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  • Bringing (more) sustainability to cities: 5 golden rules

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    How are cities putting sustainable urban development into practice?

    Here are 5 golden rules from URBACT's City Lab.

    Leipzig Charter

    The second URBACT City Lab took place in Brussels (BE) on 2nd and 3rd July 2019: “How are cities putting sustainable urban development into practice?” wa

    s the core question that drove us through general and specific considerations in the fields of Air Quality and Mobility, Energy Transition and Climate Adaptation and Sustainable Food Systems. When seeking to feed into the work of the updated Leipzig Charter, it appeared that on the one hand sustainability is still a complex paradigm to get into and embed for a city, but on the other hand, cities are leading the way in what can be done.

    Here are 5 golden rules for cities to become sustainable.

    1. Sustainability is polysemic

    Angeliki Stogia, Councilor at the City of Manchester (UK) asked us: “what do you, what do we, actually mean by sustainability?”. Although its official definition from the 1992 Brundtland Report is unambiguous, but, what does it mean and how should cities approach it? The realm of participants showed a variety of understandings. For example, for Filipa Pimentel from the Transition network it is for society to become more resilient, which in turn would make our ecosystems more resilient. From a people-based approach, to a planning-based one, focusing on regeneration (or the inclusion of environment in local policies) can only bring in consensus and a chance for all stakeholders to adjust their visions and priorities.

    2. Sustainability should be tackled at all levels

    Our discussions started with Thomas Béthune from DG REGIO, European Commission, stating his needs to be in touch with cities themselves to feed sustainability into European policies. They were wrapped up by Filipa Pimental who expressed the leadership of citizens who become actors of change. In between the two, the Leipzig Charter is focusing on neighbourhoods and Alicja Pawlowska, Head of EU projects and mobility management at the City of Gdynia (PL) stressed the importance of this in their daily work. Cities are where changes take place and these considerations stress the need for territorial and contextual approaches. This would be impossible without the collaboration and inputs from member states, as Olli Maijala, Adviser at Finnish Ministry of the Environment suggested.

    3. Sustainability requires a new mindset

    Experimenting in cities is not new, yet they need to keep on being innovative, combining social and technological innovation (e.g. Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) Vilawatt project in Viladecans (ES), developing market-based instruments (e.g. Stockholm’s successful congestion charges), in addition to nature-based solutions (e.g. Chinese sponge cities, which mainstream urban water management into the urban planning policies and designs), and consumption-based approaches (e.g. URBACT BioCanteens network) and to focus on processes.

    Increasingly, cities need to change their vision, and to think out of the box and take risks. The inner change needs to look beyond traditional city-makers, including other profiles such as psychologists (as strongly supported by the Transition network and already tested in Gdansk (PL).

    4. Sustainability applies to all

    Sustainability applies to jobs and skills creation such as a Food Innovation Hub in Milan (IT) within the UIA OpenAgri project, as well as to the city of Gdynia seeking to make freight transport more effective in cities within URBACT FreightTails. Not to mention the H2020 Ruggedised where Rotterdam (NL) experiments smart city developments.

    Mobility. Energy. Food. Air quality. Digitalisation. Health and well-being. Urban planning. Sustainability should be a transversal approach, and “business as usual” as Angeliki Stogia phrased it. In order to support this process, city governance should be rethought to be bold and to be participatory, with citizen scrutiny.

    New forms of involvement and partnerships should be promoted as with the engagement of citizens in air quality control within Helsinki’s (FI) UIA Hope project; the public-private-citizen partnership for energy production in Viladecans’ UIA Vilawatt project; or the use of culture and arts to mobilise citizens to address climate change in the URBACT C-Change network.

    Sustainability also requires cross-departmental collaboration such as in the City of Schaerbeek (BE) cross-cutting solutions which tackle social environmental and neighborhood issues within an action-research project on organic waste transformation, Phosphore.

    5. Sustainability requires strong leadership

    Leadership for sustainability can happen at all levels of cities. Angeliki Stogia from Manchester, Gilles Perole from Mouans-Sartoux (FR) (lead partner of BioCanteens) and Laura Rodrigues from Torres Verdas (PT) (2015 Green Leaf Capital City) are the elected representatives who took part in this second URBACT City Lab, confirming their city’s commitment to this challenge. This is just the beginning of a global movement of awareness and action towards more sustainability in cities.


    Read on the first City Lab: URBACT’s City Labs on Participation: Refreshing Europe’s urban policy principles

    The key principles of the original Leipzig Charter provided the focus for each URBACT City Lab.

    Explore the related outputs on Participation, Sustainability, Integration and Balanced Territorial Development.

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  • From URBACT to H2020: how 2 cities are scaling up citizen-powered projects for greener communities

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    Manchester (UK) and Poznań (PL) are just 2 of many European cities building on their URBACT experiences in integrated, sustainable urban development to boost local participation and improve results in bigger national and EU projects.
    We asked coordinators in Manchester and Poznań how their city’s involvement in URBACT networks is improving green projects in the Horizon 2020 programme – from an inclusive, locally-driven approach, to valuable international collaboration and expert support.

    Carbon neutrality

    These projects link social and environmental issues, and reflect a growing understanding that environmental projects benefit from broad stakeholder involvement. Environmentally-themed applications rose to 25% in URBACT’s latest call.

    Jonny Sadler and Mark Duncan in Manchester, and Agnieszka Osipiuk in Poznań, all give an interesting glimpse of URBACT’s continuing benefits in both cities, both directly, for example through improved integrated policies and active local groups, or indirectly by increasing the City Hall’s capacity as an organisation.

    Manchester: strong collaboration centred on the city’s needs

    Manchester led an URBACT network called CSI Europe (2013-2015) – about using financial instruments through the European Investment Bank, and later SmartImpact – on smart sustainable development.

    As for the Horizon 2020 programme, one of the partnerships the city coordinates is GrowGreen, a seven-city, EUR 11.2 million project that helps cities develop and implement strategies for green infrastructure – things like trees, parks or green roofs. Since its creation in 2017, GrowGreen has launched pilot projects for greener, healthier, more sustainable neighbourhoods in Manchester, Valencia (ES) and Wroclaw (PL).

    In 2018, just as GrowGreen was getting started, Manchester and its EU city partners formed a new URBACT network, C-Change, encouraging arts and cultural organisations to boost citizen engagement on climate change.

    Jonny Sadler is Programme Director at Manchester Climate Change Agency, working with the City Council and other partners to help Manchester set and meet Paris Agreement-aligned climate change targets. He highlights four main ways that URBACT is inspiring better, longer-lasting results in GrowGreen…

    1. A new URBACT project boosts stakeholder engagement

    Stakeholder engagement is fundamental to developing and implementing city-wide green infrastructure strategies, but I’ll challenge any city in the world to tell you they have a really effective comprehensive programme for engaging their citizens!” says Mr Sadler. “This is where we saw an important role for URBACT: as a result of GrowGreen, Manchester and Wroclaw put together the C-Change URBACT proposal to find new ways to get people engaged and inspired around the subject of climate change, and then mobilise them to take action.”

    GrowGreen is quite different to traditional Horizon 2020 projects which can be quite academic. We realised the most effective programmes from a city perspective are those that place cities at their heart. And URBACT is a prime example of how cities get maximum value when a project is designed around their needs.”

