POINT (12.568337 55.676097)
  • URBinclusion


    Kick-off meeting at Paris URBACT secretariat (Phase I)
    Thematic Seminar in February (Trikala), Transnational Meeting and Final Conference “Networking for social inclusion in Europe” in March (Barcelona), URBinclusion Manifesto, partners Operational Implementation Frameworks (OIF), Partners Solution Stories
    Transnational Meeting in February (Barcelona), Project Phase I closure, Project Phase II launch, Transnational Meeting in September (Copenhagen - Kick-off meeting Phase II)
    Thematic Seminar in January (Lyon), June (Glasgow), December (Naples), Transnational Meeting in April (Krakow), October (Turin), URBinclusion partners Implementation Plans

    Arwen Dewilde
    City of Ghent



    Plaza de la Constitucion 1

    Baena (Cordoba) - Spain


    Artur Katai
    City of Újbuda


    Barcelona City Council - Social Rights Area

    Lluis Torrens:

    Sebastià Riutort:

    Socioeconomic disparities and other forms of inequalities are a major issue in European cities which are threatened by social polarisation increase. Poverty does not only create social differences between people and groups; it also leads to spatial differences.
    URBinclusion implementation network focused on the co-creation of new solutions to reduce poverty in deprived urban areas, focusing on some key challenges to be tackled when going from the strategic to the implementation dimension: integrated approach and inter-departmental coordination, involvement of local stakeholders, monitoring and evaluation and financial innovation.
    Partners cities interchange showed that this requires integrated, cyclical and monitored processes made of recursive actions and feedbacks that produces stable conditions of engagement for continuous improvement.

    Combating poverty in deprived urban areas
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  • URGE

    Lead Partner : Utrecht - Netherlands
    • Copenhagen - Denmark
    • Granada - Spain
    • Kavala - Greece
    • Munich - Germany
    • Nigrad d.o.o - Slovenia
    • Oeste CIM - Portugal
    • Prato - Italy
    • Riga - Latvia

    City of Utrecht - team Circular Economy & team External Funds



    • Phase 1: Kick-off and finalization meetings in Utrecht (NL) and Copenhagen (DK) (2019-2020)
    • Phase 2: Online transnational exchange meetings hosted by Munich (DE), Prato (IT), Oeste (PT), Copenhagen (DK), Riga (LV) and Maribor (SI) (2020-2021)
    • Phase 2: Coordination meetings in Granada (ES) and Kavala (EL) (2022)
    • Phase 2: Final event in Utrecht (NL) (2022)

    URGE, an abbreviation for 'circular building cities' is an Action Planning network on circular economy in the construction sector - a major consumer of raw materials. As there is a gap in circular economy principles' implementation in this sector, URGE brings together nine cities and their stakeholders to inspire and learn from each other in developing their integrated urban policy. This supports integration of circularity in the construction tasks, thus contributing to sustainable cities.

    Circular building cities
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  • 23 Action Planning Networks ready for Phase 2!

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



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

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

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


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


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





    Research, technological development and innovation


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

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

    Find your Greatness

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

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

    Access to and use of ICT

    (previously DI4C)

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

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


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

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

    Competitiveness of SMEs


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

    - Saldus (LV)

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

    Tourism Friendly Cities

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

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

    Low carbon economy in all sectors

    Urb-En Pact

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

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

    Zero Carbon Cities
    (previously ZCC)

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

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

    Environmental protection and resource efficiency


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

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


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

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

    Healthy Cities

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

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


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


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


    Resourceful Cities
    (previously UrbReC)

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


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

    (previously Rurban Food)

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

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


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

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

    Sustainable transport


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

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

    Thriving Streets

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

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

    Employment protection and resource efficiency


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

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

    Social inclusion and poverty


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

    Education, skills and lifelong learning


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

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




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

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  • Transition to circular economy: the ‘’power’’ of the building sector towards better cities

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    What does circular economy in the building sector mean to you in theory and where are we standing today? Which are the key challenges, the needs and how can we meet them starting from acting locally and upscaling our achievements towards better cities? The URGE APN project attempts a first dive into the issue of circularity in the building sector, aiming to impact importantly local policies and contribute to the achievement of the ambitious European goals and objectives.

