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  • Volunteering Cities

    Timeline

    Kick-off meeting (May), Transnational Meeting (August), End of Phase 1, Beginning of Phase 2
    Transnational Meetings (February, March, June, October, December)
    Capacity Building, Workshops
    Transnational Meetings (February, March), Final Conference, URBACT City Festival

    Municipality of Athienou
    2, Archbishop Makarios III Ave.
    7600 Athienou Cyprus

    CONTACT US

    This Transfer network makes use of Volunteerism to approach social exclusion and poverty at the community level. Focus is given to an inter-generational collaboration where different age groups of both volunteers and individuals facing social problems work towards a sustainable evolution of the quality of life within local society. The network aims at structuring the volunteering activity giving validity to a bottom up approach, where volunteers can decide and implement actions.

    Volunteers connect cities, from compassion to action
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  • Nine solutions for more vibrant, productive cities

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    15/11/2022

    These local actions for community participation and productivity are inspiring cities across the EU. Could they work in yours too?

    Articles
    Education

    The New Leipzig Charter highlights three forms of the transformative city which can be harnessed in Europe to enhance people’s quality of life: the Just City, the Green City and the Productive City.

    URBACT’s latest publication is packed with sustainable solutions to address these three dimensions – all tried, tested and transferred between EU cities, with adaptations for each local context.

    To give a taste of the stories told in ‘Good Practice Transfer: Why not in my City?’, here are nine examples of local actions for Productive Cities. We hope towns and cities of all sizes will be inspired to ‘Understand, Adapt and Re-use’ participative solutions like this – from education and entrepreneurship to efficient governance and better use of urban spaces – improving everyday life for residents, and supporting a just transition to a green economy.

     

    1. Give citizens a card for local services

    To simplify everyday life in Aveiro (PT), the municipality got together with stakeholders to launch a card that will give citizens easy access to public services such as the library, museum, buses and shared bikes, as well as improved online and front desk support. A first step was to issue a student card to access school services across the city, from stationery and meals, to school trips. The idea is to promote a smarter, more open, resilient and inclusive society. Aveiro and four other URBACT partner cities are introducing their local versions of ‘CARD4ALL’ based on good practice from Gijón, a Spanish city that has provided citizen cards for nearly 20 years.

     

    2. Put residents’ wellbeing at the heart of urban regeneration

    In a project to bring an old playing field back into use, Birmingham (UK) gave local people the power to drive improvements themselves, thanks to a Community Economic Development Planning model, mirroring successful approaches already used in Łódź (PL). Building on this positive start, residents went on to co-produce an alternative Community-Led Master Plan for the wider area — where all council plans had previously been opposed. Council-appointed community ‘ambassadors’ now work with local residents, businesses, service providers and volunteers with a direct stake in the area’s economic health. And the approach is being rolled out across other areas of the city. Birmingham is one of six cities to learn from Łódź’ collaborative model as part of the URBAN REGENERATION MIX network.

     

    3. Create a digital business hub with a local twist 

    The Greek city of Piraeus founded a new ‘Blue Lab’ near its harbour — the first Blue Economy Innovation Centre in Greece. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology, Blue Lab welcomes students and entrepreneurs, providing business mentoring, tech and entrepreneurship training. It has boosted cooperation with businesses and schools, and sparked an array of prototype technology solutions. Piraeus’ further plans now include a new larger co-working space, training facilities to upskill the workforce, and investment in more advanced technologies. Piraeus is one of six URBACT Tech Revolution network partner cities to set up their own start-up support schemes based on the Digital Media Centre in Barnsley (UK), an URBACT-listed Good Practice that has become a successful hub for local creative and digital business.

     

    4. Build local partnerships around education

    By involving parents, school staff, local clubs and council departments in ‘Educational Innovation Networks’ (EIN), the city of Halmstad (SE) is boosting local connections and sparking improvements in education. Thanks to the URBACT ON BOARD network, Halmstad learnt from Viladecans (ES) who originally formed an EIN to improve education as part of a drive to reverse rising unemployment and declining growth. Halmstad adopted new ideas, including ‘Positive Mindset and Emotions’ for better learning and methods for improving pupil participation. Communication within the municipality also improved thanks to cross-departmental clusters focusing on: Care and Support; Education and Learning; Growth and Attractiveness; and Infrastructure.