    2. URBACT methodology for transnational cooperation

    GrowGreen partners are using an URBACT-style methodology to improve collaboration, starting with their General Assembly in June. “We’ve identified about six key themes and we’ll cluster the cities around them. We’re going to sit down and say ‘this project is about you’. You want to develop green infrastructure strategies to help green your cities. Let’s talk in detail about where your city is today, where you want to get to, and what you are able to do by collaborating with each other with support from an expert partner.

    In the “Financing Green Infrastructure” cluster, for example, cities will compare current and expected sources of financing, pinpoint possible shortfalls, and share interesting solutions – such as Wroclaw’s tax incentive for green roofs on new buildings.

    Along with its inclusive methodology, URBACT has provided city council staff with “extremely high quality professional development” and senior expertise, says Mark Duncan, Manchester City Council’s Strategic Lead on Resources & Programmes: “The URBACT approach is embedded across my team, and that’s seen in all their project work, not just URBACT.” As well as valuing ideas from all city partners in large-scale transnational projects, they have gained the skills to manage complex public-private consortia in nationally-funded development projects.

    3. Inspiring interactive events

    GrowGreen learnt from “hugely valuable” URBACT City Festivals to design an annual conference featuring urban practitioners, smaller sessions, and ample time for informal face-to-face discussions.

    Some conferences can be quite abstract and academic, with plenary sessions on the theory of creating green cities, and ‘what might we need to do at some point in the future’. But we got cities and practitioners in the room to say ‘this is what I’ve done, this is what is what went well, this is what didn’t work well,’” says Sadler.

    4. Sparking wider change

    Just as URBACT encourages cities to share good practices for others to use, GrowGreen hopes its pilot initiatives will spark green infrastructure improvements around the world. With this goal, they’ve agreed to work with ICLEI, IUCN and the Nature Conservancy through an initiative called Cities with Nature.

    Poznań: URBACT as a stepping stone to H2020

    URBACT seems to be one of the most suitable and practical programmes to introduce new cross-sectoral topics, exchange knowledge and test new approaches and concepts,” says Agnieszka Osipiuk, who works on the Horizon 2020 project Connecting Nature for the City of Poznań.

    Poznań has taken part in dozens of ERDF and ESF co-financed projects, including URBACT networks ranging from HOUS-ES in 2006 through to URBACT REFILL Network on reusing vacant urban spaces (2015-18) and the current URBACT On-Board Network on local education policy.

    According to Ms Osipiuk, REFILL was the last stepping stone in this long line of URBACT experiences that helped Poznań become a so-called “Front Runner City” in the EUR 12 million, multi-partner, Connecting Nature project in 2017. This H2020 project helps cities implement nature–based initiatives – such as community gardens, pop-up events or innovative land reuse – and measure their impact on climate change adaptation, health and well-being, social cohesion and sustainable economic development.

    In the first few months of Connecting Nature, Ms Osipiuk coordinated the project simultaneously with REFILL.

    A bigger, five-person team needed to be built, as well as larger scale activities and much more deep research insight than for previous EU projects.

    Both international and local levels of our H2020 project were inspired by the way we worked in REFILL,” recalls Ms Osipiuk. “Activities such as international meeting organisation, local actions in co-creation, effective presentations, reports and storytelling, and many others are used in both programmes.

    Of the benefits URBACT brought to Connecting Nature, the capacity to work internationally and across sectors was particularly valuable. REFILL gave the City of Poznań experience acting as a broker between bottom-up initiatives and other city departments and units. It was a chance to try out various approaches in city involvement. And it showed the value of sharing URBACT experience with colleagues and other Polish cities.

    Through Connecting Nature, Poznań is now integrating small-scale environmental solutions into densely built-up neighbourhoods – for example natural playgrounds in kindergartens and open gardens for public institutions. In the long term this will help Poznań become a city of interconnected green spaces that reconciles high quality of life with sustainable infrastructures and rapid economic development.

    Here again, the H2020 project will benefit from REFILL’s work in supporting citizen-led nature-based solutions. During REFILL the City of Poznań worked with an URBACT Local Group (“another big lesson on cooperation with different types of stakeholders that’s very precious in the Connecting Nature project”) – and together they prepared a “Toolbox For Places”. This set of tools helps residents take the initiative to plan various neighbourhood activities, from local meetings to cultural events. Poznań hopes to take aspects of this toolbox further in Connecting Nature.

    The integrated approach Poznań learnt through URBACT is also helping prepare a framework document to collect and share multilevel experiences from Connecting Nature’s Front Runner Cities as they implement their nature-based solutions.

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  • EU Green Week inspiration: 5 networks to watch

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    Ania Rok, URBACT programme expert, takes a close look at URBACT's 5 most environmentally friendly networks.

    Climate adaptation

    Have you heard thousands of young people all over the world calling upon us to get serious about the climate crisis? It’s high time we stopped making excuses and started acting. URBACT transfer networks offer concrete examples of how each and every city can contribute to a more sustainable future.

    1. Bee-friendly cities - good for nature, good for people

    Did you know that bees are one of the best indicators of environmental health? This is why the city of Ljubljana (SL), European Green Capital 2016, originally decided to support urban beekeeping and then things got a little out of control! It turned out that the bees (or was it honey?) had the power to bring so many people and activities together: from biodiversity protection to tourism, from corporate social responsibility to open source design. As part of BeePathNet network, Ljubljana and 5 partner cities are (re)discovering urban beekeeping as a way to co-create greener cities and stronger communities.

    Visit the network's page: BeePathNet


    2. Sustainable food - one school meal at a time

    Think only big cities can afford to go green? Think again or, better yet, find out more about the incredible work that the French city of Mouans-Sartoux (FR) and its BioCanteens partner cities do to promote sustainable food systems. Imagine school canteens with 100% organic meals that do not cost more thanks to reduced food waste. They are also better for the planet thanks to an increased share of plant proteins. And now, imagine the food is also grown locally, creating jobs and raising awareness about sustainable lifestyles. Sounds tasty, right?

    Visit the network's page: BioCanteens


    3. Urban gardens – looking to Rome

    Urban gardening projects have become widespread in European cities, but are we making the most of the opportunities they offer? Urban gardens are not just places to relax and grow some zucchini; they can be experiments in citizenship and democracy, social innovation and inclusion too. They can also promote new, healthier mind-sets and lifestyles. Partners of RU:RBAN network are getting inspiration from the city of Rome (IT), home to over 200 community-run green areas that fulfil social, environmental and cultural goals.

    Visit the network's page: RU:RBAN


    4. Recycling – re-use and reap the rewards!

    Learning from the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela (ES), Tropa Verde partners are encouraging citizens to reuse and recycle by proposing a reward system managed via an online platform. Local government works closely with local businesses and partners to make sustainable choices easier and more fun. The trick is to set the rewards in such a way that the system promotes genuine behaviour change and does not simply fuel more consumption, e.g. by supporting sustainable businesses, promoting services over products or encouraging a healthy lifestyle. We can all learn from the Tropa Verde network!

    Visit the network's page: Tropa Verde


    5. Climate emergency – helping artfully

    The arts and culture sector is far from being the biggest contributor to the climate emergency we are facing. However, when it comes to sustainability, artists and institutions can lead by example, bring critical issues to the public agenda and change mind-sets. The partners of the C-CHANGE network are learning from the experience of the Manchester Arts Sustainability Team how to better involve the arts and culture sector in developing and implementing ambitious local climate policies. Who knew that the local arts and culture community could be the best allies in creating a cultural shift and a sense of urgency needed to address the climate emergency?