    Circular economy


    The URGE APN project


    The URGE (Circular Building Cities) project, approved in the frame of URBACT III Action Planning Networks (APNs), aims to design action plans on circularity in the building sector. URGE is thus accelerating the transition to the circular economy. The network consists of large cities such as Copenhagen and Munich, medium sized cities such as Utrecht and Riga and smaller cities such as Maribor (represented by Nigrad), Kavala and Comunidade Intermunicipal do Oeste, a regional cooperation of smaller municipalities. It is led by the City of Utrecht.

    In the frame of Phase I, a more thorough investigation will be made into each city’s case, to raise the needs and draw a tailored-made action plan to smoothen difficulties exploit opportunities and come up with solutions that will boost circularity in the building sector.

    What is a circular building?

    ‘’A building that is developed, used and reused without unnecessary resource depletion, environmental pollution and ecosystem degradation. It is constructed in an economically responsible way and contributes to the wellbeing of people and the biosphere’’.

    Circular buildings impact positively on Materials, Energy, Waste, Biodiversity, Health and Well Being, Human culture & society. Additionally, they may produce multiple forms of value.

    Where is the global economy in terms of circularity standing today?

    Our global economy is only 9% circular. 8.4 Giga tons of materials are cycled input, versus 84.4 Giga tons coming from extracted resources. Out of the materials not cycled, the majority is lost beyond recovery - either dispersed in the form of emissions or unrecoverable waste. Housing, Nutrition and Mobility together represent more than 82% of the total material footprint.

    Within the next 30 years, it is estimated that the amount of new construction will equal the amount, which is already built today. The rapidly growing construction sector is currently among the world’s largest producers of waste: every year, 1.3 billion tons of construction and demolition waste is generated worldwide and half of it comes from construction.

    Consequently, there is a crucial need for new circular solutions, especially in the building sector.



    The case of Europe

    The building sector in Europe is strategic for the economies of most countries.  Around 4 out of every 10 houses in Europe were built before 1960, a time when building practices were poor by today’s standards. The priority is to sustain and preserve what is already built, and in case renovation or demolishment is needed, the idea is to proceed using circular process, where materials can re-enter the construction sector and be re-used appropriately.

    The ambition of the European Commission is to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy, enabling EU cities to lead the international system beyond the current outdated take-make-dispose model. As circular economy is a complex and far-reaching concept, the European Commission has established in December 2015  a unique comprehensive strategy referred to as the “circular economy Action Plan”. The action plan is an effective response to the 2030 Agenda, since it empowers public authorities and stakeholders to accelerate the circular economy transition. After four years of successful implementation of the Action Plan, one White Paper on circular economy of the Word Economic Forum (2018) and a lot of published reports, the European Commission could identify needs, towards acceleration of circular economy:

    1) Circular economy is complex. Therefore, a comprehensive strategy to close the loop and targeting strategic sectors is the best tool to address all its aspects.

    2) There are short and long-term benefits in making circular economy a priority across departments inside a public institution. Services dealing with environmental protection, industry, research, international cooperation, and potentially many others, can contribute to mainstream the concept within and outside the institution.

    3) Circular change is faster when economic actors and civil society are directly involved. An effective public policy on circular economy needs support from business and civil society in order to maximize its benefits for the environment and for the economy.

    The building sector itself is aware that it must change its management model to turn circular and that it can comply with the new approach to the ‘sustainable use of resources’ set out in the European Building Products Regulations.

    However, there is still a lot to be done at local level.

    Acting locally

    A holistic approach and integration of the views in local action planning to meet the ambitious EU goals on circularity, is the key.

    A common success factor in circular building design is stakeholder engagement from the very beginning. Indeed, early co-design processes with end-users, technicians, suppliers and communities, and taking everyone’s needs into consideration overall, is crucial in creating a holistic design. Moreover, public procurement regulation can be a powerful driver with the power to play a significant role in mainstreaming circularity practices. In terms of knowledge dissemination, finished building projects and reuse of buildings and areas can serve for further awareness raising and experience sharing. Additionally, communication of public data through city portals, including the discussion and open data in relations to indicators, is a powerful tool towards the engagement and motivation of related stakeholders including citizens. An open knowledge and competence building portfolio, comprised of training pack, indicators, data, good practices, integrated with specific tools’ application guides, like Pay-as-You Throw (PAYT) systems, could enhance the implementation of circular economy principles at local level. All that would not be effectively realised if not integrated within a holistic roadmap for urban resources management.

