilbao has significantly improved its environment and quality of life, strengthened its social cohesiveness and cultural vibrancy and also increased its economic competitiveness. Strong GDP growth: from € 6 695m in 1980 to € 66.208m in 2009. Industrial strength: Creation and/or consolidation of Advanced Technology Centres such as Tecnalia and IK4. Investment in R+D: 2.1% of the GDP, exceeding the EU average Good Governance: zero debt. Tourist evolution: from 24.302 visitors in 1994 to 734.215 in 2012. More than a 50% increase in visitor numbers between 1997-2012, linked to the city's cultural services and attractiveness.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    The good practice offered by Bilbao provides evidence of the effective performance of single interventions implemented over the years, which interrelate among them towards the construction of a common and agreed vision of the city. Bilbao has faced, and faces today, the urban challenges common in other cities across Europe (i.e. improving environmental quality and climate resilience, social cohesion and inclusion, economic prosperity and quality of life in general terms). However, the most interesting aspect of Bilbao's good practice is that it also offers an urban development pathway with key elements that have been proved successful towards sustainable, territorially coherent, socially accepted, resilient, long-term and still ongoing transformation. Those key elements are: • An integrated and holistic approach to achieve economic, social and physical transformations; • A multi-stakeholder management approach: considering ad hoc formulas attending different needs at different moments in the process; • A feasible financial operation: public landowners releasing land in central areas of the city, investing in construction and/or housing. Capital gains obtained are invested in regeneration of former industrial areas; • A robust, truly participative and sustainable public policy framework. In this context, the Plan for Urban Zoning assures, consolidates and allows a common, long-term and coherent vision for the future in the city.

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  • Holistic method for urban regeneration


    A clear vision and a participatory approach are more important than a masterplan for urban regeneration.

    Anne Juel Andersen
    Project Manager
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    130 853


    Local collaboration is the key in this model, put forward by the Municipality of Aalborg (DK). The concerned two Aalborg neighbourhoods are situated outside the area of dynamic urban development growth, both had severe reputation and identity problems, and they were not seen as attractive residential areas. The rethinking process has shown their potential much clearer. Strategic plans focused on visions and action plans, including investments and partnerships, are main outputs of the practice. This has been developed through a ’rethinking’ process, including both physical environments, local network and cohesion, as well as storytelling and identity. Local and political ownership and partnerships, with trustful relations between the municipality, local stakeholders and investors, have been developed. This has brought security for investors, which is very important for the sustainable regeneration process.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    In Skalborg, the solution was the renewal of land use and strategic plans focused on visions and action, with cohesion and much better internal connections. This was reinforced by an important communication effort. In Tornhøj, the solutions have been structural changes, by opening up closed enclaves and by connecting different built-up areas, people and functions with new mobility solutions. The different investor partners have committed themselves to work for the common vision. Both neighbourhoods were built up in the golden age of the welfare state to provide separation of functions, good housing and an equal supply of public service for everybody. Now, they seem worn and out-dated, as the society and its dominating values have changed. The main goal for both areas has been developing unique urban neighbourhoods that provide quality everyday life for people. The new plans focus not only on potential areas for new housing densification, with new types of housing which are needed, but also on a potential for businesses, which can be integrated with housing in local centres. The process has been focused on communication and dialogue to create trustful relations and partnerships. Temporary activities, used strategically, have created very concrete and visible successes, and common identity in the area.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    In Tornhøj, the process started with a competition focusing on sustainable urban living. It developed a strategy for feasibility and new mobility to connect the neighbourhood and increase public transport, creating a ‘main street’ as the backbone for various users - pedestrians, cyclists and a new public driverless bus -, and an attractive urban space which includes not only housing, but also public institutions and other workplaces. Tornhøj is a socially vulnerable neighbourhood, and it has been crucial to rethink the area for the existing citizens in order to provide them with a sense of community and belonging, along with an invitation of new segment groups. In Skalborg, the project was also about improving the physical surroundings for its inhabitants' everyday life. An important part of the vision is to create a local centre for the whole neighbourhood, with a spread of service functions including grocery shops and attractive meeting places. The approach has been integrated and participative. The holistic approach is altogether the key point in the model. Horizontal integration has been the point in the cross-disciplinary work, not the least between different public sectors. Vertical integration is used in the dialogue between local school children and other groups of citizens, at different levels of government and politicians. Territorial integration is present when the vision process touches the role of the neighbourhood in the city and city region.

