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  • Pooling urban commons: the Civic eState

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    Naples’ Urban Civic Uses policy is characterised by the way artists, creatives, innovators and city inhabitants are entitled to organise themselves to establish forms of self-government for critical social infrastructure including urban commons such as abandoned, unused or underused city assets. Christian Iaione, URBACT Lead Expert, tells us how Naples’ Good Practice is being transferred to other European cities thanks to the Civic eState project.


    The Civic eState network is all about the policy challenge of recognising and/or co-designing legal and sustainable urban commons governance mechanisms enabling city inhabitants and local communities constitutional rights to collectively act in the general interest.

    The urban commons are tangible and intangible assets, services and infrastructures functional to the exercise of fundamental rights considered by the city of Naples as collectively owned and therefore removed from the “exclusive use” proprietary logic to be governed through civic “direct management”.

    The revitalisation of the urban historical heritage represents a cultural, economic and social challenge, but also a spur for the city to re-elaborate its identity, creating a new bond with and between the local activists, civic entrepreneurs and the active citizenship scene.

    The city of Naples carved out a policy based on several city council and mayor’s office resolutions to overcome the traditional top-down command-and-control approach bringing city inhabitants to the centre of the decision-making and city assets management process, strengthening participation in political decisions relevant for the care and regeneration of the urban commons.

    These are new policy tools that aim to give back to the community public and private abandoned properties.

    Transferring Naples’ Good Practice on urban commons collective governance

    Naples’ Good Practice consists of enabling collective management of urban essential facilities conceived as urban commons. This public-community governance approach secures fair and open access, co-design, preservation and a social and economic sustainability model of urban assets and infrastructures, all for the benefit of future generations.

    Collective governance is carried out through the involvement of the community of neighbourhood inhabitants in designing, experimenting, managing, and delivering new forms of cultural and social services.

    The network’s objective is to transfer, with appropriate adaptations and improvements, Naples’ Good Practice to partner cities: Barcelona (ES), Gdansk (PL), Ghent (BE), Amsterdam (NL), Iasi (RO) and Presov (SK).

    The path to civic use

    During the last decade, the city of Naples has been experimenting with new urban governance tools to give new life to abandoned and/or deprived buildings. Different movements and informal organizations have highlighted the need for such spaces to be used and managed by city inhabitants in common through self-organization mechanisms that turn such spaces into new institutions. The civic use of these empty buildings implied a temporary use and it represented a starting point for their “renaissance”. It also created a stimulus to start searching for innovative mechanisms to use such spaces as community-managed or a community-managed estate.

    By revisiting the ancient legal institution of “civic use” and adapting it to the urban context, the administration structured a new form of participatory governance that intends to go beyond the classic “concession agreement model”, which is based on a dichotomous view of the public-private partnership.

    The civic use recognises the existence of a relationship between the community and these public assets. This process makes community-led initiatives recognisable and institutionalised, ensuring the autonomy of both parties involved. On one hand the citizens are engaged in the reuse of the urban commons and on the other hand the city administration enables the practice.

    Urban commons

    The first asset recognised as common property, to be managed through the collective governance mechanism of the civic use, was the ex-asilo Filangieri, an URBACT Good Practice (resolution of Naples City Council n. 893/2015). It is there that the first Declaration of Civic and Collective Urban Use was carved out.

    One year later, 7 other public properties were recognised by Naples City Council as “relevant civic spaces to be ascribed to the category of urban commons”: ex-Convento delle Teresiane: Giardino Liberato; Lido Pola; Villa Medusa; ex-OGP di Materdei; ex-Carcere Minorile – Scugnizzo Liberato; ex-Conservatorio S. Maria della Fede; ex-Scuola Schipa (resolution n. 446, 27 May 2016).

    The recognition will be finalised with appropriate agreements after the communities managing the spaces draft a Declaration of Civic and Collective Use, on the model of those of the ex-asilo, securing inclusivity, accessibility, impartiality and usability of the governance of the assets.

    In the future, the list can be enriched with more urban common resources. These assets were unutilised or under-utilised urban buildings and spaces, informally occupied and re-generated by informal communities that animate them and still contribute to their regeneration (in many cases, the renovation works could not be completed at the beginning of the informal management and were carried out through self-funding schemes). These assets constitute the civic heritage of the city of Naples, co-used and co-managed by Naples’ city inhabitants in the general interest.

    Public-civic partnerships: a transferable model

    Naples’ Good Practice (i.e. the civic uses resolution) has forged one of the first examples of a new generation of public partnerships, the public-community or public-civic partnership (PCPs). PCPs are aimed at transforming city assets into sustainable social infrastructures that produce public value and social impact through social & solidarity, cultural & creative, collaborative, digital and circular economy initiatives.

    Nicola Masella, lead partner, stresses the value of the Naples’ Good Practice for the EU by saying that “the mechanism proposed by the city of Naples, although anchored in the Italian legal system, is certainly characterised by a high degree of adaptability to other European urban contexts as it is based on largely shared ethical, legal and social values. In contrast to the models proposed by other Italian and European cities, where the municipality is in charge of setting up of the rules for the management of commons, the tool implemented in Naples has been built by recognising the citizens’ self-organization models, through a continuous exchange between the community and the municipality.

    A blueprint for the future?

    The Civic eState approach could generate a prototype methodology for cities to generate a new breed of cooperative agreements or projects between city governments and civic, social, local businesses aimed at developing cities through an integrated approach. In particular the civic uses resolution could be considered a blueprint for a larger category of legal tools in compliance with EU law, especially the relevant EU legislation on public procurement and state aid, stifling cooperation among urban actors in order to build and deliver social infrastructure and services such as education, healthcare and housing.

    It might also be able to generate through the hybridisation of these places and economic models new community-based job opportunities and forms of civic entrepreneurships. These cooperative agreements, partnerships or projects could be the basis for more sophisticated and solid forms of financing that could fund social projects through new funding mechanisms including social impact bonds, social project finance schemes and many other new public-private partnerships that involve the participation of long-term investors to generate a sustainability model through social bonds and impact investing mechanisms.


    Visit the network's page: Civic eState

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  • Rethinking welfare from a neighbourhood level

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    Version dating back from October 2015. Strategy for the contribution of URBACT III to Europe 2020 and the achievement of economic, social and territorial cohesion.
    Disadvantaged neighbourhoods

    A few kilometres south of Gdańsk’s world famous port, next to a roaring bypass, is the district of Orunia. For decades this area has been synonymous with neglect. Plagued by underinvestment and a lack of public spaces, and prone to flooding, it is an example of Poland’s ‘sociological vacuum’. This term, which is usually linked to the legacy of communism, describes a process where individuals retreat into small communities of family and close friends, with little participation in civic life.

    Among Polish cities, the municipality of Gdańsk has shown a particular commitment to challenging this phenomenon. One of the best examples can be seen in the neighbourhood house scheme. These spaces began to be established in 2010 on the initiative of local activists who were inspired by the British model of community centres. They are funded by municipal grants but everyday management is delegated entirely to NGOs and citizens’ collectives. Crucially, they do not serve a single group but are there to provide activities for the neighbourhood as a whole.

    Orunia is home to one of the first and most successful examples. The district’s neighbourhood house receives over 1 000 visits a month and functions, among other things, as a youth centre, debate club and immigration advice centre. The surrounding area has also seen a 1 000% increase in social initiatives since it was established.

