Seeking answers on how to combat social exclusion through the redesign of public spaces in deprived residential areas by using the power and common language of sport, this Action Planning network found solutions through innovative urban sport actions, physical equipment and better orchestrated service delivery. Active living positively contributes to social cohesion, wellbeing and economic prosperity in cities. However, currently cities are challenged by the opposite: dramatic increase in the frequency of diseases as a result of sedentary life style and social exclusion. To tackle these challenges, European cities have invested in large scale sports facilities over the past decades. These strategies have a limited success, hence a new approach is needed: instead of ‘bringing’ the inactive citizens to the sports facilities, public space itself should be turned into a low threshold facility inviting all citizens to physical activity.
Urban sports promotion for social inclusion, healthy and active living
The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.
Becoming more resilient means that a city strives to enhance its ability to bounce back and grow even stronger and better in the face of the chronic stresses and acute shocks. As such, city resilience is a continuous challenge for individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and infrastructure systems to address current trends and future transitions. This Action Planning network looked at the challenges of achieving resilience in and of our cities in a comprehensive and holistic way, by applying the lessons from the innovative governance approach of Transition Management. This approach is a process-oriented and participatory steering that enables social learning through iterations between collective vision development and experimenting.
The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.
BluAct is a Transfer network of 7 European port cities including Piraeus, Mataro, Ostend, Galati, Matosinhos, Burgas and Salerno aiming to share good practices in Blue Economy entrepreneurship. The project follows the success of Piraeus’ Blue Growth Initiative, an entrepreneurship competition that offers incubation services to local businesses boosting innovation and job creation. Through an approach of creating Urbact Local Support Groups and engaging local stakeholders and other interested parties, with the ultimate aim of starting up the blue economy, BluAct aims to deliver far reaching results in the respective partner cities.
Cities are turning to hackathon-style events to spark new business, generate policy ideas, and co-create innovative urban solutions. But do they really work? We put the question to urban innovation experts and municipal staff in five URBACT cities… and came up with the answer: “Yes, if you include the right people, adapt the format to your needs, and provide follow-up support to winning ideas.”
But first… what the hack is a hackathon?
“Hackathons are intense events where bright minds work in teams to tackle a challenge over a relatively short period of time,” says Jim Sims, Lead expert, URBACT BluAct Transfer network. “They generally involve businesspeople, technologists, marketing people, data engineers, designers and randomly selected people – wildcards – working together to solve common challenges.”
Hackathons were originally developed for teams of coders; one produced Facebook’s famous “Like” button. But today their scope goes way beyond tech. These one to three day brainstorming events are held by all sorts of organisations, including city halls, to create ideas and build targeted solutions.
The spirit of Alex F. Osborn’s 1939 “brainstorm sessions” lives on in hackathons today. His participants tackled a creative problem “in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective”. They avoided judgment and collected wild ideas. “The greater the number of ideas, the more likelihood of winners.”
Hackathons: a good thing for cities?
“When a hackathon works it’s a win-win-win solution that shakes minds, develops new ideas and changes the mindsets of institutions,” says Francois Jégou, Lead expert, URBACT BioCanteens Transfer network.
Well-run hackathons help boost innovation as part of a broader business development programme – especially in cities lacking entrepreneurship and youth.
Around ports, for example, hackathons can generate ideas in areas as diverse as sea rescue applications, smart ports, shipping, GPS technology, underwater data, even ocean tourism, fashion or food. For Sims, “They provide a really interesting mechanism to crash together different sectors that wouldn’t ordinarily work together, like a slightly more traditional marine and maritime sector together with a more cutting edge, fledgling ICT sector.”
Cites also use hackathons to co-create urban solutions, and improve policymaking. With colleagues of all levels, future partners and stakeholders, says Jégou, hackathons “quickly shake up ideas, spontaneity, excitement, for people who may’ve been just looking at each other for years, especially in public administration.”
