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  • Ireland’s Playful Towns-Final Event of URBACT NPTI network.

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    Adam Roigart inspiring the event participants

    On the 15th November, participating towns in URBACT’s Playful Paradigm National Transfer Practice Initiative (NPTI): Donegal, Portlaoise, Rush, Rathdrum and Sligo, and led by Cork City, descended on Sligo town centre to show over sixty-five invitees from all over Ireland how they can put the ‘play’ into ‘place-making’ and animate Ireland’s towns.


    Following Cork City’s participation and success in the transnational network Playful Paradigm, led by Udine in Italy, this NPTI project was one of five European intra-country transfer pilots seeking to bring both the best practice and learning of its lead city and the value of URBACT to towns yet to experience the programme and to hopefully engender future capacity and interest in being part of an URBACT transnational network.


    The event comprised 3 key-note speakers who are at the cutting edge of place-making in their cities, namely Päivi Raivio of Helsinki, Adam Roigart of Copenhagen and Denise Cahill of Cork. The morning’s discussion was followed by a fun-filled afternoon on the streets of Sligo demonstrating ideas for bringing play onto the streets. Cork and the five playful towns participating in the transfer showcased what they have achieved over the last year and demonstrated how any town can do the same, quickly and cheaply, to animate their towns.


    Councillor Mayor Tom Mac Sharry opened the conference and welcomed participants to Sligo: ‘I was delighted, on behalf of Sligo County Council to welcome so many people from all over the country to sunny Sligo to learn about one way of rejuvenating our town centres’.


    Dorothy Clarke, Director of Services, Sligo County Council, in her welcoming address to participants said: There is no one solution to making our towns more attractive places for people to live in, spend time in and enjoy. But if local authorities can incorporate playfulness into the planning and design of public realm schemes, we will really enhance the effectiveness of such projects and ensure that they are transformational and successful in rejuvenating our town centres’.


    Following the morning’s welcomes, keynotes and panel discussion, in the afternoon participants were sent around Sligo town on an urban orienteering trail of the town organized by the Sligo Sports and Recreation Partnership. Each destination point of the trail showcased an activity or game that has been used by the playful towns in the last year – giant jenga, tug of war, giant snakes and ladders, target practice using bean bags and buckets. A snow/sock ball fight took place on JFK parade to the shock and delight of participants. Local artists from Pulled (a community focused Printmaking and Artist studio based in Sligo town) decorated the town’s footpaths in chalk games inviting members of the public and participants to take a moment out and be playful.


    NPTI partner in Sligo and Executive Planner, Leonora McConville noted how Ireland is witnessing the greatest injection of public funds into its towns that the state has ever seen and this is underpinned by the new Town Centre First policy which places towns at the heart of decision making. There is no one solution to creating vibrant town centres but that small actions are achievable, with high impact and at little expense. In using play and playfulness to animate our towns, this sees communities engaged and encourages a sense of ownership over public spaces’.


    Working closely with the National URBACT Point, Karl Murphy and his colleagues at the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly (EMRA), Leonora McConville and her colleagues at Sligo County Council were instrumental in planning the final event of this URBACT NPTI network. The strong URBACT local group (ULG) was on display with members drawn from across the County Council (Planning, Parks, Roads and Architects sections), along with Sligo Sports and Recreation Partnership, County Childcare Committee, Sligo Business Improvement District, Sligo Tidy Towns, Healthy Sligo, the Age Friendly Program, Sligo Public Participation Network as well as the County Library and the Cranmore Regeneration Project.


    For further information on URBACT activities more widely, go to: or contact Karl Murphy, National URBACT Point for Ireland at

    Public space

    Adam Roigart imparting inspiring ideas to the event's audience!

    From urbact
  • Playful Paradigm


    Kick-off meeting
    1st TN Meeting in Esplugues de Llobregat | 2nd TNM in Udine | 1st Customized Activity in Udine: Ludobus and Social Transformation | 2nd Customized Activity, Paris, Toy Libraries Study Visit | 3rd TNM in Klaipeda
    4th TNM Viana do Castelo | TNM Online (Parts 1+2+3) | Webinar "Network Management for Tackling the COVID Crisis" | Webinar "Public Procurement" | Webinar "Manifesto of Playful Cities" | Playful Paradigm to re-think cities (virtual session @ EURegionsWeek)
    Sharing Period | Final Event 20-21 April

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


    Municipality of Santiago de Compostela


    Municipality of Udine (Italy)


    Cities offer unique opportunities for addressing the challenges of urbanization, ageing, climate change, social exclusion, only if enabling, enjoyable places are co-created. This Transfer network aims to replicate the “playful paradigm” based on gamification as an innovative concept for promoting social inclusion, healthy lifestyles & energy awareness, intergenerational & cultural mediation, place-making & economic prosperity. Games offer new strategies for engaging city stakeholders in urban development.

    Games for inclusive, healthy and sustainable cities
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  • Covid walks, societal change, and rethinking public spaces

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    Take a stroll through the solutions URBACT towns and cities are finding to ensure shared spaces meet citizens’ evolving needs.