     

    5. Open a ‘living room’ for local clubs and residents

    Idrija (SI) transformed an empty shop into a ‘living room’ for the town, with free activities run by, and for, local associations and inhabitants. City administrators, social services and economic departments, local clubs and active citizens, are all involved in the project, as well as the regional development agency, library and retirement home. As a result, the site has become a meeting place open to all, with events focusing on topics as diverse as housing refurbishment, chess, and knitting. It also hosts a municipality-supported free transport service for elderly people and a book corner run by the local library. Idrija’s solution was modelled on the ‘Stellwerk’ NGO platform launched in Altena (DE) as a solution to help manage the town’s long-term decline.

     

    6. Turn unused buildings into homes

    Chemnitz’s (DE) ‘Housing Agency for Shrinking Cities’ helps transform empty buildings into valuable housing while reducing speculation, channeling grant money, and cutting future costs for both the owners of decaying buildings and the municipality. Initiated and funded by the city authorities, the project is carried out in the public interest by a long-standing private partner. This model inspired Vilafranca del Penedès (ES), partner in the URBACT ALT/BAU network, to review its housing policies and look for private partners with the technical capacity and financial solvency to help the city recover abandoned housing units. As a result, Vilafranca has signed an agreement with a social foundation whose main objective is to identify, obtain and rehabilitate low-priced rental housing in collaboration with job agencies.

     

    7. Launch a blue entrepreneurship competition (for cities near water!) 

    The port city of Mataró (ES) is boosting local entrepreneurship and jobs in the maritime economy – inspired by a BlueGrowth initiative in Piraeus (EL). Mataró encouraged diverse public and private stakeholders to get involved, including the City Promotion team, regional ‘Barcelona Nautic Cluster’, local port authority, and a technology park that hosts the University and a business incubator. The resulting Mataró Blue Growth Entrepreneurship competition provides cash prizes, mentoring and access to a business accelerator programme. So far winning projects include a boat repair franchise, a boat propulsion system, and an app linking up superyachts with relevant services.

     

    8. Help city employees become innovators

    When Turin (IT) teamed up with private sponsors to launch a competition inviting 10 000 municipal staff to submit innovative ideas for improving the administration's performance, winning proposals included solutions for improving community participation, smart procurement, and lighting in public buildings. This inspired Rotterdam (NL) and five other cities in the URBACT Innovato-R network to draw on Turin’s experience to boost innovation and process improvement in their own cities. As a result, Rotterdam took a fresh approach with its existing innovation network of over 1 800 civil servants and 500 external stakeholders, strengthening links with businesses and academics, introducing new online ‘inspiration sessions’, and co-designing a new innovation platform.

     

    9. Harness the power of public spending 

    Koszalin (PL) analysed the city’s procurement spending and is using the resulting evidence to shape public procurement practices in order to benefit the local economy, while taking into account social and environmental factors. To do so, they used a spend analysis tool that was originally developed by Preston (UK) and transferred to six EU cities via the URBACT Making Spend Matter network. Koszalin also started working more closely with key ‘anchor institutions’ in the city, such as the hospital and university, exploring how much they spend, and where that money goes geographically. Meanwhile, they improved support for local SME participation in public procurement.

     

    Find out more about these and many more sustainable city solutions – in the new URBACT publication ‘Good Practice Transfer: Why not in my City?’.

    Visit the Good Practice database for more inspiration.

     

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  • Re-grow City: turning disadvantage into opportunity

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    15/11/2022

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

    The challenge urban shrinkage

    Articles
    Ageing

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

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

    Altena’s expertise in tackling long term decline

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Focus on small and medium size towns

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

    ***

    Visit the network's page: Re-GrowCity

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  • Re-growCity

    Timeline

    Kick-off meeting

    Re-growCity Transfer network focuses on the development of interventions that built on local capabilities to arrest and reverse long term social, economic and environmental decline. Altena has a track record of recognised good practices that facilitate the development of sustainable initiatives with a minimum of external resource input. This network will support partners to revitalise public services and the economy, regenerate the urban fabric and develop civil society in a context of long term decline.

