The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.
By exploring how small and medium sized cities can maximise the job creation potential of the digital economy, this Action Planning network examined whether there is potential for spillover from stronger city level digital economies; how clusters can work at city level and look collaboratively at what cities can do to support businesses to access the digital skills and innovations they need in order to start, grow and compete. The city partners further explored the role and viability of digital, content creation and technology clusters and how benefit may be gained from major city or national initiatives to benefit job creation and growth in small and medium sized cities. The project was 'of the digital economy' as well as 'for the digital economy' in that it used digital technologies as much as possible throughout management and delivery.
The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.
The challenge of this Action Planning network is the activation of vacant buildings and building complexes for a sustainable urban development by self-organised groups. In many European cities smaller and larger derelict sites, underused premises, so called “voids” can be found in or near the city centre. These sites often have a negative impact on their surroundings, nevertheless they present a great opportunity: they can be used to complete a compact settlement structure, to provide space for needed functions in the city.
The Intercultural cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage.
This Transfer network learned from the good practice of the Riga NGO House, which was opened in 2013, in line with the wishes of residents and civil society actors, to support NGOs and to increase citizen awareness of local affairs and participation in municipality-related activities. Set in a refurbished school building, the NGO House offers resources for NGO capacity building, exchange of information, experience and best practices, networking and leadership training. It promotes society integration, active social inclusion and citizen's participation.
TOURISM-FRIENDLY CITIES is an Action Planning Network aimed at exploring how tourism can be made sustainable in medium-sized cities, reducing the negative impact on neighbourhoods and areas interested by different types of tourism and its related aspects through integrated and inclusive strategies keeping 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.
Local community & tourists together for urban sustainability
Small Scale Actions (SSA) have added a new dynamic to URBACT networks. Carried out with the support of EU partners and URBACT experts, these ‘trial runs’ enable cities to prototype local solutions and de-risk future actions, while engaging local stakeholders in ‘doing’ as well as ‘thinking’ together to tackle urban challenges. URBACT Programme Expert Sally Kneeshaw investigates…
The latest round of 23 URBACT Action Planning Networks, launched in 2019, have benefited from the introduction of a new feature – Small Scale Actions. For the first time, a budget of EUR 10 000 was made available to each partner city to carry out experimentation that could inform their so-called Integrated Action Plan, or IAP. This final document is co-produced in each city to encapsulate planned actions tackling a specific urban challenge, with diverse topics ranging from digitalisation to waste management.
SSAs were introduced in response to requests from previous networks to be able to spend resources on testing ideas before deciding if they should, or could, be part of the finalised plan. URBACT defined them as “an experiment. It is an idea or a concept, perhaps already tried in another city, which can be tested to check the relevance, feasibility and added value of its implementation in different local contexts. The Small Scale Actions are limited in time, scale and space and by their nature have the right to fail.”
Daring to fail
Inherent in the process of experimenting is the possibility of failure, and the opportunity to learn from failing. This is often a new departure in policy development for cities. The SSA was therefore also a process to allow public administrations to adopt more agile ways of acting, adapting methods from other sectors such as design and tech, and to be able to test ideas for sustainable change before creating long-term action plans. It can allow cities to design and build better and quicker, to iterate, or provide evidence that something should be discontinued rather than wasting public funds.
Cities take up the SSA challenge
According to our most recent survey, 85% of cities in these URBACT networks took up the challenge of piloting at least one Small Scale Action over the course of 2021. With the action plans due to be finalised by June 2022, we looked into how these new SSAs have worked in practice. Did they improve the urban realm, governance processes or the lives of citizens, and what can we, as a programme, learn from them?
Given the wide variety of urban challenges undertaken by URBACT networks – from the circular economy, to sustainable tourism, to city branding – very different approaches to SSAs emerged. Most networks engaged in a process to identify which action would be most useful for them, in relation to their priorities and information gaps. In the end, events, information campaigns, new tools/methods for implementation, and small infrastructure interventions were the most popular SSAs, overall.
Mini solutions emerge
Here are just a few examples of the scores of local solutions that URBACT cities have trialled in 27 countries this past year, and are now ready to scale up.
To improve inclusion in neighbourhoods with low levels of cultural and community activity, new interventions were tested in Vilnius (LT). They offered different formats and elements of interaction in different neighborhoods, such as musical picnics, open-air libraries, history rooms and ‘Tea & Chats’ inspired by Dublin (IE). Meanwhile, Sofia (BG) experimented with an info campaign on access to culture for 11 to 16 year old students, a group identified as having low levels of participation. The testing included a survey among students, training for teachers, and working with a popular blogger to communicate in ways that resonate with the students. (Find out more about the ACCESS network.)
RE-USE and RECYCLING
In our environmentally focused networks, repair and re-use interventions, citizen engagement and awareness raising were tested. A project on circular textile consumption looked at how to mainstream leasing/renting models for fashion businesses, and start an operational model for the Belgian city of Mechelen. Bucharest 3rd District (RO) tried out a composting unit. (Find out more about the Resourceful Cities network.)