    City planning


    The Covid-19 pandemic has created temporary but also permanent societal changes. How can cities manage these changes and remain resilient? Lilian Krischer, National URBACT Point for Germany and Austria, explores how increased strolling in pandemic times has influenced public space, and how four URBACT networks are working together with citizens to adapt and ensure public spaces meet our needs.



    Strolling in times of the pandemic creates space for fleeting encounters

    Urban everyday life in times of the pandemic © Lilian Krischer

    For urban sociology as well as urban planning, it is clear that people's practices determine public space. So far, much focus has been on people's “quality of stay” in these spaces. But movement, such as strolling, is also relevant: and this became very clear during the pandemic.

    After strict Covid-19 lockdown rules prohibited many leisure activities, and even – temporarily – stopping in public spaces, many people discovered the benefits of strolling as a rare window to urban life. It was not only an opportunity to meet people at a distance, thus reducing risks of infection. It was also a way to see unknown people in the city – and to be seen oneself! Closely related to this was a new awareness of other people. In Germany, in order to keep the required distance of one and a half metres, even on narrow streets, people deliberately dodged each other. These moments of interaction, through eye contact, turned public space into a space of fleeting encounters. It is this kind of societal change that cities must respond to in order to remain resilient and attractive for their people.

    New hybrid forms of urban interaction

    What is interesting here is that this type of urban interaction in public space does not fit into classical categories. It sits somewhere between face-to-face encounters where people stop still in order to enter into dialogue with each other, and indifference and anonymity where people walk past each other, ignoring each other. For many, the possibility of these fleeting encounters based on an attentiveness to others was an important reason for strolling during Covid. This new form of urban behaviour should be taken into account in the future planning of public space.

    URBACT networks helping design public space according to people's needs

    Arad in Romania shows how important it is to ask citizens about their needs © Space4People / URBACT

    In order to make a city resilient, these societal changes must be perceived and addressed. If cities want to react quickly to societal changes and to adopt urban governance according to the citizens’ needs, they have to watch and listen closely and engage with diverse local interests.

    This is where URBACT, its method and its networks come in. Cities in the Action Planning Network Space4People, for example, have set themselves the task of designing attractive public spaces for diverse user groups by focusing on walkability, quality of stay, mix of functions and interchanges, and parking management. The cities of Arad in Romania and Guía de Isora in Spain have shown how important it is to ask citizens about their needs. It became clear in Arad, for example, that citizens want a continuous pedestrian zone in their city centre, while in Guía de Isora they would like more cycle paths and recreational spaces for young people. Being flexible and trying out new ideas also proved successful.

    Network partner Saint-Germain-en-Laye in France tried expanding its pedestrian zone in Covid-19 times, providing safe outdoor space to move around, and helping reach pedestrianisation objectives faster. Furthermore, they redesigned the public space with flowerpots, bicycle stands and more space for gastronomy. Surveys showed the approach was successful in regaining people's trust in public space.

    In order to build on their experiences of these practices, Space4People, together with the URBACT networks RiConnect and Thriving Streets, launched the exchange platform #WalkandRollCities on the topics of mobility and public space.

    Identifying current social processes for demand-oriented design of public space

    Another URBACT network that shows how important it is to observe the dynamics of public space and then adapt it to the needs of the people is Genderedlandscape. This Action Planning Network seeks to create an understanding of the city as a place where gendered power structures are always present, and develop locally contextualised tools and approaches to promote gender equality in urban policies, planning, and services.

    They demonstrate this approach using the Place du Panthéon in Paris, France. From this square, a symbolic inscription is visible on the stonework of the Pantheon, "aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante": “to great men, the grateful nation”. The project partners noticed that there were fewer women than men using the space. One reason proposed was that the large area did not offer a real place of retreat – each person was very visible.

    With this data coming from close observation, the Genderedlandscape network implemented its measures: Diverse seating options were placed so that people could sit together in different situations. In addition, names of various female artists, but also queer artists and those with different cultural backgrounds, were inscribed on the benches. In this way, women became more involved in the use of the place, as well as in its representation.

    Place du Panthéon in Paris with different seating options © Genderedlandscape / URBACT

    Let citizens design public space themselves

    Next to designing public space for the people, it is also important to let them do it themselves. This bottom-up approach is evident in the Urban Innovative Action (UIA) and URBACT network CO4CITIES. It promotes the co-management of urban commons by the municipality and citizens’ organisations. Talking about urban commons, the city is understood as a platform that can be used and improved by citizens from all backgrounds and social statuses.

    This urban commons approach can be purposeful in the design of public space, as it is the people who use the public space who understand what the places – and they themselves – need. For this, it is important that a change of mentality takes place, both in municipalities and in non-profit organisations. Cities can benefit when public administrations give up their authoritarian role, allowing citizens more freedom, and the third sector learns to take more decisions for itself.