    Based on a participatory approach

    In Tornhøj, citizen involvement took place by workshops, guided walks with selected focus group workshops with representatives of the civic association, a local community office etc. A game was accomplished where consensus was made on activities in the urban spaces etc. Several temporary activities were carried out, which triggered involvement and good attention to the project. In Skalborg, communication plays a central role. The civic association, the social housing association and the local institutions play an important role as the community's cornerstones. Many citizens attended the introductory meetings and workshops. Key persons and the civic association were directly involved, and the executive committee in the local civic association was an active partner in the ongoing process. The temporary activities have been involving people in the neighbourhoods. In Skalborg, a dark and unpleasant pedestrian tunnel under the main road Hobrovej, which is a huge barrier splitting the area in two, was painted by hundreds of schoolchildren under the guidance of a professional street artist. The opening of this fantastically coloured tunnel was a big event which brought together children, parents and the area neighbours. The result is a much more inviting passageway. Even if the barrier problem is not solved yet, awareness of the traffic and solutions for safer ways especially for school children has come on the agenda.

    What difference has it made?

    Listed below are the most important projects to be realised in Tornhøj: • A narrow pedestrian tunnel is transformed into a broad path under a bridge. This project is closely connected to a new urban space; • A new café will open in an existing building, facing the new “main street”; • A new, driverless bus connection along the new main road (a pilot project with varied funding); • A new public care home for people suffering from dementia; • New grocery shops, cafés and different types of housing (including rental and ownership, as well as housing for elderly, young and families). The neighbourhood regeneration around Tornhøj into a new and sustainable suburb centre is in full swing. The renewal is both physical, social/functional and mental, as new stories about the area are changing its identity. The Skalborg project is some years “behind” the project in Tornhøj, but many goals have been reached so far, due to the strategic plan which gives security for investors. New collaborations, and a positive energy about the neighbourhood, did arise. • Two housing projects under development: two very visible corners in the city that will become landmarks; • The decoration of the tunnel under Hobrovej, which had a large impact and created big media coverage; • The project of a new local centre is starting up now.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    We think that the model could be interesting for many other European cities with similar neighbourhoods. First of all, the overall goal of creating synergy using existing, limited resources and attracting interest from investors will be shared by many cities. The use of a commitment process, focusing on special identities and storytelling in each neighbourhood, is involving citizens and pays attention to development possibilities. The model and methods employed can be inspiring for cities that also face safety and urban structure issues, negative storytelling and social exclusion in certain neighbourhoods. The model can be adjusted to different urban situations or actors, to their resources and those of the municipality. Some good advice on "how to": • Get hold of possible investors and initiate a dialogue; • An “opening picture” can be a method for dialogue about the future; • Register and involve, interview key partners and local associations; • Identify cooperation will in the neighbourhood, and bring people together; • Communicate broadly, and in many different ways; • Discuss the identity and future of the neighbourhood; • Use a small amount of money on temporary activities; • Arrange events and short-term activities, which generates new and positive stories about the community.

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  • City branding: making the invisible visible

    Alba Iulia

    A branding initative for sustainable cultural tourism

    Nicolaie Moldovan
    City Manager
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    The Alba Iulia (RO) practice gives voice to a challenge faced by many small or medium-sized cities from Europe: how to gain visibility in a changing economic context while promoting its cultural heritage? Strong with a rich history and a complex inheritance (a citadel, historic sites and medieval library) that were left to ruins, Alba Iulia built an integrated branding approach, directly linked with the city’s strategic planning process. By strategic positioning and valorization of its assets and strengthening its local identity, the city (73 000 inhabitants) managed to position itself as a reference for investors, tourists and citizens alike. It thus managed to attract important funding for the renovation of the citadel (60 million €), increases its population by 10 000 inhabitants in five years, due to working opportunities, and the number of tourists by 65% during the same period.   