    A house for every district

    Despite success stories like these, it became clear after a few years that the initiative wasn’t going to spread on its own. “Naming a place a neighbourhood house seemed to mean different things for different people,” says Monika Chabior, an activist from Gdańsk. “Lots of people saw it as too much responsibility to find the location, people to run the place and deal with finance. We realised we needed some processes for evaluating who we were and what our goals were.

    And so Ms Chabior and her colleagues sought inspiration from other European cities in the URBACT CHANGE! network. By being in this network, Gdańsk set up a local group of stakeholders (URBACT Local Group) to exchange with their European peers and to find solutions to the challenges they faced.

    Thanks to conversations in this local group, we made the decision to organise some smaller scale alternatives to neighbourhood houses, called clubs,” says Ms Chabior. “Unlike full-scale houses, these can be used for specific groups or single communities, and anyone can set them up.” Early signs suggest these intermediary structures have been an effective way of bypassing the perceived difficulty of developing neighbourhood houses. The hope now is that this will reignite a spontaneous expansion of different kinds of community centres across the city, led by a diverse group of local animators.

    A broader impact is also being seen in local politics. Ahead of municipal elections in October 2018, neighbourhood houses and community organising have been unusually high on the agenda. “This was a great success of the URBACT Local Group activities,” confirms Ms Magdalena Skiba, from the municipality's Department of Social Development. “Every candidate is talking about these issues, they are all promising more money, and neighbourhood houses for every district. Of course we have concerns, these spaces need real community leaders, but thanks to our work, the houses now have visibility like never before.

    Learning from other cities: an asset to the project

    “It was useful for us to focus on concrete solutions. We encountered a lot of subtle things that we wouldn’t have been able to see in, say, a document.” says Ms Chabior. During a visit to Rotterdam (NL), her team reflected on new ways of delegating roles to tackle a growing problem of exhaustion among managers of the neighbourhood houses. They also found inspiration in Eindhoven’s (NL) concept of a generalist, a mediator between residents and specialists who uses a personal approach to engage potentially marginalised groups. This was identified as a possible model for social workers in Gdańsk.

    It was a workshop on community organisation in London (UK), however, that provided the most transferable tools. “In the local group, one of our plans was to develop integration in and between districts,” says Magdalena Skiba. “For me, as a person coming from a department in charge of monitoring, supervision and control of public social services, to develop a common understanding among civil servants, service providers and activists was a very useful experience. This meeting also showed us that public administration has or can develop new tools to empower local communities to take over responsibility for their neighbourhoods.”

    Back in Poland the local group decided to build a dedicated space to encourage similar silo-breaking exchanges within the city. The Gdańsk School of Solidarity Everyday brought facilitators from neighbourhood houses together with municipal workers, social economy managers and other stakeholders to discuss how to stimulate bottom-up participation. Alongside local examples, the group studied URBACT Good Practices and drew up plans for a People To People (P2P) platform through which people might co-create a shared pedagogy in order to exchange knowledge more efficiently.


    You can find the Cities in Action - Stories of Change publication just here.

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  • An invitation to Madrid

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    Eddy Adams, SIX Adviser and URBACT Programme Expert says Europe’s cities are widening civic participation to innovate, drive change and nourish democracy.


    Decide Madrid (ES) is perhaps the world’s leading digital platform for engaging citizens in urban decision-making. With almost half a million registered members, it has re-wired the way Madrileños engage with local government. On 11th April 2019 URBACT will hold a capacity building event for cities looking to learn from Madrid’s experience.

    This will be a hands-on session, aimed at equipping participants with the basic know-how to adapt this approach in their own context. URBACT has co-designed it with Decide Madrid, and the programme will support participation of stakeholders from URBACT cities. Further details and the registration link can be found here.

    The stimulus for this event came from a series of City Lab activities that URBACT is conducting in relation to the Leipzig Charter. The charter introduced many of the key principles at the heart of today’s EU urban policy. The City Labs explore these and ways in which cities are interpreting and implementing them now. Participation is one of these principles, and the Decide Madrid approach was identified as a positive model in our first City Lab session.

    This article refers to the principles established by the Leipzig Charter. It also explains the URBACT City Lab approach and focuses on the key learning points from the Participation session held in Lisbon in late 2018. Finally, it refers to leading city work in encouraging civic participation, and what needs to happen to encourage more cities to fully embrace the participation principle.

    The URBACT City Labs

    2007 seems like a long time ago now. This was just before the Global Financial Crisis hit the buffers, when social media seemed like a passing fad and the word BREXIT hadn’t even been coined. In that year, under the German EU Presidency, the Leipzig Charter proposed an ambitious set of principles relating to urban policy.

    The Charter broke new ground. For the first time it underlined the need to have all levels of government at the table when urban issues were under debate. Most importantly, it stressed that cities had to be there – with an active voice – as equal players with national and EU level bodies. It also articulated a set of principles that have shaped urban policy in Europe – and beyond – since that point, most recently articulated through the subsequent Urban Agenda for the EU.

    Fast forward to now and Germany is once more preparing to assume the EU Presidency in the second part of 2020. As it does so, work is under way to revisit and to refresh the Leipzig Charter.

    The principles that came from the Charter – such as Participation, Integration and Sustainability – have long been at the centre of URBACT’s work. However, more than a decade after the charter’s appearance, these concepts are still not universally understood. In a European Commission survey of Baltic State cities last year, 8 out of 14 said that they were unclear about the concept of integrated sustainable urban development. Even when cities are clear on the concepts, they often struggle to implement them.

    That is why URBACT is organising a series of City Labs related to the Leipzig Charter principles. Five of these will take place between 2018 and 2020, with the first four each focused on a key principle. The first, exploring the principle of Participation took place in Lisbon in September 2018. The fifth will bring together all of our key messages and will be held in Berlin in the spring of 2020.

    In each City Lab our focus will be on how these principles are understood now. There will be space in each Lab to examine what is working well  - how cities are embedding these principles in their approaches – as well as the opportunity to examine where they are getting stuck. A key question relates to the obstacles preventing more cities from adopting these principles – and what needs to be done about them.

    Talking about Participation…

    Talking about civic participation, what do we see as the main differences between 2019 and 2007? A number of trends seem evident. One is diminishing levels of trust in established institutions. Linked to this, we see declining levels of political participation, particularly at the local level. There are also rising incidences of civil unrest, combined with the growth of populism in many parts of Europe.

    These are fast changing developments that many city authorities are struggling to respond to. However, Our City Lab activity clearly shows that many cities are adopting a proactive approach, characterized by a willingness to experiment and to redefine the working relationship with citizens. The driver for this is often a belief that our established governance tools no longer meet our needs – particularly in the digital age.

    This was the starting point in the Portuguese city of Cascais, where local voting rates had fallen to below 40% by 2011. In response, it created a participatory budget model that is now widely acknowledged to be exemplary. Using a mix of digital and traditional engagement tools, Cascais has built this so that it now accounts for 18% of the total investment budget and has directly involved 115,00 citizens, more than half the population. This Cascais approach has been recognised with an URBACT Good Practice award.

    In nearby Lisbon, another URBACT Good Practice is at the heart of a new Transfer network called Com.Unity.Lab. Devolving power and promoting citizen participation is also at the heart of this activity, specifically the city’s innovative Community Led Local Development (CLLD) model. The subject of an earlier URBACT article, this approach has focused on the city’s most deprived 67 neighbourhoods, enabling investment of over €9 million channelled through over 250 projects. Two interesting dimensions of the approach are its strong focus on neighbourhood capacity building and the requirement placed on grassroots organisations to collaborate.