    Visit the network's page: C-CHANGE

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    Kick-off meeting
    Transnational meeting - Mantova
    Transnational meeting - Manchester
    Transnational meeting - Agueda
    Transnational meeting - Manchester
    Transnational meeting - virtual
    Exchange & Learning Seminar
    Exchange & Learning Seminar
    Exchange & Learning Seminar
    Exchange & Learning Seminar

    Transfer the work of Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST) to support cities to mobilise their arts and culture sectors to contribute towards local climate change action is the aim of the C-CHANGE network. This can be done by: 1) Developing local policies, governance and capacity to act 2) Developing plans to reduce CO2 emissions and/or adapt to climate change, and supporting implementation 3) Developing plans to use arts and culture to engage citizens to act, and supporting implementation 4) Encouraging replication in other cities.

    Arts and culture leading climate action in cities
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  • What on earth do the arts and culture have to do with climate change?

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    Claire Buckley, URBACT Lead Expert and Director of Environmental Sustainability at Julie’s Bicycle says time is of the essence.

    In the grander scheme of things, the arts and culture sector is not the biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. And so, the question from Radio Wrocław “What on earth do the arts and culture have to do with climate change?” to representatives from Manchester (UK) and Wrocław (PL) during a day of exchange on this issue, did not come as a big surprise. It is, however, well worth unpacking and, one at the heart of a new project on how the arts and culture can lead climate action in cities, funded by the EU’s URBACT programme.

    Carbon neutrality

    Human activity and our dependence on fossil fuels is changing our climate. This is taking an increasing toll on the natural systems which sustain us, on our health, wellbeing and prosperity. Climate change is a systemic issue, rooted in global economic, social, cultural and value systems locking in unsustainable consumption, inequality and a disconnection from nature. Policies, technology and investment alone will not be enough to address it. We need hearts, minds and a shift in our cultural values. No sector is better placed to bridge the gap between what we know and what we feel and support a values’ shift than the arts and culture. This is particularly relevant when it comes to cities, on the front line of climate change, and where art and culture connect citizens to the cultures which define them.

    According to the World Bank’s 2017 Urban Development Overview, cities generate over 80% of global GDP and more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Rapid urbanisation (with predictions of 60-70% of the world’s population living in cities by 2050), coupled with the effects of extreme weather and sea level rise, are putting increasing strain on city infrastructure and resources, exacerbating challenges such as air pollution and impacting on people’s health and wellbeing. Urgent and rapid city action is crucial if we are to limit global temperature rise.

    While the economic and social value of the arts and culture is increasingly recognised in cities, there has been much less recognition of how they can contribute to creating future-proofed, sustainable cities. This is starting to change, as evidenced for example through the World Cities Culture Forum’s Culture and Climate Change Handbook for City Leaders (2017).


    Manchester is one city that already demonstrates what the sector can achieve by working together on climate action and how it can support city climate change strategy. The Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST) has become one of the city’s, and indeed the UK’s, most successful examples of environmental collaboration and, in 2017, Manchester was awarded URBACT Good Practice City status in recognition of MAST’s work.

    MAST is a network of about 30 arts and cultural organisations – from community arts centres and iconic cultural venues to an internationally renowned festival and national broadcasters - working together on climate action and engagement. It has come a long way since it started out in 2011. From a small group taking practical action, with external facilitation and funding, it has evolved into a network funded and run for and by its members, actively contributing to city climate change strategy and targets. MAST enables members to meet face-to-face, share common challenges and opportunities and link directly to what is happening on a city level. MAST’s five-year report (2017) tells its story, shares its achievements and learnings as well as a wealth of good practice.  

    MAST grew from the Manchester Cultural Partnership’s desire to explore how arts and cultural organisations could contribute to the city’s first climate change strategy - Manchester A Certain Future 2010-2020. The group went on to support development of the Manchester Climate Change Strategy 2017-2050, including through Climate Lab, run by the Manchester Climate Change Agency, to test different ways of engaging the people of the city in strategy development. MAST is now represented on the Manchester Climate Change Board. In 2018 Manchester updated its commitment and adopted a science-based target to become zero carbon by 2038. MAST is one of the pioneer groups now developing a zero carbon roadmap in line with this target and Manchester’s draft Zero Carbon Framework 2020-2038.


    For Dave Moutrey, Director and Chief Executive at HOME Manchester, a MAST member, and Director of Culture for Manchester City Council, it is no surprise that the sector has come together to act on climate change and shape the city’s climate change strategy. “Culture is in Manchester’s DNA. We understand the value of culture to our well-being, prosperity and vitality as a city, and the arts and culture sector has a well-recognised part to play in contributing to all city priorities.

    As an URBACT Good Practice City, Manchester is now leading a transfer network - C-Change: Arts and Culture Leading Climate Action in Cities - with five other city partners - Wrocław (PL), Mantova (IT), Gelsenkirchen (DE), Šibenik (HR) and Águeda (PT). Together they have a combined population of 1.6 million people and greenhouse gas emissions of about 9 million tonnes. Together they are working to build on and learn from Manchester’s experience with cultural collaboration on climate.

    Like Manchester, all partner cities - including two former European Capitals of Culture, four UNESCO World Heritage sites and one former national Capital of Culture - have the arts and culture at their heart. They all recognise the sector’s contribution to city life, well-being and prosperity. Águeda, for example, has over the last 10 years, seen the economic and social benefits of nurturing its arts and culture scene, through i.a. a city-wide urban art programme, its AgitÁgueda festival, artist residency programmes and investment in a new contemporary arts centre.


    All are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels in Šibenik and flooding in Wrocław, to urban heat island and health impacts in Mantova, Wrocław and Gelsenkirchen and forest fires around Águeda and Šibenik. Most already have well-developed climate change strategies and are signatories to the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

    While all cities are experiencing the impacts of climate change, people’s perception and level of awareness varies greatly. For those moving from an industrial past, many, and older generations in particular, have actually perceived an improvement in environmental conditions. While in Gelsenkirchen, there is generally a higher level of climate change awareness, there is also a certain ‘climate fatigue’. Each city has different levels of experience with climate change engagement. While in some cases individual organisations are taking action, none of the cities have yet actively involved the sector in climate change initiatives. Crucially, all cities share a recognition of the role the arts and culture can play in engaging citizens on climate change and inspiring and mobilising action.

    Climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face as a society, a challenge which requires an urgent and rapid response. As a city to which the arts, culture and cultural heritage are central - to our past, present and future - I can think of no better sector than the arts and culture to take on this challenge.” Petar Mišura, Head of the Department of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Development, Šibenik

    C-Change will require a new way of working, which brings both opportunities and challenges. In Wrocław, one of the key issues will be building sector collaboration. According to Katarzyna Szymczak-Pomianowska, Wrocław’s Head of Sustainable Development “We now aim to support arts and culture in our city in coming together to act on climate change and support us in helping our citizens understand the issues we face and take action themselves."

    For Gelsenkirchen, at the heart of the Ruhr conurbation, developing a collaboration model that works for both the city and other cities in the Ruhr region will be both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity. For Šibenik, which does not have a climate change strategy, its involvement in C-Change is an opportunity to learn from other cities as it starts to build climate change in new city strategy and link in culture from the start.