    One city that is starting to apply this approach in the context of public space is CO4CITIES partner Budapest, Hungary. The city authorities cooperate with civil society organisations and residents to discuss current priorities in the renewal of public space, and future approaches to co-management and co-creation.

    Designing public spaces that adapt to change

    The URBACT Playful Paradigm network is a good example of cities reacting to global challenges including those that emerged during Covid-19. In this network, gamification is used as an innovative concept to promote not only urban spaces, but also social inclusion, healthy lifestyles, energy awareness, intergenerational and cultural mediation, place-making and economic prosperity.

    People playing in Udine, Italy © Playful Paradigm / URBACT

    Partners in the first Playful Paradigm network, in 2018-2020, found that people need colourful, green, safe and comfortable public spaces that are free and open for children, young people and adults to play. These lessons learnt, and the consequences of Covid-19, led to a new edition of Playful Paradigm. The new project uses playful methods to look particularly at gender issues, intergenerational approaches, older people or people with chronic diseases, and adolescents, to re-think urban spaces and address specific health challenges, such as the prevention of loneliness and isolation.

    One module of the network deals with play for sustainable urban regeneration. The aim is to find out what possibilities games offer for re-thinking urban public spaces. In doing so, it builds on the experience of its first edition with the Ludobus initiative and the Playmaking project. The Ludobus is a bus in Udine, Italy, where residents can borrow games to play outdoors. The bus drives to different public places, according to demand.

    The Playmaking project in Udine and in Cork, Ireland, was about testing play as a method of placemaking. During the pandemic, when public space was already perceived in a new way, cities tested a playful festival and pop-up play events on streets closed for traffic. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and people were happy to use the street for play. These practices help to transform the pandemic’s fleeting encounters into a more classical understanding of public space, a connectedness or “positive proximity” as URBACT Lead Expert Wessel Badenhorst calls it with reference to the author Dar Williams.

    Resilient public spaces and strolling in them beyond the pandemic

    Discovering small details of the city while strolling © Lilian Krischer

    It has become clear that a city and its public spaces are only resilient if they adapt to new societal behaviour and structures, such as increased strolling during a pandemic. The URBACT networks presented above address this challenge accordingly and all engage in improving public spaces together with the people. They identify social dynamics and adapt to the needs of the people, to change or even let the people themselves adapt their urban spaces.

    But what about beyond the pandemic?  Cities will still need public spaces for walking. To create more space for pedestrians, temporary street closures offer the opportunity to explore street spaces that are otherwise occupied by traffic. But, as many URBACT cities have discovered, there should also be more permanent spaces for walking. In addition to shopping streets in city and district centres, these walking spaces should be evenly distributed across all neighbourhoods – including ‘consumption-free’ areas.

    Furthermore, the mixed use of the streets is relevant here. People like to walk where they can see people, but also have interesting surroundings to discover. Monofunctional shopping streets are counterproductive for this. A mixture of different uses initiated by the cultural and creative industries, gastronomy, educational institutions, and communities, creates varied, attractive street spaces that also encourage walking.

    URBACT and the URBACT method help cities to adapt actively to societal change and create needs-based spaces for, and with, the people who use them. The programme acts as a catalyst by developing processes and tools that decision-makers, city practitioners and citizens can use to help shape new models of local governance. The process of continuous exchange between different European cities and the bottom-up approach are particular success factors on this path.


    Further reading

    Walk and Roll Cities: a transformation towards people-centred streets: meet the URBACT cities exploring links between mobility and public space to promote sustainable, inclusive, attractive urban areas.

    Join URBACT #WalkAndRollCities on LinkedIn to discover more innovative ideas on improving mobility and public spaces in towns and cities across the EU – and meet partners of the URBACT networks Space4People, Thriving Streets, and RiConnect.


    Cover photo: ©Lilian Krischer

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  • Five flawless ways to revitalise small town centres

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    Are town centres ready to welcome people again? Five solutions to make small city centres more attractive in the post-Covid era.


    There is no doubt that town centres were among the places hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic, worsening a crisis already felt in many European highstreets. Nevertheless, many elements of these town centres can be potential engines for attracting new residents or creating new economic opportunities for small shops and other commercial activities. 

    Coming from a big city, the most striking aspect when you arrive in a small or medium-sized town is the silence, the slowed-down activity compared to the symphony of horns, buses and incessant background noise that characterises a day spent in a larger urban context. This is particularly true when visiting the partner cities in URBACT networks that deal with the revitalisation of small historic centres, such as City Centre Doctor. The network has represented in recent years one of the main arenas of dialogue for small and medium-sized European municipalities committed to finding common solutions to a plurality of cross-cutting issues to design the small liveable cities of the future.

    Environmental care, the promotion of tourism, the revitalisation of urban spaces, economic growth: these are just a few of the main concerns for cities whose centres were hit first by the economic crisis and then by Covid, with each new crisis increasing the risk of depopulation.

