With this newsletter, we begin a series of theme dedicated newsletters, each linked to one of our partner cities.
This issue is all about biodiversity in cities which depends on pollinators as much as on responsible residents. This theme is in the hands of Osijek (Croatia) and was discussed in depth on our partnership thematic meeting in November 2021. You can also read all about it, find out what took place since the last newsletter was issued and what will be going on in our partner cities in the next few months and in the process learn a thing or two about bees.
Improved living environment for bees and other pollinators in six EU cities was the key focus of this year. Cities become a nicer place to live for all its residents, not just pollinators, but citizens as well. For the hard work and all the »honey« that we all put into greening, URBACT awarded Ljubljana with the opportunity to share its knowledge further and to build a strong network of Bee friendly cities. Cities of Amarante (Portugal), Bydgoszcz (Poland), Cesena (Italy), Hegyvidék – XII District of Budapest (Hungary) and Nea Propontida (Greece) were joined by Bansko (Bulgaria), Bergamo (Italy), Osijek (Croatia) and Sosnowiec (Poland). They took small steps such as planting melliferous plants, less mowing of public grounds, set up educational bee paths or just made sure that streets flourished. Activating societies, residents, the economy, public and private institutions… to do small projects is a breakthrough moment that transferred this initiative from “just another project” into a Bee-friendly city movement.
For 2022 we wish that this green movement will also come to your doorstep.
“Hardworking Bees” from
The Network of Bee-friendly cities
P.S.: It was the bumble bee and the butterfly who survived, not the dinosaur (Meridel Le Sueur).
BeePathNet Reloaded is about spreading knowledge on urban beekeeping to additional four EU cities that have proven its environmentally friendly orientation and would like to put special emphasis on creating a supporting environment for pollinators. Ljubljana, as a lead partner, will share the Bee-friendly city movement knowledge with Bansko in Bulgaria, Bergamo in Italy, Osijek in Croatia and Sosnowiec in Poland. This movement started in 2018 with Amarante, Portugal, Bydgoszcz, Poland, Cesena, Italy, Hegyvidék – XII District of Budapest, Hungary and Nea Propontida, Greece. The opportunity to transfer knowledge to additional four EU cities is URBACT’s special award for our hard work within BeePathNet partnership of and all the “honey” that all of us are putting in the preservation of the urban environment - place that we share with the bees.
All project activities will mostly focus on the empowerment of local group managers and members from the four transfer cities, to gain the competence and knowledge needed for further development and upgrading of the urban holistic approach to beekeeping in their cities. We will also organise a series of thematic meetings and several promotional activities on a national and international level, to support development in four partner cities and spread the movement across the Europe.
From the City of Ljubljana’s BEE PATH to the BeePathNet network and beyond
It all started in 2015, when the City of Ljubljana created the BEE PATH, which in following years evolved to become a network of local stakeholders – providing a platform for discussion about challenges, searching for solutions, and development of new products on a voluntary basis, a touristic and educational path - presenting the importance of bees and urban beekeeping, an educational programme devoted to awareness-raising amongst target groups, as well as a “think-tank” and an incubator for development of new entrepreneurship ideas.
Although Ljubljana’s success was awarded the title of URBACT Good Practice, it firmly believes that the BEE PATHis by no means a finished project, but rather a work in progress – growing and evolving on a daily basis. This approach was implemented with a matrix learning model in BeePathNet project (supported by URBACT) with which Ljubljana transferred the urban beekeeping good practice to five EU cities Amarante, Portugal, Bydgoszcz, Poland, Cesena, Italy, Hegyvidék – XII District of Budapest, Hungary and Nea Propontida, Greece. All six cities together started to build a Bee-friendly city network. Enthusiastic about the green changes the initiative is bringing to cities URBACT decided to co-finance the holistic knowledge transfer to additional four EU cities. And so BeePathNet Reloaded was born.
Learn about urban beekeeping and join the initiative of Bee-friendly cities
For our new four partners as well as other cities that would like to join, we:
developed guidelines and tools for knowledge transfer on urban beekeeping; developed by Ljubljana and supported by six cities good practices presentations; available on the project official webpage click here
are publishing thematic newsletters – Want to swarm with us? Subscribe to BeePathNet newsletter available in several languages – click here
“built up” the library (open its door) with thematic newsletters archive providing the thematic articles and inspiring stories. They are translated in several languages, to get closer to citizens.
Klemen Strmšnik and Maruška Markovčič share their enthusiasm forsuccess of “the BEE PATH concept” as a sustainable urban development practice and explain how it could play an important role in making European cities more sustainable and resilient. They point out: “We have proven that the BEE PATH concept works in various European cities. Now, we need to connect the dots into a network and allow urban bees to swarm across Europe.”
The logic behind the BEE PATH concept is very simple – bees live in a healthy environment. If European cities manage to preserve and improve the natural environment in urban areas, which allows bees and other wild pollinators to thrive, then they are on the right path to environmental protection, preserving the biodiversity, ensuring high-quality living conditions and preservation of food self-sufficiency potentials.
Sounds straightforward and logical, right?! However, how hard is it to actually achieve this in a modern European city with all its needs and challenges?
