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    Travel Diary

    INT-HERIT is a network of cities that share and learn together in the implementation scenario of their cultural heritage management strategies. A type of methodology poorly known and tested for the first time by the URBACT Programme. Both for URBACT and for the other actors involved (cities, experts, interested parties...) it was an unknown landscape. What has happened along the way, what lessons are drawn from the INT-HERIT network, especially from the eyes of a navigator placed in the internal team of the Leading Partner of the Consortium? A journey in several steps from handwritten notes in the travel notebook...



    Step 1

    Observe, monitor, analyse, evaluate, capture knowledge from the process of implementation of the plans. This is not a common practice of either the promoter of the plans, or those other external organisations financing them.

    Typically, controls have focused on the administrative performance, not considering, in general, the opportunity to put in place a knowledge capturing and learning system or device. The task is, as a rule, of a controlling nature and designed to guarantee a good administrative praxis, but the potential to wear a different hat and sleuth for the gossip and rumours of the operational framework, the "small print" of the process and, in general, to initiate an exhaustive scan of the implementation metabolism of the plan is just forgotten. A banquet to be served by lawyers and accountants, but there are not many systems analysts, pedagogues or philosophers in its preparation, to name just some professions who love the method.

    In this sense, the internal work dynamics themselves, within the experimental implementation networks promoted by URBACT, have been cooked over low heat. From the beginning, the landscape of the implementation was defined around the margins of the road where challenges, both mandatory and optional, are often waiting for those travelling implementation. There is no doubt that they were good landmarks too. Implementation voyagers can easily return to them if they get lost, to find them turned into transversal axes of knowledge, articulators of observation and reflective analysis, carved menhirs to guide pilgrims.

    Once the path was marked, the cities within these networks needed an operating system. Different experts and stakeholders were called to design the internal mechanism, a necessarily slow process of construction and deconstruction of the parts, as if it were a Meccano set, until they came up with the precise organs that would eventually set up the Operational Implementation Framework.

    But let us leave the method in peace and return to the cities and their plans.

    Step 2

    The plans or strategies are the starting point of the implementation race for the cities of the INT-HERIT network. Let us look back on the itinerary followed for the past two years and take some comments from our logbook:

    - The plan

    Is it a plan when we talk about small cities and competencies that are not underlined as core municipal tasks such as heritage management? In many cases, they are unevenly connected and interconnected actions, given the high external dependence of these small local authorities in order to secure stable investment in objectives that go beyond their basic responsibilities. Between this apparent improvisation and the lack of a plan, reality forces us to be aware of the opportunities that external financing presents, as an interviewed mayor pointed out.

    This being the case, the investment deficit is closely associated with the management deficit in all its components. Only municipal political commitment to safeguarding the hallmark of local heritage and, in short, to meeting human needs explains the cities engagement with cultural goods and hence with their citizens’ heart and soul. Pure European DNA.

    In any case, with a more or less formal plan established, could you tell what are the expected results? What vision awaits at the end of the road, what scenario? Questions to strengthen the progress and prepare the trip, in sum.

    - The environment

    Comme ci comme ça, the perception changes daily. The political and social framework surrounding heritage management in small municipalities can be seen as an impossible challenge or a commitment that cannot be postponed. Centralised management of heritage assets still carries great weight in a large number of European States. Even in those countries where the balance of powers allows for municipal intervention on municipally-owned assets, small cities are in general left to their own devices. There, vertical integration is not the prominent feature, save in exceptional cases, where the extraordinary quality of the assets or a skilled local management triggers this process. Neither is cultural tourism the magic solution, nor the manna that will heal the infirm municipal coffers when the offer spreads from all corners of the continent, the available resources are scarce, and consumers do not always choose this kind of tourism, even though statistics indicate global increases. In smaller municipalities, quite often this income is a bird of passage, unable to provide economic sustainability to the management of cultural goods.

    In summary, a bird's-eye view does not seem to give vital clues or magical solutions to guide implementation, clearing up the doubts to come. Is it better to take the risk and make progress in the management of an archaeological site or let this opportunity sleep the sleep of the just?


