• Rumours or reality?

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    Programme Lead Expert, Ruth Essex, shares her insights into promoting social cohesion and challenging the nature of rumour- ideas from her experience with Amadora, Portugal (PT)


    Immigrants take work off Portuguese people

    Immigrants live off grants from the state” 

    Foreign children create problems in schools

    These were some of the rumours found to be circulating in Amadora… not unfamiliar comments heard in many cities across Europe.

    Indeed, immigration continues to be one of the most prominent political issues in Europe. In recent years the exceptional migratory flows together with the global economic crisis have inflamed political extremism and led to growing distrust from local communities towards migrant populations - both established and new. Voters in many countries consider immigration to be one of the most pressing challenges facing their country, and ‘radical right’ political parties who oppose immigration continue to find support in many countries

    Amadora, a dynamic and multicultural municipality located in Lisbon’s North Metropolitan area decided that it was time to do something about these unfounded rumours. A local network of people and organisations set out to spread more positive and factually accurate messages about the city and it’s inhabitants.

    Do Not Feed the Rumour was the communications campaign and programme of integration activities developed and implemented by Amadora in 2014-15, through participation in the Council of Europe (CoE) project “Communication for Integration: social networking for diversity (C4I)” - a network of 11 cities from 7 European countries. Based upon practice originally developed in Barcelona, Amadora produced their own bespoke and holistic approach to an anti-rumour strategy.  This approach directly and assertively addresses the issue of prejudice and misinformation through dispelling rumours and deconstructing stereotypes.  It also emphasises the potential and positivity of cultural diversity, both promoting inclusion and strengthening community cohesion.

    Amadora firstly undertook a process of local intelligence gathering in order to discover what were the most common rumours being spread locally and to compile the factual (counter-rumour) information. Based on this research, they developed a targeted anti-rumour strategy composed of a viral communications campaign with a strong visual identity, public actions, community discussions, participatory art and theatre workshops and a schools programme. 28 local people attended specialised training to become ‘anti-rumour agents’ and these people acted as advocates for the programme, becoming trainers in their own organisations, cascading knowledge and skills throughout local communities. A perception change evaluation was built into the programme in order to measure the effectiveness of the activities.


    All of this was underpinned by the creation of a strong local network and process of co-production with local stakeholders active in the planning and implementation of the campaign. The project in Amadora involved 75 organisations and reached about 2,500 people. Local participation and political support were key to the success of the campaign.

    According to Carla Tavares, Mayor of Amadora, "It is a project that is intended to continue in a natural and informal way throughout the city. All of us - local authorities, associations and citizens - have some work to do to demystify the many rumors that still exist in our society"

    "School communities, associations and groups in our municipality now have a better awareness regarding the diversity and individuality of each one of us. Even if outsiders do not look at Amadora differently, at least those who are here are proud of their city and realise that this difference we have is what distinguishes us and distinguishes positively. So, in this way the campaign was a catalyst to a new approach to inter-culturality."

    Do Not Feed the Rumour has been recognised by URBACT as a good practice and now Amadora is very excited to be sharing experiences, ideas and a passion for the practice with other European cities through the URBACT Transfer network, Rumourless Cities - a partnership of seven cities - Amadora (PT) (Lead Partner), Cardiff (UK), Hamburg-Altona (DE) , Warsaw (PL), Alba Iulia (RO), Ioaninna (GR) and Messina (IT). Rumourless Cities is one of 25 transfer networks approved by URBACT to support the understanding, adaption and reuse of good practice from cities across Europe through process of peer support and capacity building.

    According to Dina Moreira, programme manager of Do Not Feed the Rumour, “We in Amadora have had such a successful experience with positive results. We are keen to take the opportunity to continue sharing with other cities facing similar challenges and problems and at the same time develop and improve what we are doing in our own territory.” Indeed it was intended that an outcome of the C4I programme would be that participating cities would subsequently form new partnerships and networks to transfer and share anti-rumour strategies. This is becoming a reality through Rumourless Cities.

    While Amadora focused on countering rumours around immigration and immigrants, this network will see the approach adapted and reused to counter existing and growing negative attitudes towards a wider cross section of groups in society which includes long established migrants (Third country nationals), Roma, recently arrived refugees, LGBT people, and general homophobic stereotyping.

    In addition to learning from and adapting practice from Amadora, partner cities will be bringing their own approaches and innovation to anti-rumour activity. For example, Warsaw aims to develop an app and city game focused on combatting prejudice and Cardiff aims to tie in an anti-rumour campaign with developing a new and inclusive narrative for the city. In fact, all partners will bring their own unique contexts, expertise and initiative to the network to create a web of experience and ideas sharing.

    Rumourless Cities will create a rich learning and exchange programme for cities to learn from the good practice Do Not Feed the Rumour and to thereby address some urgent challenges facing cities around cohesion, inclusion and the rise of fake news. It deals with some of the critical challenges of our time:

    • How to build cohesive and open cities
    • How to counter the false stereotypes that lead to racist caricatures and growth of far right groups
    • How to balance the needs of new arrivals with “native” citizens experiencing difficulties
    • How to communicate truth in a “post fact” context that is generated by popular mainstream media

    Despite European anti-discrimination legislation being among the most extensive in the world, the findings of the EU Fundamental Rights Report (2018) confirm that discrimination and unequal treatment on different grounds remain realities in key areas of life throughout the EU. Discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin continues to be regarded as the most widespread form of discrimination in the EU (64%), followed by discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (58%), gender identity (56%), religion or belief (50%), disability (50%), age (being over 55 years old, 42%) and gender (37%).