NEW HOUSING SOLUTIONS
In relation to homelessness, the aim was to try out, evaluate and verify what direction to take on the road towards implementing the ‘Housing First’ approach. Ghent (BE) tested a new form of collaboration between different support agencies by working in a new coordinated approach with three beneficiaries. In Toulouse (FR), a unique campaign to attract private renters through a single communication channel increased affordable private housing offers. This action proved the viability of extending the concept to the wider Métropole area. (See more information on the ROOF network.)
New sensor technology was tested in several cities, for instance to analyse urban air quality data in real time in Razlog (BG) and communicate water temperature in the local bathing lakes in Ange (SE). Very practical lessons were learned, for example, how to avoid damage to sensors measuring rubbish collection. As a result of the testing, it is now easier to cost the amount required for scaling up. Lead Expert Eurico Neves said: “SSAs have been very successful for us – maybe because it’s a tech-oriented project, around Internet of Things and sensors, and is easy to conceptualise and implement small solutions around a number of sensors that can be later upscaled. All cities in our network are now well advanced into the drafting of IAPs and they’re in the process of planning this upscale of SSA as part of the IAP.” (Read more about the IoTXchange network.)
Placemaking SSAs made a huge difference in engaging stakeholders. Implementing concrete physical changes, such as opening up streets, provoked a mix of positive, negative and unexpected reactions, and the realisation that more communication is needed, for example with shopkeepers. Actions will be modified based on these outcomes. (Find out more about the Thriving Streets network.)
Dubrovnik (HR) was very ambitious and tested a new route to move tourists and residents around. Another city took an open approach to review their accessibility to visitors with reduced mobility, wanting to learn and improve the experience. (Find out more about the TOURISM-FRIENDLY CITIES network.)
What were the challenges and what was learnt?
The short time scale allocated to these local ‘test-runs’ within each URBACT network, combined in some cases with the need for procurement, made it difficult for certain cities to launch their actions as planned. And several found that by implementing pilot actions they had less time available to devote to building Integrated Action Plans.
However, in many cities the SSA succeeded in getting local URBACT groups on board, boosting stakeholder engagement. It provided a great opportunity to act, not just discuss and plan, and for stakeholders to discuss specific tangible changes, not just ideas.
For small cities, who often have less capacity to prototype and pilot, this new process has brought a winning combination of knowledge, skills and trust. For example, thanks to the iPlace network, city partners ran hackathons to generate ideas. As a result, the Latvian town of Saldus will continue to hold hackathons regularly and allocate grants to the winners.
At local level, each city is now bringing the learning that emerged from the testing into the wider planning process. At programme level, URBACT is monitoring cities closely to see how to refine SSA guidance for the future. It seems the great majority of URBACT partner cities surveyed are convinced that piloting is a helpful tool for implementing their Integrated Action Plans, especially in gathering evidence and establishing proof of concept.
Liat Rogel, Lead Expert of the ROOF network, said: “Failing or succeeding, the Small Scale Actions all help the cities to make more effective action plans. There is a real strength in the opportunity to iterate through one’s own experience and that of others.”
“In many cases SSAs introduced a new dynamic, that should be continued and embedded in future planning and delivery,” said Adele Bucella, Head of Programmes and Projects at URBACT. “Cities took ideas from each other and learned together, for instance how to work with stakeholders, how to measure impacts. This local testing de-risks the intended actions and makes them more investable. The next stage of the process is to make sure that the learning from the SSA is well-integrated into all the IAPs.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly affected the entirety of Europe – but realities have differed both between countries and between cities. In this article, we explore the experiences of two smaller URBACT cities – Dubrovnik (HR) and Grosseto (IT) – which are heavily reliant on tourism.
While large cities tend to have greater economic variety to fall back on, smaller European cities that rely on tourism, such as Dubrovnik and Grosseto, have suffered serious economic impacts as that tourism has been cut off. These cities are impacted even in situations where they have escaped the worst of the health crisis itself.
However, URBACT has a long history of supporting small and medium-size cities, and despite their challenges, these two cities have also demonstrated how resiliency and innovation can emerge from the capacity-building support and knowledge exchange of URBACT networks. Both cities are now looking at how this challenging moment can be harnessed as a turning point to advance and diversify their economic strength and sustainable development.
Re-imagining tourism in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik, in southern Croatia, is an intensely popular city with tourists who come for its well-preserved medieval Old Town and beautiful Adriatic coastline. In the month of June 2019, there were 1.2 million overnight stays in the municipality, whilst the resident population is only just over 40 000. But as with any tourism-centric city, its success can also be its greatest challenge. Before the pandemic hit, Dubrovnik was struggling with overtourism and the pollution, crowds and waste it brings.
But now, after pandemic-triggered global lockdowns and restricted travel, that tourism has completely disappeared, leaving the streets empty and the economy in freefall. According to the city, on 1 June 2020, tourism was 98% lower than the same time last year. With so much income and so many jobs reliant on tourism, the pandemic has hit the city hard, despite the fact that it has not suffered badly from the virus itself.
