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  • Civic eState


    Kick-off meeting, Naples (IT)
    Mid-term meeting, Iași (RO)
    26-28 May 2021, Final Network Event (online)
    Transnational meeting, Prešov (SK) / Transnational meeting, Amsterdam (NL)

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


    Municipality of Santiago de Compostela


    Municipality of Udine (Italy)


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    The Civic eState network worked on new models of urban co-governance based on the commons. Two years of EU cooperation for promoting urban co-governance and experimenting public-community partnerships to enable inhabitants and local communities constitutional rights to self-organize and collectively act for the urban commons.

    The network outputs aim at guaranteeing the collective enjoyment as well as collective management of urban essential facilities, to secure fair and open access, participatory decision-making, sustainability and preservation for the benefit of future generations.

    Pooling Urban Commons
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  • Governing commons, is it even possible?

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    Creative communities have long been a vital element for city regeneration: groups of people helping to improve urban spaces, buildings, initiatives or services, opening them up for neighbourhood use in order to answer local needs. For city administrations seeking sustainable ways to develop their territories, one approach is to improve such community participation. Naples (IT), for example, introduced a governance model that allows communities to manage public assets as ‘common goods’ – a solution transferred to six other EU cities through the Civic eState network. This collective management of so-called ‘urban commons’ was the focus of a recent URBACT City Festival session entitled “Governing commons, is it even possible?”. URBACT Expert Liat Rogel reports.

    In the context of urban commons the city is seen as “a platform utilised and optimised by citizens from all backgrounds and social statuses”, explained Cristijan Iaione, URBACT Lead Expert for Civic eState and an expert on urban commons. To be a successful platform, the public administration first has to recognise the benefits that could come from such collaboration. Second, it should adopt new tools and governance policies that enable and empower citizens.

    Also, the involved parties, including NGOs, and formal and non-formal groups, need to recognise themselves as collaborators, part of a joint movement promoting commons. Governing commons means finding the right path to regulate something as dynamic, spontaneous and agile as a community. Can this even be possible? Can a city guarantee a good governance of commons without the risk of compromising the character of urban communities? These are some of the key questions Naples and their Civic eState partners Amsterdam (NL) and Gdansk (PL) tackled at the URBACT Festival, alongside Turin (IT) from the UIA – URBACT network CO4CITIES.

    Amsterdam: recognising the commons movement

    Very often, working on commons starts with recognition and identity, according to Nathalie van Loon, Commons coordinator for the City of Amsterdam. She said: “in Amsterdam, there is a real old tradition of commons in practice. Civic participation has been part of urban development and people are used to protest, offer different solutions or collect consensus. However, there is no recognition of the term ‘commons’ and no sense of larger identity between the different stakeholders that are actually commoners. We need to build a new narrative and adapt to a worldwide movement. People do not recognise themselves as part of the movement.”

    One of the ways to start the sense of identity and begin a collaborative conversation was the creation of a commons catalogue. “In Amsterdam, we asked artists to make a city catalogue for commons. It tells the story of Amsterdam commoners, of change in the city, and gives concrete examples from the local context. We have a network of commoners now and we look for ways to work on neighbourhoods rights, but we will work better on collaboration.” Nathalie van Loon described integrating the term ‘public-common partnership’ as a way to increase collaboration, build a set of tools to facilitate this partnership, and to ensure the movement is both recognised by all stakeholders and sustainable in the long term.

    Naples: a city forced to think outside the box

    Public-community governance has proven to be successful in Naples, which has seen a major development of tools and methods for urban commons over the past decade. Experience the city shared during the recent URBACT Transfer Network Civic eState. Nicola Massella, from the City of Naples, described how the city administration was put in the position of having to come up with new tools. Citizens and communities reclaimed public abandoned spaces, occupying them and then making them available to residents, with cultural activities and even social services.

    “Our administrative tools were developed after things already happened,” said Nicola Massella. “As public servants, we understood that we cannot programme the future of a neighbourhood without collaboration with the people living there. We were forced to take action. We were linked to the idea of the government and the people forced us to think out of the box.”

    In Naples, the recognition of formal and informal groups is based on constitutional values. The community must allow open access and be socially inclusive and non-discriminative. If those principles are in place, the administration recognises the collaboration and provides services like water, electricity and other affordable services. Eight spaces in eight neighbourhoods are now up and running in this way. Whether it’s a park, or a beach, these spaces are mainly used for cultural initiatives that preserve local traditions. As well as this ‘immaterial’ gain, social infrastructure and services are also being set up by communities. Examples include spaces for teenagers to study, social spaces for the elderly or administrative assistance for immigrants. These structures are relatively economically accessible and maintain their quality over time.  

    Turin: experimenting with and testing tools in different contexts

    Change of mindset is a main topic when talking about commons in Turin. “Through experimenting with new tools, it became clear that this change is needed not only inside the municipality, but also in the local, not-for-profit organisations that usually are involved in offering spaces or services to the community,” said Giovanni Ferrero, city of Turin. “With Co-City, we tested local regulation with the aim of governing commons. In our testing period, the city developed the pact of collaboration. It is oriented towards a collaborative governance model. It implies a change of mindset, change of approach both from the public and the third sector. On one side, the public has an authoritative role that needs to change; on the other hand, non-for-profit organisations – and the citizens they support – are used to making requests from the public. Both need to change their roles here.”

    Turin developed two experimental spaces during their UIA Co-City project, and now, as a way to continue and develop the collaborative governance tools, they are working with three other cities in the UIA-URBACT network CO4CITIES. “We will continue working on local regulation with the aim of governing commons and will benefit from this European exchange.” One of the cities involved in the project is Gdansk, where the issue of trust and roles is also very relevant.

    Gdansk: building trust and letting go

    Magdalena Skiba, from the municipality of Gdansk, explained how encouraging work on urban commons “demands even more from the administrations than the communities. Communities of active citizens are ready for taking responsibility, but the municipality is not necessarily ready to ‘lose control’. The administration must learn how to become an enabler and not a ruler.” This topic was carried ahead first with a previous URBACT project BoostInno, where the city was defined as a ‘broker’. Magdalena Skiba added: “we have worked with local communities for about 15 years in Gdansk. We were happy to be pushed by the opportunity of working on a specific building, towards a related work on our Neighbourhood houses.”