    These topics have been raised and discussed among the partners of the URGE APN project, during a fruitful kick-off meeting in Utrecht, on the 15th and 16th of October. A lot is about to come, in order to fully exploit opportunities and really make use of this strategic sector as an enabler to meet circularity objectives and goals at local and EU level, so stay tuned!!


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  • Take a deep breath (or better not)

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    How European cities are fighting air pollution?

    In November 2017 the European Environment Agency (EEA) launched the European Air Quality Index showing in real time the quality of air the EU citizens are breathing. Depending on where you live, this might not be your favorite map. Air pollution is not a new problem and one that adversely affects almost every single one of us. Are there reasons to be optimistic?

    The costs of dirty air

    Air quality

    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, indoor and outdoor air pollution is responsible for 6.5 million deaths globally. This is 1 in 9 of total global deaths and more than half of the population of Belgium, every year. Women, children and older adults are particularly vulnerable to health problems related to dirty air. In March 2017 WHO announced that, globally, more than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 can be attributed to environmental risks, with air pollution being the most dangerous.

    Even if no European city is among top 20 cities in the world according to the annual mean values of fine particulate matter (Indian cities make up half of this list), there are places in Europe where air quality monitor is the first app you check before leaving the house. Air pollution is a number one environmental cause for premature deaths in the European Union, with the number of victims reaching 400.000 people every year (more than entire population of the City of Bologna).

    The European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that around 90% of those living in European cities are exposed to levels of air pollution considered harmful to health. The European Commission calculates that this is costing EU economy 4 billion EUR per year in healthcare costs and further 16 billion EUR in lost working time. To put these costs in perspective, the total budget of the Horizon2020 programme is 80 billion EUR.

    Health problems are not the only price we pay for living with air pollution. The excessive concentration of certain pollutants can be damaging for the environment, as it negatively impacts water and soil quality. Air pollution is also intertwined with climate change, calling for integrated policies that address both issues simultaneously (e.g. introduction of electric vehicles powered with renewable energy).

    The uphill battle for the right to breathe

    The problem with dirty air has been known for a long time but we are far from solving it. In fact, EU air quality standards have been in place for more than 20 years and yet 130 European cities struggle to meet current limits. There are also 30 infringement cases ongoing, against 20 out of 28 European Member States for exceeding levels of pollutants.

    Tireless efforts of citizens groups, such as e.g. Cracow Smog Alert, and organizations (especially Client Earth that took legal action against many national and local governments), coupled with search for new business opportunities (e.g. via competitions like Smogathon) and scandals concerning the automotive industry such as the infamous Dieselgate, are slowly changing the tide. Is battle for clean air finally getting the political recognition it deserves?

    Recent months have seen a number of inspiring initiatives in this regard, with two European giants Paris and London taking the lead (or at least the spotlight) and many other cities following in their footsteps. Both Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, have signed up to the C40 Fossil Fuel-Free Streets Declaration, alongside 10 other major cities, including Copenhagen, Barcelona and Milan. The signatories, mindful of the connection between air quality and climate change, commit to procuring only zero-emission buses from 2025 and ensuring a major area of their city is zero emission by 2030.

    Paris and London: lots of carrots, a few sticks

    For Paris, meeting the above commitments would mean adding 21 days to an average life expectancy of every resident while avoiding 400 premature deaths per year. No wonder that the city is eager to take action, with a number of measures already in place. One of the most interesting ones is Utilib', a car-sharing service for professionals (e.g. small business owners, service providers, delivery operators, etc.) based on a fleet of 100 electric vehicles with over 250 kg of capacity each. Other measures focus on increasing the share of pedestrian areas (e.g. the Seine river banks), improving the infrastructure for walking and cycling, as well as bans on the most polluting vehicles. Credited with the ambition to build a post-car city (at least when it comes to a privately owned, fossil fuel-powered car), Anne Hidalgo claims that “unparalleled challenges like air pollution require unprecedented action, these policies are based on the urgency of both the health crisis and the climate crisis we are facing” and adds that the results will speak for themselves, ensuring continued political support.