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    Building the identity goes back to seven years ago, when a local strategic planner to one of the largest advertising companies in the world created pro bono the visual expression of the city’s identity and slogan. Next was the launch of a branding manual with a set of rules for using the city brand, aiming to maintain a strategic brand consistency and addressed to the local economic actors beyond the touristic purpose of a branding manual. Alba Iulia became the first Romanian city to have a professional city branding&brand manual and a pro-made marketing strategy. Alba Iulia is also the first city in Romania to launch a complete touristic tool: a touristic guide, a mobile app, an official blog, an Instagram and Twitter page, targeting different types of audiences. After gaining visibility at national level we decided not to remain Romania`s best kept secret destination and we went across borders, being awarded the title of European Destination of Excellence. The city has managed to stay in the middle of events and be different, which explains our brand positioning: The Other Capital. Alba Iulia tells a story about city branding, the story of an old city, having a multicultural past, becoming the symbol of unification, the fall into disgrace, irrelevance and decay, and the city’s impressive return right after the country joined the EU, building on European support and solidarity to build a new future, starting with the city's cultural heritage. Alba Iulia is now one of Eastern Europe's most impressive success stories.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    Positioning the city as a place for investors, tourists and citizens reflects an integrated approach between these target groups. A place for investments is attractive for investors, creating jobs and reducing poverty; a place for tourists and citizens includes green spaces, the protection of environment, an attractive place to visit and to live in, efficient public services. An efficient communication on the tourism potential of the city, both on the historical and the contemporary side, reveals the potential that the city has for development. The branding strategy of Alba Iulia is integrated in the national context, as the spiritual capital of Romania, and into the regional context, with a bottom-up approach at city level. To some extent, Europe validated Alba Iulia’s efforts when it won the title of European Destination of Excellence and was awarded by Europa Nostra mention of the jury. Alba Iulia started to strengthen its local, national and international pride. In this equation, several stakeholders were involved, from the executive public servants, elected representatives and local artists, as well as civil society and the community who had the chance to vote themselves on the local identity. Given the above-mentioned points, the approach is in line with the URBACT principles. From the very beginning of designing the brand strategy to the implementation phase, all the relevant stakeholders were and continue to be involved, ensuring integration at the local, regional, national and international level.

    Based on a participatory approach

    The logo was launched shortly after the citizens of the city became the “owners’’ of the citadel, a forbidden place which was in the custody of the army and closed to the public until then. The logo in the shape of the citadel represented, for the citizens, a first door to understanding and feeling the largest fortress in Romania. The participation of locals in city branding is reflected by two interesting successful initiatives. In 2009, The Big Hug from Alba Iulia gathered 100,000 people to set the world record for the biggest human hug around the citadel. “The Great Appearance” is an innovative type of marketing event, which was planned by a local photographer and Alba Iulia Municipality. It consisted of the largest photo-image ever realised for the promotion of a city in Romania formed by 1,000 photo-portraits of the inhabitants of Alba Iulia. The giant poster was and is still used in the campaigns organised by the local administration. An important number of citizens living in Alba Iulia Municipality had the chance to take part in the creation of the logo of the city. Other participatory examples came from local economic actors who decided to link their traditional products with the logo of the city. Both The Citadel Wine as well as The Starshaped Bread of the Citadel are using the branding identity regulated by the branding manual. Alba Iulia transforms dreams into plans, plans into actions, actions into results, together with stakeholders.

    What difference has it made?