    Neighbourhood houses are given to local NGOs by the municipality in exchange for the support they provide through activities for local residents. The city also covers some maintenance and management costs. Working on those, it was clear, said Magdalena, that “also local NGOs need a change of mindset: they usually act as if they were the owners and lack collaboration with the neighbourhood. We would like to move towards community ownership.” In a country with low levels of public trust in government, the last point from Gdansk is crucial: “we trust only our close families. In my opinion, the most important thing is to build trust between communities and the administration. The broker role, not to force solutions, but to enable them.”

    The answer to the question in the title is indeed tricky. One way to frame it may be a change of paradigm and approach. We do not have to see commons as something to govern, but rather something to enable. Perhaps the main question is not how to govern, but how we can support commons and guarantee their long-term sustainability.

    Further reading

    While local stakeholder participation is at the heart of URBACT’s approach, the recent URBACT networks Civic eState and Co4Cities focused specifically on the co-management of urban commons. URBACT experts in this field include: Christian Iaione, Director of LabGov; Levente Polyak, Lead Expert of CO4CITIES; and Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse, who recently published a book on the topic.  

    URBACT articles include:


    This article is part of a series exploring the latest challenges in sustainable urban development, based on discussions with cities and experts at the 2021 URBACT City Festival. Topics range from community participation in urban renewal and gender in public procurement, to cities tackling climate change. View Festival highlights here.


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  • 23 Action Planning Networks ready for Phase 2!

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    On 7 May, URBACT's Monitoring Committee has officially approved all Action Planning Networks to proceed to Phase 2.



    The main objective of Action Planning Networks is to bring together between 7 and 10 cities across Europe to exchange their experience in a particular thematic urban development challenge and to share their ideas about possible solutions, during a period of over 2 years. The Phase 1 (from late June 2019 to February 2020) focused on the development of baseline studies, city profiles and the production of the Application Form for Phase 2.

    Following the Monitoring Committee's approval of the networks, cities are now ready to focus on the exchange and learning activities using a range of learning tools and approaches in line with the URBACT Method. Every partner city will consolidate an URBACT Local Group, which will co-design Integrated Action Plans for future implementation. The Phase 2 also presents a novelty for the projects, from now on cities are encouraged to undertake pilot actions (Small Scale Actions), to experiment with new ideas for projects gained from other network exchanges and in line with the cities’ network topic.

    As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the URBACT Secretariat will follow up with a series of adapted activities to support these networks and their partners, including the delivery of trainings using online formats and a 3 months extension of the network life-cycle, meaning that projects will run until August 2022. Thus, networks will respect the following calendar:


    • Activation Stage (May - December 2020): putting together an Integrated Action Plan roadmap
    • Planning Actions (December 2020 - December 2021): drafting the Integrated Action Plan
    • Planning Implementation (December 2021 - June 2022): finalising the Integrated Action Plan
    • Integrated Action Plans Finale (June - August 2022): sharing knowledge


    You can find all approved networks in the table below, the Lead Partner city is indicated is bold. To find out more about each one of the projects, check the network's webpages.
    Congratulations to the 23 approved projects!





    Research, technological development and innovation


    Leiria (PT)
    - Longford (IE)
    - Madrid (ES)
    - Mechelen (BE)
    - Michalovce (SK)
    - Parma (IT)
    - Pella (EL)
    - Unione della Romagna Faentina (IT)
    - Szabolcs 05 Regional Development Association of Municipalities (HU)

    Security and safety are two common goods and fundamental components of European democracy. This network intends to analyse strategies and concepts of urban design and planning, which could contribute to prevent segregation and anti-social behaviour. Additionally, this network wishes to co-create an integrated approach towards urban security focusing on improving citizens’ quality of life and the city’s smart, sustainable and inclusive growth towards a good living environment.

    Find your Greatness

    Alba Iulia (RO)
    - Bragança (PT)
    - Candelaria (ES)
    - Perugia (IT)
    - Wroclaw (PL)
    - Võru (EE)
    - Limerick (IE)
    - Budafok-Tétény 22nd district of Budapest (HU)

    The challenge is to build on the cities' opportunities. The partners of the project need to identify locally a strength, which was built as a sustainable mechanism generating urban development. The goal of this network is to explore and enhance the potential of the city, combining strategic marketing approach with innovative smart city tools.

    Access to and use of ICT

    (previously DI4C)

    Messina (IT)
    - Botosani (RO)
    - Oulu (FI)
    - Portalegre (PT)
    - Roquetas de Mar (ES)
    - Saint- Quentin (FR)
    - Trikala (EL)
    - Ventspils Digital Centre (LV)

    This network aims to set up an acceleration mechanism to enable cities to catch up the digitalisation opportunities in hard & soft infrastructure. Remove all the obstacles encountered by mid-sized cities in their digital journey: lack of strategic & global vision lack of technical and engineering capacities difficulties in incorporating the digital innovation. Municipalities need to guaranty the uptake of digital innovation by the local stakeholders: citizen and entrepreneurs.


    Fundão (PT)
    - Dodoni (EL)
    - Jelgava (LV)
    - Nevers Agglomeration (FR)
    - Razlog (BG)
    - Ånge (SE)
    - Kežmarok (SK)
    - Åbo Akademi University (FI)

    The objective is to encourage the creation of a network of European cities committed to the design of digitalization plans based on Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to increase the quality of life in small and medium sized EU cities, guiding us through a new age of digital transformation.

    Competitiveness of SMEs


    Amarante (PT)
    - Balbriggan (IE)
    - Pori (FI)
    - Pärnu (EE)
    - Grosseto (IT)
    - Gabrovo (BG)
    - Heerlen (NL)
    - Kočevje (SI)
    - Medina del Campo

    - Saldus (LV)

    This network aim to produce 10 different and unique robust economic development strategies, targeting their own genuine niches, and generating urban innovation ecosystems. City partners will focus on deepening the understanding of their own local economic strengths and establish strategic methods to revitalise their economy, adapt their city to the next economy and to future economic changes, establishing methodological bases for generate resilient cities.

