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  • 23 Action Planning Networks ready for Phase 2!

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



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

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

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


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


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





    Research, technological development and innovation


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

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

    Find your Greatness

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

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

    Access to and use of ICT

    (previously DI4C)

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

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


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

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

    Competitiveness of SMEs


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

    - Saldus (LV)

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

    Tourism Friendly Cities

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

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

    Low carbon economy in all sectors

    Urb-En Pact

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

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

    Zero Carbon Cities
    (previously ZCC)

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

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

    Environmental protection and resource efficiency


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

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


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

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

    Healthy Cities

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

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


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


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


    Resourceful Cities
    (previously UrbReC)

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


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

    (previously Rurban Food)

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

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


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

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

    Sustainable transport


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

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

    Thriving Streets

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

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

    Employment protection and resource efficiency


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

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

    Social inclusion and poverty


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

    Education, skills and lifelong learning


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

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




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

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  • “Culture with everyone”: Why creating culturally inclusive cities is changing the way capital city policymakers approach their work

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    Happy, healthy, prosperous cities are rich in culture but culture does not enrich and empower everyone equally. 

    Urban design

    Groups of people or geographical areas can face barriers to accessing culture; existing cultural offers may not include the stories or cultural forms which reach out to current populations. To address these challenges, eight European capital cities have come together through URBACT to form the ACCESS network. Each participating city has committed to working together to include more people in and through culture and to adapting their approach to policymaking to make this happen.


    Amsterdam [NL], Dublin [IE], Lisbon [PT], London [UK], Sofia [BG], Talinn [EE], Riga [LV] and Vilnius [LT] each have rich and vibrant cultural offers but have each identified challenges specific to their cities in making their cultural offers more inclusive. In Riga, for example, 70% of all cultural institutions are concentrated in just two of 58 of the city’s neighbourhoods. Amsterdam, now a ‘majority minority’ city (ie most of the population is from a minority ethnic group), culture has not fully adapted to the demographic change. Tallinn has identified a knowledge gap such that they have no qualitative evidence that the city’s cultural offer is actually meeting people’s needs and contributing to wellbeing. Each city found resonance in the others’ challenges. Collectively, the network has therefore identified three areas of common need: to widen participation, to spread cultural infrastructure more equitably across the city and to improve data collection and use around cultural participation.

    They have also identified a new approach to policymaking as a central requirement. As Araf Ahmadali, Senior Policy Advisor for Arts and Culture, City of Amsterdam said, “We have to start with a recognition that as civil servants we don’t know all the answers; we’re not at the head of the table, we’re part of the table.” Work to deliver cultural inclusion needed to be genuinely inclusive: not culture for everyone, but culture with everyone.

    “Everything we do is based on conversation” Tracy Geraghty, Dublin City Culture Company

    Discussions between the partner cities and invited local stakeholders at the inaugural meeting of the ACCESS network in Amsterdam in September identified five key aspects of an inclusive approach to cultural policymaking:

    - an ongoing conversation: discussion about culture in the city should be continuous, not occasional. As Tracy Geraghty explained, this is already the cornerstone of the Dublin City Culture Company’s ‘tea and chat’ model of programme development: “Everything we do is based on conversation; we don’t do anything without having spoken to the communities we serve first.”

    - be open and accessible: make it easy for people and organisations to get in touch

    - listen and learn: many people and organisations have experience of how to share culture more widely and are keen to share their expertise

    - reconsider their city ‘centre’: if a different area was the city centre, what cultural offer would you expect to see there? what institutions and support would it need?

    - challenge existing definitions: what is talent? what is quality? what is culture? Policymakers must be open to new and different definitions.

    Each city has committed to developing this approach for their own cultural policymaking.

    The ACCESS network will continue to collaborate and share ideas and practice over the next two years as each city develops its own Action Plan for ‘culture with everyone.’ More policy and practice ideas from the network will be shared in future blogs.

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    LEAD PARTNER : Amsterdam - Netherlands
    • Sofia - Bulgaria
    • Tallinn - Estonia
    • Dublin - Ireland
    • Vilnius - Lithuania
    • Riga - Latvia
    • Lisbon - Portugal
    • London

    Integrated Action Plans

    Making culture accessible to everyone, and everyone part of culture

    Amsterdam is a world city for culture, but a lot of stories in our city are still untold, unrecognized or undervalued. Access to culture is not always assured for everyone. The city of Amsterdam wants to broaden and diversify arts and culture in the city. Read more here!

    Amsterdam - Netherlands
    Vilnius city municipality Integrated Action Plan

    Read more here!

    Vilnius - Lithuania
    Culture for Tallinn

    Read more here!

    Tallinn - Estonia

    Read more here !

    Sofia - Bulgaria
    ACCESS Culture for All Integrated Action plan RIGA - All for One: Better Access in Northern Riga

    Read more here !

    Riga - Latvia
    ACCESS – London: Shifting the dial on equal access

    Read more here

    London - United Kingdom
    Place of Culture: Promoting Community Cultural Development in Santa Clara

    Read more here !