    According to a Eurobarometer survey (2016), Europeans as a whole consider immigration the second (after terrorism) most important issue facing the bloc. A 2016 YouGov poll showed that 52% of Italians, 47% of French 44% of Germans and 38% of Spaniards agree that their country “doesn’t feel like home anymore”. The majority of Belgian, French, German and Italian people support the idea of ending migration from all mainly Muslim countries.

    The issue of community cohesion has become a hot issue not just because there has been a steep increase in numbers of migrants but it is also linked to the growing concerns regarding security, which in turn is linked to the rise of extremism. With high levels of labour migration to many western European countries, as well as continuing pressure to accept refugees and asylum seekers from war zones around the world and a future of rising climate change induced migration, this topic is unlikely to lose its significance in the foreseeable future.

    It is more important than ever that cities join forces look beyond their own limits in order to find already worked out solutions to these difficult issues and work together to maintain peaceful, open societies.

    Find more information and resources about anti-rumour strategy here.

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  • Creating temporary space for experimentation about future activities

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    The case study on Hamburg (Germany) is one of the concrete results of the URBACT workstream ‘Sustainable regeneration in urban areas’, after collection of data, a study visit, and interviews with local stakeholders. It explores environmental measures for regenerating urban areas the city put in place, achievements and challenges, success factors, and conditions for transfer to other cities. The first part of the case study summarises the key points of the practice, while the second part (analytical template) provides more details for those interested in transferring the practice to their local context.


    What would you expect to see on a post-industrial island which is centrally located in a growing city and is full with remnants of the once dominant ship industry …?

    Yes, right: large-scale demolition of industrial buildings, erection of luxurious waterfront housing projects, mixed with some office and educational developments.

    But things can be done differently as proved by the case of Ile de Nantes. In the ’deep-dive’ visit to the REFILL partner Nantes we have seen a quite extraordinary story of systematic urban development activity over almost three decades.

    The centrally located Ile de Nantes was always in industrial use. Problems started – as in many European cities – in 1987 with the closure of the shipyard and the port areas. The island became inaccessible for people while private developers came up with a growing number of project ideas (to build new hotel, big international congress centre, luxurious waterfront housing...). However, in 1989 the newly elected mayor – Jean-Marc Ayrault, who stayed as mayor till 2014 – stopped all project planning and asked to rethink the island as the centre of the whole Nantes metropole.


    Following the idea that industrial heritage has to be kept, but used with new functions, in 2002 a public company (SAMOA) was created and started the project to build a large, moveable Elephant – offering an object what previous ship builders could work on. This created an incentive for Nantes people to come on weekends to the island, which was a no mans land earlier. Another public initiative was, in times when no one wanted to build on the island, to build up the Palais de Justice here.

    The area is over 80 hectars, and the city authority has the right of first refusal over the whole area. Samoa can thus buy land, rezone and resell it with a fixed project idea and pre-determined conditions. In that way the model can be understood as a public sector led real estate development strategy with value-increase taxation – where the main goal is to upgrade the island along public interests.

    The following two photos show a building, which was owned in 1989 by a private company, used as warehouse; later as go-kart racing circuit. It was cheap to buy it, as it was surrounded by industrial wasteland. This is a very valuable area of the Ile de Nantes, being centrally located and having a nice view. In a normal market process this would have already been built in, as most waterfront areas of other cities. Nantes makes it differently: instead of starting here a quick and final redevelopment, this will be the final area to be rebuilt.


    The Industrial Hall here has been kept and transitory uses have been installed. In the first hall small 12, 24, 36 square meter cheap rental places were created for innovative creative and cultural companies while the next building has places for the social and solidarity companies, a third one for media companies... The place was opened in 2012 and the first use was meant for 12 years. This is also part of the tempered urban planning: it needs time to find out what should be the next use. SAMOA offers recently temporary use office spaces to 180 small companies. There is a waiting list, thus the project is successful.

    The Nantes approach (described here in an illustrated way) is based on stable political leadership and institutional background, created for the purpose. This gives enough time to understand the ‘feeling’ of the island, developing strategic ideas, avoiding ‘tabula rasa’ developments according to the demand of the given moment. The agreement in the basic principles, however, does not exclude to change orientation time to time. In the first few years, it was important to change the image of the place, in a second phase, to connect and develop some areas, recently the focus was set on answering the challenges of the innovation economy. Accordingly, the newest idea is to develop an innovative district with larger parks along the rivers.


    An important aspect of this approach is the strategic role of temporary use agreements. The city recognized that empty buildings in public ownership are essential to keep the momentum for creativity. SAMOA is recently buying derelict property on the island, not for demolition but to be able to offer empty spaces for new innovative companies.

    Not all cities have such unique places as Ile de Nantes and even less are able to create such stable political leadership and institutional background for strategic development over decades. Even so, the example of Nantes shows how important it is to strive for long-term thinking, with the necessary flexibility, to achieve strategic goals in the interest of the public.