    Tourism Friendly Cities

    Genoa (IT)
    - Braga (PT)
    - Rovaniemi (FI)
    - Venice (IT)
    - Utrecht (NL)
    - Krakow (PL)
    - Cáceres (ES)
    - Druskininkai (LT)
    - Dún Laoghaire Rathdown (IE)
    - Dubrovnik Development Agency (HR)

    This network aims to explore how tourism can be sustainable in medium-sized cities, reducing the negative impact on neighbourhoods and areas interested by different types of tourism to reach this ambitious aim, the project will create integrated and inclusive strategies which can keep a balance between the needs of the local community, in terms of quality of life and of services available, and the promotion of sustainable urban development at environmental, social and economic level.

    Low carbon economy in all sectors

    Urb-En Pact

    Clermont Auvergne Metropole (FR)
    - Bialystok Association of the Functional Area (PL)
    - CIM Alto Minho (PT)
    - Rouen Normandie Metropole (FR)
    - Elefsina (EL)
    - Galati (RO)
    - Palma di Montechiaro (IT)
    - Tampere EcoFellows (FI)

    Local authorities embrace the ambitious goal to become a zero-net energy territory within the next 30 years. Thus, the aim is to define the local action plans to become zero-net (ZNE) territory by producing and delivering local, renewable and regulated sources of energy by the implementation of an energy loop which gathers all the stakeholders of this circular economy, especially the consumers included in this fair trade business in and around the metropolitan area.

    Zero Carbon Cities
    (previously ZCC)

    Manchester (UK)
    - Bistrita (RO)
    - Zadar (HR)
    - Modena (IT)
    - Frankfurt am Main (DE)
    - Tartu (EE)
    - Vilvoorde (BE)

    The network will support capacity building of cities to establish science-based carbon reduction targets and their Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) aligned to Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Working with 7cities to adopt different approaches to carbon budgeting and science-based targets, the network will undertake a programme of capacity building in order to support their local activities and integrated action plan and influence Covenant of Mayors' signatory cities.

    Environmental protection and resource efficiency


    Barcelona Metropolitan Area (ES)
    - Porto Metropolitan Area (PT)
    - Krakow Metropole Association (PL)
    - Paris Metropolitan Area (FR)
    - Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Metropolitan Area (PL)
    - Amsterdam Region (NL)
    - Transport for Greater Manchester (UK)
    - Thessaloniki Major Development Agency (EL)

    The overall goal is to rethink, transform and integrate mobility infrastructure aiming at reconnecting people, neighbourhoods, cities and natural spaces. The project will develop planning strategies, processes, instruments and partnerships, fostering public transport and active mobility, reducing externalities and unlocking opportunities of urban regeneration with the objectives of structuring the territory, and achieving a more sustainable, equitable and attractive metropolis.


    Utrecht (NL)
    - Riga (LV)
    - Oeste CIM (PT)
    - Copenhagen (DK)
    - Granada (ES)
    - Munich (DE)
    - Kavala (EL)
    - Prato (IT)
    - Nigrad (SI)

    URGE (circUlaR buildinG citiEs) aims to design integrated urban policies on circularity in the building sector – a major consumer of raw materials – as there is a gap in knowledge on this topic. The result is an in-depth understanding of this theme and a first plan for a tailor-made methodology that allows the circular dimension to be widely integrated in the large construction tasks the URGE partnership is facing. URGE thus accelerates the transition towards a circular economy.

    Healthy Cities

    Vic (ES)
    - Anyksciai (LT)
    - Bradford (UK)
    - Alphen aan den Rijn (NL)
    - Falerna (IT)
    - Farkadona (EL)
    - Loulé (PT)
    - Pärnu (EE)
    - Malta Planning Authority (MT)

    This network aims to deepen the relationship between health and the urban environment, planning actions that focus on improving the population’s health, while developing a rigorous health impact assessment methodology around it. Urban Planning can become a health generator on many grounds, and this network of cities reflects the multiplicity of possible approaches to tackle the issue: green areas, mobility, social cohesion or promotion of sports are some examples.


    Mula (ES)
    - Belene (BG)
    - Cesena (IT)
    - Malbork (PL)
    - Roskilde (DK)
    - Heraklion (EL)
    - Šibenik (HR)
    - Ukmergè (LT)


    The ultimate goal is to represent a moment of change, improving the urban environment of cities involved, developing heritage-led urban regeneration. It will enhance the potential of heritage in small and medium cities developing strategies for economic and social cohesion, inclusion and sustainable urban development. This network fosters the transnational exchange of experiences to test an innovative policy framework, combining a sound integrated approach with a real transformation purpose.


    Resourceful Cities
    (previously UrbReC)

    The Hague (NL)
    - Bucharest 3rd district (RO)
    - Ciudad Real (ES)
    - Mechelen (BE)
    - Cáceres (ES)
    - Patras (EL)
    - Oslo (NO)
    - Opole (PL)
    - Vila Nova Famalicão (PT)
    - Zagreb (HR)


    This network seeks to develop the next generation of urban resource centers to promote the positive economic, environmental and social impacts for the circular economy. They facilitate waste prevention, reuse, repair and recycling. The centers also work as connection points for citizens, new businesses, researchers and the public sector to co-create new ways to close resource loops at the local level.

    (previously Rurban Food)

    Coimbra Region (PT)
    - Alba Iulia (RO)
    - Córdoba (ES)
    - Larissa (EL)
    - Szécsény (HU)
    - Bassa Romagna Union (IT)
    - Tartu Tartumaa Arendusselts (EE)
    - BSC Kranj and Gorenjska (SI)

    Recent experience suggests that it is necessary to promote a transition towards regional food systems. This network encourage the creation of a network of European cities committed to the design of food plans that extend from the urban and periurban areas through a corridor that facilitates urban-rural re-connection. This approach enhances production and consumption environments founded on a base of economic, social and environmental sustainability, integrated into development policies.


    Hegyvidék 12th district of Budapest (HU)
    - Espoo (FI)
    - Limerick (IE)
    - Messina (IT)
    - Breda (NL)
    - Poznań (PL)
    - Santa Pola (ES)
    - Suceava (RO)
    - Tartu (EE)

    As a response to the various health risks related to rapid urbanization and the densification of cities, this network project promotes health-responsive planning and management of urban green infrastructure with an overall aim to bring health and wellbeing benefits for citizens across Europe. The network applies a holistic approach that addresses the main functions provided by urban green infrastructure that deliver health and social benefits.