    Lisbon - Portugal

    The ACCESS Action Planning Network believes that a more inclusive culture has the ability to facilitate greater understanding of individuals and their lives, increase empathy towards others and develop an appreciation of the diversity of human experience and cultures. Culture plays an important role in finding solutions to the complex issues of today's urban metropolises. Eight European capital cities collaborate on inclusive cultural policies to open up culture to all citizens. The aim is to bring about a real shift in cultural policymaking and as a result ensure access to culture for all citizens.

    Culture for all
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  • Biocanteens: a trigger for Troyan's agri-food project

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    A political long-term strategy:

    At the end of 2013, the Troyan Municipal Council adopted the Municipal Development Plan of the Municipality for the period 2014-2020. The Municipal Development Plan follows the EU-set guidelines laid down in the Europe 2020 Strategy, whose flagship initiatives are related to:


    • Prioritizing the development of organic farming;
    • Balanced agricultural development;
    • Support for young farmers;
    • Environmental conservation and conservation activities.

    The leading initiatives have also been reflected in the Municipal Development Plan of Troyan Municipality, through its strategic objectives, priorities and concrete projects. Those strategic objectives focus on the stimulation of the local economy and highlight the competitive advantages of local potential, the improvement of living standards and the sustainable employment, affecting the income of the population.

    The specific projects envisaged for realization of the priority are aimed at:

    • Support for the development of traditional activities, including organic farming, livestock farming and others;
    • Associate local businesses to enhance their competitiveness, including businesses processing agricultural and animal products;
    • Partnership with the Research Institute for Mountain Livestock and Agriculture (RIMSA).

    A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between RIMSA and the Municipality of Troyan for the elaboration of a project proposal under the Procedure BG05M2OP001-1.003 "Establishment of Regional Science Centers" under the "Smart Growth Science and Education" Operational Program 2014-2020 year.

    The main tasks of the project proposal are related to:

    • Creation of perennial plantations of different fruit species for the conditions of the Balkan region;
    • Selection of plum and apple varieties suitable for organic production in Balkan region;
    • Development of elements of technologies for creation of plantations from some berry and fruit crops under the conditions of the Balkan region;


    The development of a system for own production of vegetables and fruits for delivery of fresh organic products for the children and students on the territory of the municipality is another goal to be achieved in the pursuit of a better living environment in the municipality.

    The Municipality of Troyan has opportunities and resources for that, but an operational process for the realization of this innovative approach is needed.


    A strong support from BioCanteens:

    The Municipality of Troyan is very impressed by the main goals of the Biocanteens’ project that is jointly implemented together with six other European cities. Therefore, the experience and the mechanism that the Lead Partner Mouans-Sartoux possesses gives us possible solutions for the implementation of their model on the territory of Troyan.

    The common objective aspires to develop a system for raising nutrition standards and promoting environmentally-friendly nourishment in the canteen’s menu. That is going to be achieved by creating own vegetable production and fruits and delivering fresh organic products to children and students on the territory of the municipality.

    The initial implementation steps that the Municipality has taken, opened a new horizon of prospects, however, we faced some restricts and limits as well. Precisely, the issue with making the orders – Public Procurement.

    Public procurement: a key issue at the core of Troyan’s transnational meeting:

    The working session began with a review of the Food Educational Micro-Good practices – “quick wins” that are easy to implement in the situation of the local context. The project partners exchanged and discusses the practices from their cities and then made a selection of the most relevant ones according to some criteria. Here the final aim of the project deliverable is to produce a complete catalogue together with the Kitchen Micro-Good practices that is going to be a helpful resource for the kitchen staff and the educational animators. Some examples include:

    • Food/ water tasting activities
    • Thematic lunch
    • Lunch with the cook
    • School gardens

    The program of the visits included the first Municipal action towards unification of the menu and healthy eating habits towards the youngest population – the Baby Food Kitchen. The kitchen staff cook and distribute meals for babies from 10 months to 3-years-old. The kitchen does not have a social, nor economical aspect when allocating its meals. The idea is that young (and/or ordinary) mothers obtain healthy nutritional meals, executed by providing wholesome and varied food, daily consumption of vegetables and fruits, sufficient intake of milk, dairy products and other protein-rich foods, increasing consumption of whole grains, limiting fat, sugar and salt intake. In this way, we can monitor the quality of the food that the babies receive.

    Following the visit, the partners took the opportunity to meet and talk with the Mayor of the municipality – Mrs. Donka Mihaylova. The half-an-hour appointment provided a field for many questions and clarifications in regard to the short and long-term goals of the Head of the Municipality.

    Mrs. Mihaylova explained that we are taking actions that are progressively going in direction of acquiring healthy eating lifestyle. Taking into account the Baby-Food Kitchen and the newly created Central Kitchen (which provide meals for kindergarteners) that covers meals for kids from 10-months old to 7-years-old, we are now working on the establishment of a municipal farm that is going to produce organic fruits (apples and plums for the beginning) and vegetables for the kitchen. On the long-term list of duties, we have the meal preparation for the school canteens as well. What is more, the Municipality is taking care of the oldest part of the population – the retired people.