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  • Solidarity with the refugees. Ghent: an inspiring city for Europe

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    The city of Ghent (BE) has been awarded an URBACT Good Practice for its policy towards refugees that fled wars and conflicts to find a new home in Belgium. This Good Practice, called “Refugee Solidarity” has been managed through the Refugee Task Force set up in Ghent in August 2015, an innovative action recognized for its quality and success factors at European level.


    Maher is a Syrian refugee who came to Belgium two years ago, fleeing the war in his country and leaving his family behind. 32 years old and now fluent in Dutch, he has found a job in Ghent. A former salesman in his country, who studied history at the university, Maher is now, as Elmira Zeynalyan, job hunter for refugees, says a “great success story”, showing the important achievements reached through the Refugee Task Force in integrating and welcoming refugees.

    The story of Maher is one out of many stories of men and women reaching the European Union to find a new and safer home. As many cities from all parts of Europe have faced challenges linked with the arrival of new migrants from the Middle East and African countries in the recent years, the Good Practice showcased by Ghent shows great potential of transferability and adaptability to other urban contexts.

    Ghent: A city committed to working with other European cities

    The city of Ghent has been involved in several URBACT networks, either as partner or lead partner, around topics such as the temporary use of vacant buildings and sites (REFILL) or the improvement of young people’s qualifications in order to avoid early school leaving/drop out (StayTuned).

    In 2017, the city has chosen to highlight its good practice on social inclusion of refugees and migrants by answering to the call for Good Practices, therefore widening the scope of the involvement in the programme.

    Back in 2015: an answer to the refugees’ reception crisis in Europe

    In 2015, the number of applications from refugees to settle in Belgium doubled in just one year and the city decided to tackle this major challenge and to manage it in a very proactive way at local level.

    In Belgium, in average 60% of the applicants are recognized as refugees. It seemed therefore essential to Ghent to be pro-active and begin the integration from their arrival in Ghent. The Refugee Task Force, set up to provide a comprehensive and complete package of solutions, had dealt with several issues, such as shelter, housing, education, health and wellbeing, leisure or language, to provide a holistic solution to the newcomers. The official mission is to “provide asylum seekers and refugees easier access to social rights”, exchanging information and experiences between stakeholders.

    For example, the refugees, when granted their legal status in Belgium, need to find housing within two months, so the city set up a coordination with partners (professionals and volunteers) to help them in this process and made available ten transit houses for cases in which no solution could be found within these two months.

    Four key dimensions of Ghent’s success according to URBACT

    URBACT Good practices were selected according to four key dimensions, an integrated approach, the participation of inhabitants, the orientation to results and

    Here is how these four dimensions show in Ghent’s good practice:

    1.  An integrated approach: at the core of Ghent’s strategy is the willingness to provide key services to newcomers from their first day in the city, such as access to housing, to language classes, to work, and so forth;

    2.  A participatory approach: the project, set up and coordinated through the Refugee Taskforce, includes the participation of various stakeholders in the city, civil servants, citizens, and NGOs, as an innovative private-public scheme for dealing with integration;

    3.  A results oriented initiative: the city aligned different concurring initiatives to help the refugees with housing issues, to practice Dutch or to help them with administrative procedures. It gave good results on the ground. Refugees are finding their way through Ghent society, they know the organizations that can be of help, they have been able to establish a social network, they speak the language and a lot of them are active as volunteers. IN-Gent assigned 150 buddies to asylum seekers to help them with their administration, make sure they get to know Ghent and practice their language skills. The Centre for General Wellbeing assigned 73 housing buddies, who help the refugees to look for a house and have allowed 59 people to find a house. In September 2016, an European Social Fund (ESF) project was started up, the target of this project is to turn volunteer work into a job for 320 asylum seekers. During the summer of 2016 a social-artistic NGO was able to set up volunteer work for 80 asylum seekers to work during the summer festivals in and around Ghent. Because this was such a success, it was turned into a project ‘REFU INTERIM

    4.  A replicable and transferrable solution: many cities throughout Europe have faced the migration and refugees’ reception crisis. This good practice offers tools and ideas for improving social inclusion of refugees in cities and reduce the negative reactions from local people.


    Kathleen Van de Kerckhove, Coordinator of the Refugee Taskforce in the city, supports the idea to build bridges between citizens, NGOs and new comers as well as between the new comers and the city itself (local authorities and administration). From this necessity to « integrate people from day one », the city of Ghent set up a Refugee Taskforce, allowing all stakeholders to get to know each other as soon as possible: residents, new comers, local authorities, NGOs, etc.

    Hassan Bousetta : an Expert’s view on Ghent’s Good Practice

    To get some perspective about the good practice and the point of view of an expert, I asked Hassan Bousetta, FNRS (Fund for Scientific Research) research associate at the University of Liège and specialist of migrations and urban policies in Belgium, whether the “Refugee Solidarity” initiative could be considered as really innovative and replicable in other urban contexts.


    According to Hassan, there are two important strengths to the project:

    Firstly, to work from day one on the integration path of the refugees is key to the success of the approach and is backed by scientific evidence[1] that shows the importance of the high level of autonomy acquired by the migrants and refugees in their integration into their new society.