    Lisbon’s CCLD approach has benefited from strong political support. During the City Lab session, Deputy Paula Marquez spoke about the importance of neighbourhood approaches and that fact that “Cities must face global threats with local strategies.” Inspirational leadership has also been a catalytic factor behind the experiments in civic participation undertaken in Gdansk, Poland, another prominent City Lab contributor.

    The death of Pawel Adamowicz in early 2019 is a huge loss to Europe’s urban policy community. At such times we seek small consolations, and one of these is the legacy of his commitment to involving citizens in Gdansk’s decision-making processes. We cannot speak about participation without talking about power. Here in Gdansk we saw a Mayor elected three times, pushing for this kind of change from the very top – mindful of the long shadow of mistrust between citizens and the state, after years of Communist rule.

    The city authority’s experience in supporting civic participation has included place-making projects like the Coal Market, where citizens took charge of the reuse of a high profile public space. But it was Gdansk’s response to the 2016 floods that moved it towards more systemic deliberative processes, such as the design and implementation of Citizens Assemblies. Through this, they have learned to focus these processes on specific problems, with key lessons along the way. One of these, described during the City Lab sessions was that “the narrower the topic, the better the recommendations”.

    And so to Madrid, that in the spring of 2019 is organising its own version of the Citizen Assembly – labelled a Citizens Observatory – widening its repertoire of participatory tools. Following the lead of cities like Adelaide and Toronto, Madrid is utilizing a sortation model to create a representative panel of 49 citizens to act as a sounding board on city policies. The City Authority has been at pains to ensure that its composition reflects that of the city population, for example by making sure that there are more women than men on board.

    Madrid’s plans to establish a Citizens’ Observatory are on the back of the success of Decide Madrid. This evolved from the new administration’s commitment to widening the civic participation process. From a single initiative focused on the redesign of a city square, it has grown into a major crowdsourcing platform. More than 20 000 proposals have been submitted by citizens via the portal, which commits the city to implementing those receiving enough backing from citizens. Voting is a mix of postal and digital platform, with over 200 projects funded to date through a budget of EUR 100 million.

    Participation – the next steps

    Our cities face increasingly complex wicked problems. At a time when we also see growing levels of polarization amongst citizens, new tools are needed to find solutions and to repurpose our democracies.

    The city level provides an ideal platform to try and test these new solutions. However, many cities still lack the knowledge and capacity to follow the lead of the ones we showcase here. Supporting them to do this will be important, if the European Commission’s commitment to bring Europe closer to its citizens is to succeed.

    URBACT has a role to play in this. The programme’s mandate to involve all relevant stakeholders in this urban development process reflects its connection to the Leipzig Charter principle of participation. The Madrid event in April forms part of that work, and it will be followed by other interventions in the coming months. We hope to see you there.

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  • How mobility becomes an integrated part of our city development

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    Right before the start of this year’s URBACT City Festival in Lisbon I found myself sitting at the waterfront at Praça do Comércio, enjoying the atmosphere with people and boats passing by. Later, I discovered this beautiful area around Largo Corpo Santo and Porta do Mar, just a few minutes walk from Praça do Comércio, too. I was surprised to learn during the festival workshops that just a few years ago, my perception of Lisbon’s urban spaces would have been very different. Where people now meet and linger, cars were parked – far from creating a charming atmosphere! So, what happened over the years? asks Claus Kollinger

    Planning for people and not for vehicles – how urban mobility becomes an integrated part of our city development

    Shift in planning – or “cars evaporate!”

    Urban design

    Lisbon (PT) is seeing a paradigm shift in urban space use. Public space is no longer seen as an asset for car traffic on a large scale. Instead, it is dedicated to a multitude of use embracing transport with more sustainable mobility options.

    “Cars evaporate” is what Prof. Tiago Farias told us at the City Festival workshop dedicated to urban mobility planning. Lisbon’s recent and longer term experience prove him right. And, Lisbon is not alone in its endeavour to take traffic out of the urban space to create a more liveable city. More and more cities in Europe are turning their transport planning approach on its head – abandoning the idea of providing space to growing traffic volumes in favour of putting the actual city’s and citizens’ needs at the centre of development.

    Planning for people and with people

    The idea of putting people at the centre of urban mobility planning emerged with the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) concept over the last ten years across Europe. Now, it is a success story thanks to an integrated planning approach to urban mobility development. The SUMP concept innovates transport planning in a range of areas, like putting emphasis on accessibility for all, quality of life and supporting cleaner transport options. They place mobility in the frame of the city ‘s very fabric, cooperating with diverse sectors and within overall development goals. They do not stop at city limits but consider commuting in and out too. They cater for goods and people’s movement employing all available transport services. But most of all, they apply an integrated planning approach involving citizens and all concerned stakeholders to truly plan for people with people.

    SUMPS mean a giant leap in transport planning. While transport planning focused on providing space for the emergence of cars during the last century and then saw the re-emergence of public transport and cycling, SUMPs now seek to answer the needs of a complex dynamic of societal, economic and technological changes cities are facing thanks to a well-structured planning process. They identify the current state of play connected to existing challenges, looking at future development pathways to create a development vision and select fitting priorities and actions to this vision. The plan details resources, responsibilities, timelines as well as monitoring and evaluating schemes. SUMPs are the blueprint of a comprehensive policy for urban mobility development. But as is often the case, the step from theory to practice is the hardest one, how do we match the SUMP idea with life in cities?

    Many roads lead to Rome

    This challenge was at the heart of URBACT’s CityMobilNet network. Facing 11 different locations, conditions and development histories, it quickly became clear that there is no “one-fits-all” solution at hand. The diversity ranged from small cities of 15.000 inhabitants to larger metropolis of more than half a million, from experienced SUMP practitioners to complete newcomers, from mobility cultures valuing public transport to cycling or walking dominated cities - as well as centralised planning traditions to participation practitioners... The network partners needed to apply solutions tailored to their local conditions for their SUMP development.

    Where to start?

    Identifying the right problem turned out to be crucial. The City of Slatina (RO) worked with the interlinkage of effects and causes and involved the entire URBACT Local Group: 97 people from public officials, security services, educational representatives, NGOs, local and international businesses and the media. The novelty was in quality and quantity of the community point of view received and integrated to the problem description. For Slatina, working methodologically at identifying the city’s problem jointly with the city society proved a new and positive experience.

    The Greek city of Agii Anargyri & Kamatero (GR) took another road by approaching the problems and challenges from the view of children and families. The local team went back to school and talked with pupils, teachers and parents to identify their mobility related needs and challenges. Starting with schools, they could map the requirements to accommodate the mobility needs of local families.

    The town of Morne-a-l’Eau (FR) again based the start of their SUMP development on well-existing resources: work groups, objectives and knowledge out of the Local Agenda 21 process, especially in relation to the town’s plan for its eco-quartier. Taken from there, the necessities to develop a sustainable urban mobility scheme for Morne-a-l’Eau were developed jointly with the local stakeholders and citizens.

    Going step by step or taking it all at once?

    The actual planning process took different formats in the network cities, too. In Gdansk (PO), the technical topics of urban mobility were processed one by one, starting with the most eminent challenge of parking space management and then continuing to public transport, cycling and other areas of urban mobility. The local CityMobilNet partner employed a large set of workshops for this step-by-step approach always involving a core group to all topics and extending it to interested persons and concerned stakeholders. Political buy-in was taken care of by presenting to the group of Vice Mayors and thorough citizen involvement by going to the city districts focussing on people’s needs and concerns there.