    Sustainable transport


    Bielefeld (DE)
    - Arad (RO)
    - Badalona (ES)
    - Nazaré (PT)
    - Turku (FI)
    - Guía de Isora (ES)
    - Panevèžys (LT)
    - Saint-Germain-en-Laye (FR)
    - Sérres (EL)
    - Valga (EE)

    This network improves quantity and quality of attractive public spaces in urban areas. For this, it tackles the main public space use being transportation in 3 aspects: improving user experience and adding space to pedestrian networks and (semi) pedestrianised places, upscaling intermodal hubs to urban centres of mixed use as well as reducing and optimising parking in public space. The project takes a user-centric approach by users assessing and creating future use and design of public space.

    Thriving Streets

    Parma (IT)
    - Antwerp (BE)
    - Igoumenitsa (EL)
    - Klaipèda (LT)
    - Nova Gorica (SI)
    - Oradea (RO)
    - Santo Tirso (PT)
    - Radom (PL)
    - Southwark London Borough (UK)
    - Debrecen Economic Development Centre (HU)

    This is a network that addresses the bottlenecks in sustainable urban mobility. The project will focus on the economic and social benefits of sustainable mobility, rather than on the widely demonstrated environmental effects. The network argues that working with local amenities and social networks at neighbourhood level could unlock the hidden demand for active mobility in cities, and thus act as enabler of behaviour change towards more resilient and liveable neighbourhoods.

    Employment protection and resource efficiency


    Heerlen (NL)
    - Aarhus (DK)
    - Baia Mare (RO)
    - Fundão (PT)
    - Kecskemét (HU)
    - Pordenone (IT)
    - Zaragoza (ES)
    - Võru Development Centre (EE)

    This network aims to explore how social impact bonds can be used to improve public service delivery in areas such as employment, ageing, and immigration. Often, the delivery of services is hindered by fragmented and siloed agencies and budgets, financial and political shorttermism, and an aversion to risk and difficulty creating change. The social impact bond is a promising model that ameliorates these issues by increasing collaboration, prevention, and innovation.

    Social inclusion and poverty


    Ghent (BE)
    - Braga (PT)
    - Glasgow (UK)
    - Thessaloniki (EL)
    - Liège (BE)
    - Odense (DK)
    - Poznań (PL)
    - Toulouse Metropole (FR)
    - Timisoara Department of Social Assistance (RO)

    This project aims to eradicate homelessness through innovative housing solutions at city level. It will exchange knowledge on how to gather accurate data and make the conceptual shift from the symptomatic management to the actual ending of homelessness, with Housing First and Housing Led as guidance model. This network will guide the partner cities towards integrated local action plans linked to the long-term strategic goal of Functional Zero (no structural homelessness).


    Agen (FR)
    - Bistrita (RO)
    - Cento (IT)
    - Dinslaken (DE)
    - Hradec Králové (CZ)
    - Santa Maria da Feira (PT)
    - Saint-Quentin (FR)
    - Tartu (EE)

    The aim of this network is to rethink the place of the citizens in the local governance by finding a balance between representative democracy and participatory democracy. This network of European small and medium-sized cities, with the same expectations and similar challenges, will notably take into account, to do this, new digital tools while integrating the issue of citizens away or not comfortable with digital tools.


    Amsterdam (NL)
    - Dublin (IE)
    - Lisbon (PT)
    - Riga (LV)
    - Sofia (BG)
    - Tallinn (EE)
    - Vilnius (LT)
    - London Greater Authority (UK)

    This network addresses the importance of inclusive cultural policies. A challenge all cities in this project face is that culture does not enrich or empower all people equally. We need to gain a better understanding of our communities in order to engage all citizens in our cities. We have identified four topics to work on that will enable us to gain that understanding and support us in reaching all population groups in the participating cities from the west, east and south of Europe.


    Umeå (SE)
    - Frankfurt am Main (DE)
    - Panevèžys (LT)
    - Trikala (EL)
    - La Rochelle (FR)
    - Barcelona Activa SA (ES)
    - Celje JZ Socio (SI)

    Creating conditions for gender equality through a holistic understanding of how gender inequality is created in the specific place. This network creates an exchange on challenges faced by cities with an understanding of gender inequality that is globally understood but locally contextualised.

    Education, skills and lifelong learning


    Milan (IT)
    - Bratislava (SK)
    - Budaörs (HU)
    - Guimarães (PT)
    - Molina de Segura (ES)
    - Nantes Metropole (FR)
    - Rijeka (HR)
    - Kekava (LV)
    - Sofia (BG)
    -Vratsa (BG)

    Through intensive capacity building of local actors, the network will increase collaboration among municipalities, businesses and the civic society in order to promote sustainable, inclusive & innovative urban change. The project aims at increasing the role and added value of companies’ CSR activities at local level, towards urban regeneration and social innovation, with a special emphasis on education, in order to better address emerging and unmet local needs.




    Interested in finding more about the approved networks and what they will do? Watch the URBACT Method video and check out the Action Planning Network's infographic!

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  • “Culture with everyone”: Why creating culturally inclusive cities is changing the way capital city policymakers approach their work

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    Happy, healthy, prosperous cities are rich in culture but culture does not enrich and empower everyone equally. 

    City planning

    Groups of people or geographical areas can face barriers to accessing culture; existing cultural offers may not include the stories or cultural forms which reach out to current populations. To address these challenges, eight European capital cities have come together through URBACT to form the ACCESS network. Each participating city has committed to working together to include more people in and through culture and to adapting their approach to policymaking to make this happen.


    Amsterdam [NL], Dublin [IE], Lisbon [PT], London [UK], Sofia [BG], Talinn [EE], Riga [LV] and Vilnius [LT] each have rich and vibrant cultural offers but have each identified challenges specific to their cities in making their cultural offers more inclusive. In Riga, for example, 70% of all cultural institutions are concentrated in just two of 58 of the city’s neighbourhoods. Amsterdam, now a ‘majority minority’ city (ie most of the population is from a minority ethnic group), culture has not fully adapted to the demographic change. Tallinn has identified a knowledge gap such that they have no qualitative evidence that the city’s cultural offer is actually meeting people’s needs and contributing to wellbeing. Each city found resonance in the others’ challenges. Collectively, the network has therefore identified three areas of common need: to widen participation, to spread cultural infrastructure more equitably across the city and to improve data collection and use around cultural participation.