    The city where the future was born is engaging its visitors in this process of the redefinition of the city, changing them from passive tourists into key stakeholders of the reconstruction. Visitors become living witnesses of this change, a dynamic process to which they belong. They don’t receive something "ready-made", but they become part of the transformation, having the feeling of explorers in a new space that redefines itself from its internal resources brought to the surface, as well as from its otherness, mirroring in the eyes of Europe. Arriving in Alba Iulia, tourists have a list of actions and events they can attend and where they can be involved, depending on their profile. Moreover, in recent years Alba Iulia has experienced an unprecedented increase in the number of tourists. The growth was organic and constant. The investments in the last few years in tourism and professional marketing strategy had a real impact on the social, cultural and economic level. A set of indicators reflects the change: • Visitors at the museum: 91,608 in 2013, 128,958 in 2014, 154,700 in 2015, 167,200 in 2016; • Overnights: 59,210 in 2011, 78,336 in 2014, 114,446 in 2015; • Accommodation capacity: 612 in 2009, 941 in 2014, 1,186 in 2009. Another indicator is the increased number of residents: 63,536 in 2011 and 73,937 in 2015. The events organised each year are attracting more and more audience, making Alba Iulia one of the top five Romanian cities for cultural vitality.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    Public sector representatives have a narrow view of branding (perceived as logo planning) or do not understand the purpose and process of branding at all. It is difficult to make all relevant stakeholders understand that they do have a role in the development of the city brand. This has led to conceptual ambiguity and varying understandings of the objectives and the potential means to achieve them. In this regard, the results achieved by Alba Iulia as well as the tools developed could be transferred to other cities around Europe. The example is easy to transfer to other small and mid-sized cities in Europe. It is now time for Alba Iulia, “The Capital of Unification", to say “Thank you Europe” for providing the chance to restore the largest citadel in Romania and to transform it into our brand new city identity. Now is the time to give Europe something back: a symbol of togetherness. We will tell Europe the story of “The Citadel of Unification”, saved and reborn through European unity, made visible through an integrated approach, in an URBACT style. It is easy to adapt and to transfer. If Alba Iulia Municipality’s strength was its cultural heritage and historic value, for other cities the branding element could be focused on youth, on investors, on technology. The principles to follow are the same.

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  • How participative metropolitan planning can really work

    Grand Paris Métropolis

    "Let's reinvent the Grand Paris Metropolis" call for projects brings together local stakeholders to design their metropolitan area.

    Séverine ROMME
    Delegate for Cooperation and Innovation
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    In 2016, the Grand Paris Metropolis (FR), in partnership with the government and the public body responsible for building the new automatic Metro, launched the “Let's reinvent the Grand Paris Metropolis” challenge for its municipalities and for the private sector (companies, designers, promoters, investors). 
    The challenge included two phases. First, mayors proposed public land and sites in need of transformation. Following visits to these sites and consultations with locals, private sector companies submitted innovative projects for the sites’ economic, social and environmental transformation. 
    In March 2017, 164 projects out of 420 were successful, focusing on 57 sites, 27 of which are around future Metro stations. These projects are made up of more than 326 innovative startups, associations and SMEs. In total, 6.4 billion euros will be injected by the companies acquiring the sites in the coming years.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    The implemented solutions have brought together elected representatives and professionals. The sites were proposed by the relevant mayor or territorial president, who presented them to the President of the Grand Paris Metropolis. Where appropriate, the site developer was included in a letter of intent addressed to the Grand Paris president. An advisory elected representative–technician pair has been appointed and a fact sheet has been drawn up with: • Information on the site location; • Its surface area; • Guidelines on the provisional programme and the developer; • Whether they have already been selected; • The type of innovation expected (intermodality, energy efficiency, urban services, digital technology, construction, culture, etc.); • The town planning restrictions. The devised solutions also aimed to cater to new city dweller habits, with shared services proposed in half of the successful projects (co-living, co-working, etc.). The decision to launch a call for projects has revamped the city's production methods by creating public/private partnerships, as the projects are led by professionals who assume the risks in return for land development potential. Given the scale of the experiment, the territorial impact can be measured, as it is led at metropolitan level. Finally, as all metropolitan territories were free to participate in the call for projects, the small towns with limited resources were able to optimise land in the same way as the larger towns.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    The Let's reinvent the Grand Paris Metropolis call for projects illustrates both the process and the purposes – reinventing the city differently – of the integrated sustainable urban development drive. And while the organisers have given the team substantial freedom in terms of the programming, the economic and social model for their project and the urban or architectural styles, they have nonetheless set out a number of URBACT principles, including: • Involving the projects in the search for an innovative, sustainable, united and intelligent metropolis with a view to sustainable urban development; • Devising projects within an integrated strategy in order to: - boost economic vitality and job opportunities in the metropolis; - respond to residents’ housing and service needs; - set an example in terms of energy and the environment; - contribute to the artistic, cultural and social reach of the metropolis; - suggest new concepts, new locations, new uses and new services with a focus on functional diversity and reversibility; - suggest models to ensure efficiency in the projects and the residents' association. To ensure the integrated approach of the projects, they must be led by groups offering a range of skills, with designers, promoters, developers, investors, companies and even citizen communities or associations, in a bottom-up approach.