    The City of Bielefeld (DE) contrasts to Gdansk by taking a global view of planning urban mobility. Here, a careful analysis of the entire mobility network and services was put in place including a

    survey on current mobility choices and behaviour used to create a detailed picture ranging from city-wide to single locality challenges. The Bielefeld URBACT Local Group elaborated the global vision and six priorities out of this covering all aspects of relevance to Bielefeld’s urban mobility development. The policy field cross-connecting nature of a SUMP is clearly visible by the choice in priorities: “liveable city and road space”. Bielefeld continued its global approach by applying a “Future Workshop” to establish actions and measure packages to the vision and priorities: stakeholders from Bielefeld, but as well outside the area worked with maps, statistics and the pre-work results gathering knowledge as well as the opinions of cyclists, automobile-federations, public transport bodies, teachers, doctors and police personnel. Another speciality of Bielefeld’s comprehensive planning process was to continuously include all political parties present in the city council on the progress and the next steps of the planning process.

    Bottom-up and “top-down”?

    Does size matter? The clear answer from the CityMobilNet network is “yes”, since it directly impacts conditions and opportunities at hand. The Metropole Aix Marseille Provence (FR) had the task of breaking down its regional sustainable mobility strategy – the regional SUMP –  detailing the local level. Acting as the responsible planning and implementation entity for the mobility development in their area, the Metropole employed local knowledge and needs of Cassis, La Ciotat and Ceyreste to design the future urban mobility network and services in these municipalities. They needed to align the regional objectives to the diverse local conditions of a tourist destination, a former shipyard town and a residential dominated community. Local knowledge and positions were key to come up with fitting measures for the areas by the supra-local administration of a Metropole.

    The South East Region of Malta (MA) used a very much “bottom-up” approach for its planning process including direct talks with citizens and stakeholders of the many local regional councils to establish the picture of mobility development needs. Engaged local politicians employed their local networks to virtually include all interested persons in problem analysis and solution development. It is best to talk to people directly to learn what they need and then think about it, is what local politicians like Lawrance Attard stressed. This open-minded policy of citizen participation works by keeping council meetings public – by physical presence or online streaming.

    Don’t be afraid to go your own way

    Applying the SUMP concept and process is very much worthwhile for any town and city. But, towns and cities have different local backgrounds and capacities and might not be used to run a complex integrated planning process. Here are some tips for the journey ahead:

    • Make it fit

    Don’t be afraid to tailor the concept and process to your local conditions. The product of the planning process needs to suit your city development. Stick to the SUMP concept and process, but not at any cost.

    • Sharing is caring

    Exchange with other cities and look for others’ practise examples and experiences. Useful online resources are the ELTIS section on Urban Mobility Plans, the SUMP Network website and the Civitas Initiative.

    • Identify issues

    Take care and time to identify the problems at hand as done by Slatina involving stakeholders and citizens on assessing problems, causes and effects.

    • Communicate with stakeholders

    Take care of participation and be clear on which role stakeholders and citizens should take in your case. Should they be sources of ideas, concerns and opinions? Or advisors? Or decision makers having a say? They are clearly a valuable resource to involve but be clear in communication! Urban mobility is a complex topic with many interrelations and specialist knowledge at hand. Stakeholders and citizen need to understand what they are discussing and working on.

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  • Cities in migration - A conversation with Anne Bathily on integration

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    I have first met Anne Bathily, expert on integration policies former policy officer at European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and now at UNHCR for Northern Europe, in the early meetings of the EU Urban Agenda Inclusion of migrants and refugees.

    Since then, we entered in never ending and always enriching informal conversations about  the role of cities in integration of migrants and refugees.

    This article is a recollection of our conversations. It looks forward at ways to capitalise on the work that URBACT network Arrival cities has achieved in the last 2 years.


    URBACT programme provides the framework for creating multi-stakeholders groups at local level, the URBACT Local Groups. It also links national and European administrations to coordinate inclusive policies.

    Arrival cities shows different facets of the challenges cities face such as the urgency to fulfil short-term (accommodation, access to health, education, social support), as well as long-term needs (child protection, provide assistance for mental and physical health and dealing with gender-based violence).

    On 24 April 2018, Arrival Cities holds its final event at the Committee of the regions in Brussels with the participation of both cities practitioners and elected representatives.

    Yet the URBACT works in a rapidly changing situation, in which growing xenofobic and anti-migrant sentiments are sustained by political parties in several European countries, creating a more hostile environment for investing in integration policies.

    Integration policies of third country nationals

    The term “third country nationals”encompasses a diversity of people (international students, workers from third countries, people looking for international protection, people who are undocumented, family members, etc.) with different rights, opportunities and difficulties. While some integration policies or measures may target specific groups according to States or cities’ interests (such as students or skilled workers), some are developed according to specific channels of migration (e.g. resettled or relocated refugees). Some groups are not covered by any integration policies although they live in the territory (undocumented people).

    Although integration is a long-term and maybe a never-ending process (understood under the term “social cohesion”), second and third generations of people descendants of migrants of earlier “waves” are not third country nationals but nationals. One of the objectives of today’s debates and investment on newcomers’ integration is exactly to avoid mistakes of the past that created long-term social cohesion issues.

    Integration paradoxes

    Since the sudden arrivals in 2015-2016 and the resulting 2015 political crisis, the issue of third country nationals’ integration, and in particular refugees, has received great attention. This resulted in integration policies being developed, in increased exchange among stakeholders at all level, involvement of new stakeholders (e.g. private sector or tech professionals), in increased financial investment, media attention, etc, interestingly even in countries that received few refugees and migrants.

    At the same time, it has become a very sensitive political issue, which lead to the implementation of restrictions and the rise in negative discourses and attitudes.

    We are now in a paradoxical situation in most European countries where, on the one hand, fast integration is a priority for most authorities (including cities) and stakeholders, while on the other hand, other authorities put in place deterring and integration-counterproductive measures (e.g. differential treatment between statuses, duration of residence permits, obstacles to renew permits, family reunification, citizenship, etc.).

    In practice, this means for instance that while some States and the European Union dedicate resources to integrate people into the labour market, some Ministries of Interior reduce length of residence permits creating as such a disincentive to employ new comers.

    Cities role in integrating newcomers

    Cities deal with all these changes and the paradoxes of integration. They are kind of markers of policy implementation, and in that sense they can either drive or undermine implementation of integration policies. Ultimately, cities are the place where we can see concrete impacts policies have not only on foreign population, but on the whole population.

    Some of restrictions to integration mentioned above are designed at supra-local level. They make service provision more complex at city-level due, for instance, to increased vulnerabilities among certain groups of migrants and refugees. In other terms, cities administrations have to deal not only with impact of policies that are beyond their competence, but also with social tensions, in which  foreigners are increasingly taken as scapegoats for socio-economic issues.

    It is interesting to see how some cities decide and manage to overcome some of these barriers to impose an inclusive vision of integration that is beneficial for all. In the last three years, we have seen cities being much more active on reception/integration, both at national and EU level.

    Big cities are more vocal while interesting experiences of small/medium cities are often not visible enough.There are also many examples of cities which have been active in welcoming new comers despite the hostile political environment at National level (cities took official positions against their government e.g. Grande Synthe - Calais (FR), Gdansk (PL); Erlangen (DE), Ghent (BE)).

    They showed the complexity of challenges they are facing, and some creativity in solutions put in place. They are now fully recognised as major integration stakeholders. The question is to what extend cities will shape integration/migration policies, and contribute to social peace. This is the real challenge.