“Everyone hoped tourism would go back to normal in summer, but then the summer came and the numbers have stayed as low as about 20% of last year’s arrivals,” says Alisa Vlasic, the city’s URBACT Local Group (ULG) coordinator for the URBACT Tourism-Friendly Cities network. She explains that other parts of the country have seen tourism by road and rail bounce back more, but international tourists generally come to Dubrovnik by plane – and those planning to come have cancelled.
“Covid-19 has caused a great economic crisis within our whole country,” says Vlasic, “but so far, Dubrovnik has been impacted the most.”
Despite the grave challenges faced by Dubrovnik, however, Vlasic believes that now is a critical time to re-assess its relationship to tourism. “The mayor knows that being completely dependent on tourism brings even more challenges in times of economic crisis,” she says. “This situation is forcing the city to re-think. Up until now, it was often too difficult to make changes, but now we have to.”
Dubrovnik has been part of URBACT’s Tourism-Friendly Cities network since September 2019. “The network has been helping us to take forward our work of making tourism more balanced,” says Vlasic. “The city already started those discussions three years ago, but right now is the time to make it happen.”
The entire network is re-focusing its conversations, explains Vlasic, in response to the pandemic’s impact. Those cities that were trying to tackle overtourism are now collaborating on what sustainable tourism means in the recovery. “It’s interesting to see how every country is trying to re-think tourism,” says Vlasic. Cites like Venice– another partner city – and Dubrovnik have some of the biggest challenges.
Vlasic believes tourism will continue to be the dominant economic force in Dubrovnik in the future, but that this moment can be harnessed to work on diversification of the economy and supporting other sectors. “I don’t see a whole new economy,” she says, “but I think this gives a lot of perspective to local citizens to start thinking about other things. I envisage us shifting from 90% of people relying on tourism, to perhaps 70%.”
The Tourism-Friendly Cities network continues to be a critical part of Dubrovnik’s recovery. “The network gives us the connection and external perspective we need,” says Vlasic. “In the pandemic, it can feel like we are all isolated. But right now is the most important time to be connected. The URBACT network means that on a day-to-day basis we can exchange experiences with other cities and help each other.”
ULG innovation in Grosseto
From the very beginning of the pandemic, the city of Grosseto in southern Tuscany – 80 000 inhabitants – was activein terms of safety and prevention measures, encouraging people to stay at home and delivering free face masks to citizens. Partly as a result of that, case numbers of Covid-19 have stayed low. Yet, as a historic and picturesque city which relies on tourism, Grosseto has been significantly economically impacted by the pandemic lockdowns.
Luckily, the timing of its engagement with the URBACT Action Planning Network iPlace – which is supporting smaller cities to find their niches for sustainable local economic development – has been a direct and practical help.
iPlace Lead Expert Wessel Badenhorst explains: “Grosseto is a new city to URBACT and establishing their ULG was challenging. They did a lot of hard work and had their first ULG meeting [at the end of 2019]. Then when lockdown hit, they were able to 'leverage' the ULG as a single communication platform with their business community.”
Indeed, the ULG structure ended up being critical. “When the pandemic hit in March, the ULG was temporarily enlarged by the administration to a ‘macro’ ULG, involving not just local associations, but wider institutions and professional bodies,” says Annalisa David, the iPlace Communication Officer for Grosseto. “It allowed us to understand local needs from a range of different stakeholders.”
Now, when the administration has something new to propose, it brings the stakeholders of the macro ULG together and asks what they think. “It’s a new way for the administration to relate to the citizens,” says David.
The macro ULG was divided into eight smaller working groups tackling different issues in response to the challenges of the pandemic – from tourism and commerce to construction and communications – and came up with innovative proposals to help Grosseto. “Already by May, we had those ideas translated into concrete projects,” says David.
The projects included a wide range of measures. The municipality decided to postpone almost all tax payments from citizens to help people recover financially from the crisis. To guarantee social distancing, the city decreed that businesses such as restaurants and cafes could have free use of public space outside their premises for the whole of 2020.
A marketing project, MAreMMA Nel Cuore (Maremma in your heart) was started to help promote local agricultural produce in Grosseto’s shops and restaurants. A new free app, the Ermes Shop was developed to help connect people to local businesses so that commercial activities could recover.
Existing civic projects were fast-tracked too. Grosseto’s municipality had already been working on implementing a network of cycling paths to connect the town centre with various key tourist sites. “The pandemic accelerated that goal,” explains David. As well as the network of cycle paths, more bike racks are being installed around the town and e-bike and electric vehicle charging stations are being implemented across the wider province. David hopes this might bring new tourists to Grosseto.
Looking to the future
Both cities are using the experiences of their URBACT networks to support their recovery from the pandemic and build sustainable local futures. This will directly impact the preparation of their Integrated Action Plans for sustainable urban development.