“It is not easy, but it is also not impossible!” says Maruška Markovčič – the BEE PATH good practice developer in the City of Ljubljana and the Project Coordinator for the BeePathNet project – and continues: “The most important thing for any city is to first decide that they actually want to develop and implement their sustainable urban policies. Then the process of making our cities more sustainable can start.”
In Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia where 290,000 citizens coexist with over 180 million bees and who knows how many wild pollinators – this process started in 2005 with development of a new sustainable city development strategy “Vision 2050” and a new Spatial Plan. In about 10 years Ljubljana won the title of “the Green Capital of Europe 2016”.
One would think that such a reward would represent the crown achievement. However, it proved to be just a springboard, as the success provided a supportive and nurturing environment for bolder green urban development ideas and projects. In the following years, the City of Ljubljana encouraged and supported new urban concepts including urban gardening, urban forestry, and urban beekeeping.
An excellent example of such efforts is the BEE PATH, which became the synonym for all activities linked to bees and wild pollinators in Ljubljana. Through two and a half years of its existence it evolved to become:
A NETWORK of partners interested in urban beekeeping – providing a platform for discussion on challenges, searching for solutions and development of new products on a voluntary basis.
A TOURISTIC AND EDUCATIONAL PATH designed to connect urban beekeepers and other bee-related points of interest, thus presenting the importance of bees and urban beekeeping to visitors.
AN EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMME devoted to raising awareness amongst target audiences.
A “THINK-TANK” AND AN “INCUBATOR" for development of new entrepreneurship ideas.
Its success was on the European level recognized by URBACT Programme, as it was declared a good practice. Maruška explains: “This enabled the City of Ljubljana to reach out to other European cities and develop the BeePathNet project with one clear goal - to replicate the success of Ljubljana and transfer the BEE PATH good practice to other cities.”
The BeePathNet partnership linked six EU Cities – Ljubljana (SLO) as the lead partner, Cesena (ITA), Bydgoszcz (POL), Amarante (POR), XII. District of Budapest (HUN) and Nea Propontida (GRE) as 1st wave partners under the URBACT transfer networks framework. Such partnership allowed the BeePathNet project to cover the majority of climate conditions for beekeeping in EU (fore example Atlantic, Continental, Mediterranean and Alpine climate conditions), as well as to take into account cultural and social differences between EU cities during the transfer process.
“Through it, we proved not only that the BEE PATH concept can be adapted and transferred to other European cities, but also that the good practice itself can be further evolved – based on knowledge and experience gained from transfer cities.” Maruška says and continues: “The BeePathNet project also allowed us to understand the importance of the flexibility in the transfer process. Or in other words - how to adapt modality and content of the bee path to actual needs of transfer cities, how to connect the bee path story with already existing own good practices in transfer cities and how to make sure all six bee paths remain connected on the transnational level.”
Good practice description, transfer methodology, knowledge and own good practices form transfer cities, as well as all lessons learned during the transfer process, were collected in the document titled The evolution steps toward a bee-friendly city – a comprehensive guidebook that can easily be used by any city interested to follow the example of the BeePathNet partnership.
“It was such an intensive learning experience for all of us… And you only realize this by taking your time and going through all these fantastic outputs we produced together. I am so proud of all project partners – not because they created bee paths in transfer cities, but because they made them unique!” Maruška concludes her thoughts on the 1st wave partnership: “It is because of them and their efforts that the transfer process can be considered successful. And you know, success opens new doors…”
Encouraged by successful transfer of the good practice to 1st wave transfer cities, URBACT Programme provided an opportunity for the City of Ljubljana as the Lead partner to enlarge the network and replicate the transfer process with four additional European Cities. Osijek (CRO), Bergamo (ITA), Bansko (BG) and Sosnowiec (POL) accepted the challenge and became the 2nd wave partners of the BeePathNet – Reloaded project.
The 2nd wave is understood by the City of Ljubljana as a very unique opportunity. On one hand it is a perfect opportunity to expand the network of bee-friendly cities, but on the other hand it as also the opportunity to go one step further and address issues the partnership could not address in the 1st wave.
Maruška explains: “Suddenly we were no longer 1 of 23 Transfer Networks under the URBACT umbrella, but 1 of only 7 Transfer Networks allowed to continue in the 2nd wave. You start thinking – wow, someone else believes we are doing something right! And this brings certain pressure… Not because we were not confident about the transfer potential of the BEE PATH good practice to 2nd wave transfer cities, but because this forced us to rethink our long-term goals and the strategy to achieve them.”
The BeePathNet project has shown how to take a sustainable urban development policy and put it into practice – not in one, but in six European Cities. With the BeePathNet – Reloaded project we will do the same in four more cities. And this is already a considerable result that should be promoted and shared with a wider audience.
This is why Maruška is very clear on the ambition of the BeePathNet – Reloaded project: “We want to expand the network with the BeePathNet – Reloaded project and spread our key messages. Not only to our 2nd wave transfer cities, but primarily to decision makers on local, regional, national and European level.”