    The fundamental point of the whole Transnational Meeting came with the Skype meeting with John Watt – an Ad Hoc expert on Sustainable Public Procurement for collective catering. His saying, “Sustainable procurement is not just about buying preferable goods at good prices, but about the whole impact on the local authorities” gave a new perspective on the sustainable procurement. The booklets of the presentation gave a clear standpoint of the possibilities when arranging the whole procedure. It was interesting to learn point like:

    • planning the procedure
    • the engagement of the supplier
    • choosing the procedure
    • selection, award criteria and clauses
    • some legal considerations

    The case studies provided, gave a clear idea of what is possible and doable in the context of making a public order. Hence, the workshop on Public Procurement was really useful and all of the partners reached a point where it is up to us to push the Public Procurement Departments to work hard for the sake of the children and their healthy eating. We were answering a questionnaire and that is how the common problems were spotted. Therefore, we discussed how we can help each other with handling the issue.


    Troyan’s municipal farm platform:

    The partners also visited one of the kindergartens in Troyan. In our kindergartens children between 3 to 7 years old are spending a day between 8 a.m. and 18 a.m. They have breakfast, snack, lunch and late breakfast, as well as different educational and physical activities and last but not least, they rest well and sleep a few hours after lunch.

    Another place on the visit list was the Central Kitchen in “Bukovets” Kindergarten. It was a pleasure to introduce the new facility and equipment to the project partners. After we showed them around, we had a Q&A session on the spot. After that the presentation of Troyan’s farm platform was made.

    Our fresh part of the project is almost brand new apple garden to which we took the partners. It looks like the trees are doing very well and the first fruits will be a fact very soon. As the head of the urban planning said “An apple per day, keeps the doctor away”. We truly believe in those words.


    A strong connection with local stakeholders:

    We visited TEHRA. The closest big company near the city. TEHRA is a Bulgarian company established in 1992 that has rich history and traditions. The company is a leading Bulgarian manufacturer of raw materials working in the food industry and targeting sectors as milling factories, bread and confectionary producers.

    Main activities of the company are manufacturing and trading of products such as: traditional, specialized and wholegrain flours, mixes for bread and confectionery products. In the product range, TEHRA has also ready-to-use flour based mixes for making of bread and confectionary products at home.

    The company`s production base is located close to village called Lomets, in the municipality of Troyan, with the usage of modern equipment, mechanized and automated technological processes.

    After two and a half days of hard-working sessions, extreme storm situation and open-air group discussion sessions, the project partners promoted new ideas and perspectives on Public Procurement that will have a positive effect on the making the next order.



    Teresa Georgieva:

    Nadezhda Terziyska:


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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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  • Take a deep breath (or better not)

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    How European cities are fighting air pollution?

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

    The costs of dirty air

    Carbon neutrality

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

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

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

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

    The uphill battle for the right to breathe

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

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

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

    Paris and London: lots of carrots, a few sticks


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

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

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

    Can we do better?


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

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

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


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  • The co-working revolution

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    What can cities do to create open workspaces where entrepreneurs can connect and grow jobs?

    An explosion of new workspace


    I first came across the notion of a co-working space in Sweden, probably about 12 years ago now. I remember agreeing with my colleague when she commented 'This will never take off; it's just a funky room with a shared kettle'.

    How wrong we were. Just over a decade later Europe's cities are full of open workspaces, meanwhile spaces, co-working spaces, incubators and accelerators, providing temporary and sometimes permanent accommodation and support for entrepreneurs, start-ups and scale-ups. 

    Take London as an example: the first cited co-working space was the Hub in Islington, which opened in 2005. The current workspace providers map now includes more than 400 different spaces and a recent report 'Start Me Up: The value of workspaces for small businesses, entrepreneurs and artists in London' (IPPR, December 2016), estimates that these host 31,000 people, and have generated £1.7bn in Gross Value Added and an additional £40.80 for every £1 invested. As many as one in four of London's SMEs working in the digital and creative sectors have used an incubator, accelerator or co-working space and, while in 2009 co-working accounted for 5% of serviced office lettings, by 2014 this had risen to 20%.

    This picture is mirrored across Europe's cities as the growing numbers of self employed people and entrepreneurs recognise the value of workspaces which offer shared resources, flexible access and a curated programme of community support. As well as a broad shift towards knowledge-based work, technology is of course also key to this explosion as it enables people to work more flexibly from just about any location with good wifi.

    However, open workspaces are coming under threat in some urban areas. When the affordable housing agenda, and the planning policies behind it, push affordable workspace down the list of political priorities, (would-be) entrepreneurs can risk being squeezed out. More progressive administrations recognise that a sustainable city needs to consider liveability and affordability as well as businesses, communities and residents, hand-in-hand.

    URBACT cities and the need for workspace 

    In its publication 'Job Generation for a Jobless Generation' URBACT noted the importance of spaces and places for connections between young people, employers, innovators and entrepreneurs. More recently the TechTown Action Planning Network has produced an interesting podcast and slide deck considering what medium sized towns and cities in particular can do to grow spaces where digital entrepreneurs can connect and grow jobs.