    Tackling long term decline in smaller cities
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  • 'Volunteering Cities' a Powerful Model for European Cities

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    15/11/2022

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

    Articles
    Ageing

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

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

    Transfer of the volunteering governance model

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

    Municipal Council of Volunteerism (MCV)

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

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

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

    Intergenerational work: a sustainability factor

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

    A strong corporate social responsibility of local companies

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

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

    The Transfer Network

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

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

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

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

    More on Transfer Networks methodology.

    The spirit of volunteerism

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

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

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  • Finding opportunities in declining cities

    Germany
    Altena

    Working with civil society to reverse decline in small and medium sized towns

    Sara Schmidt
    Project Coordinator
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    16 500
    • Adapted by Re-growCity Transfer Network

    Summary

    The overarching theme of this good practice is strategic management in the context of long-term decline and stagnation. After local industries closed, the population of Altena (DE) shrank by 43% between 1975 and 2014. Facing diminishing resources and increasingly complex problems, the municipality adjusted its priorities, working more closely with citizens. Actions include: organisational restructuring (such as downsizing and resource-sharing), developing civil society (including the involvement of hundreds of volunteers), economic revitalisation (through tourism, for example), and integration of refugees. In 2015 Altena's population increased for the first time since the 1970s. Municipal finances have improved, there are fewer empty shops, and unemployment has fallen for the first time in 40 years.
    Having shifted its strategic objectives to work more closely with citizens and focus on controlling decline rather than focusing on growth, Altena has stabilised its population and improved municipal finances. Altena provides examples where the response to decline is rooted in local resources and expertise. The experience of Altena shows that activating often dormant resources and opportunities requires a frank debate about the future direction of the town. This requires strong visionary leadership combined with the ability to integrate conflicting interests and overcome resistance to change.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    Altena provides a case study of two practical interventions which can arrest and ultimately reverse decline: the ‘Stellwerk’ volunteers’ platform, and a ‘Pop-up Shop’ campaign. Fostering the engagement of inhabitants who are not in paid employment but have access to skills and resources to help support those in need, builds the capacity of civil society to engage with often complex social problems in a structured way. Altena founded its NGO platform in 2008 and called it Stellwerk. The Stellwerk started without a budget. The municipality made available premises, paid the energy and cleaning bills, provided a minimum of administrative resources. Currently the Stellwerk has 8 volunteer workers who co-ordinate several hundred volunteers providing disability support, arts and music groups, home visiting and home care services, refugee integration and much more. The Stellwerk provides an essential channel of communication between civil society and municipality. Economic decline and outmigration of economically active populations result in an over-supply of retail premises, especially in town centres. Pop-up shops provide an effective way to populate the town centre with new enterprises. The goal is to support entrepreneurs in testing the viability of their business in that particular location and then facilitate the transition into permanent rental agreement with the property owners. The municipality carries some costs and also risks during this period and needs to be prepared to overcome resistance from existing shops and also the owners of empty premises. Altena established 14 pop-ups of which 5 are now trading as permanent, regular businesses on the high street. The good practices Altena are relevant to all smaller cities that have to rely on their own resources to create opportunities for improving socio-economic and environmental conditions. This includes creating opportunities for meaningful paid and unpaid work, tackling environmental degradation, reducing financial liabilities for public agencies, safeguarding essential services, enhancing economic activity and integrating vulnerable members of society. The practices developed by Altena are locally created sustainable innovations based on the resources that are typically available to smaller cities, including: natural resources, such as landscapes, forests, rivers, man-made physical resources, such as buildings, roads and infrastructure, economic resources, such as existing companies, education and training facilities, and, perhaps most important, social resources, meaning the skills, energy, resources and networks of the people who live and work in the city. To generate effective responses to shrinkage these resources need to be bundled in ways which resonate with local stakeholders because they are the engine that mobilises the skills and energies available locally.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    Altena has been identified by national and international experts as a good practice case in responding to urban decline in sustainable and cross-cutting ways. Downsizing and restructuring the municipality resulted in the integration of planning, economic development, transport functions, education and leisure services were combined, housing and adult social care were integrated. But equally important, the civil society forum (Stellwerk) was strengthened and given a voice as well as influence over the strategic decisions the city administration would have made in isolation in the past. These actions were embedded in a strategy framework developed in close collaboration with the local population, which resulted in the Altena 2015 strategy (see below). Hence the good practices promoted here are fully aligned with the URBACT principles of sustainable urban living as well as an integrated and participatory approach to socio-economic and environmental development.