As the BEE PATH concept relied on the bottom-up approach and successfully mobilized citizens in its implementation, we were able to do it with limited, but well managed, resources. This is more important than one would think, as non-investment and smaller-budget projects are often considered less important by decision makers. Maruška explains: “Just as crowd-sourcing proved that citizens can significantly impact innovation and development, we have to raise the awareness of decision makers that citizen driven initiatives can successfully spearhead the implementation of sustainable urban policies – efficiently, effectively and with high impact on the community. We simply need their political and operational support.”
Then Maruška points out another issue – the negative approach used by decision makers when discussing implementation of any new policy. “Constantly pointing out all the challenges linked to sustainable urban policy implementation, when one can simply switch the rhetoric and look for partners who are interested in exploiting opportunities coming out of the new policies doesn’t make much sense to me.” She continues: “Because we relied on our citizens to implement the policy in practice and allowed citizens to exploit synergies for their own growth and development of new small business opportunities, we created a multi-win situation. Through implementation of the policy, we improved the living conditions in our city, enabled sustainable development, rose the awareness, created citizen ownership and subsequently ensured the policy longevity.”
The proof of that can be found in 1st wave transfer cities, as all of them developed Long-term Urban Beekeeping Development Plans, as well as maintained the dynamics of regular ULG meetings after the BeePathNet project ended. Maruška continues: “It is so important to make sure we involve 1st wave transfer cities and use them as knowledge hubs and trainers for 2nd wave transfer cities. If we stay connected and keep the momentum going, our key messages will be so much stronger.”
As the BEE PATH concept was based on urban sustainability concept and developed to bridge the mistrust between the city administration and citizens, it can be easily reused to address other urban challenges. Maruška adds: “The more I think about it, the more I realize that we succeeded in creating a model for citizen involvement in almost any policy implementation process.”
“If decision makers are serious about implementation of the Green Deal and other sustainability policies, they should understand the value of ready-to-implement policy implementation models, such as the BEE PATH, and support us.” Maruška concludes.
And then our discussion turns to a more distant vison of the future. In it, after successful implementation of the BeePathNet – Reloaded project, the BEE PATH concept becomes a well known and used approach, while the Bee-Friendly Cities Network becomes an important mechanism for city-to-city cooperation. As such it is able to work with cities across EU on implementation of their sustainable urban policies – thus, making European cities more sustainable and resilient.
It is a challenge, we know! However, as they say: “A landslide starts with the first pebble!” Well, we have moved at least ten pebbles so far and proved that it can be done. This is why we dare to invite all European Cities to join the Bee-Friendly Cities Network and participate in this urban sustainability landslide.
The coordinator of the Cesena URBACT Local Group shares with us their transfer story as part of the URBACT BeePathNet network.
Getting to know the world of bees has been a turning point to deepen my awareness about human pressure on the environment, given their capital role in human life while being extremely sensitive to its consequences. Bees let us open discussions about climate change and biodiversity: two vital issues provoking a critical evaluation of our economic system and the society we want to build, calling into question the very sense of our actions.
My awareness on the unbalanced connection between human actions and the environment has grown over the years, working on urban environments and urban regeneration issues. The necessity of a new ecosystemic approach appeared to me to be ever more urgent, where humans would assume a different role than the one of a parasite.
In the BeePathNet I found an opportunity to enhance my project design skills in relation to this kind of approach, and in particular, the GP of Ljubljana was of great and thought-provoking inspiration.
LEARNING PROCESS – from the Ljubljana strategy to the building of Cesena Transfer Plan: knowledge and understanding to find new actions
The Ljubljana Good Practice
The Boot camp that took place in Ljubljana in April 2019 was of great relevance for me. The strategy that the city of Ljubljana decided to follow could be defined as a down/up approach, focused on using all the available spaces to increase the number of apiaries within the city as much as possible. This approach includes the identification of green urban spaces on the ground level (down) and flat roofs, on the sky level (up), as spaces adequate to house beehives. I have learnt which are the main characteristics that both the locations should have. Since I am a trained architect, this new awareness and knowledge (even if basic) gives me the possibility to support the technical urban offices of the Municipality working together with the URBACT Local Group (ULG) members.
Moreover, in Ljubljana the close connection between apiculture and society is very evident, as demonstrated by the time beekeepers dedicate to the schools and also by the fact that many teachers are also beekeepers. In fact, simply introducing bees in a city is not enough to have a real urban apiculture: to reach different goals and cover different fields, a network is needed. This is the way to truly raise awareness in the people and in the future citizens: the network is the fundamental starting point to build and to share knowledge and mindfulness, since bees represent a chance to talk about so much else.
How urban spaces can become real biodiversity havens supporting city pollinators, but also means to engage and actively involve the citizens, strengthening their relationship with the PA, appeared evident also during our City Visit in Budapest, led by the Hegyvidék district’s team.
In Bydgoszcz, the focus was on the “Education” theme, thanks to the diffusion of projects for all ages, aiming to share knowledge, thus building an ever-growing awareness. Starting from the BeePathNet educational journey destined to elementary schoolers, then the Botanical Gardens Casimir the Great, hosting several beehives as teaching tool and for the production of honey, thanks to the efforts of a polish beekeeper and ULG member, and finally the urban apiary installed on the University rooftop, heart of an educational and employability training project for adults.