    They have also identified a new approach to policymaking as a central requirement. As Araf Ahmadali, Senior Policy Advisor for Arts and Culture, City of Amsterdam said, “We have to start with a recognition that as civil servants we don’t know all the answers; we’re not at the head of the table, we’re part of the table.” Work to deliver cultural inclusion needed to be genuinely inclusive: not culture for everyone, but culture with everyone.

    “Everything we do is based on conversation” Tracy Geraghty, Dublin City Culture Company

    Discussions between the partner cities and invited local stakeholders at the inaugural meeting of the ACCESS network in Amsterdam in September identified five key aspects of an inclusive approach to cultural policymaking:

    - an ongoing conversation: discussion about culture in the city should be continuous, not occasional. As Tracy Geraghty explained, this is already the cornerstone of the Dublin City Culture Company’s ‘tea and chat’ model of programme development: “Everything we do is based on conversation; we don’t do anything without having spoken to the communities we serve first.”

    - be open and accessible: make it easy for people and organisations to get in touch

    - listen and learn: many people and organisations have experience of how to share culture more widely and are keen to share their expertise

    - reconsider their city ‘centre’: if a different area was the city centre, what cultural offer would you expect to see there? what institutions and support would it need?

    - challenge existing definitions: what is talent? what is quality? what is culture? Policymakers must be open to new and different definitions.

    Each city has committed to developing this approach for their own cultural policymaking.

    The ACCESS network will continue to collaborate and share ideas and practice over the next two years as each city develops its own Action Plan for ‘culture with everyone.’ More policy and practice ideas from the network will be shared in future blogs.

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    LEAD PARTNER : Amsterdam - Netherlands
    • Sofia - Bulgaria
    • Tallinn - Estonia
    • Dublin - Ireland
    • Vilnius - Lithuania
    • Riga - Latvia
    • Lisbon - Portugal
    • London

    Integrated Action Plans

    Making culture accessible to everyone, and everyone part of culture

    Amsterdam is a world city for culture, but a lot of stories in our city are still untold, unrecognized or undervalued. Access to culture is not always assured for everyone. The city of Amsterdam wants to broaden and diversify arts and culture in the city. Read more here!

    Amsterdam - Netherlands
    Vilnius city municipality Integrated Action Plan

    Read more here!

    Vilnius - Lithuania
    Culture for Tallinn

    Read more here!

    Tallinn - Estonia

    Read more here !

    Sofia - Bulgaria
    ACCESS Culture for All Integrated Action plan RIGA - All for One: Better Access in Northern Riga

    Read more here !

    Riga - Latvia
    ACCESS – London: Shifting the dial on equal access

    Read more here

    London - United Kingdom
    Place of Culture: Promoting Community Cultural Development in Santa Clara

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    Lisbon - Portugal

    The ACCESS Action Planning Network believes that a more inclusive culture has the ability to facilitate greater understanding of individuals and their lives, increase empathy towards others and develop an appreciation of the diversity of human experience and cultures. Culture plays an important role in finding solutions to the complex issues of today's urban metropolises. Eight European capital cities collaborate on inclusive cultural policies to open up culture to all citizens. The aim is to bring about a real shift in cultural policymaking and as a result ensure access to culture for all citizens.

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  • Pooling urban commons: the Civic eState

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    Naples’ Urban Civic Uses policy is characterised by the way artists, creatives, innovators and city inhabitants are entitled to organise themselves to establish forms of self-government for critical social infrastructure including urban commons such as abandoned, unused or underused city assets. Christian Iaione, URBACT Lead Expert, tells us how Naples’ Good Practice is being transferred to other European cities thanks to the Civic eState project.

    Abandoned Spaces

    The Civic eState network is all about the policy challenge of recognising and/or co-designing legal and sustainable urban commons governance mechanisms enabling city inhabitants and local communities constitutional rights to collectively act in the general interest.

    The urban commons are tangible and intangible assets, services and infrastructures functional to the exercise of fundamental rights considered by the city of Naples as collectively owned and therefore removed from the “exclusive use” proprietary logic to be governed through civic “direct management”.

    The revitalisation of the urban historical heritage represents a cultural, economic and social challenge, but also a spur for the city to re-elaborate its identity, creating a new bond with and between the local activists, civic entrepreneurs and the active citizenship scene.

    The city of Naples carved out a policy based on several city council and mayor’s office resolutions to overcome the traditional top-down command-and-control approach bringing city inhabitants to the centre of the decision-making and city assets management process, strengthening participation in political decisions relevant for the care and regeneration of the urban commons.

    These are new policy tools that aim to give back to the community public and private abandoned properties.

    Transferring Naples’ Good Practice on urban commons collective governance

    Naples’ Good Practice consists of enabling collective management of urban essential facilities conceived as urban commons. This public-community governance approach secures fair and open access, co-design, preservation and a social and economic sustainability model of urban assets and infrastructures, all for the benefit of future generations.

    Collective governance is carried out through the involvement of the community of neighbourhood inhabitants in designing, experimenting, managing, and delivering new forms of cultural and social services.

    The network’s objective is to transfer, with appropriate adaptations and improvements, Naples’ Good Practice to partner cities: Barcelona (ES), Gdansk (PL), Ghent (BE), Amsterdam (NL), Iasi (RO) and Presov (SK).

    The path to civic use

    During the last decade, the city of Naples has been experimenting with new urban governance tools to give new life to abandoned and/or deprived buildings. Different movements and informal organizations have highlighted the need for such spaces to be used and managed by city inhabitants in common through self-organization mechanisms that turn such spaces into new institutions. The civic use of these empty buildings implied a temporary use and it represented a starting point for their “renaissance”. It also created a stimulus to start searching for innovative mechanisms to use such spaces as community-managed or a community-managed estate.

    By revisiting the ancient legal institution of “civic use” and adapting it to the urban context, the administration structured a new form of participatory governance that intends to go beyond the classic “concession agreement model”, which is based on a dichotomous view of the public-private partnership.

    The civic use recognises the existence of a relationship between the community and these public assets. This process makes community-led initiatives recognisable and institutionalised, ensuring the autonomy of both parties involved. On one hand the citizens are engaged in the reuse of the urban commons and on the other hand the city administration enables the practice.

    Urban commons

    The first asset recognised as common property, to be managed through the collective governance mechanism of the civic use, was the ex-asilo Filangieri, an URBACT Good Practice (resolution of Naples City Council n. 893/2015). It is there that the first Declaration of Civic and Collective Urban Use was carved out.