    Mantova is particularly excited about how exchange with other European cities can help us bring our cultural and our environmental strategies closer together with active involvement of the arts and culture and help us in working towards our priorities as a city, from climate change to urban regeneration, heritage conservation and public participation.” Adriana Nepote, Councillor for Research and Innovation, University and European Projects

    In Águeda, both city and sector are already active on climate change. C-Change is a chance to accelerate progress, in particular engaging and mobilising citizens in a way which directly supports the city’s ambitious sustainable development goals. "Art, culture and creativity can be a particularly effective means of engaging the public on climate change and cultural actors are playing an increasingly significant role in this area. We welcome the opportunity provided by C-Change to exchange experience on climate action and engagement, for the enrichment of all.” Elsa Corga, Alderwoman of Águeda Council and Councillor for Culture

    As the C-Change partners embark on this innovative and timely collaboration, one thing is absolutely clear. There is no time to waste.


    Visit the network's page: C-Change


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  • How to design and co-create greener cities?

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    Chantal van Ham, European Programme Manager Nature Based Solutions and Katharina Dropmann of International Union for Conservation of Nature Brussels European Regional Office share their enthusiasm for the EU Horizon 2020 project GrowGreen and nature based solutions as seen at URBACT City Festival, through examples from Bologna (IT), Manchester (UK) and Stavanger (NO)

    Carbon neutrality

    Building cities may be humans’ greatest achievement, but at the same time they pose great threats for the future of the planet. For hundreds of years, people have called cities their home. Settlers started to make use of land alongside of rivers, in coastal areas and on fertile soil, providing increasing prosperity and wealth. Cities became the centre of commerce, culture and livelihood. Today, we depend on these complex systems.

    Cities are an essential platform for communication, interaction, creativity and innovation, however, the relation between humankind and cities has always been a double-edged sword. As a result of industrialisation, the overexploitation of natural resources and unsustainable land use, cities face rising temperature and sea levels, natural disasters and extreme levels of pollution. Cities consume more than half of the world’s energy and cause over 70% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. At this critical crossroads, it is essential to benefit from the creative and innovative power of cities in responding to these challenges and exploring the value of nature as a part of the solution in combatting climate change and its impacts.

    Not only vital for the world’s major capital cities, it is also vital for small and medium-sized cities, to have a platform for exchange, as they are equally important in creating sustainable change: “think global, act local”. The URBACT City Festival gave cities a unique chance to be in the limelight and exchange experiences. On the 13th of September 2018, Bologna (IT), Manchester (UK) and Stavanger (NO) presented their approaches to using the ground-breaking concept of nature-based solutions to respond to a range of challenges in their cities, and to meet national, as well as global sustainable development goals. These cities understand that nature-based solutions adapted to their unique local context, are highly valuable in fighting climate change impacts and improving quality of life for their citizens.

    Introducing nature-based solutions

    Many cities are already active in improving their green footprint and creating a more sustainable attitude for future development by cutting emissions, using renewable energy and reducing pollution. However, we need to think further. Now, more than ever, there is a need to reconnect with and integrate nature in the urban fabric. Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that aim to support addressing society’s challenges in sustainable ways. Nature-based solutions are a new and largely untapped opportunity for cities to obtain not only ecological but also social, economic and health benefits. By delivering multiple co-benefits through enhanced ecosystem services, such as air and water quality and biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, jobs and economic opportunities, nature-based solutions are crucial to increase the quality of life in urban areas.

    Bologna – how to combine cultural heritage with today’s most pressing environmental challenges

    In Roman cities, the sense of dense urbanity is distinctive. Winding alleys, towers and especially archways characterise Bologna and reveal its great history. In the face of increasing water scarcity, extreme weather events like heat waves and heavy rainfall in urban areas, Bologna is an outstanding example of a city that is able to protect its cultural heritage while adapting to climate change by implementing highly innovative solutions. Bologna is a coordinator city of the EU Urban Partnership on Sustainable Land Use and Nature Based Solutions and strives to promote nature-based solutions as a tool for building sustainable and liveable urban areas. The Bologna Local Urban Environment Adaptation Plan (BLUEAP) was developed as a template to identify vulnerabilities related to climate change and to design a scalable information system about the risks of climate change. This EU Life+ Project can be considered a good practice for results achieved and the methodology used can be useful for other cities.

    The City of Bologna shaped different nature-based solutions pilot actions, which explore and test the concept of the Adaptation Plan and assesses their efficiency on a small scale. The EU Horizon 2020 project ROCK implements measures including a roof garden for the historical Opera House and “greening” the University’s Scaravilli square. The project considers historic city centres as extraordinary laboratories to demonstrate how cultural heritage can be a unique and powerful engine of regeneration, sustainable development and economic growth for the whole city.

    Manchester - how to prevail naturally over flood risks 

    As one of the frontrunner cities of the EU Horizon 2020 project GrowGreen, Manchester focuses on tackling high surface water flood risks by increasing sustainability and business opportunities to create a healthy, liveable and climate resilient city. The project supports local partners and stakeholders to design and deliver a detailed green infrastructure masterplan for one of the neighbourhoods, West Gorton. To create green and blue spaces in urban areas with the overarching aim to manage water through water cycles and enhance the quality of life in the city, Manchester has developed several funding schemes and programmes. Since 2016, businesses and government in Greater Manchester promote green and blue Sustainable drainage solutions (SuDS) as an opportunity to manage wastewater more effectively and save costs. If implemented at a city wide level it not only improves mental and physical health, air quality and decreases surface flood risks, but it also offers direct financial savings, which can be re-invested. This successful concept can serve other European cities and sets an exceptional example to invest in nature for solving water management problems.

    Stavanger – a green city that is leading the way

    Stavanger, the fourth biggest and most densely populated city of Norway, is one of the nation’s leading oil industry cities and its Continuous Urban Green Structure is a true green miracle. As member of the EU Urban Agenda and thanks to a very strong leadership and dedicated network of planners and initiatives, Stavanger developed over a period of more than 50 years a continuous public green infrastructure throughout the whole city. Since 1965, several legally binding green infrastructure action plans were adopted, undergoing multiple stages of implementation with the vision to create a coherent green trail system across Norway supported by the Norwegian Trekking Association and the central government. Since then, Stavanger’s responsible communities have put a lot of effort into preserving green areas and constructing new trails.

    Today, more than 99 % of the citizens have access to the green trails within 500 meters from their home. Stavanger’s green structure is based on sound knowledge of the relationship between green urban infrastructure, public health and the health of the urban environment at large. Secrets for its success are: a great vision, political determination and courage, as well as the ability to implement the plans. Stavanger’s next steps focus on targets and indicators for nature-based solutions and green infrastructure and to collaborate with other cities to invest in new solutions.

    What could be easier than just helping nature in what it does best?

    Nature-based solutions present an innovative approach that respects the usability, multi-functionality and ecological benefits of green and blue spaces in urban areas. Through their integration in complex urban systems, we are one step closer to ensure human wellbeing and economic benefits to society. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go – more cities need to develop and test new ways of integrating these solutions in their planning processes to improve strategies, spread ideas and build alliances for action. It is pivotal to attract public and private stakeholders to invest in nature-based solutions and to improve assessment methods for mapping ecosystem services to be able to make the business case. In order to attract more investors and raise financing to scale up the implementation of nature-based solutions, GrowGreen is organising a conference on innovative financing for creating greener cities in March 2019.