Transfer: the objectives of Cesena
To transfer the Ljubljana and other partners Good Practice, Cesena chose to focus on the strengthening of people’s awareness and eradicate the distorted perception of bees as a threat, still so engraved in society, by emphasising the fundamental role that pollinators play in the ecosystem (also in urban environments). The techniques borrowed from Ljubljana to widen the network, engage and educate the citizens with a new scope on the territory, pass also through the valorisation of apiary products and the promotion of a different kind of tourism. On this journey, the exchange with the partner cities is an opportunity for dialogue, finding shared solutions to local issues.
ULGC: growth of the culture of collaboration
Being the BeePathNet ULG coordinator let me put my expertise and organisational skills at the service of the group, supporting the collaboration between the members to:
identify new contacts and widen the network;
facilitate the rooting of a deeper awareness about the importance of collaborative actions in creating new opportunities;
promote the growth of new project designing realities able to evolve independently.
To reach these goals, it is essential to get into relations with the people forming the group, to get to know each other and make individual skills and expectations emerge, therefore facilitating the team building. To this end, a simple on-line questionnaire submitted to the group at the beginning of our path, has been very useful and even brought out a common will to share expertise, knowledge and experience, especially on the local level.
TRANSFER PLAN E WORLD BEE DAY – from personal awareness to a shared Action Plan and event organisation
Action Plan: Methods
To turn ideas and visions into a “Cesena Bee Path”, the ULG group has been divided into sub- groups dedicated to specific themes and activities, identifying ideas potential development, possible synergies, and local, regional and international funding sources.
As a tool to ultimately turn concepts into actions, a “Navigator” has been devised: an instrument supporting the sharing of ideas and proposals while enabling their discussion, useful for reaching shared conclusions and choices about the actions to be included in the 2019- 2020 Action Plan. It also enabled the group to be constantly up to date on the work progress, offering a clear visualization of the results. Due to the lockdown, and its consequent necessity to rethink the means of collaboration, the Navigator had to be turned into a digital tool. That was overall a positive occurrence, since the new tool adopted maintains the original effectiveness while offering a wider feature potential.
Action Plan: the Map
The exchange with the City partners has brought up the value of the Bee Path as a common platform for the dissemination of awareness and knowledge about apidology, but moreover, for the promotion of a new kind of beekeeping-driven tourism & production, a concept that is materialized in the realization of a thematic map.
The map of Cesena was designed with the City centre and the territory connection in mind, while promoting all realities related to bees and bee products. The choice to issue an open call to collect and select the points of interest has been an opportunity to widen the project reach.
In the words of Martina and Enrico, beekeepers of the Società Agricola OrtiCà: thanks to the map, “anyone who wishes to get to know the world of bees and the products they give us could use it. I’m thinking of professional cooks, patisseries, ice cream makers with whom a network of multidisciplinary relations could, hopefully, be created, which is a goal for this project but also something we seek and wish to realize, and eventually translates into the valorisation of the territory”.
Action Plan: il WBD (on- and off-line)
On May 20th, 2019, our first World Bee Day, proclaimed in 2018 by the UN thanks to the city of Ljubljana, took place in Cesena. It was a beautiful day, we took a walk through the places of the city that speak of beekeeping, respect for biodiversity, and respect for pollinators. It has been an impressive occasion of sharing and participation, and discovering of places and people. Bees once again prove to be a powerful vector of messages, concerning respect for nature, the protection of biodiversity, the need for a healthier relationship between man and the environment also, and above all, in the urban context.
The 2020 World Bee Day found us in a full lockdown, but we couldn’t possibly renounce such a relevant opportunity for exchange and dissemination, so a different approach was needed to host the event. The lead partner and all the realities involved came up together with the concept of an online event, which has been a challenging opportunity that brought out many positive features and contributions especially from the ULG members. The co-planning process and the commitment of the ULG members and local network has been invaluable for the celebration of the first Cesena WORLD BEE DAY entirely on-line and the creation of a series of new digital contents for schools, families and citizens has been a relevant contribution to the project diffusion. All contents were presented from time to time on the event Facebook and YouTube page and on the dedicated municipal website.
Of course, given the obstacles and difficult circumstances, the outcome of the day could not reach the expectations of an off-line event, as brought up by the ULG beekeepers. In fact, if, on one hand, the digital tools let us reach and involve a larger and younger public, on the other hand the face to face experience is invaluable to really get to understand the bee world. Nonetheless, the ULG participation and great collaborative approach has been a great success and left me very satisfied.
THE URBACT LOCAL GROUP (ULG)
The Cesena ULG was formed as a ‘regional’ network from the start, including partners from neighbouring cities – Forli and Bologna – joining the Cesena core. In the 2nd year the group spread even further, all the way to Turin and Rome.
ULG members are an interesting mix of beekeepers, teachers, farmers, entrepreneurs, various NGOs and associations, but also researchers and private companies. With 47 ULG members, the group is of a medium size, but “a very active” one.
The diagram on the right visualises a constant increase in the level of cooperation among ULG members, demonstrating the effects of continuous and goal-oriented work, the benefits of a constructive and creative ULG environment, and the resulting mind change.
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.
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.
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.