    San Donà di Piave (IT)

    Much smaller than nearby Treviso or Venice, San Donà di Piave (IT), with 40 000 inhabitants, is the right size to be able to experiment with shared methodologies for the recovery and improved quality of public spaces, creating spaces where new forms and methods of innovation and participation can be tested. It is perhaps no coincidence that this municipality is the first in Italy to have launched a Department for Participatory Urban Regeneration, with clear mention of the URBACT Local Group as a long-term tool to make the collaborative methodologies promoted by the European programme part of the regular activities of the municipality.

    Compared to bigger cities, it is easier to focus attention on these issues in small towns where social cohesion is stronger and local government actions can be more incisive in revitalising social spaces, in order to recreate a new community spirit. It is also in small towns that important approaches can be developed to make centres more liveable and inclusive, with valid lessons for larger urban contexts too.

    The solutions, and food for thought, produced by City Centre Doctor and other URBACT networks on the theme of small city centres have animated national and European debates on the implementation of European and global Urban Agendas, as well as contributing to the new European cohesion policy. Here are five key lessons:

    1. To revitalise a city centre, think about what you want to do with the urban space

    Many cities focus on using empty spaces for parking, but the experience of cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Copenhagen teaches us that reducing the space allocated to cars can be a decisive contribution to making a city more vibrant and liveable.

    The use of large spaces, such as squares, for a variety of functions is the ideal way to revitalise a city, whether large or small, perhaps even providing original uses: a playground, an urban beach, or a place for art installations, yoga, or music for young people.

    In small towns, it is possible to return to the concept of the square and enrich it with new uses. The same is true for streets, which are transformed into temporary open-air markets during neighbourhood festivals in Belgian cities, or given back to the citizens to pedal, walk, meet or eat together in Medina del Campo (ES).

    It's not just a matter of pedestrianisation, but also of making the streets more beautiful: covering them with marble, as in Portugal, or with street artworks, as in San Francisco or in Quito, Ecuador, where a work of tactical urbanism was created at the occasion of the Habitat III Conference in 2016.

    2. It won't be the big stores that save the historical centres, but small-scale, high quality commerce

    Can bringing Primark or McDonald's into a small town make it more attractive? Not really, especially if you think about the economic and social sustainability of the whole operation. Instead, create the conditions to make historic centres a framework in which quality commerce can grow, bringing creativity and value to small towns, starting with a redefinition of public spaces to make them liveable, walkable, and attractive. Heerlen has tried this with the widespread use of street artwork, making the Dutch town an open-air museum of urban art – certified as a good practice by the URBACT programme.

    Antwerpen (BE)

    But street art alone is not enough. Experimenting with new systems of rules to encourage creative entrepreneurship, for example by making it possible to open temporary stores or encouraging young people to open new businesses with specific training actions and exemption from paying local taxes for two years, are some elements of the strategies revitalising cities in Belgium or Ireland, for example. Solutions include Cork’s ‘Streetwise’ programme or Antwerp's ‘Pop up to date’ initiative, another URBACT good practice.

    Many small centres are also focusing on maintaining local stores and enhancing activities such as craft breweries and bars. They put the focus on quality and reasoned use of public spaces, giving inhabitants the perception of an attractive and liveable place.

    "A place needs to be cool, but you only create ‘coolness’ if you create better public spaces and properly support the work of entrepreneurs," comments Wessel Badenhorst, City Centre Doctor lead expert.

    Proximity shops proved their importance during the lockdown, helping revive community spirit in many towns and villages. What happened in 2020 is a reminder of the importance of this particular category of commercial activities, some of which innovated their offers to contrast the rise of online commerce with more personalised customer service.

    3. Kicking cars out of downtowns to make them more liveable

    In small towns, you can still see children riding their bikes on sidewalks, but residents are often dependent on cars to access basic services. There is no doubt that the longer cars stay out of town centres, the more attractive they become.

    The issue of mobility in small towns concerns not only the way people move from one place to another, but also the system of transporting goods, especially now that online platforms and courier lorries are revolutionising the way we shop, even in the smallest towns.

    Reducing pollution by organising mobility and supply systems differently is a key solution to improving the way people perceive the spaces around them. For example, the use of cargo bikes instead of polluting trucks to create delivery systems that are environmentally friendly and close to the end user is becoming increasingly popular in a sector that, despite a lack of major innovative improvements, can act strongly on established habits of the various links in the chain.

    Cure people from car dependency: an assumption that becomes the cornerstone of structured and collaborative actions and policies, especially in small towns.

    4. Making young and old the protagonists of change in historic centres

    Young people and the elderly are two social groups tied more closely than others to historic town centres. For young people who do not own a car, the historic centre can become part of their identity, with the consequence that if there are few local activities, they grow up hoping to leave, abandoning their small centre. Making young people protagonists of their hometown’s future is a solution to stop them wanting to ‘escape’.

    Idrija (SI)

    The mayor of Idrija, Slovenia, asked local young people to indicate a series of actions to be carried out in different parts of their town. Unexpectedly, rather than asking for disruptive, chaotic actions, they asked for re-appropriation of spaces, activities in the squares such as music and dance performances, or playing with skateboards. This proved that it is not just bars that make young people stay in a place, but rather the freedom to do their own thing. This was also true in Amarante, Portugal, where young people were able to organise a week of events on the theme of citizenship. "Young people are the ones who implement change in the inner cities," says Wessel Badenhorst.