    One year later, 7 other public properties were recognised by Naples City Council as “relevant civic spaces to be ascribed to the category of urban commons”: ex-Convento delle Teresiane: Giardino Liberato; Lido Pola; Villa Medusa; ex-OGP di Materdei; ex-Carcere Minorile – Scugnizzo Liberato; ex-Conservatorio S. Maria della Fede; ex-Scuola Schipa (resolution n. 446, 27 May 2016).

    The recognition will be finalised with appropriate agreements after the communities managing the spaces draft a Declaration of Civic and Collective Use, on the model of those of the ex-asilo, securing inclusivity, accessibility, impartiality and usability of the governance of the assets.

    In the future, the list can be enriched with more urban common resources. These assets were unutilised or under-utilised urban buildings and spaces, informally occupied and re-generated by informal communities that animate them and still contribute to their regeneration (in many cases, the renovation works could not be completed at the beginning of the informal management and were carried out through self-funding schemes). These assets constitute the civic heritage of the city of Naples, co-used and co-managed by Naples’ city inhabitants in the general interest.

    Public-civic partnerships: a transferable model

    Naples’ Good Practice (i.e. the civic uses resolution) has forged one of the first examples of a new generation of public partnerships, the public-community or public-civic partnership (PCPs). PCPs are aimed at transforming city assets into sustainable social infrastructures that produce public value and social impact through social & solidarity, cultural & creative, collaborative, digital and circular economy initiatives.

    Nicola Masella, lead partner, stresses the value of the Naples’ Good Practice for the EU by saying that “the mechanism proposed by the city of Naples, although anchored in the Italian legal system, is certainly characterised by a high degree of adaptability to other European urban contexts as it is based on largely shared ethical, legal and social values. In contrast to the models proposed by other Italian and European cities, where the municipality is in charge of setting up of the rules for the management of commons, the tool implemented in Naples has been built by recognising the citizens’ self-organization models, through a continuous exchange between the community and the municipality.

    A blueprint for the future?

    The Civic eState approach could generate a prototype methodology for cities to generate a new breed of cooperative agreements or projects between city governments and civic, social, local businesses aimed at developing cities through an integrated approach. In particular the civic uses resolution could be considered a blueprint for a larger category of legal tools in compliance with EU law, especially the relevant EU legislation on public procurement and state aid, stifling cooperation among urban actors in order to build and deliver social infrastructure and services such as education, healthcare and housing.

    It might also be able to generate through the hybridisation of these places and economic models new community-based job opportunities and forms of civic entrepreneurships. These cooperative agreements, partnerships or projects could be the basis for more sophisticated and solid forms of financing that could fund social projects through new funding mechanisms including social impact bonds, social project finance schemes and many other new public-private partnerships that involve the participation of long-term investors to generate a sustainability model through social bonds and impact investing mechanisms.


    Visit the network's page: Civic eState

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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,, 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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  • Women and the City: Be Bold For Change on International Women’s Day

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    8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD) and the campaign this year is #BeBoldForChange. IWD is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements –from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality.  The day is marked around the globe with performances, talks, rallies, networking events, conferences, marches and even strikes.

    Gender equality is a fundamental value of the European Union, enshrined in the Treaty of Rome. It is one of the cross cutting themes to be taken into account by all the Urban Agenda for the EU thematic partnerships. Gender equality and empowerment of women is also one of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015.
    What needs to be done to make cities more gender-equal? What are the key challenges? The actions and solutions required will vary in different parts of the globe, but there are many threads that relate to urban governance, and that are particularly linked to the integrated and participatory approach promoted by URBACT. Here are just a few.