Amarante (PT) - Balbriggan (IE) - Pori (FI) - Pärnu (EE) - Grosseto (IT) - Gabrovo (BG) - Heerlen (NL) - Kočevje (SI) - Medina del Campo (ES) - 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Memories can't wait. This is the title of a song by Talking Heads, which relates to Kairós, the name of the new URBACT Action Planning Network on cultural heritage. In ancient Greek, Kairós means the ‘propitious moment’. It is indeed a call to action. And the way this network is addressing heritage has much to do with people and the (collective) memory.
In modern heritage management, the concepts of valorisation and adaptive re-use to contemporary issues are as relevant as the notion of preservation. The scope can range from just the building or monumental artifact to the idea of the broader urban cultural landscape. These trends are paving the way for heritage to play an important role as a driver for urban development.
Other concepts and lines of work are accelerating the relevance of this approach, ranging from sustainable urban development as the prominent framework for today´s urban policies to increasing community empowerment. In this context, the purpose of Kairós is to build up and test an integrated approach for heritage-led urban development and regeneration that can serve a variety of specific challenges and circumstances. We set out a sample here below.
Facing dereliction and decline of historic neighbourhoods
What Mula, a mid-sized town in Southeast Spain, and Heraklion (180,000 inhabitants), the administrative capital of the isle of Crete (Greece) have in common is that both feel the urgent need to stop and revert the vicious circle of degradation and decline. In both cases, this is affecting some of their historic neighbourhoods, in particular Mula´s ‘upper historic quarters’, dating from medieval times, and, in Heraklion, the ‘Aghia Triada’ (Holy Trinity), one of the last city fragments that still retains much of its historical character dating back to the late medieval and early Ottoman cities.
A shrinking and ageing population seriously impacts both districts, meaning that the once traditional social fabric has greatly disappeared. Massive degradation of the housing stock and lots of abandoned properties, alongside a process of social decay and conflict have caused a subsequent poor image of the area and, thus, economic decline. Rehabilitation and regeneration schemes, with a poorly integrated approach, have been tried in both cases, with scarce results so far.
If we move to Lithuania we find Ukmergé, a shirinking medium-sized city, halfway between the capital, Vilnius, and Kaunas. Its cultural memory is so closely linked to Jewish urban culture and heritage that the old town has never really been brought back to normal life since the tragedy of the Holocaust,during which about 10,000 members of the town's Jewish community were massacred.
The historic district of Aghia Triada, Heraklion (EL)
The current local government has promoted a number of physical rehabilitation projects over the past few years, but they still need to be framed into a comprehensive and more ambitious strategy for Ukmergé´s old town regeneration. This would raise the confidence and interest of dwellers, investors, shop owners and entrepreneurs.
Conditions in Sibenik, on the Croatian coast, are quite different to Ukmergé. The city has rapidly become a renowned tourist destination. However, a priority of the local government is to achieve a more sustainable urban development model for its unique, Venetian-style old town. Currently, it is being negatively affected by depopulation, tourism-driven gentrification and a lack of urban vitality during the low season.
Looking at the future through the lens of memory
Other cities in the Kairós network do not face degradation and decline specifically, but rather want to take advantage of the potential of a number of heritage assets for new urban developments and opportunities. After years investing in their historic downtowns, Cesena in Northern Italy and Roskilde in Denmark are now interested in how best to connect those city cores with new heritage-driven district developments or re-developments.
In the city of Cesena - 97,200 inhabitants - intends to re-use its urban industrial legacy (in this case, the former Arrigoni factory) as the spatial foundation for a multi-functional urban regeneration of the area surrounding the railway station. This will include a campus development, new workplaces, housing, new public spaces and a sustainable mobility scheme. Whereas in Roskilde - a commuter town 30 km west of Copenhagen with 97,200 inhabitants - the next flagship project in the town will be the transformation of a former 19th century psychiatric hospital complex of 58 ha into a new liveable and vibrant neighbourhood.
Belene is a small Bulgarian town located in the central part of the Danubian plain, one of the least developed regions in the European Union. At present, the Municipality has the firm determination to make their cultural and natural heritage - notably the spectacular Persina Nature Park - work for the city strategy. In particular, it plans to regenerate and develop the city´s Danube riverfront as a new hotspot for residents and the visitor economy, which is almost inexistent so far.
Conversely, the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, Poland, is likely the most visited tourist attraction in the country. It is the largest castle in the world measured by land area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. The main challenge of Malbork City Council is to expand the benefits associated with the high inflow of visitors to the castle (over 800,000 people in 2019) to the whole historic city, which remains underappreciated. This will call for a wider approach to the urban heritage, beyond the monuments and landmarks and much closer to the concept of ‘historic urban landscape’.
Malbork´s Teutonic Castle (PL)
The Kairós five-pillar model
To meet these challenges, the eight cities mentioned above agreed to share a common action-research work plan within the Kairós network. The integration of the following five key dimensions aims to provide a new policy framework enabling real transformation on the ground:
Governance - in particular participatory approaches and enabling regulatory frameworks for heritage valorisation in mid-sized towns and cities.
Space - valorisation and adaptive re-use of urban heritage, including multi-functionality and specific urban planning solutions for historic quarters.
Economy - entrepreneurial itineraries, business models and technologies related to heritage valorisation and heritage-led urban development and regeneration.