Even further ahead, in Grosseto, Annalisa David believes the macro ULG will continue as a way to discuss issues beyond the iPlace network, as the structure has been so helpful for the city: “The ULG showed us how to solve problems quickly by ourselves rather than waiting for external help – and demonstrated how we can best harness resources.”
In Dubrovnik, Alisa Vlasic hopes the city will ultimately re-embrace tourism without overtourism. The municipality aims to connect its Tourism-Friendly Cities Action Plan with its existing Respect the Cityproject, which was launched by the mayor in 2018 to help make tourism more balanced and responsible.
“Once a big crisis like this happens, it can lead to two situations,” says Vlasic. “Either people scramble to recover economically and go back to normal at any cost, or they work to incrementally build back better.” Both of these cities are doing the latter and the URBACT programme will continue to support them and smaller cities like them in achieving their goals.
The main objective of Action Planning Networks is to bring together between 7 and 10 cities across Europe to exchange their experience in a particular thematic urban development challenge and to share their ideas about possible solutions, during a period of over 2 years. The Phase 1 (from late June 2019 to February 2020) focused on the development of baseline studies, city profiles and the production of the Application Form for Phase 2.
Following the Monitoring Committee's approval of the networks, cities are now ready to focus on the exchange and learning activities using a range of learning tools and approaches in line with the URBACT Method. Every partner city will consolidate an URBACT Local Group, which will co-design Integrated Action Plans for future implementation. The Phase 2 also presents a novelty for the projects, from now on cities are encouraged to undertake pilot actions (Small Scale Actions), to experiment with new ideas for projects gained from other network exchanges and in line with the cities’ network topic.
As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the URBACT Secretariat will follow up with a series of adapted activities to support these networks and their partners, including the delivery of trainings using online formats and a 3 months extension of the network life-cycle, meaning that projects will run until August 2022. Thus, networks will respect the following calendar:
Activation Stage (May - December 2020): putting together an Integrated Action Plan roadmap
Planning Actions (December 2020 - December 2021): drafting the Integrated Action Plan
Planning Implementation (December 2021 - June 2022): finalising the Integrated Action Plan
Integrated Action Plans Finale (June - August 2022): sharing knowledge
You can find all approved networks in the table below, the Lead Partner city is indicated is bold. To find out more about each one of the projects, check the network's webpages. Congratulations to the 23 approved projects!
Research, technological development and innovation
Leiria (PT) - Longford (IE) - Madrid (ES) - Mechelen (BE) - Michalovce (SK) - Parma (IT) - Pella (EL) - Unione della Romagna Faentina (IT) - Szabolcs 05 Regional Development Association of Municipalities (HU)
Security and safety are two common goods and fundamental components of European democracy. This network intends to analyse strategies and concepts of urban design and planning, which could contribute to prevent segregation and anti-social behaviour. Additionally, this network wishes to co-create an integrated approach towards urban security focusing on improving citizens’ quality of life and the city’s smart, sustainable and inclusive growth towards a good living environment.
Alba Iulia (RO) - Bragança (PT) - Candelaria (ES) - Perugia (IT) - Wroclaw (PL) - Võru (EE) - Limerick (IE) - Budafok-Tétény 22nd district of Budapest (HU)
The challenge is to build on the cities' opportunities. The partners of the project need to identify locally a strength, which was built as a sustainable mechanism generating urban development. The goal of this network is to explore and enhance the potential of the city, combining strategic marketing approach with innovative smart city tools.
Messina (IT) - Botosani (RO) - Oulu (FI) - Portalegre (PT) - Roquetas de Mar (ES) - Saint- Quentin (FR) - Trikala (EL) - Ventspils Digital Centre (LV)
This network aims to set up an acceleration mechanism to enable cities to catch up the digitalisation opportunities in hard & soft infrastructure. Remove all the obstacles encountered by mid-sized cities in their digital journey: lack of strategic & global vision lack of technical and engineering capacities difficulties in incorporating the digital innovation. Municipalities need to guaranty the uptake of digital innovation by the local stakeholders: citizen and entrepreneurs.
Fundão (PT) - Dodoni (EL) - Jelgava (LV) - Nevers Agglomeration (FR) - Razlog (BG) - Ånge (SE) - Kežmarok (SK) - Åbo Akademi University (FI)
The objective is to encourage the creation of a network of European cities committed to the design of digitalization plans based on Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to increase the quality of life in small and medium sized EU cities, guiding us through a new age of digital transformation.
Amarante (PT) - Balbriggan (IE) - Pori (FI) - Pärnu (EE) - Grosseto (IT) - Gabrovo (BG) - Heerlen (NL) - Kočevje (SI) - Medina del Campo (ES) - Saldus (LV)
This network aim to produce 10 different and unique robust economic development strategies, targeting their own genuine niches, and generating urban innovation ecosystems. City partners will focus on deepening the understanding of their own local economic strengths and establish strategic methods to revitalise their economy, adapt their city to the next economy and to future economic changes, establishing methodological bases for generate resilient cities.