And then there are the big-buzz events like Hack Belgium, that Jégou describes as “three creative days to experience hackathon excitement… without expecting real output”.
Let’s be realistic, says Mario Laghi from Cesena (IT), in the URBACT BeePathNet Transfer network, “It’s very hard to organise a really effective hackathon, especially with the expectation of coming out with smart, innovative, easy-to-realise, ready-to-market ideas. Especially the long-lasting results are very hard to be pursued even when the level of actors and participants is very high.”
Some hackathons suffer by setting a challenge too broad, complex, or poorly defined. Others have been blamed for rewarding easier-to-pitch solutions, or more competitive personalities. Meanwhile, some cities later regret not involving moderators, tech people, schools or inspiring entrepreneurs.
The key pitfall is that when participants head home, their freshly created solutions disappear. “There are plenty of hackathons where people come up with interesting ideas that never make it to market,” warns Sims.
Even when winning creative teams do get quality incubation services, mentoring and finance, they don’t always stay as enthusiastic as their mentors.
So, how are URBACT cities making the most of hackathons?
“URBACT accompanies cities who are innovating in many aspects of governance, and there’s an increasing interest in hackathons. How do they ensure they’re useful, and adapted to policy questions?” says Nuala Morgan, head of URBACT’s Capitalisation and Communication Unit.
Let’s visit five cities in ongoing URBACT III transfer networks to find out.
1. Mouans-Sartoux (FR): BioCanteens mini-hackathon techs up local policy
BioCanteens partner cities held their own three-hour mini-hackathon “mind opening” exercise in smart city Trikala (EL) in October 2019. Teams each devised an app supporting sustainable school canteens – traditionally a rather low-tech sector – and illustrated its use. They pitched their ideas to each other, ending with feedback.
Hackathon first-timer Thibaud Lalanne returned to Mouans-Sartoux having outlined an app linking consumers with local organic producers. But more importantly he’d learnt “to take into account my local objectives, local constraints, local challenges, and see how digital solutions could be integrated.”
Lalanne says this improved digital awareness is helping Mouans-Sartoux prepare a “smart food strategy”, with expertise and support from the European Commission's Preparatory Action on Smart Rural Areas in the 21st Century.
2. Cesena (IT): Hackathon alternative to help boost local bee businesses
“How can local honey and bee products compete with cheaper mass produced imports?” To find innovative-yet-realistic solutions to this complex challenge, BeePathNet partner city Cesena is preparing a five-step series of idea jams.
Their upcoming “BeePath Jam” features four sub-topics: storytelling; short supply chains; product branding; strategic vision for the beekeepers’ association. Multidisciplinary teams will tackle one or more topics over the course of five workshops, presenting their solutions in a sixth, final event.
Each team is to include a beekeeper, together with entrepreneurs and students in IT, environmental science, food science, agriculture, design or architecture.
“We’re stressing collaboration, but there’s also competition: in the end the most suitable solution will be selected, and the association of beekeepers is really interested to go ahead with implementation. So we need to give time to these co-creation groups to define real complex and integrated solutions,” says Saveria Teston, who coordinates the URBACT Local Group building the event. ULG members include the agricultural college, Bologna University, Cesenalab business incubator, regional innovation consortium ART-ER – and AFA beekeepers association.
BeePath Jam builds on Cesena’s legacy of start-up events sparking new product ideas, from a crop-disease reduction app to protein superfood candies.
3. Burgas (BG): Student hackathon enhances port city start-up competition
Burgas joined BluAct to learn from Piraeus’ (EL) Blue Growth Initiative – a competition offering local business incubation services that has triggered 20 start-ups and 55 new jobs since 2014.
Linked to the competition, the Bla
ck Sea port city held a “blue economy” hackathon for more than 60 IT students, cooperating with Burgas University. Their winning ideas – eco-friendly “blue plastic”, a fish tracker app, a boat-sharing platform, and a gutter-water electricity generator – will enter a three-day Piraeus-inspired competition in April, alongside entrepreneurs applying online.