    Can cities coalitions and programmes such as URBACT make a difference in the European context?

    Capacity building is obviously an area where networks such as URBACT contribute. On integration issues, and due to the fact that challenges are linked to policies beyond cities’ competence, it is crucial to strengthen cities’ knowledge of migration and asylum issues.

    Capacity building cannot be done in silo, but should be multi-dimensional (multi-stakeholder coordination both at national and local level). Capacity building will better equip cities and the way they deliver services to newcomers (e.g. access to information for instance being one of the major difficulties for newcomers, regardless of their status).

    While cities are obviously more vocal, they still lack efficient ways to communicate at national and European level. Cities’ ability to reach out broader audience will determine their sphere of influence. The EU Urban Agenda inclusion of migrants and refugees is tackling these issues, and URBACT is part of this process.

    More than anything else, there is an urgency to shift the way migration is perceived in general. In a context where poverty and inequality issues are increasingly associated to a globalised world, migration is mainly perceived as a threat, phenomenon exacerbated by security issues. The current importance of integration and the role of cities offer a maybe unique momentum.

    Cities are the spaces of both mobility and settlement. While integration is still viewed as a process to settle in one place, practices and realities in cities show a much more complex and dynamic picture.

    In the same way that people have multiple identities (being foreigner or not), they evolve in multiple spaces (geographic or virtual).

    This multiplicity does not compete with local participation. Actually it might even be the opposite. Successful integration is often associated to transnational activities (business, development, culture, etc.); when people feel they belong to a place, and do not have to struggle with integration issues, their ability to engage increases. Cities could lead this vision of integration.

    Another important aspect in our European context is that restrictions in migration/asylum areas have lead to preventing refugees and migrants to move within Europe. In reality, people move from countries to countries, cities to cities. This phenomenon poses indeed a number of legal and practical challenges. However, States’ focus on mobility management leads to absurd situations in reality. Forcing people to remain in one place never brought any kind of sustainable solution, and recent European history provides numerous examples.

    Integration obviously takes place at local level. However, and again, integration in a European context cannot be restricted to settlement in only one place. Like any other EU citizen, once being granted a status, people should be able to study, work, and live where they can, integrate where they find opportunities. This would be the European vision of integration.

    Some cities are already in this reality, and they should further promote it.

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  • From participative to personal budgets: the power of responsibility sharing

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    We can improve public services for local communities and individuals by giving them more control rather than imposing top down governmental programmes on them. This belief has led to a boom in “participative budgets” witnessed across Europe (and the world), as one of the easiest tools putting rights in the hands of communities. However, there has been less attention on the individual level, i.e., personal budget schemes that could activate citizens to make a change in their lives. URBACT CHANGE! partner city Aarhus (DK) was recently awarded the URBACT Good Practice Call label for its pioneering personal budget scheme tackling long-term unemployment. This article gives an overview of this innovative set of policy tools and suggests we might pay more attention to them.

    Anne Mette, a graphic designer living in Aarhus, had been out of the job market for a lengthy period, mainly caring for her three young kids and chronically ill husband. Looking to return to work, she found herself in an extremely challenging situation when the local Jobcentre asked her the following question: what could she do with a personal grant of ca. €6725 if she could decide how to spend it in order to get a job. She hesitated but finally took the opportunity. Anne launched a micro-business with the grant. Now she produces hand-made, leather aprons for local restaurants with a great and increasing success. This is still not a big business, but a huge first step for Anne Mette. 

    Sharing responsibility leads to stronger citizenship

    Jobs and skills

    When you are unemployed, “you actually start thinking to yourself that you indeed cannot do anything to change your situation” – Anne Mette says in the short film published on the CHANGE! website by Aarhus. What Aarhus is experimenting now within its “Long-term unemployed take the lead” initiative is to share the responsibility related to public services between the public and the personal level. Participative budgets, already a well-known policy tool at community level seem to be working on a personal level too. So what are the benefits and the potential risks when a city authority intends to revolutionise its governance by sharing responsibility with citizens?

    Understanding the power of responsibility sharing by local leaders was one of the main milestones when Porto Alegre in Brazil launched the world’s first participative or as sometimes called citizen budget in 1989. Today we are witnessing the expansion of this tool worldwide. In the URBACT CHANGE! network for example, Gdańsk (PL) and Amarante (PT) have experience on how to capitalise on the vibrant and growing power of direct involvement of people and communities. How to share decision-making, how to enable communities to work with budget holders to define local priorities, identify available resources and allocate these resources accordingly is a key learning point both for the respective councils and local people (see the CHANGE! Baseline Study or the case study on Gdańsk and Amarante).

    So what are the benefits of participatory budgeting? Why do hundreds of European cities allocate resources for such initiatives? The story starts with the individuals involved: they feel themselves empowered, listened to and engaged, even if the money allocated for participatory budgets is very small in comparison with the city’s overall budget. More importantly, participatory budgeting can increase the connectedness of those involved, and such a tool also improves the understanding of public services within the local community. In addition, practitioners and leaders feel supported and understood and all of this generates greater trust and community cohesion, even if budget decisions are not specifically linked to local neighbourhoods.

    But we also know that there are several challenges regarding participatory budgets, mainly linked to their sustainability. Maintaining the increased, but rather sensitive trust generated by such an action requires strong commitment, especially from political leaders. Participatory budgets are not just an interesting “toy” to offer for the public before elections. It is indeed a challenge not only to maintain the volume of the first initiative in terms of the territories covered, budget and interest, but to increase the potential impact in all senses. Experience shows that it is often hard to maintain the atmosphere of this new engagement – and it is always easy to lose them.

    Long-term unemployed take the lead

    The Danish city of Aarhus, in cooperation with the Velux Foundation, has been running this ground-breaking social experiment since the beginning of 2016 in the city. Jobcentre Aarhus hosts this pilot in which long-term unemployed persons over 30 years of age who have been on cash benefits for at least one year can prepare their own budgets to finance initiatives aimed at finding employment for them (support is up to DKK 50,000 per participant, ca. €6725€). The pilot involves 100 participants in two years and gets high attention both from national institutions and the press due to its innovative character.


    The participants can apply for money for everything ranging from acquiring a driver’s licence and upgrading courses to new suits or electric bicycles. Funds may be disbursed to the project participants for any given purpose as long as the individual participants can account for how this will bring them closer to employment. The vision is that the individual becomes the driving force in their own job performance and that this will increase their chances of getting a job.

    Although final assessment is not available yet, based on interviews (Status Report by City of Aarhus) made in January 2017 with a total of 34 participants, some initial, but promising messages can be derived. Initial results show that 14 out of 27 applicants who took part in phases 2 and 3 are no longer on unemployment benefits. In addition, based on the interviews most participants felt:

    • That someone has confidence in them
    • A renewed faith in their ability to find a job
    • A boost to their personal and vocational self-confidence
    • That the job consultant can finally provide them with assistance that they can use

    Participants feel that the project differs from the usual programmes by:

    • Being tailored to meet their specific needs
    • Being built on trust from the job consultant, rather than control
    • Being based on the participant’s own initiative and responsibility
    • Resulting in marked personal ownership of the process.

    Personalising social care

    Before launching its initiative Aarhus has analysed some examples in England, where “there is agreement across the social care sector that personalisation, through personal budgets, is the right way forward and that well-implemented, personalised services benefit users and result in better outcomes. England is leading the world in personalising social care but this means that we are breaking new ground” (Personal budgets in social care, Second Report of Session 2016-2017).