    Secondly, the multiagency partnership of the Refugee solidarity initiative, gathering stakeholders from NGOs, citizens and the local administration, is very important to de-compartmentalize silo working habits and provide an integral and holistic approach to the refugees.

    Moreover, “the buddies’ initiative is also a quite unique peer-to-peer experiment, which proves very interesting for refugees, allowing to develop their social and relational capital in the city and the Belgian society as a whole”, argues Hassan Bousetta.

    In a politically complex and difficult context towards refugees and migrants in Belgium over the last years, the initiative led by Ghent shows the great potential of cities in setting up their own strategy and addressing societal challenges in an innovative way!

    Showcasing the Good Practice in Tallinn

    The city of Ghent attended the URBACT City Festival in Tallinn (EE) in October 2017, in order to showcase its good practice and meet other cities in Europe. Through the gallery session (with posters from the 97 Good Practices), the discovery sessions (allowing several presentation formats: meet the cities, spotlight on cities and speed networking), there were many opportunities to connect and exchange on the common challenges and goals from cities all over the continent.


    Kathleen argues: « let’s build bridges between the city and the citizens, by getting to know each other from day one », during a discussion at the URBACT City Festival in Tallinn, where she was accompanied by Neelke Vernaillen, political advisor to the Major-Deputy for Elderly, Employment and Poverty reduction, demonstrating therefore the great political support to this innovative social inclusion strategy/initiative, a key determinant of its successful implementation.

    At the « diving deeper » session on « Refugees and Migrants » organized during the URBACT City Festival (a good opportunity to get to know better the good practices and asks questions), two other good practices were highlighted (among the five Good Practices tackling migrants and social inclusion): Do not feed the rumour campaign from Amadora (PT) and Finding Places led by Hamburg (DE). While Amadora deployed a campaign aimed at deconstructing stereotypes and prejudices about migrants, Hamburg proposed a methodology for facilitating public participation in the allocation of housing for refugees. The session showed the variety of methods displayed by cities across Europe to offer innovative solutions to the migrants’ and refugees’ crisis.

    The next URBACT City Festival will take place in Lisbon on 13 and 14 September 2018.

    Let’s hope other cities will benefit from the experience of Ghent and will contribute to spreading innovative, inclusive and sustainable urban solutions for migrants and refugees across Europe!

    [1] See for example the studies carried out by a team of researchers, GERME, from the Free University of Brussels, and particularly “La longue et sinueuse route vers l’emploi”, the final report from a research on new migrants and new migrations in Belgium (2010) or the study for Flanders conducted by professors from KULeuven.

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  • Integration processes at city level: Hamburg, Ghent, Amadora URBACT cities Good Practices

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    The refugee reception crisis of 2015-2016 brought to fore the need for common European patterns of reception and inclusion. For long decades Europe has integrated immigrants and refugees, more or less successfully through to different procedures. In most of the cases integration is carried out without any steady plan and organisational structures.

    As such, Municipalities over Europe facing directly the challenge of integration have responded to the reception needs with different approaches and according to variegated policy patterns. URBACT has selected some city-based examples of migrants and refugees integration, recently awarded as Good Practice. Some of these practices have been presented and discussed at the URBACT City Festival in Tallinn, October 2017, namely the cases of the city of Amadora, Ghent and Hamburg. This paper is the outcome of the session “migrants and refugees” at the City festival, introduced by an overview of the refugee reception crisis in Europe by K. Tsitslikis, Prof. in Human Rights Law at the University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, GR.

    Migrants Reception crisis: A European issue


    The recent reception crisis follows a dominant narrative according to which frontiers have to be protected against derogatory called “invaders”. As EU is bound by international refugee law, those who have a legitimate ground to acquire refugee status have the right to stay. However, step by step certain bypasses have been created in order to decrease the number of arrivals and reduce the number of persons who would potentially stay. A fundamental reversal in the refugee basic framework has been made, namely the revisiting of the protection from returning to a “non-safe country.” The universal value of the refugee international law started to fade out and lose its effectiveness as long as refugees started to move away from European territory. In this sense, any notion of safety of the refugees to the first line of contact with the EU is highlighted as a political and regulatory objective for Europe itself, together with another emerging objec-tive, that of the creation of the conditions of housing and social integration. Anyone who manages to remain within the state territory is confronted with the issue of legality (the “undocumented”), the conditions of living and the integration prospects (which applies both for legal and “undocumented” refugees). Individuals without proper pa-pers are those who applied for asylum status but whose application was declined and those who never applied.

    Predictability and security of law, for both receiving societies and refugees are un-dermined by European policies and law that in recent years attend to make “life difficult” to new comers. Uncertainty of legal pathways to move from the periphery of Europe (Italy and Greece) towards the center of Europe fosters illegality and despair. The family reunification, resettlement and relocation schemes are slow, with differing rates among states of acceptance, with no common standards of selection. After all they are insufficient to cover the real needs of those who have right to move from precarity to a stable environment. Most of all the EU-Turkey common statement of March 2016 [European Commission, EU-Turkey Agreement: Questions and Answers] tests the rule of law and human rights European construct. Asylum seekers entrapped in the Eastern Aegean islands (a buffer zone within EU soil) should be returned to a non-safe country, Turkey. Within continuous temporariness and uncertainty, European Union cities, which are at the forefront of reception, are called to integrate refugees and immigrants. Is that a mission impossible? 