    In this article, I’d like to draw on – and supplement – URBACT’s work so far on cities and accessible workspaces. It is very much an opinion piece based on my own experience in this landscape. I’ll present some examples of co-working spaces in URBACT cities, then consider the role of the city and its stakeholders and why this is relevant to ALL cities and contributes to many parts of the integrated sustainable urban development agenda.

    But first, some definitions

    As with so many things there are many definitions – some better than others – for incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces. These terms are often used as if they are interchangeable. They are not. So, for the purposes of this article, I will draw upon the definitions used in a recent NESTA report 'Business incubators and accelerators: the national picture' (April 2017). This considers an incubator as being defined by the following characteristics:

    • 'Open-ended duration (exit usually based on the stage of the company, rather than a specific time frame)
    • Typically rent/fee-based
    • Focus on physical space over services
    • Admissions on ad-hoc basis (not cohort-based - i.e. people can join at any time rather than being recruited at set times of year)
    • Provision of services including mentorship, entrepreneurial training
    • Often provide technical facilities such as laboratory equipment
    • Selective admission (but typically less so than accelerators)'

    And lists the following characteristics for accelerators:

    • 'Fixed duration programme (usually between three and twelve months)
    • Typically growth-based (payment via equity rather than fees)
    • Often provide seed funding
    • Focus on services over physical space
    • Admission in cohorts
    • Provision of startup services (e.g. mentorship, entrepreneurial training)
    • Highly selective'

    Of course, the support offered by both incubators and accelerators can also be delivered 'virtually' and accommodation is therefore not always in the mix.

    Co-working space is different. It is a much looser term and, perhaps not surprisingly, organisations operating in this space range from highly commercial providers to small grassroots community groups. Again for the purpose of this article we will consider them to provide a combination of workplace and supporting facilities at affordable rates with easy in-out contractual conditions. The renting of space – or desks – is set up to attract users who require ad hoc and short term access to workstations and supporting facilities such as meeting rooms. The format of space is usually open plan and of an informal setting, aimed at facilitating an interactive and creative networking environment to form a sense of community among users.

    But enough of definitions – it's just important that city practitioners and policy makers are able to differentiate between these different elements which all have unique places within an entrepreneurship ecosystem. Of course physical spaces do not in themselves grow jobs. It is the interaction of the different components of this ecosystem that create the magical conditions in which companies can start, grow and flourish. As well as access to the right space in the right place at the right time, early stage companies also require access to market, finance, talent and networks to grow and scale effectively. But workspace is a vital component

    So, let’s look at some workspace examples...

    Let's now look at three (very) different examples of successful workspaces from the URBACT-supported TechTown Action Planning Network. These have been chosen to provide a flavour of a few different models, types of ownership, users and community approaches.

    Le Bivouac, Clermont Ferrand, France

    'Le Bivouac - StartUp Booster' is an accelerator operating in seven key 'domains' – health prevention, sustainable agricultural systems, cyber security, sustainable living, intelligent systems, mobility and energy transition. Set up by the public sector and with the city's mayor as its president, perhaps one of its unique characteristics is the engagement of some really big players from both the public and private sector (the municipality, region and corporates like Michelin, EDF, Limagrain, Orange and the Caisse d'Epargne etc), making Le Bivouac a huge networking platform through its partners’ own networks.

    Rather than asking these organisations to contribute funding, Le Bivouac's model relies heavily on them for support, training, coaching, expertise and mentorship, valuing this at over €1m per year. In return, it launches two calls for start-ups each year. The two parallel aims are:

    • to enable its (public and private sector) partners to find the expertise and skills they need to develop their future business model.
    • to enable start-ups to develop long term partnerships with large businesses, to find innovative ways to address their challenges and thereby to provide opportunities to scale.

    In terms of space itself, Le Bivouac offers 1000m2 of dynamic workspace with state of the art digital and tech facilities. But perhaps more importantly it facilitates access to real business opportunities and to the region's research and innovation system of universities, R&D centres, etc.

    Digital Media Centre (DMC), Barnsley, UK

    The DMC is part of the city's suite of business support known as 'Enterprising Barnsley' and home to several business advisors - so resident businesses just have to knock on the door to discover a whole range of advice and support. As you walk into the building's airy atrium, you are greeted by the smell of coffee and the sound of ping pong balls.

    Of course there’s more to the DMC than the building it’s based in, but the fact that it is a beautiful, well-designed space does make a difference. The building is capable of hosting numerous digital and creative businesses as well as a wide range of business development workshops, seminars and events on everything from online marketing and digital law to HR issues and tender writing. More info on the business events programme is available here. For very new entrepreneurs, there is a specially-designed programme of support called the Launchpad service, again, based within the DMC. Read more here.

    One of the interesting things about the DMC is that, having started with an externally contracted operator who only achieved an occupancy level of 53%, a decision was made to bring management of the centre ‘in house’ within the council – to control operations, revenue and expenditure more closely, and align the centre with the Enterprising Barnsley business support service.