    London is joining in, with a number of ambitious measures introduced in 2017 and further ones in the pipeline. The most notable ones concern access regulations for most polluting vehicles, first by introducing extra charges and then by access restrictions. The so-called T-charge, introduced in October 2017, is a surcharge to be paid for vehicles not meeting Euro 4 standards, on top of the congestion charge that applies to all vehicles entering the centre of London. The T-charge is a first step towards introducing Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), planned for April 2019, which would close central London for all vehicles not meeting agreed standards, including service vehicles such as ambulances, fire engines or refuse collection vehicle. The city is currently consulting proposals to extend the area covered by ULEZ and introduce stricter standards for other low emission zones in the city. As part of URBACT FreightTAILS network, London is also working to limit environmental impact of freight movements, e.g. by offering local businesses a free online tool to support the efficiency of deliveries.

    Paris and London have also joined forces in creating a new scheme for monitoring emissions from vehicles, a strong vote against existing EU labeling schemes that fail to provide real-life data. According to Khan, “this new scheme will put an end to the ‘smoke and mirrors that has been employed and provide Londoners and Parisians with an honest, accurate and independent evaluation of the emissions of vehicles on our road”.

    Can we do better?

    Like for most environmental issues, the question is what is the right mix of sticks and carrots? Introducing bans on most polluting vehicles or heating installations is a popular demand but when done too hastily, without additional support measures, it may backfire by disproportionally affecting most economically vulnerable groups. Introducing new pedestrian areas can raise protests from citizens and business owners alike, if not preceded by well-organized consultations early on in the process. These are only local questions but of course the issue is far more complicated, with national and European regulations, financial mechanisms, powerful vested interests (e.g. in the automotive or energy sector), and – last but not least – our own everyday choices. It would be interesting to see more participatory governance processes focused on air quality solutions, e.g. following the citizen panel methodology, as was the case in Gdansk.

    The issue of air quality is also addressed in the framework of the Urban Agenda for the European Union process, with the thematic partnership led by the Netherlands. URBACT has joined the partnership as an observer, focusing in particular on citizen engagement and integrated approach. In November 2017 the Air Quality partnership has published its Action Plan, with six collaborative actions addressing regulation and implementation, funding and knowledge. All cities are invited to get in touch with the partnership and contribute their experience, particularly with regard to challenges and best practices related to financing, citizen involvement and multi-level governance.

    So will air pollution masks be the most popular fashion accessories of 2018 or will we find a better way to stay healthy?


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  • Can nature make your city climate-resilient?

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    Among the headlines of summer 2017: disastrous floods in the South of England, Istanbul and Berlin, extreme water scarcity in Rome, wild fires damaging homes on the Croatian coast, the Côte d'Azur and elsewhere… The magnitude and frequency of these and other events indicate that climate change is already a reality, and the impacts will be even bigger in the future. Yes, we need to reduce greenhouse gases to limit climate change, but equally urgent: we need to adapt to the remaining impacts. All cities, depending on their geographical position, are likely to experience prolonged and more intensive heatwaves or droughts, more frequent wild fires, coastal flooding, or an increase in the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall with the associated threat of urban flooding, river flooding or landslides. How can cities cope with these huge predicted impacts of climate change in the future, even when they are faced with tight budgets? Can nature be a solution?

    Malmö enjoys its green infrastructure solutions

    Climate adaptation

    Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, has a long tradition of coping with excessive rainwater, going back long before climate change adaptation came on the agenda. The solutions have become even more important now with the projected increase in the number and intensity of extreme rainfall events. Just across the Øresund, Copenhagen was heavily flooded by an immense cloudburst in 2011. Damage costs mounted up to 800 million EUR. Such an extreme event could also hit Malmö. On a smaller scale, the neighbourhood of Augustenborg in Malmö already experienced frequent flooding from an overflowing drainage system in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of extending the sewage system, the city experimented with green and blue infrastructure: vegetation and water. This solution comprises several kilometres of water channels and retention ponds, green roofs on new and retrofitted buildings, and green areas redesigned to better store and drain rain water or delay its discharge. Only excess water is led into the sewage system. As a result, problems with flooding have ceased. At the same time, the area has become much more attractive to its residents.

    The city has used this approach again in Western Harbour, a new residential area built on a former brownfield. It copes with rainwater mostly with the support of the many green roofs, green areas, water channels and retention basins. Water has become a playful feature in the urban design of the area, which was co-created with the future residents right from the planning phase. The design also helps mitigate climate change thanks to low-energy housing and the integrated generation of renewable energy. All of this has made the area extremely popular not just to its residents, but also to lots of other citizens and tourists who enjoy the nice seaside area. This long-term valuable experience and knowledge is an asset that Malmö shares with other cities as a member of the URBACT network Resilient Europe.