    As for the elderly, and others who are unable to drive, access to healthcare and social services becomes a key factor in their ability to live in the area.

    Udine’s Playful Paradigm – a good practice shared with other medium-sized city partners thanks to URBACT – is one solution to help counter depopulation and promote social cohesion. The approach fosters links between different segments of the population through programmes and initiatives that strengthen people’s sense of belonging to the place they live, and promote its quality of life. Better urban planning starts from places and spaces designed and shared with people: Jane Jacobs' teaching is even more valid in centres where different parts of the population must cooperate to keep alive the branch of the tree on which they are sitting.

    Collaboration among residents of different generations during the Covid crisis is a perfect example of how communities can be resilient in small centres: a lesson for cities to implement in wider, integrated policies for social welfare, urban planning and liveability.

    5. Making inhabitants proud of the place in which they live

    Creating trust among people to change the collective perception of small historic centres is a political and cultural operation that participatory processes can help to revive by giving inhabitants a more complete picture of the in which place they live. By setting up URBACT Local Groups, and exchanging with other URBACT towns on the challenges of revitalising their historic centres, cities gain ideas and possible solutions not only to help manage, but also promote, their town centres.

    Though the history of a small centre cannot be changed, the trends and prospects for future development can be oriented to start again from an act of co-creation that makes people protagonists of the processes of change and management of their town centres. "No one owns the cities," said Jane Jacobs – and this is more true than ever in the centres, where collective action can lead to a collective re-appropriation of governance, in which everyone can have a decisive role. Making people proud to participate in the future development of their community also favours the visibility and attractiveness of small towns, the silent engine of a Europe that grows thanks to the vital and vibrant places that contribute original visions and practices in the time of big cities.

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  • Let’s Play Cork


    Experimenting, improvising and evolving playful strategies to improve the lives of our citizens

    Denise Cahill
    Cork Healthy Cities Coordinator
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    Solutions offered by the good practice

    Cork is Ireland’s second largest city, and a busy port, a hub of industry, located in the south-western corner of the country. URBACT Playful Paradigm Network, ‘play’ for Cork City Council was predominantly about the construction and management of playgrounds. A holistic understanding of play did not exist beyond a handful of practitioners. Learning from Udine meant adapting the god practice and inventing new project that could respond to local constraints such as the challenge to organize public events due to legal requirements for public liability insurance, or lack of resources as for the ludobus project.


    The creativity of the URBACT Local Group led to the creation of a new figure, the part-time Play Development Officer and 26 certified volunteer ‘Play Leaders’, which developed a wide range of projects such as:

    • Toy Libraries: in Cork there are ten municipal libraries throughout the city. Thanks to the Network, members of the City Library and a member of Young Knocknaheeny, a group that specializes in early childhood development, had the opportunity to do a study visit to Paris and see how a Toy Library works. They came up with the idea to store “Community Play Bags” in the ten municipal libraries. The “Community Play Bags” are oversized sports gear bags containing equipment for cooperative play, which is appropriate for different ages. By placing them in the library system, the project has been developed to allow for borrowing by community-based organizations seeking to incorporate play in their activities.
    • Playful Placemaking The Marina is a road of approximately 2.5 km along the River Lee in the city. This road was mainly used for car traffic, yet it had potential as an amenity for outdoor recreational activity and for the general enjoyment of the river. The Cork project team decided to test two project actions namely to organize a playful festival and some pop-up play events by applying to stop car traffic on the Marina road for car traffic on four Sundays in the summer of 2019. The communication was not on ‘closing the road’ per se, but rather on opening the road for play. This was done as part of the city’s annual Lifelong Learning Festival.
    • Ludo buses inspired by the lead partner Udine’s good practice, Cork has developed its own Ludo Buses. Ludo buses are vehicles that contain outdoor games that can be driven to any public space/gathering and made available to the community as a play resource for a number of hours.
    • Play Packs With the disruption of Covid-19, the Cork City Council’s Social Inclusion Unit teamed up with the community and voluntary sector to create Play Packs. They contained booklets, video-tutorials and materials to create games at home, such as lollipop sticks, colouring pencils and crayons) and were distributed to hundreds of families in need during the first period of the Covid emergency. The Play Packs created a buzz in the local community and were seen as a useful tool also for other disadvantaged categories. Cork recently decided to start a new wave of distribution to people with intellectual disabilities and to people living in nursing home and long-stay hospitals.

    Sustainable and integrated urban approach

    The project of Cork has predominantly invested into soft measures for social inclusion, promoting the integration and collaboration of different actors both across different departments of the municipality with diverse and multi sector group, called “Let’s Play Cork”, coordinated through Cork Healthy City (Cork is in fact in the World Health Organization “Healthy Cities” network since 2012) and Cork City Council along with members of Cork City Libraries, Young Knocknaheeny (a group that specializes in early childhood development), Foróige (a charity which addresses youth development), Cork Lifelong Learning Festival and Meitheal Mara (a community boatyard in Cork). The scope has been to foster a play-oriented approach to education and public space management in the city.