Attractiveness - re-imagining the ‘heritage city’: from local identity to sustainable destination management.
Social Cohesion – addressing accessibility and inclusiveness of historic quarters.
We think this is the right time, at the beginning of the EU´s new programming period 2021-2027, to put into practice this Kairós five-pillar model. Whilst impressive cultural heritage has long been part of the European urban culture and the European ‘brand’, there is now greater awareness of the multifaceted nature of heritage-driven urban development and regeneration, and the benefits associated with these strategies. So, let´s move on to action. Memories can´t wait.
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.
Klemen Strmšnik shares his enthusiasm for Ljubljana’s (SI) green endeavours and the on going success of the BeePathNet project linking 6 European cities seeking to promote urban beekeeping. He asks: if the awareness and enthusiasm are already there, can urban beekeeping become integral to an urban lifestyle?
Due to intense urbanization and economic growth, European cities are facing increasing pollution, as well as the loss of natural resources and a decrease of biodiversity while citizens’ living conditions worsen, losing the all important bond with nature. Combined with the heavy use of pesticides and insecticides, the numbers of bees and other wild pollinators are dramatically decreasing. Unfortunately, we seem to forget that they provide one of the most important ecosystem services for the food production cycle: pollination.
On the other hand, awareness about importance of locally and ecologically produced food is on the rise. People are increasingly following “healthy living principles” and are actively seeking better living conditions with rising numbers interested in growing their own food –on balconies, gardens or roof-tops.
In Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia 290,000 citizens and over 180 million bees not only co-exist but also thrive. Three-quarters of its entire territory are covered by native forests, meadows, and fields, 20% of which are designated natural protected areas. In Ljubljana over 800 farms and 350 beekeepers operate, keeping the connection between urban and rural very much alive.
In recent years the efforts to improve the living conditions in urban areas were recognized and Ljubljana won several important awards – including being part of ‘The Global Top 100 Sustainable Destinations’ in 2017, the ‘Friendliest Municipality to bees’ in 2017 and the ‘Green Capital of Europe’ in 2016.
Sounds impressive, right? However, in order to understand the success of its’ “green urban development policy”, we have to look back in Ljubljana’s recent urban development history.
With high-quality living conditions in the hinterland of the city, sub-urbanism was very strong in 80’s and 90’s. As more and more young families moved to suburbs, the city centre and older neighbourhoods inevitably “aged”, slowly deteriorating and in some cases even degrading. But just like in nature, “the old” had to make room for “the new” and Ljubljana entered the new millennium ready for an urban revival.
In search of new development concepts, city administration and decision makers recognized the “green character” of Ljubljana as an advantage and an opportunity. Citizens quickly responded supporting the idea. A key development policy, thanks to the implementation of a new sustainable strategy: “Vision 2050” with a new Spatial Plan, the City of Ljubljana successfully achieved its urban renewal. Proof of its success came in 2014 when Ljubljana won the title of “the Green Capital of Europe 2016”.
This was a clear signal for both, citizens and the City of Ljubljana that they were on the right track. It also provided a supportive and nurturing environment for bolder green urban development ideas and projects. In the following years, the City of Ljubljana encouraged and supported new urban concepts including urban gardening, urban forestry, and urban beekeeping.
In 2015, an employee of the City of Ljubljana, Maruška Markovčič, now the URBACT Local Group Coordinator for the BeePathNet project, introduced the idea of urban beekeeping. She says: “BEE PATH was supposed to be just a small project supporting urban beekeepers and exploring new tourism potentials in Ljubljana. I never expected it to evolve to this level!” But it did and today BEE PATH became the synonym for all activities linked to bees and beekeeping in Ljubljana.
Through two and a half years of its existence it evolved to become:
A NETWORK of partners interested in urban beekeeping – providing a platform for discussion on challenges, searching for solutions and development of new products on a voluntary basis.
A TOURISTIC AND EDUCATIONAL PATH designed to connect urban beekeepers and other bee-related points of interest, thus presenting the importance of bees and urban beekeeping to visitors.
AN EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMME devoted to raising awareness amongst target audiences.
A “THINK-TANK” AND AN “INCUBATOR" for development of new entrepreneurship ideas.
Maruška further explains: “The logic behind the BEE PATH project was very simple – bees live in a healthy environment. If Ljubljana manages to preserve the natural environment in urban areas, which allows bees and other wild pollinators to thrive, then it is on the right path to environmental protection, preserving the biodiversity, ensuring high-quality living conditions and preservation of food self-sufficiency potentials.”
But such attempts can never be successful if they are developed top-down. Thus, a bottom-up voluntary approach was used: “We started as a small circle of beekeepers, but we always remained open to all interested parties. In time the network grew and today involves educational and cultural institutions, NGOs, entrepreneurs, companies and my other stakeholders. It was not easy, but it was the right way to do it!” she quickly adds.
One could argue that Ljubljana has favourable natural conditions: an uncharacteristically high percentage of green areas and a long tradition of beekeeping. However, the author of this article is also convinced that such favourable conditions exist in many other cities around Europe. Unfortunately, they are still not recognized for their development potential – and this is exactly what the BeePathNet project is all about.