Burgas municipality’s Mariya Burulyanova says, “We familiarised participants with the concept of blue economy and how their ideas will be useful for the city of Burgas.”
“It was a very successful event with fresh, smart ideas of young people who are very keen to work on this subject,” adds Georgi Sakaliev, Burgas municipality.
In April, three innovative proposals will win up to 2500 euros, a trip to learn from Piraeus maritime entrepreneurs, and incubation support from partners like Burgas Port and other local businesses.
With strong local political support “Burgas Blues” competition looks set to become a regular event.
4. Galati (RO): Local businesses support new Danube Growth Initiative hackathons
The Danube port city of Galati is also organising a Piraeus-inspired entrepreneurship competition, with business support and a final pitch event in April 2020. Like Burgas, Galati’s pitch event will feature hackathon participants alongside entrepreneurs who apply online.
But while Burgas built on an established annual university hackathon, Galati created two business ideation hackathons from scratch – a first for the city – thanks to “a core of very involved, highly interested professionals that formed Galati’s URBACT Local Group (ULG) from various sectors: universities, ship designers, banking system, NGOs and IT,” says Galati municipality’s Carmen Ana Ariton-Bejan.
Attending the December 2019 hackathon, Galati mayor Ionuț-Florin Pucheanu congratulated such cooperation between the municipality, academics and local business.
At each event 24 young entrepreneurs teamed up to create sustainable business ideas in advanced infrastructure, software development, emissions reduction, advanced manufacturing technologies, or energy efficiency systems.
ULG members’ feedback gave “a glimpse into the inner workings of the private sector and on running a business in our city,” says Prof Camelia Vizireanu, ULG Coordinator. “Hackathons are a good way to stop the braindrain in Galati by giving entrepreneurs the chance of developing and testing their ideas in a ‘safe space’.”
5. Ostend (BE): Local pitch event builds on Hack Belgium
At Hack Belgium 2018, the City of Ostend discovered many Ostenders working on sea-related topics, from tourism to high-tech innovation. On joining BluAct, Ostend connected those
partners, forming an URBACT Local Group. This enabled them to coordinate an Ocean Challenge booth at Hack Belgium 2019 and showcase inspirational businesses including a fish-leather worker.
Support continued post-hackathon. “Thanks to BluAct we had a bigger, stronger local network so we could also take back ideas from Hack Belgium and further build on them in Ostend,” says City of Ostend’s Astrid Vanackere.
Ostend invited interested hackathon participants to its own blue economy competition, with a pitch event in March. After an online assessment and follow-up, nine teams are set to pitch innovative ideas to a jury of ULG members. Vanackere says this event will start the incubation phase and help tailor business guidance to the needs of each project.
As more and more people have adopted sedentary lifestyles, and as the associated health and social problems have worsened, governments have become increasingly aware of their role in promoting physical activity. Half a year after the close of the VITAL CITIES URBACT Action Planning Network project, the participating cities are ready to look back and assess the progress they have made and identify further gains that can be made.
Ten cities came together in VITAL CITIES with the objective of promoting active lifestyles and social inclusion in urban environments. The network was established as part of URBACT, a European exchange and learning programme. During their time in the network, the cities took part in an intensive learning process focused on the issue of turning public spaces into low-threshold sports facilities. This involved, inter alia, redesigning public spaces, promoting these spaces, initiating ICT innovation, introducing non-ICT hardware, and optimising services.
The result of this process is a set of innovative tools and methods that can be used in urban design and planning to reshape public spaces linked to sports and physical activity. Cities also worked with local stakeholders to each produce an integrated action plan (IAP). In what follows below, we place several concrete examples under the microscope to assess their impact six months beyond the project’s end.
Progress on implementation so far – challenges faced
Most of the cities have begun to implement their IAPs using their own means or by calling upon stakeholders. Some have started by picking low-hanging fruit to show commitment, e.g. implementing ICT tools, while others have completed physical interventions.