    In England, personal budgets in social care are sums of money allocated by a local authority to service users to be spent on services to meet their care needs. They can be managed on behalf of users by the authority, or a third party, or given to users as direct payments: money to spend themselves. They enable users to have more choice and control over the services they receive, tailoring their care to their personal circumstances and the outcomes they want to achieve. “When implemented well, personal budgets allow adults to try new ways to meet their social care needs, give them more choice and control over the care they receive and give them the opportunity to achieve the outcomes they want from their care” – states the above report. However, using personal budgets for employment is a relatively new topic in England too. According to the results of the first initiatives regarding employment, where personal budgets for employment support have been experimented with, they can and do work. “We therefore feel it should be the priority to ensure employment support can be accessed through adult social care personal budgets”- recommends the above report.

    There are also lots of criticism and risks around implementing personal budget schemes. The most obvious challenge is that more vulnerable users, and those who lack mental capacity, will find it more difficult to take control of their care. They are less likely to be able to make good decisions on their own about how best to meet their care needs. Only a complex system can differentiate such a service to maximise benefits to users. In addition to this, yet in more advanced countries like the UK, the government has not gathered enough evidence yet on what are the best ways to personalise care services to maximise the benefits to users. This is why the above UK report recommends for the central government to set up a robust system to monitor personal budget schemes.

    Another core question, which should be answered by the evaluation of Aarhus’ experiment is how to differentiate the system related to the barriers different people face when applying for personalised care. Aarhus’ experiment started on the way that the job consultants themselves selected the most potential participants for self-budgeting, while participants in latter phases were randomly selected through registration numbers on the basis of some predefined criteria. This process resulted in an increase in the number of citizens who declined the offer to participate in that scheme. This is a crucial point here. As some people face more barriers to utilising such a personalised scheme, Aarhus’ experiment and all other similar systems should also evaluate who might be more likely to benefit such an innovative tool.

    Aarhus’s experiment also tackled this issue through an organisational method. The pilot offered two different courses for participants: a collective- and an individual one. In the collective courses participants meet with other applicants and thus they can learn from other’s experiences with self-budgeting. In the individual courses participants meet one-on-one with their case manager. The results so far indicate that peer support might have a crucial role: participants strongly prefer collective courses where they can get inspiration from peers, as some find it challenging to figure out what they want to spend the money on. They feel more comfortable discussing ideas with fellow unemployed citizens than with case managers.

    The role of cities regarding changing care systems

    Local authorities’ role within the public service delivery varies country by country and legislation is set at national or regional level. It seems that cities have a less important role in managing the change required within service delivery. Although it is not yet clear how local authorities can implement personal budgets in different countries, we do hope that in the future more and more municipalities, as the closest level of the public sphere to local communities will come up with solutions targeting public service reform. Also from URBACT cities...

    Creating a united society takes a united effort. In order to maintain and develop a robust social and economic welfare society, politicians, citizens, businesses, associations and municipal employees must rethink how we work together”. This is set by Aarhus in its ‘Active Citizenship Policy’, a general policy framework created in 2016. Following this mind-set and carefully going further with participatory budgets is thus recommended for all municipalities: keep the momentum and improve the existing participative budgets with the involvement of strong community institutions for neighbourhood governance (e.g. neighbourhood councils, installing local innovation brokers) and set up other incentives such as community dividends! Following the first successful steps to share responsibilities with the communities, it is also recommended to experiment the power of responsibility sharing through personal budgets, even though this seems to be a more risky and complex tool!

    Welfare 2.0

    Last, but not least it is worth mentioning the bigger picture. Personal budget schemes are a great example to test and demonstrate how an ideal public service provision should work. “Welfare State products used to be good solutions for the previous, rather predictable life paths, but, in nowadays’ globalised world, they are simply not good enough anymore and they are also becoming more and more expensive” - said Jeroen Hoenderkamp, strategic advisor of the city of Eindhoven, where a pioneer model, the WeEindhoven is being tested. Due to austerity measures local authorities across Europe must save money in times when demand for social care rises. The most effective response resulting in ‘doing more for less’ is often called as Relational or Preventive Welfare.

    Existing top-down services too often reproduce social inequalities, create dependency and cannot efficiently tackle new problems (ageing societies, constant labour market disparities, migration, the scale of inequality, etc). In addition to this, existing services are poor at preventing social problems, and better equipped for reacting to emergencies, which is very expensive. A growing amount of evidence shows that top-down service delivery is too often a rather expensive way of maintaining the status-quo of those disadvantaged families who lack basic skills and are thus not able to break out of the vicious circle of support claiming.

    We are in the middle of a fundamental transformation of the welfare state. We are breaking with the classical conception of welfare as a standard benefit or service, and we are breaking with the time when a case manager could offer a standard product to all citizens. In these years the municipalities are making experiments with new forms of welfare – co-created with citizens and businesses.” – said Anne Eg Jensen from Aarhus in her article about the above personal budget initiative.

    At the moment we can witness different experiments on very different scale in Europe. Whatever will be the outcomes of these initiatives, and whatever will be recommended by the first evidence, at the moment it seems that effective services are those that are local, that help people help themselves and focus on people’ capabilities instead of their needs. Personal budgets are pioneering examples of this change.

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  • So stay hotel


    A socially responsible hotel to train young people leaving foster care for adult life

    Magdalena Skiba
    Head of the Local Cooperation and Social Innovation Unit, Municipality of Gdansk
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    So Stay Hotel was established by the Social Innovation Foundation in cooperation with the Municipality of Gdansk (PL) and business partners in 2016. The hotel was created to change the lives of young people who grew up outside of the family, in care homes. The innovative hotel's operational model - the first in Poland - combines a market approach with social responsibility. Young people gain qualification and experience under the guidance of professionals on the working site, which is highly valued in the open labour market. Youths participating in the employment programme are provided with housing support organised by the Foundation. This support gives young people opportunities to leave care facilities and start an independent, adult life.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    At the starting point the practice shows how the three sectors can work together on meeting the challenges important to the city and the citizens. It is an example of a social enterprise where young people who have individual problems getting education and vocational training in the public school system can get qualifications on the work site while earning an income and starting an independent life. Supporting young people to succeed in adulthood prevents them from returning to the welfare system. Young people learn a profession and get their first professional experience under the guidance of professionals. They learn in real working conditions. Acquiring experience and practical skills allows them to gain a first job in the open market. At an early age they are given the opportunity to build a belief in work values and life responsibilities. Participation in the internship and first job programme at the hotel is also linked to housing assistance organised by the Foundation (assisted living). Individuals (trainee, apprentice, hotel worker) in difficult housing situations have the opportunity to rent accommodations on preferential terms, in premises managed by the Foundation. To secure this, the Foundation created a three-sector cooperation with the municipality and business which enables it to acquire apartments from the city's municipal resources, and repair and equip them in cooperation with business partners and young people themselves.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    So Stay Hotel and the programmes combined with it (vocational training, job coaching, social housing) as a Good Practice refer to URBACT principles by the holistic approach in its mission and in the daily execution of this mission. It was designed and is managed now in the participatory, co-creative way involving civil, public and private sectors and the users into the whole process (public property managed by civil society organisation as a social enterprise, coached and mentored by business sector representatives and involving youngsters themselves). It aims to be the remedy for poverty combating and social exclusion of the socially challenged young people. It has an influence on physical, economic and social spheres of the city of Gdansk and is oriented for driving change in the city towards the sustainable urban living. So Stay Hotel is also an answer to Gdansk socio-economic strategy, especially social policy objectives. The motto of the hotel is “Responsible for Business - Responsible for Community”. This is an action field strengthening the development of urban community residents, creating opportunities and conditions for harnessing the potential of residents, regardless of their birth status and education.