    Based on a participatory approach

    Between 2003 and 2005 Altena received support from the Bertelsmann Foundation to develop participatory initiatives for building an inter-generational town that embraced the needs of an ageing population. Planning consultants, architects and academics facilitated a comprehensive range of workshop to explore the ideas as well as apprehensions local people had about the future of their city. This process was called ‘Altena 2015’ and resulted in a strategic development framework for the city which was governed not by the municipality alone but in conjunction with a newly created partnership of civil society organisations. The strategy went beyond generational matters and identified a large number of priorities for new social, economic and environmental developments – none of the ‘old’ initiatives when the town was still in denial about the reality of shrinkage were included. The strategy was based on the principle that citizens had to contribute in practical ways to the services and any improvements they wanted to see. Given that the municipality was technically bankrupt at the time, the active and extensive input of citizens who live and work in Altena is considered to be the distinctive and decisive element of a strategy that has brought about a reversal in the fortunes of the city.

    What difference has it made?

    Through the ‘Altena 2015’ strategy many problems were tackled in an integrated and collaborative way. By working with civil society it was possible to reduce the number of schools, nurseries, leisure centres and vacant housing stock in ways which minimised the impact on people’s lives. Problems were turned into opportunities by: • Connecting the town with a major visitor attraction on the mountain above Altena through an elevator, the ‘Erlebnisaufzug’. • Pop-up shops to bring entrepreneurs into the town centre • Refurbishing the riverfront • Developing inter-generational projects • Strengthening voluntary agencies. In 2011 there were 23 empty shops in the town centre, now there are 18 and essential services are provided to a high standard, often complemented with support from citizens. The local economy has turned a corner and for the first time in 40 years unemployment has fallen and stands at 6.5%. The financial resources of the municipality are now stable, showing a break-even budget 2017/18 instead of projecting a deficit as in previous decades. In 2015 Altena’s population increased for the first time since the 1970s, primarily by inviting more refugees than required by legislation, thus growing its capacity to respond to shrinkage. The exemplary work undertaken to integrate refugees is well known: http://www.dw.com/en/altena-leads-by-example-in-refugee-crisis/av-19098707

    Transferring the practice

    After being awarded the URBACT Good Practice title, Altena was able to create the Re-grow City Transfer Network to which seven European cities (Manresa Spain, Idrija Slovenia, Igoumenitsa Greece, Isernia Italy, Melgaço Portugal, Aluksne Latvia, Nyírbátor Hungary) were invited which were similarly facing the challenge of declining population. Equipped by URBACT with a toolkit, the cities could learn from each other. Re-grow City deliberately focused on small and medium sized towns, because they face distinctive challenges in terms of constrained resources and limited technical capabilities when compared to larger cities. These constraints offer opportunities, however, for example robust social networks with high levels of ‘social capital’ and short decision making routes that speed up the adoption of untested or controversial methods. Taken together with the resources and skills local people have, shrinking cities are places of opportunity and can demonstrate considerable resilience even where they face severe constraints. As a side-outcome of the Re-Grow City network, in May 2021 the new pan-European network ReGrow Towns has been established. This is aimed for towns below the size of 50 th residents and is an addendum to the already existing networks of Eurocities (cities above 250 th residents) and Eurotowns (cities between 50-250 th residents). 16.500 https://www.citypopulation.de/en/germany/nordrheinwestfalen/m%C3%A4rkischer_kreis/05962004__altena/

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  • OP-ACT

    Timeline

    Project launch
    Project completed

    Options of actions - strategic positioning of small and medium sized cities
    Demographic change, advanced de-industrialization and the current financial crisis together with the linked danger of job losses pose specific challenges for small and medium size cities.

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    934