    Indeed, nature-based solutions can be a key tool for climate change adaptation. They comprise green infrastructure of all kinds but also solutions that allow natural processes, like floods, to happen without harm, e.g. by building floating or elevated houses. While Malmö is already enjoying the many benefits of green infrastructures in boosting quality of life, Hamburg and Copenhagen have recently calculated that they urgently need nature-based solutions to cope with climate change. They simply cannot extend the technical infrastructure – their sewage system – to the extent that it can cope with the amount of water expected under heavy cloudbursts. Costs for such a solution would be astronomically high, if feasible at all. Instead, green areas, green roofs, storage areas or streets as temporary waterways will take their share of water, storing, draining or delaying the discharge, thus relieving the sewage system. Calculations show that today’s solutions as we know them won’t do the job in Europe’s climate of the future, but a combination with nature-based solutions can work.

    Rotterdam opts for multi-functionality in its dense urban setting

    Rotterdam also has to cope increasingly with water – from a rising sea level, more torrential rain, and river flooding. There are not many places the water can go, as much of the area is low-lying and water needs to be pumped away. That makes the city very vulnerable and dependent on a functioning technical infrastructure. The city needs storing capacity to delay the discharge of water during heavy rainfall, but space is scarce in the Netherlands, where almost every square meter is used either for houses or for agri- and horticulture. In addition, as a dense city, Rotterdam aims to be both energy and transport efficient, and liveable and attractive. In its search for innovative solutions, Rotterdam came up with a range of ideas that are being explored further in the context of the Resilient Europe network. Some are swimming structures like the solar-powered floating pavilion in the Rijnhaven that copes with different water levels, others are roof-top farms or the famous water squares. Their special design offers multiple uses and benefits: Normally, these squares are dry and include playgrounds, sports facilities, nice places to meet or take a break, but under heavy rainfall they fill up with water and protect the surrounding from flooding, and are attractive in a different way.

    Nevertheless, such innovative ways to deal with climate challenges are not always easy to establish. While planners were enthusiastic, citizens were concerned: For example, would the area still be safe for their children? The planners had to find ways to overcome these barriers, build trust and convince. Meanwhile, the first water squares have been established, and they are highly appreciated.

    Combinations of green, grey and soft measures to make Vejle climate-resilient

    Water forms part of the identity of Vejle in Denmark too. It comes from all sides: the rising level of the Baltic Sea, combined with storm surges, elevates the risk of coastal flooding. And the rising number and intensity of heavy rainfall events brings more water from the sky and the streams. Important assets of the city, like the harbour, the city centre and some infrastructure are vulnerable, and the sewage system is not prepared for extremely high water loads. Current measures alone, like the soft measure of today’s well-functioning emergency responses, won’t suffice in the future.

    The city already uses green infrastructure in several areas. However, as great and effective as it is, green infrastructure alone cannot deal completely with future impacts in Vejle, in particular in the event of storm surges. Hence, the city is actively searching for new and innovative solutions combining green, grey and soft measures. Its district project ‘Fjordbyen’ will serve as a laboratory for climate change adaptation and flood control and explore how water can also be an asset for the quality of the area, not just a risk. Innovative solutions where water can be embraced can improve knowledge, economic growth and welfare for local people.

    A common factor for these, and similar examples of climate-resilient solutions in cities across the EU, is that they see climate change adaptation as part of a bigger concept. As well as collaborating in the Resilient Europe URBACT network, Rotterdam, Vejle, Glasgow, Bristol and Thessaloniki are also part of the global 100 Resilient Cities initiative. The concept comprises social cohesion, environment, health and wellbeing, economic prosperity, heritage and participation, and will enhance quality of life.

    Thessaloniki builds resilience on broad participation and collaboration

    In Thessaloniki, more than 40 organisations and 2,000 citizens from across the city have participated in the resilience strategy development. This ongoing co-creation process unleashes the potential for bottom up innovative solutions by residents and communities. Like Rotterdam, urban density is an issue for Thessaloniki with just 2.6m2 of green space per resident compared to the European average of 8-10m2. Nevertheless, the city sees green infrastructure as an important part of the solution. Hence, the city aims to increase the quality, effectiveness and number of benefits by redesigning the limited open space. This creates spaces for social interaction at the same time. It plans solutions such as permeable surfaces, rain gardens, green walls, but also supports urban agriculture in inner courtyards and pocket community gardens that, on top, come at low costs which is very important in times of austerity. These solutions not only involve residents in the design of their area, but encourage them to learn about agriculture and nutrition and may also help to integrate migrants and refugees with diverse agricultural traditions.