    Women are still under-represented at all levels of government. Globally fewer than 5% of the world’s mayors are currently women. In Europe, data from 2013 shows women made up 32% of municipal councils and regional assemblies.
    There is much evidence to suggest that women are most actively engaged as leaders and participants at a smaller scale community level, in more informal, less institutional settings. Support is needed to encourage women to take their skills, experience and knowledge into more formal and senior leadership positions, to bring their valuable perspectives to policy and practice. 
    Women’s voices are often the minority in public forums, in conferences, events at all levels, and this lack of visibility and role models is one of the factors that inhibit women to step up into senior roles. To this end the #EUPanelwatch platform monitors the diversity of speakers at events in Brussels, the heart of the European Union. "We need better, more diverse debates that empower and inspire the next generation of leaders. Only then can we achieve an inclusive, sustainable and prosperous Europe."
    Economic inequality
    EU cities are considered to be the engine of the continent’s economy, and across Europe the gender pay gap persists. Women are paid on average 16% less than men for every hour worked, make up less than a quarter of company board positions. A third of women work part-time, in many cases to accommodate care responsibilities. Women are under-represented in some key EU innovative growth sectors such as tech, and in entrepreneurship, in part due to barriers accessing financial capital.
    In urban poverty debates there is increasing recognition that access to income and assets, housing, transport and basic services is influenced by gender-based constraints and opportunities. A gender equality perspective becomes important in order to understand how men and women experience and respond to poverty in different ways. Research also shows that women are hit harder by austerity. Out of all household types, lone mothers are hardest hit by cuts to services, tax and benefits changes followed by lone fathers and single female pensioners. European Social Fund projects often address these challenges with targeted interventions. Good practices addressing women’s economic empowerment documented in the URBACT WEED network include customised skills training, mentoring, female entrepreneurship and business networks and non biased recruitment and promotion procedures.
    Public space
    Many of the old divisions in public spaces often persist, based on traditional perceptions of men in public and women in the private sphere. But women’s voices can be central to urban planning and development, both as key users of urban space in their role as home managers, as community leaders and initiators of neighbourhood networks. Women acquire deep and insightful knowledge of what is needed in and for the built environment, such as the design of public space, infrastructure, and services to meet the needs of all community members. 
    The kind of multifunctional urban spaces, based on smart and dense city planning, as explored in URBACT networks can provide gender sensitive solutions. Mixed use neighbourhoods with short travel distances and close proximity to work, childcare, and schools, plus extensive availability of stores and services, along with safe pedestrian environments, attractive public spaces and frequent and easily accessible public transportation systems can reduce inequalities.
    Well-designed urban spaces can also contribute to alter gender-based division of labour and burden of care-giving within families and communities.  For instance various studies have concluded that men tend to get more easily involved in family care-giving responsibilities when these tasks are “socialised” in a more public and collective setting. The Vital Cities network, for instance, is exploring how to promote physical activity in public space also through a gender lens by hearing about how to get more women and girls involved in sport in the community. The urban fabric therefore has great importance for social cohesion and gender equality, especially concerning women’s involvement in community life, also as the place where migrants and refugees integrate.
    How can you #BeBoldForChange?
    On IWD and going forward, as individuals, we can all take up the challenge to promote gender equality.
    Women and girls can step up, think about their power and use their voice, become active in communities, run for office.
    Men and boys can think about how to support women (#heforshe), balance domestic responsibilities, encourage, nurture, and make space. 
    We can all become more conscious of own bias, for instance by being more aware about the language we use, the assumptions we make, and how they can have an impact on gender equality.
    In relation to urban planning the good news is that cities can and often do effectively implement gender-sensitive interventions. Engaging in co-production with civil society, as practised in URBACT networks, implies formally recognising the human experience of “everyday life” as generating a type of urban expertise that is equal in importance to formal higher education, professional qualifications, and institutional experience. Gender perspectives can also be brought to improve design and implementation of other urban services, such as mobility, education, health and housing. The tools at our disposal include gender budgeting, smart procurement, gender-proofing, awareness training, and impact monitoring.
    Tips for URBACT cities:
    • Both the hardware and the software of urban space need to be shaped with a gender-sensitive perspective continuously.
    • In stakeholder engagement strategies reach out to women and other underrepresented groups or unusual suspects. Be proactive and think about where and how to have those conversations
    • Be sure to include the perspectives of women with additional disadvantages, such as those with a disability, women of colour, of different ages, faiths and economic circumstances, migrant and refugee women.
    • Strive for balanced teams and make visible to the public that all voices are valued. In URBACT events make sure female contributions are seen and heard. 
    • Actively redesign and redevelop urban areas to be more gender-sensitive, inclusive, and responsive to everyone’s needs, for instance developing social structures to accompany physical planning for urban development and regeneration projects.
    • Promote and support women’s participation and leadership in urban governance and community development.
    • Create frameworks of opportunities for the active participation of all and value knowledge about everyday experience. 
    • Include results frameworks and indicators to monitor gender equalit
    Cause for celebrations
    On IWD, women across the world come together to raise awareness while also celebrating the achievements of women who have overcome barriers. It's an active message that is likely to resonate with the millions of women, girls and men who have taken to the streets to march this year, including in most EU capital cities, in opposition to divisive politics.
    In the EU we can salute some of the trailblazing female Mayors of major cities starting to do things differently, whilst not forgetting the many millions of women who are driving fundamental change in urban development, climate action, integration of migrants, cultural life, safe neighbourhoods and more. Ada Colau Mayor of Barcelona has vowed to ‘feminise’ politics and her key priorities include human rights, justice and inclusion.  Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris is Chair of C40 Women 4 Climate and has presented radical proposals to extend pedestrianisation of the city.
    Many EU cities are already working successfully on gender equality. Vienna is an EU-capital that actively works on making the city available to women. It started gender mainstreaming the city in the 90s and is still working towards this goal. Other initiatives include Amsterdam’s most female friendly society launched in 2016, following on from Ravenna’s Città Amica Delle Donne which has created small mosaic plaques in every corner of the old town.
    So on 8 March let’s follow the lead of these pioneers, celebrate progress and above all commit to being bold for gender-equal cities.
    “Only if the New Urban Agendas effectively identifies pathways that challenge the wider structural power dynamics that perpetuate gender inequality can it successfully promote more equitable, just cities.”
    Photo: Young woman with pushchair, Vienna, credit: flickr_db26b73
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  • Post-Crisis Urban Planning: Innovative Local Solutions to Fight Environmental Degradation

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    Due to the financial crisis the heavily indebted public actors are not able any more to launch large-scale programmes to handle difficult environmental problems. Thus they have to find new, innovative ways, experiment with more flexible environmental standards and regulations.

    Abandoned Spaces

    Once upon a time in European cities the public sector had enough money to carry out large-scale programmes to improve the environment. Such programmes were usually connected to strict standards and regulations regarding the level of improvement and the use of the improved areas.

    One of the many examples on large-scale brownfield improvement programme is the C-Mine project in the Belgian city of Genk, converting a coal-mine site into creative center for business innovation and entrepreneurship. This project was at the middle of the 2000s jointly financed by the Flemish government and the city of Genk.







    Source: Internet

    With the financial crisis (also) these opportunities were largely gone. The heavily indebted public actors are usually unable any more to launch large-scale programmes, thus they have to find new, innovative approaches and partners to handle environmental problems. One of the potential innovations is to experiment with more flexible environmental standards and regulations in order to initiate bottom-up processes and to involve the population into the improvement of the environment.

    “From control to co-evolution” – this was the topic of the 2014 AESOP Congress in Utrecht. One of the “Mobile Tracks” (full day visits), led by Zef Hemel from the Amsterdam Planning Department, aimed to illustrate this new approach on the example of Amsterdam North.

    The Northern waterfront of Amsterdam – although not far from the city centre – is the “wrong side” of the Ij-river, which was always industrial area. In 1984 the Dutch Ship Building industry closed down and the ownership of land was transferred to the municipality. There were many plans developed for market lead modernist development with large cruise ships – in reality, however nothing happened for two decades, the city has ‘forgotten’ this area.

    Since the mid 2000s, the Urban Planning Department of Amsterdam has decided to go towards a new planning approach that is more open and less expert-driven, aiming for a step-by-step change, with temporary uses and festivals trying to find out new uses and users…This move from control to co-evolution opened up totally new perspectives in the use of the area, illustrated below with three examples.

    The NDSM area is close to the river, where a large food producing industry functions nearby with a lot of noise and smell, thus no residential functions are allowed. Pictures 1 and 2 were taken in a large industrial building of the ship industry which is now used by 260 artists. They created their studios, formed a coalition and started even to rent out spaces. In that way they feel themselves as part of the process of change. There are many discussions going on with the open-minded planners (less with the financial department which wants to radically increase the rents). Artists argue for more flexibiliy in allowing people to live here, at least temporarily. Planners resist so far as this is an active harbour area and the importance of harbours seems to increase again. If introducing residential functions this would mean no possibilities for harbour activities in this area and the harbour would have to go to green-field areas… thus difficult choices have to be taken within the framework of sustainability.