This network aims to explore how tourism can be sustainable in medium-sized cities, reducing the negative impact on neighbourhoods and areas interested by different types of tourism to reach this ambitious aim, the project will create integrated and inclusive strategies which can keep a balance between the needs of the local community, in terms of quality of life and of services available, and the promotion of sustainable urban development at environmental, social and economic level.
Clermont Auvergne Metropole (FR) - Bialystok Association of the Functional Area (PL) - CIM Alto Minho (PT) - Rouen Normandie Metropole (FR) - Elefsina (EL) - Galati (RO) - Palma di Montechiaro (IT) - Tampere EcoFellows (FI)
Local authorities embrace the ambitious goal to become a zero-net energy territory within the next 30 years. Thus, the aim is to define the local action plans to become zero-net (ZNE) territory by producing and delivering local, renewable and regulated sources of energy by the implementation of an energy loop which gathers all the stakeholders of this circular economy, especially the consumers included in this fair trade business in and around the metropolitan area.
Manchester (UK) - Bistrita (RO) - Zadar (HR) - Modena (IT) - Frankfurt am Main (DE) - Tartu (EE) - Vilvoorde (BE)
The network will support capacity building of cities to establish science-based carbon reduction targets and their Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) aligned to Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Working with 7cities to adopt different approaches to carbon budgeting and science-based targets, the network will undertake a programme of capacity building in order to support their local activities and integrated action plan and influence Covenant of Mayors' signatory cities.
Barcelona Metropolitan Area (ES) - Porto Metropolitan Area (PT) - Krakow Metropole Association (PL) - Paris Metropolitan Area (FR) - Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Metropolitan Area (PL) - Amsterdam Region (NL) - Transport for Greater Manchester (UK) - Thessaloniki Major Development Agency (EL)
The overall goal is to rethink, transform and integrate mobility infrastructure aiming at reconnecting people, neighbourhoods, cities and natural spaces. The project will develop planning strategies, processes, instruments and partnerships, fostering public transport and active mobility, reducing externalities and unlocking opportunities of urban regeneration with the objectives of structuring the territory, and achieving a more sustainable, equitable and attractive metropolis.
URGE (circUlaR buildinG citiEs) aims to design integrated urban policies on circularity in the building sector – a major consumer of raw materials – as there is a gap in knowledge on this topic. The result is an in-depth understanding of this theme and a first plan for a tailor-made methodology that allows the circular dimension to be widely integrated in the large construction tasks the URGE partnership is facing. URGE thus accelerates the transition towards a circular economy.
Vic (ES) - Anyksciai (LT) - Bradford (UK) - Alphen aan den Rijn (NL) - Falerna (IT) - Farkadona (EL) - Loulé (PT) - Pärnu (EE) - Malta Planning Authority (MT)
This network aims to deepen the relationship between health and the urban environment, planning actions that focus on improving the population’s health, while developing a rigorous health impact assessment methodology around it. Urban Planning can become a health generator on many grounds, and this network of cities reflects the multiplicity of possible approaches to tackle the issue: green areas, mobility, social cohesion or promotion of sports are some examples.
The ultimate goal is to represent a moment of change, improving the urban environment of cities involved, developing heritage-led urban regeneration. It will enhance the potential of heritage in small and medium cities developing strategies for economic and social cohesion, inclusion and sustainable urban development. This network fosters the transnational exchange of experiences to test an innovative policy framework, combining a sound integrated approach with a real transformation purpose.
The Hague (NL) - Bucharest 3rd district (RO) - Ciudad Real (ES) - Mechelen (BE) - Cáceres (ES) - Patras (EL) - Oslo (NO) - Opole (PL) - Vila Nova Famalicão (PT) - Zagreb (HR)
This network seeks to develop the next generation of urban resource centers to promote the positive economic, environmental and social impacts for the circular economy. They facilitate waste prevention, reuse, repair and recycling. The centers also work as connection points for citizens, new businesses, researchers and the public sector to co-create new ways to close resource loops at the local level.
Coimbra Region (PT) - Alba Iulia (RO) - Córdoba (ES) - Larissa (EL) - Szécsény (HU) - Bassa Romagna Union (IT) - Tartu Tartumaa Arendusselts (EE) - BSC Kranj and Gorenjska (SI)
Recent experience suggests that it is necessary to promote a transition towards regional food systems. This network encourage the creation of a network of European cities committed to the design of food plans that extend from the urban and periurban areas through a corridor that facilitates urban-rural re-connection. This approach enhances production and consumption environments founded on a base of economic, social and environmental sustainability, integrated into development policies.
Hegyvidék 12th district of Budapest (HU) - Espoo (FI) - Limerick (IE) - Messina (IT) - Breda (NL) - Poznań (PL) - Santa Pola (ES) - Suceava (RO) - Tartu (EE)
As a response to the various health risks related to rapid urbanization and the densification of cities, this network project promotes health-responsive planning and management of urban green infrastructure with an overall aim to bring health and wellbeing benefits for citizens across Europe. The network applies a holistic approach that addresses the main functions provided by urban green infrastructure that deliver health and social benefits.