    From this, a new model was developed positioning a financially viable DMC as a hub for creative and digital businesses, skills and knowledge. The focus was on generating more and better jobs and businesses in Barnsley. Financial viability required a significant uplift in occupancy at a price considered high for the area; shifting to a recognisable ‘hub’ model required more and better activity to be programmed, and significant improvement to the services provided.

    Through the ambition and vision of the plan and the hard work of the whole delivery team, one year into the new approach, the occupancy rate had reached 75%. In April 2017, two years in, occupancy is at an all time high of 95%, and the team have won a national award for business transformation. A significant contributor to successful growth has been introducing an ‘open door’ policy, welcoming any businesses and people who want to be in the DMC. The improved animation and service offering has helped to establish a recognisable ‘hub’, whilst new external partnerships have widened reach and provided recognition for the quality of activities. As part of this service, a dedicated ‘Enterprising Barnsley’ Business Development Manager offers inclusive business support to client companies, helping them achieve growth.

    Skola6, Cesis, Latvia

    Skola6 is a very different type of co-working space. Housed in a redundant school building, it is Cesis' newly founded creative and digital industries centre. It was conceived, designed and co-created by the local community, and anyone from the local community can access the services and opportunities provided there. Unlike the new and shiny Barnsley DMC, it has grown organically and has a calmer, more homely feel.

    Here too however, small businesses (mostly sole traders) can access the workspace – including hot desking, co-working and a studio / workshop space – as well as business support and shared equipment, which they might not have been able to afford individually. Events are organised by and for young activists and entrepreneurs.

    Different business models and drivers

    Just within these three examples we can see different revenue models (memberships, monthly fees, tenancies), different physical spaces, different community offers and importantly when considering the role of the city, different types of ownership or operator such as public, private, community-led or charitable.

    Let’s consider this ownership issue for a moment: Coming back to our London example, it is interesting to note that around 40% of the city’s open workspace provision is run by the charity sector, with a further 12% being run by social enterprises or community interest providers. 37% of open workspace is operated by the private sector and just 8% is run by educational institutions, local authorities and cooperatives.

    So where does that leave our original question:

    What can cities do to create open workspaces where entrepreneurs can connect and grow jobs?

    Tips for cities for successful workspace development

    My view is that the most important message for cities is that they are one cog in a very big and complex wheel of activity when it comes to providing open workspace. Whatever the economic and political conditions, it is simply not possible for cities to solve the workspace challenge on their own. What they can do is to provide high quality collaborative leadership – 'to walk the talk' – and facilitate the conditions in which open workspace operators, in different forms as described above, can develop and thrive.

    These spaces work best where they are co-created by, and with, entrepreneurs rather than for entrepreneurs. The best examples build upon the differences of the place rather than copying what others are doing in other cities. There are lots of ‘anywhere towns’ so when considering co-working spaces it is good to remember that places have meaning and spaces often do not. Therefore cities should start with their own culture, assets, characteristics and heritage and ensure that these spaces build on this provenance. In this instance, there is no one-size-fits-all model, and it is best not to simply cut and paste approaches from other cities.

    Cities can also facilitate access to public and private sector funding for workspace – perhaps helping other stakeholders to navigate around local European Structural and Investment Fund opportunities. They can consider using discreet social impact or affordable workspace clauses in local planning policies and / or be creative and progressive in how existing clauses are interpreted. Cities also have a role to play in brokering in users of the space. For example they might help local enterprise agencies or business support providers to navigate the start-ups they are supporting around workspace options. Or they might refer institutions, which could act as ‘anchor tenants’ to new or growing open workspace providers.  

    Many municipalities also own redundant public buildings, and often these are perfectly suited to meanwhile or more permanent co-working facilities. Libraries and schools are increasingly being used to co-locate community, education, workspace and business support services. As well as providing invaluable workspace, this sort of co-location has many additional benefits in terms of inclusion, youth aspiration and ambition and entrepreneurship education. All of this is really important at a time where young people increasingly need to carve out their own career in a changing world of work.

    As is clear from the examples above, this is not just about property. A good co-working space needs a high quality community offer with wraparound business support services and other reasons to visit. An open door policy can be part of this, but may not work everywhere. Cities have a clear role in scoping out and supporting such a wraparound offer. They can provide access to data and other evidence of demand for, and supply of, workspace and linked services, and help to identify market gaps.

    Whether cities fit out the spaces themselves or with other stakeholders, good quality design is also important. And this does not necessarily mean expensive design. It is possible to create a great co-working hub with very few resources, providing the community is active and willing. Skola6 in Cesis is a great example of this and the municipality has played an active role in bringing this space to fruition.

    There are of course lots of examples of co-working spaces targeting specific sectors – tech and digital, artists and creatives, makers, social entrepreneurs and food entrepreneurs to name but a few. Cities can also drive innovation through 'mixicology' – co-creating spaces which bring some of these communities together – to disrupt and generate innovation and creativity.