    Picture 1.                                            Picture 2.







    Source: Iván Tosics

    The Buiksloterham area is 1 km further away where residential function is allowed but plots are very polluted. The original plans aimed for several hundreds of new housing units but this did not function as there was no interest from the side of large developers – who would like to live here? After some discussions the city decided to follow a totally different idea, offering the area plot by plot for development. The planning department started to discuss possible developments with groups of families, organized by architects. In this pilot area for self-building people are not allowed to buy more than 2 plots (in this way large developers are excluded). There are 50 year long lease contracts signed for the plots, construction has to be started within 1,5 years and finished within 1,5 years afterwards. The basic rule is that everyone can build what they want within their plot. Inhabitants have also a say how the streets should be designed and practice shows that they aim for totally different streets as it would have been planned by the city. After long discussions compromises have to be reached taking into account the already installed amenities. One of the groups asked for the possibility to bring a caravan as office place and put up benches for weekly discussions. Another resident has built the green building (Picture 3) within 2 weeks with an atelier on the groundfloor and also a place to where a furgon can come in. The advertisement (Picture 4) calls for registering for a co-housing project.

    Picture 3.                                            Picture 4.







    Source: Iván Tosics

    De Ceuvel is a workplace for creative and social enterprises. The site is so heavily polluted that under “normal” planning rules it could not be used for any human-related purposes. As there are no chances in the near future for the costly cleaning of the site, a decision was taken about a 10-year lease from the Municipality of Amsterdam to a group which won a tender to turn the site into a regenerative urban place. To avoid the problem of pollution imaginatively retrofitted houseboats are placed on the site, linked by a winding bamboo walkway and surrounded by an undulating landscape of soil-cleaning plants. Each of the upgraded boats will house offices, ateliers, or workshops for creative and social enterprises. The plan also includes a public restaurant, café, and a bed & breakfast. De Ceuvel is a totally self-sufficient insofar it relies on solar technology for its heat and electricity, green roofs and water collection systems will supply water and its sanitation systems will extract energy, nutrients and water from on-site waste and be used for food production. It will also serve as a showcase and living laboratory for new, green technologies to the broader public. Probably the most unusual is the use of vegetation to create a bio diverse environment (phytoremediation) so that when the boats pull away in 10 years, the land will be left clean(er) and more valuable as it was at the beginning.








    All the three examples show very innovative approaches to handle difficult problems with which the public sector can not do anything with traditional methods, especially under the present financial conditions. The unprecedented flexibility from the side of the municipality, however, is not without contradictions. One of the debated aspects is about the future diversity of the Amsterdam North area. In order to assure social mix the Dutch planning system requires a minimum of 30% share of social housing in any new built areas above a certain size. This rule is not implemented in the pilot areas in Northern Amsterdam and it is clear that these special projects attract very special people, mainly highly educated intellectuals. It could be argued that in this originally very low status area the flexible approach of the municipality creates a kind of „publicly initiated gentrification”. This can be accepted up to a given extent, as currently this is the cheapest area of Amsterdam – people who want better environment go to other parts of the city and not even the poor families aspire to live here.

    Federico Savini and Sebastian Dembski, two political scientists who follow closely the changes in this part of Amsterdam, consider the case as a post-crisis liberal approach to achieve changes under very difficult circumstances. The first results can already be seen: some parts of the Northern brownfield area became by today the coolest place in the city (the Shell tower is a DJ school and incubator… a previous Crane has been turned into a hotel with 3 rooms for 300 eur/night…).  It is now a delicate task for planners and politicians to steer further development in such a way which assures the interest from the side of pioneers (who are very much needed to handle the difficult problems) but avoids the change of the whole area into a gentrified high-end neighbourhood.

    The new, flexible and innovative planning practices are also analysed and discussed in URBACT projects. In the Re-Block final conference in Iasi the importance of flexible governance and the notion of Public-Private-People-Partnership (PPPP) have been emphasized by Pietro Elisei. Many of the cities of the Re-Block network mentioned the need for innovative methods to involve minorities and disadvantaged groups into decision-making, especially in service provision. Cities and neighbourhoods in difficulty have to develop their governance innovation in order to move from hierarchical attitudes to enabling, partnership initiating approaches.

    As a practical example the case of Leipzig has been shown in the conference by Stefan Geiss. The Grünau prefabricated housing estate had once 85 thousand residents. Quick shrinkage of the area has led to 26% vacancy rate, as a result of which over 7.700 flats had to be demolished. Around the end of the 2000s the city changed its strategy, recognizing that in economically weaker cities it is important to give to people new hopes based on the “advantages of being poor“ (low real estate prices, empty spaces and buildings…). People have to be approached and made interested to think about new solutions. Along this philosophy innovative governance attempts were launched:

    • after two years of discussions with local residents a new neighbourhood management system has been introduced with semi-professional protagonists (i.e. contracting the most active residents)
    • neighbourhood gardening was launched as a first step to evoke the interest of people towards the future of their area
    • in a freight yard area people established an NGO which started discussions with the railway company. Now the city buys part of the railway area and hands it over to the people to change it into green, and other uses.

    According to the Leipzig experience enough time should be assured to achieve that local groups become co-developers. In this process cheaper, even interim solutions have to be allowed instead of ‘perfect’ and expensive solutions. As Thomas Knorr-Siedow emphasized, the city might give up total control… for example the Leipzig Wächterhäuser (Guard Houses) scheme is an attempt to hand over empty building to groups of people without knowing exactly what will happen. Furthermore, as most land and buildings are owned by private actors, the city has little chances to intervene directly and flexibility remains the main thing the city can decide about. As a result of the new ways of planning and thinking and the political courage to allow development from below in Leipzig, today even from Berlin many young people move to Leipzig where life is cheaper and opportunities for informality (to get empty houses for free, to start urban gardening in empty areas) are higher.

    In the TUTUR final conference in Rome the local politician Giovanni Caudo summarized very clearly the new philosophy of District III of Rome: in crisis times flexibility is the best way for local municipalities to re-capitalize under-used assets. Temporary use of empty spaces should also be considered as important tool to mobilize citizens – it could help to achieve that everyone gets access to a minimal working space where some useful activity can be carried out (e.g. co-working). Flexible labour market would also need flexibility of working space. 

    Written by Iván Tosics

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