    Based on a participatory approach

    The opening of So Stay Hotel was preceded by a three-year participatory process in which young people helped to shape the mentoring concept. Young people took part in the EU-funded project “POMOST na rynek pracy” (“Bridge to job market”) where they had an opportunity to take part in internship and skills development, as well as workshops, study visits and professional training. Study visits at the “Pan Cogito” hotel helped the young people to find out about the managerial competence needed to run a hotel. A team of five young people helped to create a working structure of So Stay and was the core of the first team of the hotel vocational training programme. Some people from this group have since found employment on the open labour market. Young people’s learning process during the planning, testing and creating phase of So Stay was crucial to developing the Hotel’s working frame as it is now. On the other hand representatives of the business sector, especially of the Craftsmen Chamber and restaurant owners, were supporting the Foundation to build a business model for this enterprise.

    What difference has it made?

    It has made a difference in the physical, economic and social spheres of the city life. Physical: an old, devastated building and its surroundings, located near the city centre, was regenerated and got a new image, raising the quality of public spaces in the neighbourhood. Social: after two years of operation the results are: • Five people have found employment on the open job market (outside of So Stay); • 10 people ages 16-18 have completed an internship programme and continue their formal education; • 10 people (50%) from the So Stay staff are employed in the professional development programme, including one person in a managerial position; • 12 young people are living independently, receiving slight non-financial support from the Foundation. Economic: the business model of So Stay Hotel and the social housing programme enables socially challenged youngsters to start their self-sufficient independent life without any support from the welfare system.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    The practice will be interesting for other European cities due to its transferability, including: • The integrated approach to assisting young people in the transition to adulthood and independence (mentoring, paid internships, assisted living); • The integration of potential benefits in the business, civil and public sectors; • Cutting the operational costs of assisting young people and eliminating their dependency on social benefits and the welfare system; • A sustainable social business model.

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  • A city fighting climate change: How Nantes got its citizens to talk energy transition

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    Tackling climate change was never going to be easy. But in the afterglow of the Paris COP21 Agreement, at least it seemed that we were moving in the right direction. By late 2016, the biggest polluters were signed up, and there appeared to be consensus on the scale and urgency of the problem, as well as on what needed to be done. What a difference a year can make. From where we are now, feels like we have another mountain – or two – to climb.

    Urban design

    In all of this, perhaps the biggest battle is taking place within citizen’s heads. Given the magnitude and complexity of the global warming challenge, it’s easy to feel that, as individuals, we can make little difference. At times like this, mobilising public interest and stimulating civic action is critically important. But making the threat of climate change real is a complicated business – especially when so many people are worried about jobs, housing and other pressing daily issues.

    It’s in cities where this battle will be won or lost. That’s one of the reasons why URBACT networks like Freight Tails, Resilient Europe and, previously, EVUE are so important. The late Benjamin Barber was right when he recently underlined the key role cities play in addressing climate change. As he notes, there is a lot to take encouragement from, as cities introduce all sorts of creative ways to improve the urban environment. Medellin’s Metrocable, Oslo’s Tesla taxis and Seoul’s electric bus fleet are amongst them.

    Yet, many of these urban initiatives reflect a top-down approach to imposing solutions. This week saw the publication of another gloomy set of World Health Organisation statistics relating to air quality. This shows that apart from the Nordic countries, our urban air quality levels remain dangerously high across much of the EU. Most citizens worry about this, but many feel disempowered to do much about it. So, what can city authorities do?

    Reframing the discussion

    Civic participation can be an ambivalent issue for city administrations. People power, once unleashed, can be an irresistible force, and not always for good. However, it is clear that we are living in a period where the relationship between politicians and the people is being redefined. It is also clear, for many city authorities at least, that with diminishing rates of electoral participation, the legitimacy of their actions can be questioned. We also know is that it is at the local level, where new trusted connections between citizens and government are best created.

    Consequently, cities across Europe are exploring new ways to involve citizens in their decision-making processes. Within URBACT, many cities, including Amersfoort and Gdansk, have tested new mechanisms. Current networks such as CHANGE! are also exploring this theme, which was also well represented in the response to the recent URBACT call for good practices.

    In specific relation to the climate change debate, the city of Nantes – an URBACT city and active Eurocities member – has been pioneering work in this field with some success.

    Situated in northwest France, Nantes has a population of 630,000 inhabitants, 36% of whom are aged under 25. Enjoying a reputation for a healthy work-life balance, it was the first French city to be awarded the status of European Green Capital, in 2013. An active member of Energy Cities, Nantes has a commitment to reducing carbon emission rates by 50% by 2030 (compared to a 2003 baseline) and to triple its production of renewable energy in the same timeframe.

    During the past eighteen months the city has been on an innovative journey that will conclude in the autumn of 2017. This has taken the form of a Grand Débat, or Big Debate, about the city’s future energy transition. The end point will be a Citizens’ Commission report that will inform a new energy transition roadmap adopted by the Nantes Metropolitan Authority. But Nantes’ real end point is much more ambitious – a genuinely participative approach to managing the city’s energy transition.

    The Big Debate

    The Big Debate has been a thoughtful and well-planned process. Prior to the launch in September 2016, there was one year of preparation, and a commitment to invest €630,000 (€1 per citizen) in the process, supported by a project team of five over an 18 month period. Alongside them, an independent commission of four volunteer citizens has overseen the process. Their role has included guaranteeing the openness of the debate and producing the final Commission Report.

    The Big Debate focused on four key questions:

    • What lifestyle transitions do we have to make?
    • What new urban planning opportunities and tools are available?
    • What extent of local energy ownership should there be?
    • What are the opportunities for innovation, employment and inclusion?

    So, what steps did Nantes take to encourage citizen involvement? Following a high profile publicity launch, made alongside key stakeholder organisations throughout the city, a number of tools were used. Individuals could attend know-how sessions that outlined new energy developments. They could also submit suggestions online or via social media #NantesTransitions. More tangibly, a huge pink travelling container gave the chance to walk in and talk in person.

    In addition, a series of interest-groups was set up, including Hikers, Crowd-funders and Pioneers. Participation in these groups allowed citizens with particular interests to examine the issues through a particular lens. The Crowdfunders eventually raised more than €100,000 for experimental projects that included food events, an acquaponics pilot and a shared solar energy roof. The pioneers generated a series of challenges that were taken up across the city by families as well as schools and other organisations.

    The deadline for responses to the Big Debate was 31 March 2017. A total of 53,000 people participated in the process in some way, with 11,000 citizens very actively involved. The experience involved 270 local organisations, and Grand Débat social media platforms attracted 4,400 followers. In terms of outputs, 760 written solutions were posted, whilst 160 journals were written by a variety of stakeholders – each contributing their ideas and suggestions.

    Ultimately however, the success of the Big Debate will come down to the quality of the final Commission Report and its contribution to the changes required to achieve Nantes’ low carbon future goal. In the coming months, the final part of the story can be followed on the project’s website.

    The personal is (always) political

    From discussions with those leading the Nantes process, it is clear that one of the key drivers was a commitment to raising awareness of the energy and climate change challenges, as well as promoting a sense of ownership and responsibility for the solutions. It is often easier to say what other people should be doing, than to examine our own behaviours and identify what needs to change for the wider good.