    In terms of sustainability  the city has continually sought seed funding from alternative sources to make Let’s Play Cork continue after the end of the Transfer Network. The city is also looking at specific investments based on the lessons of the project. Notably, the City Council has earmarked the riverside road for a EUR 4 million project to permanently pedestrianise it. Additionally, Cork is now set to transfer the Playful Paradigm Good Practice to more Irish cities, supported by the URBACT National Practice Transfer Initiative 2021-2022.

    Participatory approach

    The URBACT Local Group (ULG) brought Cork City Council together with public bodies and associations across health, education, culture and sports. The sense of shared ownership and entrepreneurial approach sparked unexpected opportunities and partnerships.


    The ULG has evolved into a steering group called ‘Let’s Play Cork’ that has already started advocating for the concept of the ‘playful city’ to become a core objective of the City Development Plan and is also contributing to a ‘Manifesto of EU Playful Cities’.

    What difference has it made

    The Playful Paradigm  Network has led to changes in  attitude towards gaming and playing both in local, regional and national policy design and visioning, visible in new and fruitful partnerships between organizations.


    Along the way Cork also learned to interject play into its interagency networks, allowing it to disseminate the core values and objectives of play. Partnering organizations subsequently incorporated play into their ways of working as well as to their services and events, engaging in new ways with the communities that they serve and reach. This has unlocked new forms of creativity to help tackle some of the societal challenges that every city faces.

    Transferring the practice

    Exchanges between Cork and the city of Udine were already in place before the Urbact Transfer network , namely through the  World Health Organisation’s Healthy Cities network.  But the URBACT  Playful paradigm network unlocked the capacities to pragmatically experiment the approach of playing the city in a number of projects, whose ideas and creativity is tied to peer learning among the European cities.


    Transnational meetings between network partners enabled participants from Cork to bring home specific ideas and skills. For example, representatives of the city library and an early childhood programme were able to visit a toy library in Paris, leading to adoption of a similar model in Cork. Another workshop, in Viana di Castelo (PT), gave the Cork local group the con dence and theoretical basis to create the new River Lee Placemaking network described above.

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  • Nine ways cities can become more just and inclusive

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    These local actions for a fairer society are inspiring cities across the EU. Could they work in your city too?

    Disadvantaged neighbourhoods

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

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

    To give a taste of the full stories in ‘Good practice transfer: Why not in my City?’, here are nine examples of local actions for Just Cities. We hope towns and cities of all sizes will be inspired to ‘Understand, Adapt and Re-use’ these ideas for working with communities to fight exclusion and help drive a just transition to a green economy.

    1. Boost social inclusion through music

    One way Brno (CZ) is tackling social exclusion in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and encouraging children to stay in school, is a music programme inspired by the innovative Municipal Music School and Arts Centre in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat (ES). Brno is one of six EU cities in the ONSTAGE network, which have adopted l’Hospitalet’s inclusive approach – with groups including a symphonic orchestra, big bands, pop-rock, and jazz groups. Working with teachers and parents, Brno launched its own group music activities in deprived areas, bringing people together, facilitating cultural exchanges, and even improving school results in maths and other subjects.

    2. Encourage volunteering

    Pregrada (HR) has found a way to awaken its volunteering potential and encourage more young people to get involved in helping others. Forming a diverse local group to connect relevant associations, council staff, and citizens of all ages, they introduced a new governance structure around volunteering, part of a participatory model for solving local social problems. The town, which already had many active volunteers, and close links between relevant boards and the council, based its new framework on the well-established Municipal Council of Volunteering in Athienou (CY) while also exchanging with six other EU cities in the Volunteering Cities network.

    3. Commit to inclusion and tolerance

    Hamburg’s Altona district (DE) has launched an anti-discrimination strategy, with a set of principles known as the ‘Altona Declaration’, co-developed by political leaders and residents: “We in Altona,… stand for a free and democratic society; like to encounter new people; represent diversity and engage against discrimination; encounter every person with respect and tolerance; believe in the equality of all people; recognise the chances that come with diversity and encounter every person openly and without prejudices.”

    Inspired by Amadora’s (PT) ‘Don’t feed the rumour’ initiative, through the RUMOURLESS CITIES network, Altona appointed local campaign ambassadors, and asked residents about community, democracy and equality – confirming a common desire to live in a society where people take care of each other.

    4. Celebrate local heritage through storytelling

    A movement to celebrate the built environment, promote active citizenship and fight urban isolation is growing up around a former radio station in a 1950s suburb of Pori (FI). Working with the city’s cultural department, an arts collective based on the site formed a local group and asked neighbours and radio enthusiasts to share their stories, in person and online, sparking new events, interest in local heritage, and the re-use of abandoned space in the old radio station. Pori based the initiative on good practice from Budapest’s annual ‘Weekend of Open Houses’, thanks to the Come in! network.