    Magda Kubecka, one of the trend spotters who actively followed the discussions at the URBACT City Festival to identify ground breaking ideas and solutions for the future concluded: We need to deliver nature as part of everything we do in cities - it’s not a nice to have, it’s essential and crucial.” Nature-based solutions allow us to breathe fresh air, clear our heads and co-create greener more liveable cities. They benefit us all now and beyond, will benefit future generations.  

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  • Transfer networks, an URBACT Learning Lab to build capacity and promote cohesion across Europe

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    You might not expect Twitter to be the place for informed debate on the future of the EU Cohesion Policy. But you’d be wrong. Amidst the white noise on this social media platform, a fascinating catalogue of exchanges is developing.

    Investing in skills and competencies


    The other week some of the big beasts popped their heads above the parapet. First, John Bachtler, Director of Strathclyde University’s European Policies Research Center, tweeted about the importance of European Social Fund + and skills in closing inter-regional gaps. Then Andrés Rodiguéz Pose (London School of Economics Professor and author of a recent influential paper on places left behind, jumped in, reacting to a recent World Bank publication on the future of Cohesion Policy as a tool to address regional inequalities across Europe.

    This timely World Bank report makes for interesting reading. One of its principal conclusions relates to capacity building, and in particular the need to invest in the capacity of public administrations.

    "A second implication of taking a more “region-centered” approach is that, along with local ownership, should also come capacity building, to enable local actors to plan and deliver on regional policy. The lack of local-level capacity is a major barrier both in planning and implementation. In terms of planning, it has been highlighted in several lagging regions that capacity at regional and lower (e.g., municipality) levels for planning is weak."

    The case for investing in the skills and competencies of public officials, alongside organizational development, has been gathering momentum for some time. Within a busy landscape of research and activity, some of the more eye-catching contributions have come from Demoshelsinki, the OECD and NESTA. It has also been a recurring issue within the Action Planning processes of the Urban Agenda for the EU Partnerships – for example Digital Transitions and Jobs and Skills. Capacity building is also one of the three key features in the proposed European Urban Initiative, contained in the new draft ERDF Regulations.

    It is too early to say whether this represents a sea-change away from the culture of out-sourcing and reliance on external expertise that has held sway in the sector for the past twenty plus years in many parts of Europe. More likely, it is a rebalancing. After years where city authorities struggled to attract and retain talent, there is a sense that the pendulum has at least stopped – and may even be moving slowly in the other direction.

    15 years supporting European civil servants skills to develop integrated urban planning solutions at URBACT

    This shift is encouraging. However, there is a long way to go. And although it is good to see more debate on the importance of capacity building and a recognition of its value, there are not so many examples of it working well in practice. Within the context of this Cohesion Policy debate, the URBACT Programme has a great deal to contribute. For more than fifteen years it has supported cities of all sizes to more effectively deliver integrated sustainable urban development. What are the key messages to share from this experience?

    Much of this experience has been gleaned from URBACT’s established Action Planning Network (APN) model. These networks have extensive experience of building municipal capacity to design and implement integrated sustainable plans.

    Here are five important lessons that have shaped the approach:


    1. Listen to cities, and involve them closely in programme design

      As a Programme, URBACT has an unusually close working relationship with participating cities – around 500 in the current programming period. There is a continuous dialogue and exchange that includes the use of focus groups, surveys and other tools. 
    2. Underline the importance of peer-to-peer learning

      Our experience supports the efficacy of peer to peer learning and support between urban stakeholders. Having the opportunity to walk in the shoes of someone doing your job in another city is a great learning opportunity. The URBACT networks – and key capacity building events like to URBACT Summer School – provide a supportive structure for this.
    3. Create safe spaces to learn, build trust and experiment

      Public services are under pressure to innovate whilst at the same time saving money. A tall order! Civil servants are in the public eye, and mistakes are not always looked upon kindly. URBACT provides a safe space for city stakeholders – primarily public officials – to learn from trusted colleagues in other member states, and to apply those lessons in safe spaces.
    4. Provide support and access to tools and resources

      URBACT provides a tried and tested methodology to support learning and to build capacity. This includes the URBACT Toolkit, translated into several EU languages, offering a range of practical tips designed to get better results. It also includes hands-on learning events like the URBACT Summer University, where stakeholders collaborate with peers to generate solutions for the problems of a synthetic city.
    5. Promote participation and support municipalities to involve wider stakeholders

      Increasingly, collaboration is the key to successfully tackling urban challenges. Across Europe, public officials are working in partnership with other local stakeholders to design and implement new solutions. However, capacity and experience to work this way is uneven. Building the confidence and capacity of municipal employees to engage differently with citizens, NGOs and other urban stakeholders, is a key dimension of URBACT’s work.

    Cities leading adaptation and transfer of Good Practices to other cities across Europe

    From April 2018 the programme has extended this experience through the launch of a new network type, Good Practice Transfer networks, which will take the learning and capacity building elements further.

    At the centre of these networks is an established example of urban good practice Over the next 2 years and a half, Good Practice cities will lead a network whose primary focus will be the adaptation and transfer of these practices to other cities across Europe. Once their partnership is finalized, these networks will consist of a balanced ticket of partners in terms of regional development levels. Narrowing inequalities and allowing space for peer-to-peer learning amongst cities of all sizes remains an important URBACT principle.

    Peer to Peer

    In this new network model, the peer-to-peer learning paradigm has altered. Where traditionally, city partners enter through the door of a shared problem, here one partner enters with a ready-made solution. Other partners share the problem for which the solution was designed. Yet, despite this distinction, learning and capacity building will take place at multiple levels for all participants.

    The learning will take place at three main levels: personal, organizational and city. In addition to this, it is likely that each network will derive its own unique learning experiences across the partnership.

    Individual learning

    At the individual level, we expect participants in these networks to make significant professional development gains. One of the model’s strengths is that individuals are learning from their direct peers. Municipal workers are sharing their own perspectives, unpacking familiar challenges and discussing ways to solve them. Beyond this, other important urban stakeholders are doing the same.

    Organisational and City Level Learning

    One of the pilot transfer projects focused on the transfer of an integrated public food policy successfully developed in Sodertajle, Sweden. That good practice involved a long list of key contributors, ranging from senior elected officials, to public procurement officers, local food producers and school canteen staff.

    In the resulting exchanges, each participated in relaying their learning experiences to peers from other cities. Feedback suggests that this precise mapping of stakeholders was an important contributory factor to the success of the project – now widely adopted in other EU cities.

    This eclectic group of stakeholders is likely to be a characteristic of this new generation of transfer networks. As its name suggests, the Bee-path network, led by Ljubljana, places beekeeping at the heart of a new concept or urban ecology. Beekeepers, environmental policy officers and mobility experts may be amongst the stakeholder map in each city. Meanwhile, Manchester’s Culture for Climate Change project explores ways in which the creative and cultural sectors can contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions. Arts officers, NGOs and museum staff may be in the frame here. In Badalona, Silver Cities brings together older people, health and care professionals and caring NGOs to transfer a model of supporting older people to live fulfilled independent lives.

    Open and Trusted Space

    These learning exchanges take place in an open trusted space created by the networks. No one is selling anything and transfer partners get to hear the real story, not an air brushed version, as we are as likely to learn from what didn’t work as to what eventually did. And the learning is two way. For those intent on transferring their good practice, this is an opportunity to see it again through fresh eyes – and to gather valuable suggestions on how to make it even better.