    European Cities mobilise for a better welcome to new comers

    The cities selected as URBACT Good practices present variants of the integration process at city level targeting the aim of finding proper location for accommodating refugees in the city (Hamburg DE), fighting prejudice and rumour towards immi-grants (Amadora, PT), fostering solidarity in the provision of public services (Ghent BE).

    Finding the right location for Refugee Accommodation collectively in Hamburg

    During the highest peak of refugee influx in the city of Hamburg between 2015-2016, citizens protested against the establishment of large and inhumane welcome centres, in favour of adequate housing for the new comers.

    The municipality questioned whether and how the allocation of refugee accommodation can be dealt as collective and city-wide challenge, in which citizens themselves can take responsibility and contribute to a common solution.

    In response to that the municipality of Hamburg launched a collaboration with the HafenCity University CityScience Lab resulting into the project “Finding Places”. This is lab in which multiple stakeholders interact around a virtual table with the city map to discuss about public spaces and the potential allocation of accommodation. “Every participant had LEGO blocks in their hands and they could place them on a certain parcel of land, in a precise spot on the map where potentially suitable for new shelter, and automatically would have information on the screen about that space such as who owns it, size, and legal information.” (Prof Ziemer, presentation Tallin 2017)

    People talked about empty, unused, or under-utilised spaces known in their daily experience of the city. This approach was crucial for collecting unspoken information and improving the transparency of the decision making process. According to Prof. Ziemer, Project leader, it encouraged participants to think about location in a creative way, e.g. talking about public spaces in terms of opportunities rather than restrictions. In the Finding places workshops circa 400 people took part, and of the 161 proposed areas, 44 have been proofed suitable for new accommodation. Prof. Ziemer acknowledges that despite the pre-processing of data, the topic remained difficult for non-expert participants, and this was one of the reason why this project was mostly directed to German-speaking residents. However, this process also made administrative procedures and decisions transparent, contributing to the ‘political literacy’ of the general citizenship, while lowering suspicion and fostering acceptance in the city towards refugees.


    De-mystifying unspoken prejudices towards new comers in Amadora


    Different is the approach of the city of Amadora in which integration is tackled through soft measures to demystify unspoken prejudices and stereotypes towards new comers. Inspired by the anti rumours campaign from Barcelona, the Municipality of Amadora politically committed to launch a “do not feed the rumour” campaign.


    In Amadora the immigrant community counts to circa 10% of the 175 000 inhabitants, with 41 different nationalities. Surveys conducted by researchers (Centro de Investigação e Intervenção Social/Instituto Universitário de Lisboa) mapped the types of prejudice towards immigrants which affected negatively the capacity of integrating in schools, in finding a proper jobs and in accessing adequate housing.

    Through a snowball effect local organizations, municipality, schools, and cultural associations came together to establish an anti-rumour network: the network scope is to sensibilise citizens about the detrimental effects of rumours, via promoting workshops, collective public events, theatre and other creative initiatives. Anti rumour agents have been ad hoc trained to promote this project capillary in every environment of daily life of Amadora citizens. The campaigns involved about 75 organizations and reach about 2500 persons, and it is now a well established approach that the city is committed support.

    An easier access to service provision for refugees in Ghent

    The experience of Ghent offers again another view on integration via the establishment of an architecture of service provision combining workers in public administrations and volunteers.

    During the major influx of refugees in the 2014-2015 in Belgium, Ghent organised a Refugee Taskforce with the goal provide asylum seekers and refugees easier access to social rights. In practice this task force is in place to coordinate cooperation between city services, public service for social welfare, local NGO’s and volunteers. The areas of actions are divided into three working groups for 1. shelter, 2. integration, 3. volunteers and public awareness.

    The approach is to start integration from day one coordinating all actions necessary to guarantee the basics needs in terms of housing, health, education and access to cultural and leisure activities: from the day asylum seekers arrive in the city of Ghent they are set in contact with relevant organisations, while allowing organisation and citizens volunteers to get to know the new comers. “Since 60% of them are getting recognised as refugee, there is no need to wait till the decision in their asylum application is taken” Kathleen Van De Kerckhove, Coordinator Refugee Taskforce. Moreover, refugees are not treated as passive recipient of support since themselves engage in the activities of the taskforce as volunteers or experts in certain domains according to their skills. As matter of fact the success of this project is in having created a collaborative and efficient structure. All the services are shaped and provided with a collaborative and solidarity-based philosophy where volunteerism and citizens initiatives are fundamental to achieve integration.

    Today this proactive approach towards integration is not considered exceptional any more. As result of this, in our city we now have more volunteers working in local groups. In Belgium there are other cities engaged in similar projects, but still the public discourse is that people do not want more refugees, they have enough, and this is a tricky aspect to tackle”. Neelke Vernaillen, Ghent Municipality

    These three short examples show the variegated responses at local level in the process of integration, which demonstrate its limits especially in the fragmented political situation in Europe. As the comment from Ghent Municipal officer shows, even in the positive stories, the challenges of integration supersede the localities.