Maruška added: “Receiving the title URBACT good practice for BEE PATH project was really important for us – it proved we were on the right track, it boosted the enthusiasm of existing members, it attracted new members and raised the image of urban beekeeping to a new level. This is why we see the BeePathNet project as a new opportunity – not only to transfer the good practice to other cities but also to explore potential for its up-grade together with our partners.”
Aiming to replicate their success and transfer good practice, BeePathNet partnership now links 6 EU Cities – Ljubljana as the lead partner, Cesena (IT) and Bydgoszcz (POL) as 1st phase partner, Amarante (POR), XII. District of Budapest (HU) and Nea Propontida (GRE) as 2nd phase partners.These partnerships allows the BeePathNet project to cover the majority of climate conditions for beekeeping in EU (Atlantic, Continental, Mediterranean, Alpine), as well as to take into account cultural and social differences between cities. Natural and cultural differences between cities are already starting to emerge, adding to the challenges of the transfer process!
This being said, we have to point out that there are 4 main components of good practice, which will form a universal BeePathNet transfer concept:
Establishing and supporting URBACT local groups in all 5 partner cities – transferring all-inclusive voluntary, bottom-up and proactive approaches with the aim to find synergies.
Creating favourable conditions for urban beekeeping – raising awareness of target audiences about the importance of bees and wild pollinators, reducing the “fear factor” of citizens, as well as overcoming formal and informal obstacles to urban beekeeping in all partner cities.
Developing “bee-paths” as new educational and tourism products in individual cities, as well as platforms for promoting urban beekeepers and a diverse array of bee by-products.
Ensuring long term sustainability for urban beekeeping through development of mid/long-term development plans in individual cities.
Urban beekeeping, in its broader context, gives BeePathNet partners and other European cities numerous possibilities for further development of the BEE PATH concept. This is best proved by the fact that BEE PATH is by no means a “finished project”, but rather a “work in progress” – growing and evolving on a daily basis.
“Wow… Even I am sometimes caught by surprise when BEE PATH members inform me about new ideas or new forms of cooperation between them.” Maruška commented after a BEE PATH event. Having witnessed it, I must say that the commitment and enthusiasm at the events is contagious. I soon found myself thinking: “Hmm, how can I get involved?”
Transferring this level of enthusiasm and passion is one of the key challenges of the BeePathNet project. During our partner city visits, Maruška and I often discussed different approaches, but we always came to the same conclusion: “Beekeeping – urban or rural – is not something that you just do. You have to love it in order to do it!”
Understanding this passion for bee keeping itself is crucial for the successful transfer of the project’s good practice. I can hardly wait to see how the BEE PATH concept will be transferred and modified to “fit the shoe” of other partner cities or how it will further evolve in this new URBACT environment. Are you ready to be surprised?
Cesena is a beautiful, relaxed Italian town with narrow streets and countless old buildings. The seaside is just a 20-minute drive, and if you are a ski-aficionado, you can easily find quality slopes close-by. In short: it is a very nice place to live. In addition, Cesena is home to a number of faculties of the prestigious University of Bologna, attracting students from all over Italy.
After graduation, however, most of them move to other countries, or to big cities in Italy, in search of more exciting career opportunities. So the question was, what could the city do to retain at least some of the talented university graduates in Cesena? One of the answers was the creation of an incubator 4 years ago, to attract and nurture startup enterprises and promote innovation. The idea came from a university professor - and the City Council immediately backed it.
This incubator comes by the name of ‘CesenaLab’.
Co-working spaces, start-up centres and digital incubators are booming in big cities all over the world. They are less common, however, in smaller towns like Cesena. CesenaLab was conceived from the beginning as a simple, low-cost operation, and the founders - the Municipality of Cesena, the University and a Bank Association - focus on the basics. The Bank Association provided the space (free) - an unused bank office, the Municipality provides the annual budget of operation, while the University contributes with its network, occasional access to its research facilities and capacities, and of course with a healthy stream of aspiring startuppers from the university. CesenaLab has a digital and media focus.
“We have a rolling application process”, explains Roberto, the manager, who can be easily mistaken for one of the young entrepreneurs.“We accept companies as well as private individuals with nothing more than just a good idea. We ask applicants to give a pitch and show us their vision - what they want to achieve. We look for 3 things”, Roberto highlights: “most importantly, we want to see the passion - that the person is really committed and believes in the idea. Secondly, we look at the team - who they are, what they want to achieve and do they have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Finally, we certainly look at the idea - how innovative it is.”
When an application is accepted, CesenaLab provides the following services, free of charge for a nine-month period:
Desk, broadband internet access, use of facilities 24/7;
Mentorship support to create a business plan and business model - each idea owner has one dedicated mentor and from time to time they also work with other mentors having specialized knowledge (like for instance marketing, product development, finances);
Support to build network and contact base;
Events to link the startups with other companies, training courses on various topics.
In return they only ask for one thing: when the company leaves CesenaLab after 9 months (usually as a fully functional enterprise), it has to stay in Cesena. “Nothing fancy”, says Roberto, “and if it sounds simple, it’s because it IS simple. But our experience - and the example of over 20 successful businesses which we have raised in CesenaLab in the past 4 years - shows, it does work. We may not grow unicorns like they do in Silicon Valley or in other startup hotspots around the world, but the companies we help are successful on an Italian scale, many of them with potential for international expansion - and most importantly they help to retain bright minds in Cesena. What we painfully lack, is one of the key conditions of further growth of the businesses after the initial phase - the availability of venture capital.”