    A learning Lab

    These networks are something of a learning lab for all concerned – including URBACT, as the programme runs them for the first time. Understanding the lessons that emerge will be very important, and the programme will do this through a number of tools. For example, within each city there will be designated transfer diarists keeping track of the lessons that emerge. At the city level, each partner will also track its own journey, through an initial Transfer Report and, ultimately, through a final Learning Log.

    To complement these city level products, the National URBACT Points will broker events across much of Europe to showcase the results, disseminate the learning journey experiences and, most important, seek to promote and encourage a learning cascade. In this way, the programme will reach a wider network of second circle cities, extending the capacity building and the lessons.

    Cohesion Policy in action

    URBACT is in the business of supporting urban transformation. Across Europe, cities face many shared challenges, and although there is no shortage of ‘good practices’, transferring them successfully is not always so easy. Keys to this include establishing a deep understanding of the practice, exploring the scope for adaptation and supporting its eventual re-use. Successful stakeholder participation is an integral part of this. Supporting them – with municipal employees often at the centre – is central to this mission.

    Through this work, URBACT is making a strong contribution to building urban stakeholder capacity across Europe. In doing to so it continues to support the change needed to optimize the use of public monies and the closing of inequalities between Europe’s regions. Here, we have a tangible example of the Cohesion Policy in action.

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  • Housing for all - Experiences of URBACT cities on affordable housing

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    What can be done to avoid evictions? How can a city provide housing to the most vulnerable groups and to the young talented people? Can low-carbon housing be affordable?
    Barcelona (ES), Dupnitsa (BG) and Poznan (PL) – 3 URBACT Good Practice cities - have developed interesting initiatives to work towards “Housing for All”, looking at the social, environmental and physical aspects of housing policies.

    Affordable Housing: the issue makes its come back on the European Agenda


    Two decades ago the housing problem was thought to be solved in European cities. The large construction programmes of the 1960s and 1970s decreased housing shortage, while the neoliberal economic turn and the reduction of the welfare state benefits to those who were considered to be the most in need (residual welfare system) further decreased the effective demand of families. This artificial balance of demand and supply suddenly changed with the economic crisis, which affected the construction industry to a very large extent. The huge drop in new housing construction, together with the austerity policies of the states (causing a further shrinking in welfare payments) led to a quick increase of the housing problems. Not only the number of homeless people grew but also of those who are living in very bad physical housing conditions and/or in overcrowded units. As a long-term consequence of the financial crisis also the number of families, which are threatened by eviction for not being able to pay their increasing housing costs, soared.

    In an excellent article on the meaning of affordable housing,Laura Colini wrote the following: “If affordable housing simply means that adequate housing should be accessible and affordable to all, -and primarily to those at risk of becoming or already less well off- its meaning remains not universally shared in public policies all over Europe… the statistics on Affordability of housing by Eurostat from November 2015 are reporting for 2014 that 11.4 % share of the EU-28 population lived in households that spent 40% or more of their “equivalised disposable income” on housing.”

    Housing is a key topic among the URBACT Good Practice cities. The “housing” keyword is found in 56 projects among the 97 Good Practices. Although the number of “real” housing projects is obviously smaller, around 10 or so, the result illustrates how high housing is on the agenda of European cities.

    Inspirations and Learning from Barcelona, Dupnitsa and Poznan

    Preventing Evictions: Barcelona’s example shows how cities are bound by the national legal framework
    Cities, when designing their own policies towards affordable housing, do not operate in a vacuum: many aspects of housing policies are determined on national level. The URBACT Good Practice of Barcelona is a prime example of this.

    When Ada Colau, a former housing activist, became mayor of Barcelona in 2015, the political strategy of Barcelona changed radically and the Right to housing became an important element of it.

    “Housing First” is a well-known approach among cities, which have socially sensitive local housing. It responds to homelessness through offering housing units at the bottom of the housing market instead of placing homeless people into shelters.

    Barcelona went further and also introduced the “Housing Last” program, which tries to keep people threatened by evictions as long as possible in their flats.

    The number of planned evictions is high in Barcelona, around 30 evictions per week. Earlier the main reason for evictions was foreclosure. It has now become the high level of rents, partly boosted by AirBnB rentals.

    The original political aim of the city was to stop evictions to happen at all, or at least to make it so that the final decision be taken at the local municipality level, as being the closest to citizens and knowing best the real circumstances. This would be in line with the proposals of the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, Feantsa, an EU-wide NGO focused on protecting the homeless. Unfortunately, Barcelona had to face the reality: in Spain, as in most other EU countries, housing competences are divided between the different levels of government and the quite strict national regulation on evictions can not be changed by local municipalities.

    The URBACT City Festival in Tallinn was the occasion to discuss the Barcelona case in an international perspective. In Poland, the national housing law does not allow to evict families to the street. The “Housing Last” program of Barcelona, which handles some 80% of eviction cases, either stopping the process or offering alternative accommodation for families where eviction cannot be avoided would not be needed in Poland, since the right to housing is there ensured (at least for families) by national law. No wonder that the representatives of Barcelona and Poznan exchanged their business cards: Barcelona seemed interested to study further the details of Polish housing law.

    How Dupnitsa and Poznan defined eligibility to affordable housing to reach out to specific populations

    Affordability of housing is a complex topic. There is no unilaterally accepted definition across EU countries, as the cases of Dupnitsa and Poznan show. Income limits, a key element to determine eligibility for affordable housing, have to be locally defined.

    A Home for Everyone, the Good Practice of Dupnitsa, Bulgaria, aimed at the construction of 150 new social housing units for vulnerable families. Eligibility to the new social flats, was defined locally according to the following criteria: being a Bulgarian citizens, living at least since 5 years in Dupnitsa; having no properties suitable for permanent dwelling; having no ownership of non-built-up landed property, not owning factories, workshops, shops, commercial and business warehouses; having no ownership of property, including motor vehicles, of a total value greater than the market value of a dwelling in Dupnitsa. Besides these factors an upper income limit was given in the following way: one quarter of the total annual income of the household should be less than the cost of a market rental price for a home corresponding to the needs of the household.

    The number of residents, which were considered as eligible on the basis of these factors, was much higher than the number of flats available. Thus a second step ranking system was introduced, based on employment, age, education, health and family status. Within this ranking the chances of families were higher if working (as opposed to unemployed), being middle aged (as opposed to younger and older); having higher education (as opposed to lower educated); being single parent or having many children (as opposed to families without children).

    To sum up: in Dupnitsa those people had the chance to get a new social flat who did not have property and had middle or lower income. Within this group, however, the better educated and employed people had the advantage. The latter criteria hint to the efforts of the municipality to select those parts of the needy population which seems to have more ambitions to learn and work (which means excluding the “undeserving poor”).

    Poznan developed a different approach, focussed on retaining university graduates and young talents in the city, offering them affordable rental flat for up to 10 years. Tenants are chosen on the basis of several selection criteria: they should be university graduates within the last five years, below 36 years old, and should not own any other apartment in Poznań. They must work in or run a business in Poznań and pay taxes there. There is also an upper and a lower income limit.

    In both cities the new housing construction programme aimed for affordable housing to certain population groups. In order to achieve their aims, both programmes used interesting mixtures of upper and lower limits: with upper income and property limits to focus the programme to the relatively needy population but exclude (with the lower/minimum income, education and employment criteria) those who are the poorest, low educated or long-term unemployed.

    Of course the latter can appear to be highly controversial conditions, which illustrates well the complexity of the affordable housing topic.