    So it is important to look beyond the building and to prioritise relationships and people. These spaces need to be places where people want to be – where they feel a sense of belonging. It seems that across Europe, good coffee is an important part of this. This might seem a bit superficial and maybe that is the point. In co-working, small things done well can make a massive difference. So, operators – whether public or private – need to listen to and learn from their users, customers and data. In the DMC, attracting a local, start-up coffee cart was in direct response to demand from users and has reaped real rewards in terms of community engagement and ownership.

    And why does this matter for ALL cities?

    Some of you reading this will probably be thinking (hopefully;) 'Nice piece; now back to the day job'. I would urge you to stop for a moment and think a bit more about how the workspace issue is relevant to you and your city, or your URBACT network. Maybe consider the following:

    The contribution of these spaces to economic growth is clear. However, there are many other benefits, which may not seem to immediately apparent:

    Open workspaces can make a clear contribution to placemaking and regeneration. Not only can they bring vacant, unused and dilapidated buildings back into active economic and community use but also they can provide an opportunity for people to work close to where they live; they can create a real local ‘buzz’ and also have potential to increase footfall and local spend. Maker spaces and spaces for artists, creatives and food entrepreneurs can also add to an area’s overall cultural offering.

    They can also help address disadvantage more generally, for example by providing an opportunity for local charities and community interest groups to provide affordable workspace for the communities they serve. They are a living, breathing example of how the workplace is changing, and they offer excellent opportunities for young people to better understand what the labour market of the future is likely to look like. When linked to educational establishments there is clear potential to create mutually beneficial relationships:  young people can gain invaluable work experience, making them more ‘work-ready’; start-ups and small businesses get access to fresh young talent, helping them to develop.

    Linked to this, open workspaces build real communities. A place for peer-to-peer interaction, which would otherwise not be possible. These collaboration opportunities lead to, and feed from, new ideas, new networks and new audiences. Ultimately they create more jobs, but the community is about much more than that. It makes the neighbourhood and the city more attractive to residents and businesses alike – old, new and potential. Surely that has to be a good thing.

    …and let’s not forget the fact that they often provide great coffee!

    So, ultimately, at least in one sense, maybe my colleague was right 'it's a funky room with a shared kettle' but she was wrong in her gloomy prediction. It is abundantly clear that open workspaces and co-working WORKS!!


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  • View from the Top: When Women Run Cities...

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    In this next article in the series on gender equality and female leadership in cities we hear some personal views directly from a number of women city leaders and urban experts. The first article of this series that you can read  HERE, presented a review of data on the levels of female political representation at city level in in Europe. 


    Disadvantaged neighbourhoods






    Lib Peck


    Lib was elected to Lambeth Council in London in 2001 and has been Leader since 2012. She gave her views during a panel debate at the Women of the World Festival.

    “I grew up in the 1980s very inspired by feminism and peace and disarmament movements. The collective power of the Greenham women challenged traditional ways of political protest. I got into local politics later as a result of putting down roots and wanting to be active in shaping my neighbourhood.

    I feel very proud and privileged to now be the Leader of Lambeth Council in an incredibly diverse part of London. Lambeth has a population of over 300,000, a turnover of £1.2 billion and over 3000 people working for us. It’s a serious and complex job to lead the authority.

    I think female leadership in cities brings a different prioritisation and greater urgency to some of the problems we face. For example issues like equal pay, childcare, adult social care and safety go to the top of the list and I think faster progress could be made if we had more female politicians.

    Why are we holding consultation meetings at the Town Hall? Why are we assuming that’s where people are?

    My experience has been that female chairs of planning committees bring different experiences to bear in policy-making that challenge things in a very different way about, for example, what accessible space means. We need to be moving away from formal traditional methods of engagement and the kind of bureaucracy that comes with planning, and away from the legal language that actually pushes people away rather than draws them in. We have to pay attention to the language that we use, the tone we are trying to create, also the techniques. Why are we holding consultation meetings at the Town Hall? Why are we assuming that’s where people are? And if there are 5 people in the audience it does not mean that the community is not interested. That assumption that has been prevalent in city political systems for too long. We need to turn it on its head and go to where people are. Talk to people where they are active. I went out during our last elections to the Portuguese bars in Stockwell and had a very nice evening! I spoke to a lot of people I wouldn't have come across any other way. There are other examples that are less enjoyable but you go out and you communicate.

    So female leadership is in part about tone and the kind of communication we engage in. It is not always screaming at people, but it’s working with people and I genuinely feel that that the female leaders I've come across (and I'm not just talking about women in politics) do have a greater tendency towards collaborative partnership working, which is incredibly important. It’s about how the party and the council operates and how we work with the community-the kind of decision making and inclusivity. I also think it's a bit about reclaiming language and having a very clear definition of what a strong political leader is. For me, that means being effective and decisive as well as inclusive.

    So female leadership is in part about tone and the kind of communication we engage in.

    There is also a different perception of a woman leader from others. For instance, some people feel more comfortable coming to me to have a moan, which I am told they didn’t do with previous male leaders.