This network improves quantity and quality of attractive public spaces in urban areas. For this, it tackles the main public space use being transportation in 3 aspects: improving user experience and adding space to pedestrian networks and (semi) pedestrianised places, upscaling intermodal hubs to urban centres of mixed use as well as reducing and optimising parking in public space. The project takes a user-centric approach by users assessing and creating future use and design of public space.
Parma (IT) - Antwerp (BE) - Igoumenitsa (EL) - Klaipèda (LT) - Nova Gorica (SI) - Oradea (RO) - Santo Tirso (PT) - Radom (PL) - Southwark London Borough (UK) - Debrecen Economic Development Centre (HU)
This is a network that addresses the bottlenecks in sustainable urban mobility. The project will focus on the economic and social benefits of sustainable mobility, rather than on the widely demonstrated environmental effects. The network argues that working with local amenities and social networks at neighbourhood level could unlock the hidden demand for active mobility in cities, and thus act as enabler of behaviour change towards more resilient and liveable neighbourhoods.
Heerlen (NL) - Aarhus (DK) - Baia Mare (RO) - Fundão (PT) - Kecskemét (HU) - Pordenone (IT) - Zaragoza (ES) - Võru Development Centre (EE)
This network aims to explore how social impact bonds can be used to improve public service delivery in areas such as employment, ageing, and immigration. Often, the delivery of services is hindered by fragmented and siloed agencies and budgets, financial and political shorttermism, and an aversion to risk and difficulty creating change. The social impact bond is a promising model that ameliorates these issues by increasing collaboration, prevention, and innovation.
This project aims to eradicate homelessness through innovative housing solutions at city level. It will exchange knowledge on how to gather accurate data and make the conceptual shift from the symptomatic management to the actual ending of homelessness, with Housing First and Housing Led as guidance model. This network will guide the partner cities towards integrated local action plans linked to the long-term strategic goal of Functional Zero (no structural homelessness).
Agen (FR) - Bistrita (RO) - Cento (IT) - Dinslaken (DE) - Hradec Králové (CZ) - Santa Maria da Feira (PT) - Saint-Quentin (FR) - Tartu (EE)
The aim of this network is to rethink the place of the citizens in the local governance by finding a balance between representative democracy and participatory democracy. This network of European small and medium-sized cities, with the same expectations and similar challenges, will notably take into account, to do this, new digital tools while integrating the issue of citizens away or not comfortable with digital tools.
Amsterdam (NL) - Dublin (IE) - Lisbon (PT) - Riga (LV) - Sofia (BG) - Tallinn (EE) - Vilnius (LT) - London Greater Authority (UK)
This network addresses the importance of inclusive cultural policies. A challenge all cities in this project face is that culture does not enrich or empower all people equally. We need to gain a better understanding of our communities in order to engage all citizens in our cities. We have identified four topics to work on that will enable us to gain that understanding and support us in reaching all population groups in the participating cities from the west, east and south of Europe.
Umeå (SE) - Frankfurt am Main (DE) - Panevèžys (LT) - Trikala (EL) - La Rochelle (FR) - Barcelona Activa SA (ES) - Celje JZ Socio (SI)
Creating conditions for gender equality through a holistic understanding of how gender inequality is created in the specific place. This network creates an exchange on challenges faced by cities with an understanding of gender inequality that is globally understood but locally contextualised.
Milan (IT) - Bratislava (SK) - Budaörs (HU) - Guimarães (PT) - Molina de Segura (ES) - Nantes Metropole (FR) - Rijeka (HR) - Kekava (LV) - Sofia (BG) -Vratsa (BG)
Through intensive capacity building of local actors, the network will increase collaboration among municipalities, businesses and the civic society in order to promote sustainable, inclusive & innovative urban change. The project aims at increasing the role and added value of companies’ CSR activities at local level, towards urban regeneration and social innovation, with a special emphasis on education, in order to better address emerging and unmet local needs.
“I welcome in my restaurant voyagers, not tourists. People who are curious and respectful of the local lifestyle, who appreciate that the daily menu depends of the fresh and locally available products and who do some research before visiting”.
Fausto Cavanna, owner, La Taverna di Colombo, Genoa (Italy)
Ten cities have embarked on a new journey to work together on promoting a sustainable impact of tourism into integrated urban development in the URBACT Tourism-friendly cities Action Planning Network. Championing one of the world’s most hot topics, the city of Genoa (IT) has the challenging role of leading this new URBACT network that seeks to harmonize the realities experienced by residents, local authorities, tourism industry and tourists. The ten partners – Genoa (lead partner), Braga (PT), Caceres (ES), Druskininkai (LT), Dubrovnik Development Agency (HR), Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (IE), Krakow (PL), Rovaniemi (FI), Utrecht (NL) and Venice (IT) – will explore innovative governance and action models to capture the social, environmental and economic dimensions of tourism.