A lack of knowledge concerning the needs of the inactive
Poor articulation of the needs of the inactive
High organised sports drop-out rates at the age of 14
Lack of financial support for bottom-up activities
Low levels of physical activity among target groups in Horten’s main park
Horten’s ambition is to use the park to increase physical activity.
Horten’s main challenge is how to encourage youth participation in the planning of facilities. The city provides guidelines, support, and capacity building for a motivated group of young people. It reached out directly through schools and online tools.
Instead of buying equipment off the shelf, the city has purchased custom equipment that matches local needs and aesthetics (a key means of reducing vandalism).
Additionally, the city faced a challenge in that many locals complained about the possibility of increased noise pollution. City officials turned this into a positive by pointing out that increased activity would dissuade vandalism and drug use.
Gender also became an issue. Boys like to play with balls, etc. but girls like to climb and hide. Thus, during the design process, options for separate and mixed-use were incorporated.
In the run up to winter, Horten decided to ban cars from parts of the market square and instead use it as an ice ring. A local NGO then arranged for a group of refugee children to have their first ice skating experience. For the summer, the city painted lines and patterns on the ground to inculcate a sense of play.
Liepaja, the city where wind was born: how to reduce red tape for volunteers and their initiatives?
While developing their plans Liepaja bumped into one main issue: citizen involvement. The city has a good track record with, e.g., volunteering related to disabled people for which the city pays special attention to in city planning. Everywhere in the city on the pedestrian sidewalks
there are special white ribbed guiding tiles for the visually impaired. Additionally, special locally developed hearing buoys have been installed in a designated area on the Baltic Sea facilitating independent swimming for this target group. They also provide special wheelchairs for driving into the sea and an NGO run by volunteers provides the services. To tackle the city’s hesitation in reaching out to youths in the deprived Karosta quarters, a special session during the international exchange was planned with the Karosta kids. A rapid co-creating session led to many ideas for reconstruction. These contacts are still thriving today.
The main complaint expressed by citizens was about the length of time it took to get things done. This prohibits stakeholders from taking the initiative to build or organise things. Therefore, the city has cut red tape by developing a new workflow involving all departments. An app will reduce the wait from 12 to 3 weeks.
Burgas – European City of Sports 2015 – How to inform better citizens
Through the Vitalcities project Burgas became aware of its unique character: wedged between the Black Sea and salt lakes, it is a dense city with mixed districts, green public spaces, and good public transport. Urban sprawl is mostly absent and this provides ample opportunities for active transport, an important ’built in’ daily physical activity.
During the transnational peer reviews, the city was advised against interfering too much with the ’retro’ style of the Rosenetz area. The city became aware of the value of existing public spaces, facilities and initiatives and decided upon stakeholders’ wishes to ’disclose’ information as a first action within the integrated action plan. An online map of the facilities for sports and physical activity on the territory of the municipality has been made available at www.sport.burgas.bg
Short-term actions and results are necessary to prevent Burgas from falling back into ‘democratic participation fatigue’.
Birmingham – How to deliver services differently given a diverse & deprived population
Birmingham’s overall challenge is to overcome the inactivity of over 80% of its diverse citizenship, given the fact that 408.000 Birmingham citizens live in the top 10% most deprived in England.
This situation, combined with tight budgets, results in a need for creative solutions to tackling inactivity in a different way: by taking it to the streets and people instead of attracting people to large centralised and expensive facilities.
In its local action plan the city mainly targets cooperation with citizens and volunteering is at the heart of its approach. Active streets, active parks, and active citizens are the adagio.
The city looks at those groups that will result in the biggest impact. The strategy is to focus around ‘activity’ bringing forth social cohesion. Therefore, the city strengthens existing approaches like street closure for play, activities in the park like yoga, tai chi etc.