    Cities Good Practices should not be looked as single and isolated cases. Their experiences ask for being harnessed for learning in successes and pitfalls beyond the local scale. Networking among cities, and lobbying for integration beyond national borders are essential to fulfil democratic principles in Europe and to abide the principles of international law for human rights. Many initiatives at EU level as the EU Urban Agenda Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees support cities in linking, learning and improving EU regulations in relation to migrants and refugees integration. As URBACT, we support, and encourage cities to apply to Transfer Network to contribute to this challenge.

    By Laura Colini & Kostantinos Tsitselikis

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  • Can nature make your city climate-resilient?

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

    Malmö enjoys its green infrastructure solutions


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

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

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

    Rotterdam opts for multi-functionality in its dense urban setting


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

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

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


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

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

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

    Thessaloniki builds resilience on broad participation and collaboration


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

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

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


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

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

    Birgit Georgi


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

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  • Finding places


    Facilitating public participation in the allocation of housing for refugees

    Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg Rainer Noennig
    Professor Digital City Science, CityScienceLab, HafenCity University Hamburg
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    In reaction to the sudden arrival of tens of thousands of refugees in the city of Hamburg (DE) in 2015, the Lord Mayor requested the CityScienceLab (CSL) at HafenCity University to facilitate a public discussion and decision-making process on locations for refugee accommodation in Hamburg neighbourhoods. With highly sensitive socio-political implications, this project demanded a well-designed technological and procedural approach. CSL employed an innovative Human-Computer Interaction tool, CityScope, to facilitate public participation and urban decision-making. A workshop process was also designed to help multiple participants and stakeholders interact effectively. Running from May to July 2016, the FindingPlaces (FP) project enabled about 400 participants to identify  160 locations accepted by Hamburg’s citizens, out of which 44 passed legal confirmation by the authorities. Overall, on a qualitative level, the project facilitated surprisingly constructive and collaborative interaction, raising awareness and a sense of ownership among participants.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    The solutions offered by FP are twofold: 1) a methodological solution (workshop process) and 2) a technological solution (CityScope tool). The methodological solution is a participatory workshop concept, designed especially to enable the direct involvement of citizen groups in the decision-making process concerning the allocation of refugee accommodations. As the task of establishing such accommodations (emergency and long-term) used to stir up heated debate and controversy, a detailed interaction format was designed that comprised moderated group discussion and co-creation sessions, proceeding stepwise from the review of basic urban data towards precise locations of residential housing. The technological solutions consist of a novel tool for Human Machine Interaction (HMI): an interactive modelling table, based on the CityScope technology developed by the Changing Places Group of the MIT Media Lab, Boston. CityScopes are able to represent various urban data (e.g. cadastre plans, functional zoning, accessibility information) on large projection tables, which can be augmented by simple building blocks (e.g. Lego bricks) as carriers of design information, in this case, construction of refugee shelters. The visually coded blocks are scanned and digitised by cameras from beneath the table. Thus, the effectiveness and impact of the modelled solution on the cityscape can be computed and projected as a real-time response on the tables.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    FP supports sustainable urban living by solving pressing hardships on refugees and cities alike. It ensures quick and liveable accommodation in urban neighbourhoods, reduces social exclusion by locating refugee communities within urban neighbourhoods – with the direct participation of residents and neighbours who have decision-making power in the overall process. The integrative and participative approach of FP places maximum interest on engagement and involvement of local citizens who act as debaters and decision-makers. For the workshop, participants from all city wards of Hamburg were invited to maintain a fair and balanced distribution of accommodation across the city. Thus, acceptance and social sustainability were ensured. FP earned wide public attention and defined a benchmark. In Hamburg, the project has triggered multiple follow-up activities. It is envisioned to adopt the public participation processes as a basis for all public urban development projects in the future. FP followed an unusual comprehensive approach and horizontal integration by bringing together qualitative and quantitative methods of urban development, novel information technology and participatory approaches. In terms of vertical integration, it connected the Lord Mayor´s Office, city administration, universities, local city wards and civil society, which were all involved with dedicated roles and activities.

    Based on a participatory approach

    In the project, more than 400 citizens followed the widely published invitations to nearly 40 workshops, hosted and facilitated by HafenCity University’s CityScienceLab. For each city ward, multiple workshops were carried out. The invitations were publicly announced via official the Hamburg website, newspapers, and social media. Workshops were free and open to everybody to attend. In the workshop sessions, participants were asked to suggest and debate locations potentially suitable for refugee accommodation in their respective city ward. To supply the workshops, rich urban information about local conditions of the plots (quantitative data, legal constraints, emissions, zoning law etc.) were prepared by the CityScienceLab and made available on the interactive CityScope tables. That way a shared and objective basis for discussion was given and a well-informed pre-selection of potential sites for refugee shelters could be made. In following steps, pre-selected sites were discussed and commented in detail and enriched with expertise from municipal authorities and planners. In the final step of the workshops, the participants decided on specific locations to be listed for the city government to execute the construction of refugee accommodations. Several urban authorities were involved in the project, including Hamburg’s Authority for Urban Development, Authority for Refugee Coordination and Authority for Science and Research.

    What difference has it made?