    5. Co-manage city assets

    The Belgian city of Ghent has a long history of policy participation, with council-appointed ‘neighbourhood managers’ supporting a variety of citizens’ initiatives. The Civic eState network helped Ghent learn from urban commons legislation in cities like Naples, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Gdansk, further boosting cooperation with residents – and bringing the city’s policy participation, real estate, and legal services to work together. Ghent applied these learnings in the re-use of the decommissioned Saint Jozef Church. Commoners, citizens, and nearby organisations formed a local group to jointly assign a local coordinator to ensure the building’s management and activities take into account the needs of its diverse neighbourhood.

    6. Empower neighbourhood partnerships

    A new initiative in the French metropole of Lille identifies local associations and their potential synergies in deprived neighbourhoods, in order to empower communities to propose and build their own joint social projects – such as linking up a retirement home with a neighbouring school. The idea is to support these projects on the road to self-sufficiency. Lille based their initiative on learnings from Lisbon’s (PT) Local Development Strategy for Priority Intervention areas, thanks to the Com.Unity.Lab network. Lisbon’s scheme tackles urban poverty and empowers communities by providing micro-grants to thousands of local projects, many of which become autonomous and create permanent jobs.

    7. Engage with citizens through play and games

    Cork (IE), is taking a ‘playful’ approach to improving the city for all, steered by a local group ‘Let’s Play Cork’ which includes the City Council, public bodies and associations across health, education, culture and sports. Applying good practice from Udine (IT) and other cities in the Playful Paradigm network, Cork’s actions so far include: pop-up play areas in the city centre, parks and libraries; play-based resources for festivals; toy-lending in libraries; and providing ‘street-play packs’ for neighbourhood events. This approach has been a catalyst for local groups and residents to start tackling societal challenges together, such as co-developing playful ideas for public spaces, including the permanent pedestrianisation of certain roads.

    8. Build municipality-NGO cooperation

    The ‘NGO House’ in Riga (LV) is a place for civil society organisations to hold events, develop sustainable cooperation with the municipality; and receive educational, technical and administrative support. The model inspired cities across the EU to boost their own synergies between NGOs, citizens and institutions – with support from the ACTive NGOs network. The Sicilian town of Siracusa, for example, has developed three new public spaces with local associations: Citizen's House on an abandoned floor of a school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood; Officine Giovani in a historic centre; and the Urban Centre, a recovered space, bringing the administration and community together in planning local policies.

    9. Welcome international talent

    Home to several multinational companies and a university, Debrecen (HU) is expanding support for professionals and students arriving from other countries to feel welcome and stay on as valuable members of the community. Debrecen is one of six cities in the Welcoming International Talent network, inspired by Groningen (NL) where a multidisciplinary team provides international residents with active support in housing, work, city living and communication. With improved stakeholder relations convincing local leaders to see social aspects of economic development, next steps include support for affordable accommodation, and encouraging local companies to recruit international talent.

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

    Visit the Good Practice database for more inspiration.

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  • If you want to do European projects, URBACT is the place to start

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    Meet Kieran McCarthy, EU Committee of the Regions member and Cork City Councillor.

    City planning

    City Councillor Kieran McCarthy is a living link between the everyday challenges of his hometown, Cork (IE) – and the international machinery of European policy-making. With a PhD in Geography and a passion for local heritage, he is the Committee of the Regions (CoR) rapporteur on the EU Urban Agenda, and a strong advocate for improving Europe’s cities through practical local actions and cooperation.

    As a partner in the URBACT Playful Paradigm network, Councillor McCarthy’s city organises pop-up playgrounds in places like temporarily pedestrian streets, public buildings, or empty plots – promoting inclusion, health and sustainability.

    Back from a spin on his motor scooter photographing local landmarks for his latest book, Councillor McCarthy found a moment to answer our questions.

    Amy Labarrière (AL) - Since discovering URBACT at the European Week of Cities and Regions, you’ve become a fan of the programme. Why?

    Kieran McCarthy (KMC) - What I like about URBACT is that it’s down to earth. It’s like a stepping stone: if you want to do European projects, this is the place to start – there’s a lot of support. 

    I’ve been looking at the letters that make up URBACT and I know it's not an acronym, but I was thinking what the letters could stand for…

    It would be the ‘U’ for about ‘Us’. It’s a citizens oriented programme. We’ve had a new bridge constructed with EU funds in our city… but more people here have heard about URBACT and Playful Paradigm than anything else.

    I’d say the ‘R’ in URBACT stands for dealing with very ‘Real’ problems, even at the broader scale of EU politics.

    ‘B’ would be for ‘Belief’. The URBACT facilitators I’ve met over the years have a real belief that these projects are going to make a difference: “You can go home with ideas from this workshop and you can roll them out in the morning!”