The VITAL CITIES project helped to bring The Active Wellbeing Society into existence. It is a concept that was thought about before the Vital Cities Programme, however, the programme allowed greater interaction with experts from the programme and colleagues from other cities to emphasise the wider whole system thinking about open spaces, physically active for all and not just the keen sports athletes.
Loulé – How to activate and involve all citizens and especially those in deprived areas?
The municipality of Loulé puts four central ambitions in its IAP: promoting an active and healthy lifestyle amongst the general population, doing the same for the older population, fighting sedentary lifestyles, and fostering social cohesion. It does this by using public spaces as active and dynamic areas and by organising activities.
The city has chosen three small public target areas: the Stuttgart/Hanover streets have been completed even within the Vitalcities project lifespan! A deserted public space between larger blocks has been converted into an ambient public space with play equipment for children and fitness equipment for the elderly while offering room for ball games as well. The green has been balanced with the harder structures and car parking is foreseen at the edge of the quarters.
The city provides several different programs that have become a big success. Lots of activities are also organized in deprived areas. Tennis club de Loulé is one of the main promoters.
All in all the city offers activities on all different levels from dancing for elderly to boxing for youngsters. By involving 20 Local Partners more than 200 events/activities are organised reaching over 20.000 participants.
The five cities portrayed here have embarked on the journey of actually delivering on what they listed in their IAPs. During their journey, they have chosen to start with easy-to-organize actions involving local stakeholders. By aiming for the so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’ they have built trust. Yet they had to rethink things like information functions, the organisation of internal processes, and providing services tailored to local needs. There they had to think of aspects such as gender, social inclusion, demographic spread, diversity, and more down-to-earth things such as vandalism, security or air pollution. The cities seemed to have succeeded by staying close to their local DNA and their citizens.
The origins of the Blue Economy concept can be traced back to the mid 90’s, when the Belgian businessman turned author, Gunter Pauli, was asked by the United Nations to think about innovative business models of the future.
Originally conceived with the aim of reconciling the shared goals of stimulating entrepreneurship whilst also preserving marine eco-systems, today, the term ‘Blue Economy’ covers a range potential policy interventions ranging from;
Practical programmes for delivering any form of economic growth which is linked to the marine and maritime economy;
More complex economic philosophies which draw on a range of ‘circular economy’ concepts and frameworks to deliver growth in such a way which preserves, maintains and enhances the marine environment (and therefore delivers more significant, long run benefits to society).
The latter concept is an ever-evolving model, which has come to particular prominence recently, over growing concerns about the invasive impact of single use plastics on the marine environment.
In 2012 the European Commission estimated that the Blue Economy represented over 5 million jobs and a gross added value of around €500 bn per year – a figure which is roughly equivalent to 4% of the EUs total economic output. It also affects a large number of the EU residents with an estimated 40% of the EU population living within 50km from the sea.
Over the last decade, some member states have seen the Blue Economy grow faster than their national economies. One city that has been at the forefront of trying to stimulate innovative, new Blue Economy businesses is the city of Piraeus in Greece.
Helping Blue Growth Entrepreneurs become ‘investment ready’
The Piraeus Blue Growth Initiative (BGI) is a structured entrepreneurship and innovation competition focussing on the marine and maritime economy. It was the first EU level innovation competition for the marine and maritime economy (Blue Economy) originally established in 2014. It was successfully awarded an URBACT Good Practice status, last year.
The BGI helps early-stage entrepreneurs develop and realise innovative business concepts and create jobs in the Blue Economy. Operating as an annual business plan competition, the initiative is effectively a programme of activities to help aspiring Blue Growth entrepreneurs get ‘investment ready’ – to effectively prepare their business ideas to the stage where they can secure external investment.
The Blue Growth Initiative is structured around a number of elements;
Governance: Establishment of a strong multi-agency Blue Growth governance structure for overseeing the delivery of the programme.