Most of CesenaLab “residents” I have spoken with agreed, that the support they received had been crucial. As one of them put: “When we got here, we were three enthusiastic geeks fresh off from university. CesenaLab helped us to become entrepreneurs.”
In addition to the support, however, the biggest value lies in the power of the community: people working at the 10 companies CesenaLab hosts at a time form a diverse group, with a wide range of knowledge and skills - and they help out each other on a daily basis. At lunch time almost everyone gathers around the big table in the centre of the open-space room and spend time together; there’s animated discussion, young people sharing ideas, solving problems together, and telling jokes. It is lively and noisy - just like a big Italian family - but it is probably one of the reasons these aspiring entrepreneurs love to be here.
“Now you know what you eat” - this is the slogan of EDO, one of the first “graduates” of CesenaLab. The 3 young IT guys offer a solution to a problem most of us are familiar with: with the huge selection of food products on the shelves of supermarkets today, it is almost impossible to make an educated, responsible and healthy choice; too many alternatives, unknown ingredients, important information hidden in the corner of the package with minuscule letters - just to name a few of the challenges. The simple answer EDO offers is a mobile app, which - after scanning the barcode of the product - presents a health-index calculated based on the ingredients of the food and the goals of the user, and provides other crucial product information in an easy-to-understand format. Currently the EDO app is available in Italy and in the UK - and they plan to expand to other markets.
Cesena is in an area with a strong agricultural tradition– so it’s no surprise that many startups offer solutions to food-related problems. SeasonEat started in 2016 - it is a drop shipping service delivering fresh groceries (fruits and vegetables) to the table of Cesena residents from producers around the city. While one can find similar services in many places, it was new to Cesena when SeasonEat started. The service they offer is good for the customers - they receive fresh fruits and vegetables with known origin; it is good for the farmers as SeasonEat offers fair prices (much higher than supermarket chains) - and it is also good for the local economy. The company has a 2.000 strong subscriber base, steadily growing. They are not just an e-commerce solution and logistics provider - they organize events to build a community of customers and farmers. The next step is to scale the service to other Italian cities.
Fitlunch is the initiative of a former professional athlete who - after finishing his sports career - immediately felt that healthy eating is a major challenge for people. Fitlunch.it is a meal delivery service - and it is like having a nutritional expert and a chef at your disposal any time you need it. You can connect to the service through Facebook Messenger. You need to provide some important information about yourself - your age, weight and height - your activity level, as well as your fitness goal (muscle building or leaning). Based on this information Fitlunch.it offers you various tailor-made meals - which you can order immediately. The company operates in 6 cities in Italy - all our smaller cities like Cesena and intends to expand further.
…..but what’s all this got to do with Foo Fighters…..?
Rockin’1000 and Foo Fighters
Fabio is a marine biologist by profession - and a serial entrepreneur, building businesses around his passions. One of his many passions is music - more precisely rock music - and he is an avid fan of one of the greatest rock bands on earth - Foo Fighters. 3 years ago, he wanted to invite his favorite band to come and give a concert in his hometown, Cesena. Since Foo Fighters only normally perform in big city stadiums, Fabio knew that any old invitation would not cut it. So, he started to work on a dream: he collected money through crowdfunding, and then organized Rockin’1000 - 1.000 musicians - amateur and professional, male and female, young and old - gathered in Cesena to play together just one song - “Learning to Fly” from Foo Fighters.
At the end of the video capturing this wonderful and moving community moment Fabio presented an invitation to Foo Fighters. The video went viral and quickly accumulated over 40 Million views - and soon Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters sent a video message thanking for the beautiful video and saying (in Italian) “We are coming. I promise”. And they did - Fabio’s dream came true on November 3 2015 when the band gave an intimate concert to 3.000 fans in Cesena.
Fabio’s company built around the concept of Rockin’1000 is now a resident of CesenaLab - and together with his small team he continues to make the dream of amateur musicians come true. They organised a show of the Biggest Rockband on Earth - 1.200 musicians from all over the world performing to an audience of more than 12.000 in the Cesena stadium, produced a record of the show, organized a summer camp for musicians. As Fabio insists, however, Rockin1000 is not an event organizer - its building a worldwide community of musicians.
What can we learn from CesenaLab and Rockin’1000?
Dare to dream big!
The inspiring example of these initiatives show that all towns and cities – whatever their size and location – can reach for the stars and achieve big things. What is needed is creativity, ambition, energy and fun - and CesenaLab has all of these in spades.
It does not have to cost a fortune!
The example of CesenaLab also demonstrates, that developing the digital economy does not require fancy solutions and expensive infrastructure – it is much better to start small and get the basics right: the combination of a functional space, committed staff and the right assistance can lay the foundations of a digital ecosystem.
It is the collaboration, stupid!
It was clear from all the discussions we had with the passionate entrepreneurs of CesenaLab, that having the basic infrastructure is important, just like getting support from experienced mentors. What they valued most, however, was the collaboration with other businesses.