    For its valuable pieces of green infrastructure, the city developed the Adopt your Green Spot programme. It facilitates the active engagement of citizens in the maintenance of urban green by taking co-ownership of public green space while keeping public expenditures low. At the same time, this activity educates people, contributes to the local economy, and creates or fosters local communities and social cohesion. Participation, education, community, connectedness, integration and more; these are the important soft factors for building up long-term and effective resilience that technical measures alone cannot do. They are relevant for resilience towards any type of shock and change.

    Transforming cities with nature and innovation into thriving places – Bilbao inspires

    Bilbao, which recently became an URBACT Good Practice city, takes the holistic approach to adaptation a step further. Some decades ago, the city learned painfully that the business-as-usual way wouldn’t lead them out of their deep economic crisis. The city started the process towards a broadly integrated urban development strategy to cope with the complexity of its urban challenges. That continuous process is still ongoing. Over the last 30 years, Bilbao has undertaken a massive transformation. Interventions like the iconic Guggenheim museum, the clean-up of the river, new infrastructures, internationalisation, a focus on excellent design, nice parks and other urban greens, as well as the restoration of the historic centre, reinvented the city that is thriving very well now. In this tradition, the city has recently started adaptation activities that shall contribute to creating a flourishing, climate-resilient city that offers a high quality of life. One example is the regeneration of the Zorrotzaure district, a currently degraded, flood-prone industrial peninsula. A combination of grey and green measures of building and urban design will make it flood-proof and highly attractive as well, thus adding to Bilbao’s overall appearance of a modern, liveable and strong city.

    The cities here present feasible approaches that turned the need for making their city climate-resilient into an opportunity to boost quality of life and transform them into enjoyable and thriving places. The process to get there includes many of the ingredients already used in other urban regeneration and development processes, among them broad participation, good governance, and collaboration across sectors and stakeholders. The examples show that having a great, broadly accepted vision of the future, dedication and commitment to the task, as well as plenty of stamina, are important for a successful transformation process. Nature-based solutions have proved to be a key tool: attractive and multi-functional at reasonable costs, they are a valuable asset that every city can use.

    Birgit Georgi


    Photo 2: Rotterdam ©Rick Ligthelm
    Photo 3: Vejle Fjorbyen ©Finn Byrum
    Photo 4: Thessaloniki ©Municipality of Thessaloniki
    Photo 5: Bilbao ©Municipality of Bilbao

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  • Health in Public Spaces: The challenge of inactive citizens for cities

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    One of the main challenges for cities in the coming decade is how to make their citizens become physically active again.

    Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles have become a leading risk factor for health. Cities are affected by the dramatic increase in the frequency of chronic diseases related to physical inactivity amongst their citizens. These chronicle diseases like coronary heart and respiratory diseases, colon cancer and obesity are resulting in high and early morbidity, loneliness and social exclusion. Collectively physical inactivity has substantial consequences for direct health-care costs but also causes high indirect costs due to increased periods of sick leave, work disabilities and daily care. With decentralising tendencies of tasks like (un)employment, social care and basic health care from national levels to local levels, cities have become a key player in keeping their citizens active.
    This article offers an overview of this challenge  advocating this theme as an integrated part of sustainable urban planning in Europe. 

    What cities do to make their citizens active? 