    Based on a participatory approach

    As France’s largest metropolis, with a population of seven million inhabitants and an entrepreneurial pull, the Grand Paris Metropolis wanted this call for projects to be an example of co-constructing the metropolitan project. To ensure extensive professional participation in the call for projects, the organisational committee – co-chaired by the Grand Paris Metropolis President and the Regional Prefect for Ile-de-France, responsible for the political management of the process – organised the call-up as early as possible in the process. In October 2016, an event was organised for all potential company candidates in order to present the 59 sites chosen by the organisational committee and invite them to respond to the consultation. Site visits were organised in October and November 2016 alongside national and international communications campaigns. The consulting website went online during the property show in December 2016, coinciding with the start of the official application submission process. A large-scale citizen debate took place in conjunction with the call for projects in order to bring residents together and make this good practice a founding act for the metropolis and a badge of its identity. The winners were chosen by a panel for each site chaired by the President, who had the option to delegate this responsibility to the mayor of the town or territory in question in order to ensure control of the site’s future.

    What difference has it made?

    In terms of impact on the Metropolis (the Grand Paris Metropolis was created in January 2016, see the video), the “Let's reinvent the Metropolis” call for projects has raised its profile and substantially increased its attractiveness among investors, thus enhancing the diversity and quality of projects. In terms of results, 164 company groups were selected from 420 candidates to acquire the 57 sites involved in the call for projects. The innovation goal was well reached as the groups of property and development professionals (architects, promoters and investors) place huge emphasis on urban innovation companies and a strong local presence, with more than 326 innovative start-ups, associations and SMEs. If we consider the method, the 420 applications received proposed exceptional innovative ideas with a view to transforming the Metropolis into a real “sustainable and smart city laboratory”. The “Let's reinvent the Grand Paris Metropolis” consultation has thus established itself as the urban innovation pioneer and Europe's largest smart city consultation process. In terms of governance, the call for projects method, bringing mayors and territorial presidents into contact with teams of professionals to work on the projects, has helped create synergies between towns and territories.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    This good practice may be of interest to other cities as they are all faced with the two-pronged challenge of finding solutions for land development and attracting investors. The success of phase one of “Let's reinvent the Grand Paris Metropolis” is fully in line with the very substance of this consultation: innovation, in all its guises. For the most part, the 420 applications that were received captured this quality, transforming this consultation into a call for projects targeting environmental excellence. Of the key topics, the issue of mobility to simplify metropolitan connections is also relevant to other European cities, with connected mobility, soft mobility and smart parking. A logistics review is another area for consideration, proposed at metropolitan level. The methods of dialogue with residents are also central to this good practice, which aims to integrate them from the very early project planning stages. Indeed, the relevance of the projects is reliant on continual input from the user. An experience exchange with other European counties would only boost the process. Furthermore, involving local elected representatives in the choice of sites and teams strengthens governance at various metropolitan and local levels. The Metropolis does not impose its projects on the communities. Instead, it instigates the process and promotes territories and know-how. The call for projects attracted young agencies, big names in architecture and start-ups.

    Is a transfer practice
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