    The Big Debate also opened up a discussion about respective stakeholder roles. Certainly, city authorities have a key role to play in establishing a low carbon future. But they cannot do it alone. Nor is punitive legislation the solution. There is a huge amount that cities can achieve through their governance levers, but a codesigned approach is more likely to succeed, as the URBACT Programme underlines. This is because as well as mobilising collective brainpower, it encourages the shifts in attitude and behaviour that make a positive outcome more achievable. It is also because the proposed solutions can feel shared.

    The potential realignment in the relationship with citizens around this complex urban challenge will perhaps be the most important legacy of the Big Debate itself. Ultimately, it will be people, not technology, that will decide our future. That’s why Nantes has adopted this approach to getting its citizens on board.

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  • Cities using their purchasing power to facilitate social innovation

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    Some cities are developing new approaches to ensure that resources are available to experiment with new solutions to their problems. They are using their buying power to orientate, speed up, amplify and sometimes systematise the development of these social innovations. The experiments show that social innovation is not only for wealthy communities, which can free up the necessary time, financial resources, human resources and interest, but is accessible to all cities that want to take risks and experiment.

    Integrated approach

    This is an excerpt of the article featured in the URBACT Capitalisation 'Social innovation for Cities,' to read the full article click here.

    Seed money to kick-start initiatives


    New policy instruments are emerging to respond citizens’ willingness to take part in governance, and participative budgeting is one of them. In Seoul, 21 billion Korean Wons (about €16.5 million), which represents 2.3% of the yearly budget of the city, is allocated by citizens. A three-step process starts and ends with citizens: in a recent exercise citizens generated more than 1,500 ideas, a 250-strong Civil Budget Committee selected 560 of them, and finally citizens retained 352 proposals for implementation. In Gdańsk, a Participative Citizen Budget process allows citizens to express their views on proposals in person or online, and to allocate priorities to different projects. It is seen as part of strengthening the feeling of identity and belonging to the city.

    In some instances, the city administration has used its own resources to kick-start grassroots initiatives. Through an initial investment with which it responded to citizens’ needs, it has further encouraged citizens to take actions, implementing solutions for their local needs. This has for example been the case in the 19th district of Budapest in Hungary, where the administration supported the setting up of community gardens as a base for outdoor activities, community building and food provision. The administration made the initial investment to create the allotments and has since supported ongoing technical expenses. Some private companies also contributed to the purchase of the equipment and watering system.

    In addition to its financial support, the administration took part in some of the activities organised on the spot. It let the management of the garden to the City Garden Association (Városi Tanya Egyesület). The success of the garden led to the creation of other gardens and has had a significant impact on social cohesion through the empowerment of citizens – both adults and children – who have benefited from the garden and the networks created. By sharing responsibilities, the city administration has greatly reduced the costs and time it needed to invest in the project.


    Orienting public procurement to support social innovation


    Public procurement is a difficult sector for innovation: first of all, it is subject to strict European legislation, which limits the room for thinking out of the box. Secondly, public procurement is often bound to short-term thinking, budget issues, predefined lists of needs which are not user-centred, and administrative thinking rather than a purpose-led approach. However, in some instances, cities have used public procurement policies to stimulate social innovation and to encourage ‘unusual suspects’, such as SMEs, NGOs or groups of citizens, to access calls for tenders and projects.

    In some instances, the traditional procurement process has been opened up and moved away from a purely monetary approach (getting the cheapest service) to focus increasingly on quality criteria (purchasing innovative products and services) (Adams 2014). This has been the focus of a Danish pilot project, Innovation on the shopping list, coordinated by MindLab and the Business Innovation Fund. Based on the experience of civil servants, it is presenting the long-term benefits of using public procurement differently in order to reorient the way municipalities and regions purchase services in the welfare sector. It has developed a practical tool to enable cities to envisage how they could transform their public procurement procedures.

    Another form of procurement, which goes one step further and has enabled cities to use their buying power to develop social innovation, is commissioning services. These are new approaches to encourage contestability, competition and collaboration between public, private and non-government service providers. They create an increasingly mixed public service market.


    Other forms of financing and stimulating social innovation in cities


    Another way of making the best out of procurement is to organise external creative competitions to generate innovative solutions to city problems, at the same time as promoting collectives of citizens or small enterprises, whose innovative solutions are still often not considered. This can take the form of prizes, as proposed by the BCN Open Challenge in Barcelona (Spain). The BCN Open Challenge attempts to guarantee space for small companies to innovate in the city. As an international call, it seeks to procure innovative and sustainable solutions to transform both public services and places in Barcelona, focusing on six social issues[i]. It is organised by Barcelona City Council together with a supporting company, Citymart. The prize of the BCN Open Challenge is a direct commitment to contract the six winning solutions. Through this competition, the City of Barcelona aims to make the process of procurement decisions more cost-efficient and transparent, and to allow small entrepreneurs to be part of this process and to implement their innovative solutions.

    The room for manoeuvre within the use of public procurement is highly constrained in legal terms. In order to try out and benefit from new approaches to stimulate social innovation, cities should also look for complementary funding opportunities. Other innovative forms of funding which can support social innovation in cities in addition to the city administration’s own resources include (TEPSIE, 2014):

    • Social Investment Funds
    • Loans
    • Venture philanthropy
    • Crowdfunding

    To read more in detail on each of the above please click here

    Cities therefore have many ways of using their buying power and identifying new funding opportunities to support social innovation. Adopting such an approach is an innovation in itself. It is for each city to identify the existing potential and define new economic models.


    EU funding for the promotion of social innovation in cities


    The European Commission provides funding opportunities for projects seeking to develop social innovation as a methodology in policy fields such as social policy (PROGRESS programme), Strategic Guidelines and Regulations on Cohesion Policy for the programming period 2007–2013 (European Council, 2006) and Article 16 of the Structural Funds Regulation, Country Specific Recommendations, including the use of the European Social Fund), employment policy (the programme for Employment and Social Innovation – EaSI), agricultural policy (the EAFRD and LEADER for rural development programmes and measures as well as local innovative governance approaches) and regional policy (RegioStars awards by DG Regional and Urban Policy).

    Finally, URBACT is also providing funding for transnational networks of city partners working jointly on single thematic issues. By asking each participating city to set up a Local Support Group in order to coproduce a Local Action Plan, URBACT strongly promotes an open and participatory approach. The experience of more than 500 Local Support Groups active in URBACT II shows that the degree of participation and openness in co-designing integrated urban policies varies depending on factors such as institutional and administrative culture, policy area addressed and local leadership. The city of Gdańsk , for example, stressed the way in which its participation in the My Generation and My Generation at Work networks contributed to triggering co-operation with NGOs and took them from getting to know each other to co-working on specific policies.

    By: Marcelline Bonneau

    Read More:

    Social innovation in cities – URBACT Capitalisation

    Case Study – Amerfoort: designing a collaborative city administration – URBACT Capitalisation

    Cast Study – Gdańsk: initial steps towards responsibility sharing – URBACT Capitalisation


    Photo Credit:

    Main image: Gdańsk 2030 Plus Strategy. Source: Żaneta Kucharska and Jacek Zabłotny, UMG

    Second Image:Garden opening ceremony, Budapest Source: Első Kis-Pesti Kert, Városi Kertek Egyesület

    Last image: My Generation at Work Network

    [i] Reducing bicycle theft, empowering support systems to reduce social isolation, monitoring pedestrian flows, digitising museum and archive collections, automatically detecting and reporting damaged road surfaces, and empowering local retail through technology.



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