    Many cities all over the world have recognised the urgency of action related to physical activity as well as the competitive advantage that stems from making it into a priority of action. Several municipalities, private companies and research institutions have adopted specific planning and design strategies in recent years in order to promote physical activity in urban settings. 
    After the intense wave of criticism and scandals for child labour, the Corporate Social Responsibility of the multinational corporation Nike Inc.US changed towards more socially minded undertakings: in 2012 Nike published a report entitled Designed to Move, a global initiative created with the aim to reverse the trends and re-engineer physical activity back into everyday life. The report has ringed the alarm bell saying that “ if no action is taken, half of the Chinese and American populations will be physically inactive by 2030 along with a third of British and Brazilian populations, totalling 1 billion people”. This inspired many cities worldwide to take the first steps.
    Soon after the release of the report, New York City followed suit by publishing its Active Design Guidelines for New York City (PDF) coordinated by the Centre for Active Design, a not-for-profit organisation committed to making health and physical activity a central priority in the design and development of buildings, streets, and neighbourhoods.
    In the UK, inspired by the Design to Move initiative an All-Party Commission on Physical Activity was created in 2014 that advocates for a new approach to tackling the inactivity problem on a national level. It emphasises a cross-sectional working method and managed to create a nationwide coalition with leading third sector organisations such as the British Heart Foundation or Young Foundation.  For the same reasons, the Design Council launched its initiative Active by Design in 2014. It aims to help national and local governments, developers, designers and communities to encourage active living by providing leadership, training and project support for newly designed places and redesigning existing infrastructure. 
    Besides these coalitions and initiatives, other city governments are also taking the first steps in the UK. For example, Liverpool has developed a cross-sectorial strategy to combat lower-than-average life expectancy and inactivity. Edinburgh is progressively investing in cycling schemes year by year, while London Boroughs are advocating for the default 20 miles per hour (about 30 kilometers per hour) limits to encourage active transportation. 
    In Europe, Copenhagen is a benchmark city for championing active living strategies. It is characterised by experimental, out of the box thinking. The city is working close together with the academia, and the third sector like the Foundation Culture and Sport and the Centre for Sport and Architecture based at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Copenhagen. The latter was among the first to develop guidelines for better integrating sport into the built environment. Their Activating Architecture report (2012) showcases several best practices along with useful measures and everyday ideas on improving the built environment. The results of cities investing in physical activities in public spaces are already visible. For instance, in Copenhagen, the increased investment in public space since the 1970s has been linked directly to a 65% rise in the number of cyclists and a significant drop in both the quantity and speed of automotive traffic. Copenhagen has also pursued pioneering work on developing schemes to reach out the most vulnerable groups including ethnic minorities. 
    Beside the stellar examples, there are many cities who invent, practice and creatively open up spaces for enjoying physical activities collectively, often with no large amount of funds, but with the power of new ideas.  
    Health, sport and urban planning in URBACT Vital cities network 
    The Vital Cities network works on how to (re)design public spaces using the power and common language of sport for the promotion of healthy lifestyle with a special focus on deprived residential areas. Vital Cities partners believe that instead of bringing inactive citizens to sports facilities, public spaces should be turned into a low threshold facility inviting all citizens to engage in physical activities. Opportunities for this need to be created close to where people live while also creating cleaner, safer, greener and more activity-friendly local environments. 
    Vital Cities network has identified five key themes to be investigated during the learning process: (1) identifying community-based initiatives  (2) IT-based actions to redesign public spaces linked to leisure sport activities, (3) better orchestrating the services of the city to promote healthy lifestyle, (4) designing innovative physical activities to promote sport in public spaces and the organisation of innovative events to promote healthy lifestyle. Cities partnering in Vital Cities have already experiences in planning physical activity in public space: a look into their stories serves the purpose of showcasing what cities do and could do.  
    Change makers' ideas in Usti-nad-Labem (CZ) 
    The city of Usti-nad-Labem has two interesting practices promoted by individuals deeply rooted in their community. Their ideas created simple and efficient examples easy to adopt and adapt in different contexts. 