    In terms of challenges I still walk into too many rooms which are full of men. Too many dinners that I go to are predominantly male. I think if we had more women leaders this that would become even more unacceptable, as well as providing a huge inspiration for younger leaders of the future.

    I do feel additional pressure being a woman in a leadership role, to be a good example and succeed. I feel a sense of responsibility as a role model in the way that I go out and conduct business, the way I talk to my staff. I feel a need to show that politics isn’t boring. It’s not the annoying thing that occasionally comes on the TV with men arguing. It’s about the absolute every day fabric of our lives, making decisions about our area.”


    Anna Lisa Boni


    Anna Lisa is the Secretary General of Eurocities, the network of major European cities. She has 20 years of professional experience in EU public affairs in the field of local and regional government. She previously worked for the city of Bologna in Italy, and has extensive experience with international and European networks and the European Parliament.

    Here are some of her reflections about female leadership in cities.

    “First of all leadership styles are linked to personality, whether it is a female leader or a male.  And of course it is difficult to generalise. But in my professional career I have made some observations on gender differences.

    In all our leaders, be they men or women, we need a good balance of skills and values.

    When I was younger there were less women in politics and in positions of leadership. The few that made it were in a way seen as harsher because they had had to fight more  than  their male colleagues to get there....they would have had to have a more dominant personality or adopt more "aggressive" manners to be there. Now I feel there is more  space for  female leaders. But it is also due to the imposed quotas in selection procedures and the fact that political parties have maybe changed the way their representatives  are recruited  and supported. I am thinking also about young people, and therefore young female politicians. The crisis traditional parties are going through is pushing younger people, and  younger women, to propose new ways of doing politics, outside the mainstream, and therefore be active in politics.

     I also think that female leadership at work and in politics depends also on the national context and on what degree women are allowed to combine their family commitments  with  their professional life and involvement in politics. In my home country, Italy, this is difficult without close family support networks. In this sense you still have  discrimination in  Europe, due to the different countries' regulations, working conditions, childcare systems. 

    In terms of impact, it’s in part up to personality but also up to female politicians' capacity to lead by looking at policies from a "woman’s” point of view. Very often men lack this  capacity and are therefore incapable of developing more balanced public policies... as said by others it's like looking at the world through only one eye, so you miss out a lot.

    female leadership at work and in politics depends also on what degree women are allowed to combine their family commitments  with  their professional life and involvement in politics

    I don’t appreciate the fact that female portfolios are still too often culture, education, social affairs.....they are based on traditional gender segregated patterns of study and work.  

    Very generally many women have higher expectations about their capacity to deliver and sense of responsibility, they are more likely to think ‘I can’t become the transport member, because I don’t know enough about it.’ Men take it on, whereas women don’t feel qualified enough... you can't generalize this but it does happen.

    In all our leaders, be they men or women, we need a good balance of skills and values. It has to be someone who can listen, who is open and democratic, that uses emotional intelligence but that is also strong, decisive, sure of what they want to achieve and their capacities. I think we have a lot of female talent that still remains invisible or just a potential and only if we will create better conditions for women to express their talent and views on the world, could we start looking at it with both our eyes.”


    Mariam Khan


    Mariam Khan is the youngest councillor on Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in Europe. She gave her views during a panel debate at the Women of the World Festival.

    “I was 21 years old when I was elected to represent Washwood Heath on Birmingham City Council in 2011. My uncle was elected when I was 11 years old and politics was part of my life growing up. At the age of 14 we received a letter from the local MP for a residents’ meeting and I remember bugging my mum saying ‘We have to go to this because we can't complain about the problems we have unless we talk to politicians when they invite us’.  I went to the meeting alone and sat there looking around. There were hardly any women and definitely no other young people. From then on I got heavily involved with the youth service, with activism. Some clever person somewhere decided to give the youth panel the opportunity to spend annually £1000 to give grants to other young people.  That responsibility made me feel valued and important, that somebody trusted us enough to make the right decisions. It helped me grow as a person and realise that I can play a really positive role in my area.

    It seems to me it's more our way, a women’s way, to look ahead and think outside of the box, to see how we can deal with something longer term, how we can engage with services on the ground

    I remember the youth workers always said ‘You’re going to end up in politics Mariam, definitely’. I used to say ‘I'm never ever going to join a political party because they're all liars and all make fake promises and if you tie yourself down to a political party you can't have a voice’. I was into community action. Then my uncle realised I was committed and he started to encourage me and say ‘If you want to make a difference, which you clearly do, why don’t you join one of the three mainstream parties to have an influence at a different level inside the council?’

    Washwood is a predominantly Asian area. It is very, very male dominated. The only way I managed to get elected was because the Labour Party decided that we should have all women shortlists. Some feminists completely disagree with this because women should be able to stand and be selected on equal terms with men. I'm biased, because to God's honest truth, if it wasn't an all women shortlist I would not be here today. It would have been very difficult for me to even get a foot in the door in local politics in the area of Birmingham I come from. There is an idea that women don't need to get involved, don't have a reason to. Some women I meet have never voted in election before.