    ‘A’ would be for ‘Action’. When people go into an URBACT project or workshop they’re working hard to figure out a problem. They return to their hometown with new ideas, vision, collboration skills... that they apply to actionable local projects. URBACT has a fantastic methodology to do that.

    ‘C’ for ‘Collaboration’. With the Committee of the Regions I’ve done workshops across the EU, on different themes from the Urban Agenda to the digital single market… Some cities are great at collaborating, and some aren’t. It’s not easy to bring people together round a table and suddenly say “talk !”: you need a methodology. URBACT gets people listening and learning from each other.

    ‘T’ could be for ‘Toolkits’- that I’m a big fan of. All the URBACT projects and toolkits are online at A lot of local authorities don’t actually realise that.

    Recently I was involved in a debate in my own council chamber on dereliction in the city, looking for ideas on how to reboot derelict sites: I quoted from an URBACT document, and it was published in the local newspaper.

    I’m passionate about my own city, but I’ve discovered that there are other ‘Corks’ out there, second cities full of ambition and ideas. Most cities are trying to do some sort of inner city renewal, trying to fix their transport, come up with a climate change adaptation plan, get their citizens more engaged… And we’re all asking the same questions: who can we collaborate with? Who can we get ideas from?

    We don’t have to do things alone: we can learn from each other! Once you’ve been involved in an URBACT project you’re going to be searching for the next one!

    AL - Many cities go on to apply their URBACT-acquired skills in bigger programmes. Have you seen URBACT sparking broader EU improvements in urban development?

    KMC - URBACT is one arrow in a huge quiver of arrows all advancing thinking within cities and regions, and ‘communicating Europe’. The Committee of the Regions has toolkits and analysis on themes from bio-economy to IT… There’s also the European Capital of Culture, Interreg, Horizon 2020, the European week of cities and regions, local councillors… It’s a combined effort.

    AL - You were appointed to the Committee of the Regions in 2015. What was it like to jump to EU level?

    KMC - It’s been a very steep learning curve. It completely changed my life – all of a sudden you’re going from the local council to the hemicycle of the European parliament! Everyone gets their minute to speak up and influence policy. It took me a while to get into debates, and to cut through the European lingo.

    In Bucharest recently for the informal discussion with EU ministers on the Urban Agenda, ten minutes before the meeting I was on the phone dealing with a pothole problem, then I got out of the taxi and was shaking hands with the Vice Prime Minister of Romania!

    I’m still amazed by the different perspectives the Committee of the Regions brings. And the problems they’re expressing are the same as in your country – you realise “I know this!”. That’s the good thing about the Committee of the Regions, it does give a voice to local and regional reps. I think the Cohesion Alliance has worked.

    AL - What has your role been as CoR rapporteur on the EU Urban Agenda?

    KMC - I did an assessment of the implementation of the EU Urban Agenda last year. Plus I looked at how we could splice some of the action plans together: housing, environment…

    My role is to make sure the action plans are looked after. 12 action plans have emerged from the partnerships, 12 actions in each, so how do we actually roll out these 140 actions? In Bucharest (RO) I spoke on behalf of the Committee of the Regions on where the Urban Agenda should go. There’s a huge fear that some of these action plans may just end up on the shelf. So I’ve been calling for extra financing for implementation, and that the voices of the partnership coordinators be heard a lot more.

    The heads of delegation for the Member States were positive about the Bucharest declaration - that was great. And, the German presidency want to champion this EU Urban Agenda, dusting off the Leipzig charter on urban affairs from 10 years ago!

    AL - What do you see URBACT contributing to these changes in EU cities?

    KMC - Over the last 10 years we’ve seen cities and regions move on – there’s a lot more collaboration – and I think URBACT is at the heart of that debate.

    Maybe there’s a political crisis at central government level, but what I’ve actually found on the ground with the Committee of the Regions is that Europe’s cities are thirsty to work together, to learn more, and there’s a bubbling underground evolution towards more citizen-led change. I think URBACT helps with that evolution. People can just open up the URBACT files and look at how collaboration works. It’s not easy but it’s really important.

    I’ve seen this in my own city. Playful Paradigm brings together different city departments, but also citizens. On Cork’s marina, giant Connect 4 games were set up, tug of war... It’s empowering local residents’ associations, getting to the local people – which doesn’t always happen with macro-scale European projects. The Committee of the Regions opinions are frontiers of ideas, they’re about connections, partnerships, dialogue, unity, diversity, cross-border interoperability… but you can’t just talk about those buzzwords: we need practical projects, knowledge exchange platforms.

    Collaboration breeds further collaboration – even on smaller projects like opening up a tiny street-side park. When people have fun working with each other they’ll work together again. My city is relatively small, 210 000 inhabitants, so people from Healthy Cities projects, age action programmes, refugee programmes, Chamber of Commerce, business associations… all know each other, but they might not have worked with each other before. URBACT is cross-disciplinary, it brings people together, champions citizen innovation – and you discover an electric current in the city, an energy!


    More about Kieran McCarthy on

    More about the Leipzig Charter and how URBACT is refreshing Europe’s urban policy principles here.

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