    FP has changed the scale and quality of participation projects in Hamburg and Germany. It demonstrated how citizens could quickly find suitable solutions for urgent social and urban problems, in this case the massive accommodation of refugees within the urban community. In numbers, FP has directly involved about 400 Hamburg citizens in workshops, who experienced a straightforward and future-looking form of citizen participation in a socio-politically highly relevant topic. The final success of the project, with 44 locations being found through collaborative work, created a sense of ownership among all participants. Throughout the city, the project has created awareness about the acute issues of appropriate refugee accommodation and a sense of collaboration. It further created a public understanding of the fairness issue in respect to distributing the loads and responsibilities between all city wards (independent from their social and economic status). Supported by large public attention and press coverage, the project has changed the general attitude of Hamburg´s citizens towards refugees – from a perspective of passive hardship to an objective problem-solving attitude. Evidence was given on these results by track research carried out by the CityScienceLab (thesis projects of students, scientific publications, data analysis), by feedback from the public and from the media (local and national newspapers, social media, TV coverage).

    Why should other European cities use it?

    FP is relevant and transferable to other European cities. In a narrow sense, the issue of massive refugee influx and their ad hoc accommodation is a challenge shared by many cities across Europe. In this context, the availability of validated and transferable methods and technologies is highly valuable. The methodology with its choreographed sequence of participatory planning and decision-making workshops can be applied in a similar way in other European cities. Similarly, the key tool – the CityScope – is ready for mobile application in other places too (in fact, it has been applied worldwide already, yet to different tasks of urban development tasks than refugee accommodation). The organiser and facilitator team of FP made great efforts to exemplify the process and procedures of FP in a way that it could be easily adapted to other places too: manuals, guidelines and visual description for easy application in workshop settings were created. In face of unstable political conditions, further inflows of refugees are possible in near future. It will be necessary to have quick and effective means to solve urgent challenges such as a rapid finding of appropriate refugee accommodations. FP has delivered a blueprint for quick and successful action. In a more general sense, the practice and technology of FP and CityScope can be applied to a broad range of similar urban problems, especially the identification of appropriate locations for specific uses.

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  • With a climate change denier in the Whitehouse, how can our cities maintain momentum towards a low carbon future?

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    A day to remember…or one to forget

    Where were you when you heard that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States? In years to come, that may be the ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot?’ question for our generation. As it happens, on 9th November 2016 I was in Rotterdam working with a group of European cities on the development of low carbon resource efficient districts. So, on the day that a climate change denier was sent to the Whitehouse, we were investigating ways to support Europe’s sustainable energy future. 
    As we tried to absorb the news from across the Atlantic, someone asked how this would affect our work. Can Trump really roll back the decisions taken by his predecessor and the extensive networked commitments linked to the Paris agreements of only a year ago? If he does, can cities successfully support energy transitions without the support of key nation states, as Benjamin Barber and others have suggested? And as the climate change debate potentially reopens, how can our cities ensure all citizens are on the right side of this ongoing political faultline? 