Competition preparation: Building the partnership-based delivery programme and developing the marketing collateral;
Competition delivery: Includes business plan idea generation, proposal evaluation, preparing the successful applicants for a demo day; and organising the demo day/award ceremony
Incubation Programme: Supporting the successful entrepreneurs to scale their business; and
Ongoing celebration and promotion: to build the profile of the exercise, to recreate it again the year after.
Transfer of the practice to other cities across Europe
Having been awarded with the URBACT Good Practice Label, the City of Piraeus was subsequently successful in securing funding to work with Burgas in Bulgaria, and Matosinhos in Portugal, to explore the potential to establish an URBACT Transfer Network, to examine how best to transfer the programme to seven other cities across Europe.
This process will conclude in October this year when Piraeus submits its application for Phase 2 of the URBACT Transfer Network programme with its seven partners cities.
If successful, this project could establish a pan-European Investment Readiness programme for aspiring Blue Growth Entrepreneurs and a network of cities keen to build on their marine and maritime assets.
A European Platform for Investing in the Blue Economy
This builds on the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, in which the Commission proposed;
That the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will focus on ‘promoting the blue economy in fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, ocean energy or blue biotechnology, in coastal communities, at EU level to provide real EU added value by encouraging EU governments, industry and stakeholders to develop joint approaches to drive growth, while safeguarding the marine environment’.
That ‘synergies for the maritime and blue economy will be exploited in particular with the European Regional Development Fund for the investment in blue growth sectors and for sea-basin strategy, with the European Social Fund+ to re-train fishers in acquiring skills and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development for support to aquaculture. The collaboration and synergies with Horizon Europe for marine research and innovation will be achieved, for instance by supporting small and medium-sized enterprises for the deployment and market replication of innovative solutions for blue growth and by supporting a thematic investment platform for research and innovation in the blue economy.’; and
That ‘the InvestEU Fund will play an important role with financial instruments for market related action, in particular by supporting a thematic investment platform for research and innovation in the Blue Economy’.
The same document goes on to explain that one particular element of the EUInvest Programme InvestEU Assistance will be established by partners, to provide advisory support and accompanying measures to foster the creation and development of projects, helping projects get off the ground and make them investment-ready.
However, InvestEU Assistance will need to reach deep into the Blue-Growth entrepreneur community across Europe, if it is to be successful at stimulating innovative, new businesses ideas that possess the potential to add value to the European economy. That’s where a close integration with initiatives like Piraeus’ Blue Growth Initiative can really help.
As Petros Kokkalis, the Councillor for Local Economic Growth & Entrepreneurship in the Municipality of Piraeus remarked “The Piraeus Blue Growth Initiative has created a value for the city and for Europe, in that it has created a platform for bringing together different parts of the innovation eco-system, to support aspiring Blue Growth Entrepreneurs”
“One of the major challenges for many of the early stage businesses that we see is raising the funds they need to develop and scale their business. We welcome the establishment of a central Blue Economy investment platform, as it will help address this critical area of market failure and look forward to working with it to support Blue Growth Entrepreneurs.”
An increasing sea of opportunity?
It’s actually a little-known fact, but the word ‘opportunity’ comes from a Latin seafaring phrase, ‘ob portus’, which is made up of the terms ob, meaning “toward”, and portus, meaning “port”. The word came about, because sailors used to have to wait for the right combination of wind, current, and tide to successfully sail into port. They had to seize the right opportunity.
Today, the opportunity presented by the Blue Economy across Europe is significant and growing. Despite the well-developed nature of the blue economy, there is a scope to further increase its productivity, potential and contribution to the European economy.
Whilst a wide range of opportunities exist to further this aim, expanding Piraeus’ Good Practice in the field of Investment Readiness to a range of other cities across Europe and connecting this into a central Investment Platform like the one being developed by the Commission will help to establish a coherent cross-sectoral strategy to tackle one of the major obstacles to growth in the sector.
JOINING FORCES aims at exploring how strategy making and governance arrangements at city-region scale can help to effectively address the main challenges faced by urban Europe: competitiveness, cohesion, and sustainability.