    The first is the Predlice primary school serving the Roma community. 
    The Headmaster of this school, Martin Kosnar is an iconic sports figure being a champion in weightlifting, which becomes obvious while visiting his room full of trophies. Sure his physical appearance in such a rough environment can be of advantage however through his gentle way of operating he managed to get extra investment in sports facilities and additional guarding capacity through an employment scheme. This means that the outdoor sports facilities can be kept open after school hours, inviting over the parents to become physically active together with their children. This idea has been a success and it has been largely appreciated by the community.
    The second one is the "6 minutes for health" path. A local cardiologist found out that over time people came often too late to hospital as to check their physical status related to heart, lungs and arteries. She took the initiative to install the "6minutes for health" path in the free accessible Metsky park, through which citizens can check their condition. It consists of a route with milestones as distance markers and a clock (stopwatch) with the purpose of monitoring one’s performance on the track. One simply starts walking or running the route in this public accessible space while using the clock as a stop watch set for 6 minutes. Through the milestones one can monitor the travelled distance while reading the information shields one gets an indication of his/her own health status. Telephone numbers and a website address refer people to doctors. The funding for this project comes from health insurance companies and the initiators budget while the city provided the facilities and space.
    Reclaiming (unusual) sports areas: the idea of Horten (municipality in Vestfold county, is partner of Vital Cities)
    In winter the parking lot of the city of Horten went unused by cars because of the freezing cold and a large amount of snow. The municipality came up with the idea of turning this space into an unusual spot for ice-skating. The trick has been simple and almost at zero cost. The surface of the parking lot has been cleared out of the snow and the parking lot covered with water soon turned into thick ice. This created an amazing ice-skating park in the middle of the city. Locals initially surprised, then started to enjoy it during day and night. The city offered special lightening for evening ice skating, and a group of volunteers distributed ice-skates to those who did not have it. “It was amazing to see how people welcomed the renewed spot for sport. This parking lot became the new meeting place for a lot of kids at different ages, and for their parents as well. It is free and open to everybody open during the day until 10 in the evening. [...] It is a place for integration as well: new comers as refugees newly arrived in Norway never experienced such cold winters, and had here their first ice-skating training with locals.” ( Helge Etnestadt, Municipality of Horten)
    Active Parks initiative in Birmingham
    The city of Birmingham, with one of the poorest census track in the UK and with a large migrant community has to deal with severe challenges in terms of considerable differences in lifetime expectation and health amongst its citizens, depending on the neighbourhood they live in. To overcome this, Birmingham decided to deliver its sports services in a different way namely by no longer building and constructing new capital intensive facilities, but rather using ‘what is already there’. This is also a consequence of the budget cuts in a period of financial austerity. As result, Birmingham decided to roll out the Active Park programme with free activities in over 80 parks and green spaces across the city
    The Birmingham Active Parks programme offers free sessions e.g. Zumba and Thai Chi at various parks across the city with the aim of encouraging people to enjoy being active in a sociable and inclusive atmosphere. It aims to tackle health, financial, ethnic minorities inequalities and social inclusion. It helps to bring some previously underused parks into use. Liz has been a volunteer for Cotteridge park for over 25 years now. She, as many citizens, values the parks as a ‘community asset’, and act as custodians of the local environment. 
    “Active Parks”  - a strong brand now - is managed and administered by the Wellbeing Service and Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, through its staff and dedicated trained session leaders. The programme successfully involves the cooperation of various stakeholders from public sector organisations, NGOs and private companies. The Parks and Ranger service, various volunteers and Friends of Parks groups support the programme as I could experience ‘with the traditional English tea after’, provided by a charming over 80 years lady! Since 2014, there have been 114,000 participants in the 80 parks. Over half of these live in the most deprived areas of Birmingham. It is financed by the Birmingham City Council, Sports England and Coca-Cola Zero Parklives programme. 
    Health in cities and the Urban Agenda for Europe
    The challenge of fighting inactivity relates to several strategies like compact and mixed urban planning, active and public transport, ICT and social services. For this, it can be considered a complex and integrated challenge, that calls for a multi stakeholder and a multi-level governance approach, with strong partnerships at the local level. If we add the financial/affordability implications and personal consequences, it is rather surprising that ‘health and physical activity’ is not yet explicitly covered by  the Urban Agenda (UA). Clearly many of the topics covered by the UA affects health e.g. air quality in considering respiratory diseases and environmentally friendly forms of transport; or housing determinant for a healthy & active lifestyle. In addition, vulnerable groups living in urban poverty tend to be less healthy than average for a number of different reasons, amongst others quality of food and less physical activity. Appropriate health provision is also a growing issue for cities welcoming refugees and sport and physical activity in public space are to be considered important in facilitating short and long term integration. The experience of Vital Cities demonstrates that it is crucial to advocate health and physical activity in cities, upscaling the theme to a wider EU debate as an integral part of the challenges to be addressed in the near future.
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  • USER


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    A core USER idea is that the design of urban public spaces and the main goals of urban planning are challenged by rapid changes in how cities are used. New trends in how public spaces are used, what the new users’ needs are, increasing malfunctions and conflicts among uses, etc., are challenging the way the city is usually “produced”, designed and managed.

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