Fausto Cavanna, the owner of the restaurant La Taverna di Colombo in Genoa (Italy) explaining to the Tourism-friendly cities network his aspirations for sustainable tourism.
Tourism industry is one of the most important of our era. Tourism, travels and related sectors account for 10,3% of GDP in EU and 11,7% of total employment: at global level, Europe has been hit by the second biggest increase, with 671.1 million international arrivals last year (51% the number of international tourist arrivals at global level), an eight per cent increase year-on-year. A long-term study by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) forecasts a growth in European tourism, to an estimated 744 million tourists (+1.8%), or 41.1% of the global market, over the period to 2030.
However, this economic outlook does not capture the complexity of the effects that the tourism production system imposes to city life. Rising housing prices, congestion, little regulation power over tech-enabled companies and platforms active at global level on sectors as hospitality and transport, are just some of the consequences that are currently changing neighbourhood life (and city finances) in urban areas all around Europe.
And while the devil is in the details, so is also the solution. Balancing the importance of tourism for local economies with temporary and permanent residents wellbeing, harmonizing present needs with future environmental concerns, adjusting the outdated instruments of local administrations with fast changing business models, requires collective answers and actions.
To do this, the network will employ the URBACT method, taking an integrated and participative approach to urban challenges with a focus on transnational exchange and learning. Peer exchange and co-learning on the network level will be translated into integrated action plans on the local level and contribute to capacity building of key local stakeholders.
The URBACT Tourism-friendly cities Network kick off meeting on 26 & 27 September 2019 in Genoa, Italy.
What exactly is a tourism-friendly city?
Was the question the lead partner Genoa debated with the prospective network partners when they were preparing the application for the last open call of URBACT’s Action Planning Networks. The answer is in the line that local community and tourists should work together for urban sustainability. The city is not something to be taken for granted, a service that somebody is entitled to for paying taxes or a visiting fee. It is a fragile ecosystem, where each stakeholder needs to become aware to the effects’ of each other actions. This is why, while the network is recognizing the key economic importance of tourism, but it is also exploring key questions of the kind of growth that each city aspires to. Rather than pointing a finger on the negative consequences of tourism, the network wants to make the industry and tourists part of the co-design of solutions, alongside residents and local authorities.
Meeting Fairbnb representatives on September 30th 2019 in Venice, as part of mapping effort of new stakeholders that propose alternative models supporting sustainable tourism.
A sense of urgency to act
One key takeaway from the network’s kick-off meeting in Genoa on 26 & 27 September 2019 was the urgency experienced by each city partner to find a way forward to steward sustainable tourism development at local level. There was also a common aspiration that this current URBACT project could serve as the beginning of a new way of working together at local level, perhaps with the URBACT Local Groups (ULG) becoming a local observatory for monitoring progress on the future actions plans and global practices.
The first step in this process was to analyse what each partner city defined as its most pressing challenge related to sustainable tourism. During the kick-off meeting, the partners used a pitching arena designed for the event to start reflecting on existing implementations plans, lessons learned, aspirations, political commitment and available local resources related to their local realities. All these elements will be explored in more detail during the partner visits over the coming five months.
We are looking forward to our journey ahead! You can keep up with our network’s and URBACT’s work on sustainable tourism by following the hashtags #sustainabletourism and #tfcities and by subscribing to URBACT’s newsletter.
On an early afternoon in May, I was sitting in a taxi, heading to Riga’s semi-peripheral Teika neighbourhood. Trying to hail a taxi in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was late for my meeting with Selīna Vancāne, the representative of the neighbourhood association Sveika Teika. When I arrived to our meeting place: the NGO House, she was working in her office. “This place is perfect for us,” she told me. “As all our activities are concentrated in this neighbourhood, the NGO House is a great help for our organisation.”
The corridor was quiet, but as Selīna took me around, noise emerging from behind closed door revealed many activities: a group of artisans working on clay objects, members of a youth association discussing plans, representatives of newly born NGOs learning about administrative tasks at a seminar and piano music filled just one of the building’s corridors. For a Wednesday afternoon, the building proved to be full of activities!
An exercise in building trust
Public civic cooperation has never been as important for European cities as it is today. Fading trust between public administrations and society, rising authoritarianism and deteriorating services all make urban life harder, especially for the most vulnerable social groups. In turn, sharing resources and responsibilities between municipalities and civil society actors has helped cities increase participation in urban development issues but also cooperation in co-producing urban space and co-creating urban services.
Riga’s NGO House is one of the pillars of the municipality’s recent attempts to build bridges with civil society. Opening in 2013, the NGO House was the manifestation of a broader will to strengthen the city’s civil sector. In 2010, with the help of the Latvian Civic Alliance, the Municipality began organising the Citizen Forum, taking place yearly aiming to expose the needs of NGOs. The idea of the NGO House was indeed born in the first Citizen Forum: civil society organisations expressed their need for a building where they could pursue their activities. In the same year, the City Council established an Advisory Board on Social Integration Issues, and in 2013, the municipality signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with 138 NGOs.