    In Birmingham City Council we have to make huge cuts and I sometimes think we are not really thinking very far ahead, just tackling it year on year. It seems to me it's more our way, a women’s way, to look ahead and think outside of the box, to see how we can deal with something longer term, how we can engage with services on the ground, with different organisations, involving different communities that are doing work already. In my role as Chair of Social Cohesion and Community Safety I involve lots and lots of local organisations to give me their views. So when you have evidence sessions for an enquiry, instead of just inviting people from strategic level and directors of different departments and the assistant chief constable in to give you the stats and figures about what's happening and how to deal with XYZ, I get as many local people from different organisations coming in telling us what they are doing. A forward thinking approach is to realise that we've got local people and third sector organisations that don’t just need financial support. We have to keep them involved in the way the council functions and make partnerships. So in terms of long-term thinking if we get more female leaders, I think they’ll be more likely to sort out the problems by using innovative approaches.

    It’s really important to encourage women, and all young people to get involved in how the city runs

    Safety for females is important. The first thing I did as Chair of Social Cohesion and Community Safety was to decide that relationship violence would be the focus of our annual enquiry. It had not been on the agenda before, not because my colleagues don't want to work on it. It’s just that thinking wasn’t automatically there. We, as women, recognise it. Much of my casework is around relationship violence, which often links to housing issues. My area had all male councillors for over 20 years, but now that I am elected more women have felt comfortable speaking out about domestic abuse and violence.

    It’s really important to encourage women, and all young people to get involved in how the city runs. Every time I get a chance to speak to women or young people, I make sure that they can contact me, to come and shadow me and learn more.”


    Serena Foracchia


    Serena Foracchia was appointed Deputy Mayor of Reggio Emilia in Italy in 2014. Reggio Emilia has been an active city in the URBACT II programme, most recently leading the ENTER HUB network.

    “I am finding the role of Deputy Mayor both fascinating and rewarding. You get an overview of the city working on a daily basis. I spend a lot of time in meetings, out and about in the city, and sometimes don't have enough time to sit and record my thoughts. But it's important to be visible and for citizens and stakeholders to feel that they are able to speak to you.

     I have observed that female politicians can bring a greater sensitivity and depth of analysis to the decision-making

    Reggio Emilia had a female mayor for 10 years in the past and she was the one who pushed for the now famous Reggio Children initiative and laid the ground for ou

    r work on international relations and peace. I have observed that female politicians can bring a greater sensitivity and depth of analysis to the decision-making.

    My portfolio includes community cohesion, and after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris I approached the local mosques, with whom I have a permanent dialogue, and was invited to speak in the male part of the building. We had a minute’s silence for the victims. I think this is a very important part of my job.

    In terms of the challenges I have the feeling that, as women, we have to work harder to gain the same respect as men. Some decisions are still made by men in informal settings, over dinner for instance, to which women are not always invited. And when we are invited the setting is not one that is necessarily comfortable for us.

    I also find that people come to you as a female politician on different matters that they think you are responsible for as a woman. So there is a perception out there of what women city leaders deal with, whether it's true or not.

    I think it's important that there is a balance among decision-makers. At the moment we are 50-50 on the executive team of the Council, and that is a good thing. I have had experience of all-female settings that are not necessarily healthier.”


    Tricia Hackett


    Tricia is an expert on open innovation at The Young Foundation, and works on the URBACT Genius: Open transfer network. She talked about an innovation project in Syracuse in Sicily during the panel debate at the Women of the World Festival.

    “The City of Syracuse decided it wanted to focus their urban innovation project on a particular disadvantaged neighbourhood. It's a no go area for the police and suffers from all kinds of high-level deprivation: unemployment, poor sanitation, old infrastructure, schools with broken windows. However it also has some amazing assets. It is next to the sea and has a strong woman who has been involved in the community for the last 30 years who is constantly pushing for change. The city’s programme manager is also female - an architect and planner. So with funding to kick off a process there was a double advantage of two passionate women leaders; one at city level and one working with the community.

    social innovation is a female process

    The first time the city staff went to the community there they were nearly attacked. There was complete distrust. Fast forward 15 months and there has been a transformation in the relationship between the city and the neighbourhood, achieved by including people in an open way, asking what are some of the things that we can do differently? What are things we can do with not a lot of money and make a positive change?

    The city manager was the first woman ever in that post. She loves this project. She has put it on the city's agenda and in fact on the national agenda. It is amazing to see how two female leaders have been the force for change. Their fresh energy combined with the external funding impetus has shifted quite entrenched relationships and created a crack for positive things to start happening. None of it would have happened without the trust from the community inspired by the local activist. It has also led to comments within our URBACT city network that social innovation is a female process.

    I think in general terms urban planning has changed to be more participative in the last 10 or 15 years. Planning is traditionally very top-down, technical. The change is to include people, and with more women in planning, to think about space differently. We need to keep involving people, not making a design without asking people what they think of it. I think these changes are in part thanks to work by gender planning experts like Caren Levy at University College London, and there is more work to be done.”

    Watch out for the next feature on European policy initaives on gender inclusive cities, and the links with URBACT.




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