    How to do it? The decisive impact of the institutional background

    Affordable housing programmes require strong leadership of the local municipality. Such programmes might apply very different tools, depending on their focus, whether it is keeping vulnerable families in their flats, improving low quality housing or constructing new housing for specific population groups.

    The URBACT Good Practice cities mentioned here share the strong political will to develop housing policies with social aims and have developed the corresponding professional capacity within the local municipality to steer such programmes.

    There are differences in other details, e.g. Poznań has created the Social Housing Association (PTBS), a public company which can manage the housing programme for graduates, when the other cities do not have such institutions.

    In Tallinn, the extent to which such city owned housing companies are needed to implement affordable housing programmes successfully was discussed heavily. This discussion led to further exchange between Antwerp and Poznan. Antwerp does not have its own housing company. The representatives of the city became interested in Poznan housing for graduates project and wondered if such a programme could be carried out on the basis of renting housing from the private market.

    Learning from one corner of Europe to the other

    One and half hour is not much time for discussions on such a complex issue as affordable housing. The Good Practices showcased in this panel at URBACT City Festival raised many interesting dilemmas, such as which population groups need help with affordable housing, how their selection can best be performed (income and other selection criteria) and to what extent publicly owned institutional background is needed for this. Besides these issues it was striking to see how well-developed and rich Western European cities (Barcelona and Antwerp) became interested to learn from innovative examples elaborated in less rich cities (Poznan and Dupnitsa) of the new member states. It is my hope that the exchanges among these good practices during the URBACT City Festival in Tallinn and the freshly established links between the cities last long and lead to new Transfer Networks in the future.

    Read more about the topic: "A fresh approach to housing: Poznan’s innovative offer to keep young talent in the city" by Karolina Prymas

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  • How do URBACT Good Practices strive towards more sustainability together with citizens and other stakeholders?

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    Striving towards sustainability together

    The occurrences and types of events and catastrophes related to climate change (environmental , biodiversity, human, social or societal concerns) have been constantly increasing for more than a century and especially in the last decades. Although these are mostly observed at meta level, it is a local level that both public authorities and citizens should act to implement and undertake concrete actions for a wide societal change. Some URBACT Good Practices understood it quite well and are developing not only sustainable strategies that are local and concrete, but also participatory ones: this is what Manchester (UK), Santiago de Compostela (ES), Milan (IT) and Tallinn (EE) addressed during the “Together for sustainability panel” of the URBACT City Festival held in Tallinn, Estonia on 5 October 2017.

    The incremental integration of citizens in sustainable policies


    Sustainability has been promoted as a concept since 1987. Since then, the integration of the three pillars of sustainable development –the economic, social and environmental pillars - have slowly become mainstream in most fields. By moving from its niche, the concept is now widely accepted. Yet, it has lost its main component of paradigmatic change. As such, other approaches, which are still alternative, promote integration beyond the three pillars: with the integration of other pillars - such as culture or health - as well as with approaches relating to transversality, permaculture or transition models.

    Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.” The principle 10 of the Rio Declaration was already pointing to the needs to modify the methodology for addressing this global change, and more specifically with the inclusion of citizens by providing them with access to information, as well as the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, encouraging public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Participation, engagement, co-creation, and empowerment are stressed by other policies and declarations: the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, the Sustainable Development Goals, the New Urban Agenda, the Pact of Amsterdam and the Urban Agenda for the EU, various national, regional and local policies.

    How can behavioural change be supported?

    This concern is high on the political agenda. Indeed, sustainable development requires citizens to be implied individually or collectively, since as Olivier de Schutter states “behavioural changes which rely on intrinsic motivations of people will be resilient as they will become part of the identity of the concerned individual”. Beyond the traditional linear, top-down approach mostly adopted by public policies from psychological and psychosociological backgrounds, and which have shown their limits, more recent analytical frameworks enable addressing the issue of sustainable behaviours from a practice approach, embedding them in a realm of objects, abilities and knowledge and values that make them possible. Such an approach takes away the blame too often put consumers for their non-sustainable practices, to shift the approach towards more constructive, participatory and co-created projects. Manchester (UK), Santiago de Compostela (ES), Milan (IT) and Tallinn (EE) have sought to address it each in their own way.


    The debate over where actions towards more sustainability should happen has now been going on for decades: should they be top-down, i.e. coming from public authorities, which could imply a strong control and command position from institutions; or bottom-up, i.e. coming from citizens and local initiatives, which could lead to a lack of structure. Beyond this oversimplification and caricature, what the Good Practice from Manchester “Culture for Climate Change” showed, as presented by Jonny Sadler, Programme Director at the Manchester Climate Change Agency, was that each of the stakeholders concerned and engaged in this process should play its part: public authorities, agencies, businesses, NGOs and citizens, each is responsible and has competences at his/her own level. In this Good Practice, the multi-level governance approach has taken the form of a strong engagement with and cooperation of local arts and culture NGOs: through the setup of the Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST), Manchester City has worked with 30 organisations since 2010 to develop innovative ways to engage and inspire citizens in acting on climate change. This is only through such an approach that real co-creation can happen, not only for the sake of the process but also to ensure adequate implementation.


    Citizens taking part in these processes do so because they are strongly bound by the values they are promoting for and acting for. Yet, a friend of mine was recently asking – rather, wondering : “who is going to say “thank you” for what I am doing although there are so many people who don’t do anything, worse, who don’t care about deliberately deteriorating our planet”? The Good Practice “Spring Clean-up Campaign”, presented by Gennadi Gramberg, Head of Environmental Projects and Education Division of the Tallinn Environment Department, stressed the need to reward citizens, notwithstanding the positive energy and atmosphere citizens gain from the experience. The campaign for cleaning salt from streets, planting trees and flowers, picking up litter from Baltic beaches has already taken place 26 times. The actions are visible, concrete and are presented as festive events, including with tea and porridge. In addition to seeing their city being cleaned up and having an enjoyable moment, what citizens really appreciate are the badges they receive and can collect on their jackets: like a soviet hero, with a feeling of acting positively for society.


    In terms of Sustainable Food Policy and activities, Milan is very well known. It is for both its strategic and operational activities that the city has been labelled as a Good Practice under the “Food for Cities” project. It is with a plastic bag on which “Io non spreco” (I don’t waste) was written that Marco Mazziotti, Head of EU Affairs, Foreign Affairs Department at the City of Milan Mayor’s Office, explained one of the very concrete activities it has carried out within its – now international – Urban Food Policy Act: a work on food waste in school canteens. By addressing children, the project sought to get a double impact: on them and on their parents. It did so by providing plastic bags to children to take home the leftovers from the school canteens. This was in turn included in the wider City Strategy towards more sustainable food strategies – in the whole urban cycle of food (production, processing, logistics, distribution, consumption, and waste. In order to make participation possible, the City of Milan adopted a quadruple helix approach throughout the whole strategy development and implementation.

    “INCENTIVISATION CAN SUPPORT BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE”, Miguel Varela Perez, Santiago de Compostela

    Playing is also a strong driver for change and that is what Miguel Varela Perez, CEO at Teimas Desenvolvemento in Santiago de Compostela, showed via the “Tropa Verde Rewarding Recycling” Good Practice. The whole project was based on the responsibilisation of the citizens in adopting recycling attitudes but also towards more circular ones. By recycling the citizens receive tokens they can exchange for sustainable – non production intensive – gifts, such as public transport tickets, haircuts, or meals. By working with local shops, the Good Practice integrated the activities in the daily lives of citizens, making it easy, interactive and “fun” to participate. This also had a spill over effect on other activities of the local shops and wider behaviours of citizens.