    The importance of Lighthouse Cities

    Three of the cities present in Rotterdam are leading developments in the energy transitions sphere. Under the auspices of Horizon 2020, they are the Lighthouse Cities that will implement ambitious plans to utilise renewable energy to transform neighbourhoods. In two of these – Rotterdam and Glasgow – the focus is on more deprived localities. In both cases, a sophisticated cross-sectoral partnership is in place designed to provide cheap renewable energy to some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities. 
    The model relies on the intelligent use of the thermal mass of buildings by utilising them for energy storage and exchange. In Rotterdam the proposed local grid will supply the Hart van Zuid area. Part of a major regeneration initiative, the energy exchange will involve a swimming pool and a theater, providing much needed recreational facilities. The plan for Glasgow’s smart grid, located in the city’s East End, includes a local brewery contributing its waste product to fuel subsidised heating for local housing estates. In each case, Internet based monitoring supports peak load variation, increasing efficiency and reducing energy costs. 
    This project, RUGGEDISED, has three follower cities which will look to replicate the work of the lighthouses.  In doing so they are keen to fully understand how these sophisticated energy partnerships operate. A particular area of interest is in the role of city governance in the design and management of these complex multi-level projects. What they found was a very different approach in each lighthouse city, ranging from highly structured to very fluid. Yet, some important patterns emerge about the optimum way to support and accommodate these complex partnership structures. 
    A wider notion of ‘resilience’
    Although all three RUGGEDISED cities had different city frameworks to support this work, all agreed that visible leadership was a key component. Within the administration, this means not only strong political commitment, but also the active support of senior civil servants. Effective Chief Executives can work across Departments, ensuring the machinery of government is fully mobilised.  Alongside them, effective Mayors have a key role, especially in reaching out to citizens and explaining why the energy issue matters. Politicians who can articulate this in plain language that voters understand are particularly valuable assets in this arena. 
    For, as we know, the poorest in our societies are often the most vulnerable to climatic change – as we have seen in places as varied as New Orleans, Haiti and Bangladesh. Equipping cities to manage these energy transitions is at the very heart of the sustainable city concept, regardless of who is sitting in the White House. This ties into notions of urban resilience, and the wider interpretation of that term to embrace the social, economic and environmental. This integrated concept of resilience, championed by the Rockefeller Foundation in its 100 Resilient Cities campaign, is also the focal point of the URBACT Resilient Europe project, also led by Rotterdam.  
    Resilient Europe considers how we support cities to become more shock-proof. Its focus is on how cities can better withstand the kind of pressures that climatic change brings. In doing so, it underlines the importance of equipping cities to effectively manage the energy transition process. Their approach reflects URBACT’s emphasis on multi-stakeholder involvement and participatory methods. There is also an emphasis on innovation, but not only of the technical variety. Increasingly in the transition management field, there is explicit acknowledgment of the need to meaningfully involve a wide range of social actors. 
    In a sceptical climate, this need to connect with ordinary citizens is growing in importance. Increasingly, technology-led approaches are perceived as the destroyer, not creator of jobs. And where there is an employment bonus, the jobs are seen as being few and requiring high qualification levels. The requirements of niche industrial sectors can often make it difficult for local businesses to benefit. 
    Although there is some truth in this, it is not the whole story. As the Mayor of Rotterdam routinely points out, the manufacture, delivery, installation, and servicing of, say solar panels, creates jobs and business opportunities throughout the supply chain. In cities with a strong engineering and manufacturing tradition, such opportunities bridge the assets between the Old and the New Economies. Therefore, to some degree, the challenge is one of messaging and, as ever, mindsets. City authorities have a clear leadership role in pushing this agenda, explaining what future jobs there will be and preparing our education pipeline to meet them.  
    City authorities also have a central place in brokering the new partnership models required to deliver on the energy transition agenda. There is no standard model of how this unfolds. However, there are certain principles which hold true across the board. The first is that city authorities do not have all the answers. The second is that they do not have all the skills and experience. The third is that they do not have all the money. For those within City Hall humble enough to acknowledge these truths, this means a reinvention of the municipal role. 
    At a recent meeting of the URBACT BOOSTINO network, led by Gdansk and focusing on social innovation, this municipal brokerage function was very much to the fore. In practice this means carving out a new niche role for city authorities. At its heart is a willingness to listen, a commitment to take risks and an understanding that the most wicked issues we face, such as climate change, need a longer-term vision. Certainly, one that extends beyond the next cycle of elections. 
    The brokerage role also needs an understanding of how to establish and maintain sophisticated partnerships. In the RUGGEDISED case, that means having all the major power suppliers round the table. It also means having higher education institutes playing a key role in design, prototyping, testing and impact measurement. Here, the city authority’s role is that of assembling the partnership and allowing each one to play to their respective strengths. This is where the much-vaunted principle of humble leadership comes into play., creating a trusted space for collaboration. 
    However, city authorities do not always find this enabling role easy. At the BOOSTINO meeting in Barcelona, one of the capacity-building issues raised by the partners was that of engaging citizens effectively. Within the energy transition sphere, on the one hand this includes explaining the processes and potential benefits whilst on the other it may involve supporting citizen-led initiatives to create community energy companies. Finding appropriate ways to stimulate and maintain the participation of citizens remains a challenge for many cities across Europe, and it is likely to be an important consideration in URBACT’s future capacity building work. 
    City authorities also play a key role in creating the spaces where innovation and proto-typing can take place. Within the Resilient Europe network, a number of cities have created urban labs which provide this opportunity. Antwerp is one of these. As we have already reported in an earlier article, this includes the Antwerp Stadslab 2050, which has established a city neighbourhood as a Living Lab for climate transition related innovation activity. Crucially, this high profile work will reach out to the entire community, using creative and playful tools to stimulate community debate and participation. Previous URBACT research has illustrated other such examples, including that of the Hamburg IBA
    Cinderella meets the Ugly Duckling
    Finally, city authorities have huge potential influence through their buying power. Procurement, once the dusty preserve of anoraks skulking in municipal cupboards across Europe, has come of age. It is the urban ugly duckling story, as gurus and thought leaders now relate its centrality to the reshaping of our cities. 
    Perhaps this is more important for the energy transition agenda than in any other policy sphere. It follows the EU policy shift in 2014 contained within the Procurement Directives which encouraged public authorities to use their buying power to help deliver the high level EU environmental goals. This was linked to an aspiration to simplify the process to allow smaller companies to tender for work, but also a desire to encourage local supply, with potentially significant environmental implications. 
    The starting point for cities to achieve this shift is to generate a better understanding of the pattern of their current purchasing – both in terms of geography and supplier profile. Again, one of the URBACT projects, the aptly named PROCURE, is investigating the potential to maximise these opportunities. A recent article by the project’s Lead Expert explains how this is being undertaken across their 11-city network. 
    What’s to be done?
    What do we take away from these stories? First of all, although the planet remains in a critical condition, its death has been exaggerated. Having a climate denier in the Oval Office does not, inevitably, deal it a deathblow.  Across the world, cities are taking the lead in addressing the climate challenge, for example through the C40 cities network. Meanwhile, on the ground, as we have seen, for example in Anna Leidreiter’s recent blog, Europe has many strong examples to share and replicate. 
    The Horizon 2020 programme is a great way to do this. Another is via the URBACT Programme’s Call for Good Practice projects that will lead to a new generation of Transfer Networks starting in 2017. In these turbulent times, sharing and collaboration across cities remains one of our most important assets. Together, we are stronger. 
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