Riga is the natural centre of Latvia’s civil society. About half of the country’s 23,000 NGOs are based in Riga, contributing to a strong and diverse civil sector. However, the lack of available space for citizen initiatives has been an issue with many buildings standing empty due to the city’s decreasing population and demographic reorganisation. While some civil initiatives were looking into privately owned, abandoned residential and industrial complexes across the city, the municipality refurbished one of its properties, an unused school building in the city’s Teika neighbourhood.
The NGO House was inaugurated in September 2013 by members of the Riga City Council and municipal officers. A platform of public-civic cooperation run by the Department of Education, Culture and Sports, the NGO House offers space for the NGOs daily activities and events, but also helps them develop activities on site. It was designed to suit its users needs: making use of its ten different premises including a large event space for over 200 people, several offices, seminar rooms, workshops and a computer room. The House organises consultations, conferences, trainings and seminars for its users and the wider community.
Let the stats do the talking
The NGO House’s numbers are impressive: since 2013, over 50,000 people from over 500 organisations have visited events in the building. In 2016 only, there were almost 1700 events organised by the community of the House, including over 100 capacity building events. These numbers speak for themselves: the NGO House responded successfully to the need for a civic space articulated by citizens and has become a reference for citizen initiatives in need of support. Moreover, through its twinning and networking programmes that have created long-lasting partnerships between organisations, the NGO House also contributed to a denser, more interconnected civil sphere in Riga.
The NGO House’s challenges
Despite attempts by the NGO House staff to broaden the building’s audience, they have not yet managed to reach the whole spectrum of NGOs in Riga. Unlike Sveika Teika, the neighbourhood association that found its natural habitat in the building, for many organisations, the Teika area is out of the way and they do not find it particularly useful to organise their meetings there. “Others, mostly elderly residents, are ready to travel there from other parts of the city” explains Zinta Gugane, NGO House project coordinator, “but this is not an option for many active organisations.”
The solution? “Every neighbourhood would need an NGO House,” concludes Guntars Ruskuls from the City Development Department.
There is another limitation to the appeal of the NGO House. With spaces having to be reserved in advance, and only available for specific activities but not permanent use, the NGO House currently does not address more established NGOs that are cornerstones of the city’s civil society and have their own spaces and organise their own events. “When they’re too big, they go on, leave the structure and continue somewhere else,” acknowledges Zinta Gugane. It appears the NGO House is most useful for a specific segment of civil society.
The Riga Municipality is not alone in its quest to create closer links with civil society. The challenges Riga faces in creating new interfaces for public civic cooperation are shared by many other municipalities across Europe. For instance, the city of Santa Pola in Southeast Spain is looking to include new buildings into its network of spaces accessible for citizen activities. Dubrovnik in Croatia is in the process of building a new governance structure for its former quarantine complex, linking it to other spaces across the city. Siracusa in Sicily is about to relaunch its Citizens House and Youth Centre and link them in a network with the freshly opened Urban Center. Espoo in Finland is looking for ways to improve the capacity of NGOs working with migrants and refugees, while Brighton and Hove in the Southwest of the UK is seeking to create more straight links between municipal services and civil organisations.
In 2017, the NGO House was selected as an URBACT Good Practice. In the coming years, within the URBACT Transfer Network ACTive NGOs, the Riga Municipality will engage with the cities of Brighton and Hove, Dubrovnik, Espoo, Santa Pola and Siracusa to share with them many elements of the good practice, the NGO House and the whole set of policies that were created by the municipality to support NGOs. Meanwhile, experiences from all cities will be shared with each other, allowing for the knowledge exchange to go beyond a uni-directional learning process.
Conceiving the NGO House as part of a platform for public-civic cooperation, ACTive NGOs will focus on a number of dimensions that contribute to a stronger civil society.
Space, like in the case of the NGO House, allows NGOs to organise meetings and their regular daily work.
Capacity building programmes help NGOs to further develop their work, improve their profiles and potentially scale up or multiply their activities.
Mapping initiatives and organisations, as well as understanding their possible links will help in building cooperation among them and strengthening local civic ecosystems
Funding programmes targeted to encourage cooperation will help networkbuilding on the neighbourhood and city scales.
New governance structures will allow the shared management of spaces and resources, connecting a variety of different organisations, institutions and spaces across the cities.
Digital platforms will be conceptualised and used to enable better communication and decisionmaking among these entities.
Innovative economic models will be considered and experimented with to provide economic sustainability both for civic spaces and citizen initiatives.
Half a decade of hindsight
In September 2018, only a few days before the NGO House celebrated its fifth birthday, representatives of cities from across Europe have gathered in Riga. The perfect occasion for the hosts to tell the story of the institution to a few dozen municipal officers from Brighton and Hove, Dubrovnik, Espoo, Santa Pola and Siracusa!
Besides sharing Good Practice, the event also created room for critical feedback and open new ways to improve the Good Practice itself. Public-civic cooperation is always changing and evolving, and municipalities must simultaneously guide and follow their civic partners towards real citizen empowerment.