    What can be transferred from these URBACT Good Practices to other cities?

    Many European cities struggle with the way to address sustainability at their level. Many still do it in a vacuum, by adopting a traditional approach of designing local public policies and services, addressing citizens but not necessarily including citizens in this process. The Good Practices presented above propose a few elements that can be transferred to other cities in supporting them to operate this change:

    • Projects on sustainability can cover a wide range of topics: climate change, energy performance, cleaning and waste management, (Right to) Food, recycling, and many more;
    • The projects can apply to different spheres of activities: arts and culture, policy-making, entrepreneurship, and/or citizenship;
    • The aims of the projects can be a search for: empowerment, awareness-raising, visible impact on city, vision setting, alternative economic systems and/or international cooperation;
    • Working together with relevant stakeholders and citizens in order to design and implement the adequate strategies and tools. Such stakeholders can be: citizens, businesses, schools, entrepreneurs, and/or policy-makers;
    • Citizens can be engaged through: awards, gamification, awareness-raising campaigns, “Commando” campaigns, cultural events and/or project development opportunities
    • The Municipality can adopt the approach that suits best its project, culture and available resources: that of coordinator, facilitator, driver or moral authority;
    • The projects can take different forms of labs: Living Lab, Innovation hub, Climate Lab, and/or Multimedia lab;
    • The projects can be funded by municipality’s budgets, private foundations and/or sponsors
    • The projects can lead to a policy strategy, urban renovation, civic Crowdfunding platform and/or hands-on activities

    These Good Practices also teach the way to present their project in a way that is engaging for their citizens, their administration but also beyond, adopting a positive and constructing attitude towards their effort for greater sustainability.

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  • Culture for climate change


    Mobilising arts and culture sector to contribute to local climate change policies

    Jonny Sadler
    Programme Director, Manchester Climate Change Agency
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    Arts and culture sector collaboration on climate action and engagement in a city which recognises the value of culture and is itself demonstrating climate change leadership, linked to two of the key local challenges that run through the city’s climate change strategy:
    • mobilising business action on climate change through a sector-specific approach
    • engaging and mobilising citizens to act on climate change

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    This model of sector collaboration is rooted in the city and enables members to meet face-to-face on a regular basis, share common challenges and opportunities and link directly to what is happening on a city level. The group is chaired by members on a revolving basis, and able to fund small projects and reporting through an annual membership contribution of £7,000. Action on energy has led to a 16% reduction in emissions over three years, avoiding 2,800 tonnes CO2 and £0.9 million, largely through zero to low-cost measures. The group also works on a range of topics from green energy procurement to sustainable materials Members are using creativity to engage employees, audiences and communities, with many bringing climate change themes in programming and learning activities. The group is taking an active role in shaping and delivering city climate change strategy.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    MAST’s external-facing activities involve Manchester citizens in both the development and the implementation of local climate change policy. For example, MAST’s “Our City, Our Planet” event worked with young people to help define the sustainable city they want. Climate Control at Manchester Museum focused on climate change and how people can take action. Over 90,000 visitors attended and were encouraged to contribute towards Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy 2017-50. Integrated and participative approach Manchester has an overarching strategy for 2016-25, Our Manchester, which was developed based on the views of local citizens and organisations. The strategy’s delivery is overseen and driven by the Our Manchester Forum, a partnership of senior politicians, public sector, the private sector and NGO leaders. Manchester’s arts and culture sector is represented on the Forum through the chair of the Manchester Cultural Partnership. MAST enables the Partnership to focus on Our Manchester’s climate change objectives, as part of the city’s wider social, economic.

    Based on a participatory approach

    Manchester’s cultural community has been working together through MAST (Manchester Arts Sustainability Aeam) since 2011, to understand, share, solve and scale climate change action. MAST brings together diverse arts and cultural organisations, about 30 in total, from community-based arts centres and iconic cultural venues to an internationally renowned festival and national broadcasters, in a participatory and non-prescriptive way. Different activities have also been carried out to engage with citizens: • Practical action and creative responses - productions, exhibitions, events, etc. – which engage audiences and communities on environmental and climate change themes, now go hand in hand, for example, • HOME Manchester and the Whitworth Gallery’s wide- ranging environmental programmes across buildings, procurement, transport, public engagement and programming • Manchester International Festival‘s organic urban farming partnership with the Biospheric Foundation, engaging thousands of community volunteers • Contact Young Company’s ‘Climate of Fear’, a show exploring the emotion of anger through themes of climate justice, social inequality, memory and the body ITV’s inclusion of climate change in Coronation Street’s storyline, the UK’s most popular soap opera • Arts and culture-based activities proved particularly effective and popular in 2016’s Climate Lab, an experimental programme, run by the Manchester Climate Change Agency, to test different ways of engaging citizens in developing its 2017-2050 climate change strategy. One of ClimateLab highlights was Climate Control at Manchester Museum, a six-month long series of exhibitions and events, attended by over 90,000 people, exploring what kind of future people hope for and how to make it a reality.

    What difference has it made?

    MAST is getting support in different forms: • MLA Renaissance North West. a museum programme: provided external funding for the MAST group in its first two years • Julie’s Bicycle, a charity supporting climate action in the creative community: facilitated the group in the first two years; supported MAST in defining joint commitments and an emissions reduction target; did annual tracking and progress reporting; supports MAST development; disseminates the MAST model and achievements in the UK and abroad • Arts Council England: environmental reporting, policy and action plan requirements for funded organisations since 2012 – including the majority of MAST members – and an accompanying environmental support programme, delivered in partnership with Julie’s Bicycle, further reinforces MAST commitments and provides MAST members with a range of exchange and learning opportunities • Carbon Literacy Project (CLP): carbon literacy training undertaken by a number of members; a few members, such as HOME and Manchester Museum, now deliver organisation-wide training; in 2016, MAST partnered with CLP, Manchester Metropolitan University and HOME to adapt the training for the arts and culture sector MAST grew from the Manchester Cultural Partnership’s desire to explore how arts and cultural organisations could contribute to the city’s first climate change strategy 2010-2020 In 2013 MAST set a target of an annual 7% emissions reduction in line with the city’s target of a 41% reduction by 2020 – over three years it achieved an annual 5% reduction MAST supported development of the city’s 2017-2050 climate change strategy MAST’s chair is now a member of the Manchester Climate Change Board, a stakeholder group which oversees and champions delivery of the 2017-2050 climate change strategy MAST is now working with the climate change agency and board to establish how the arts and culture in the city can make its fair contribution to the Paris Agreement, and align with Greater Manchester’s 2038 carbon neutrality ambition – announcement expected in 2019.

    Transferring the practice

    Over 2.5 years, Manchester has led the C-Change network, transferring its practice to 5 other cities: Wroclaw (Poland), Mantua (Italy), Gelsenkirchen (Germany), Sibenik (Croatia), Águeda (Portugal). You can, in particular, check Mantua’s Good practice here. The approach was based on Manchester’s experience adaptable to each city’s reality and focused on: Sector collaboration on climate change, Sector support on climate change understanding, action and engagement, Sector involvement in city climate change policy and strategy and/or other related city policies and strategies and Citizen engagement, awareness-raising and public participation. The final outputs are all available here: The practice of Manchester is also currently being transferred in a cascaded way from Mantua to other Italian cities.

    Is a transfer practice
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