    - The operational framework

    It is no coincidence that this point is at the heart of our journal. And what a pity that so very little attention is paid to the daily practice of municipal management. What little interest and what a lot of knowledge flowing into the waste stream.

    If we emphasize the importance of the operational framework, it is because this is where we can appreciate the details of the small things. Here each piece, regardless of its size, is called to provide high-quality system performance or dangerously lead to failure.

    Human and social values, behavioural patterns that should not be alien to management practices join the journey at this point on the road. Caution when it comes to undertaking certain investments or the regulated and scalable nature thereof, gains importance when weighing decisions. Anchoring socially and politically the steps to be taken, when talking about common heritage, is another applauded recommendation. The code for good implementers also includes a fair assessment of the surrounding constraints, and testing prototypes and pilot actions before drawing a highway to heaven. Everything is easier if done in good company, surrounded by professional teams with the know how to eventually cross the T's and dot the I's. It is essential to have the will, the effort and the commitment, they are the necessary fuel for the operational machinery to ascend when the road becomes steep. And if we have to change tack, we do. The important thing is that each long journey always begins with a first step and the path is made by walking. Learning from that is like the philosopher's stone of implementation. A gem not always sought after.

    - Monitoring and tracking

    As a result of the above mentioned circumstances, passengers find themselves playing a board game. The game of Implementation. That is what our wager is called and it casts us inescapably, like Alice in her Wonderland, into a bottomless abyss, a sinister black hole.

    And it is not that we were not warned. Without indicators, data collection, gait recorders, risk analysts and evaluators of the implementation, falls can be resounding and so it happens too often.

    Some common sense would not hurt. Huge excuses have been heard when again and again we have talked about this challenge with INT-HERIT stakeholders in nine European countries. Regardless of the magnitude of the investments, the quality and the formality of the management plans, the typology and character of their patrimonial assets, here is the feature common to all cities that, believe it, almost without exception proves the rule.

    We refer to common sense because it shares this socialising feature with heritage and human beings. It is assumed that it accompanies us as human beings and, by extension, those goods that are, or should be, part of the common weal. It does not seem difficult to send, as a standard practice, information and data trackers, place some probes to capture impacts, take advantage of internal and external information nodes on the side of the simplest of roads. And yet, how passive the listening, almost deafness conducting this piece of the implemented concert.

    Even at Programme level, it has been very difficult to glean some example cases, some stories showing effective solutions related to this monitoring hunger, as paradoxical as it is ignorant in the full bloom of big data. Recognition of our unenlightenment?

    - The performance

    In this travel notebook the moment of execution motivates an anticipation movement. If, at the point of departure, the eye was invited to look in the distance at the implementation results, to specify them, once the gear unit is started up to execute the actions, the attention should not be distracted from the uses and users that results must reach and benefit.

    Keep uses and users not only in mind but also, physically, in the space of the intervention. This is an advantageous warning for all seafarers that can prevent errors or imbalances in the final result.

    This way, the risk of seeing infrastructures or facilities closed or implementation spaces that live in the limbo of broken dreams can be planned ahead, avoiding situations in which there is no backward step to take and no public way to follow. If the uses and users were at the control room from the starting line in this implementation trip, it would probably not be necessary to come to the rescue of any implementer arrested in the 'in jail” square of the board, always eager to satisfy its hunger.

    - Lessons learnt

    Slightly changing the indolent practice described at the beginning of this notebook, things should go better as regards knowledge management, namely also implementation management.

    The road widens once saved the initial uneven part, and the gains can illustrate the decision making of all stakeholders involved in the game: political representatives, professional teams, interested parties, private entities, citizens and organised society.

    The final stage in a long tour

    Under the asphalt, there are people, organised groups and participatory governance. Under the pavement, as a deep yearning that underlies the flagstones of the implementation road to any plan, the participatory method ready to be endorsed and finally come to the surface to stay. Praised its necessity, nothing remains but to deepen the practice. Let the implementation process not be shipwrecked once offshore. This requires a method adapted to the changing and executive circumstances that govern it.

    At the end and the beginning, in the absence of rigid plans, may at least come flexible, operational and monitored dynamics of implementation. Any port in a storm in the turbulent implementation scenario.



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  • How to harvest the community impact within urban policies? – lessons learnt from the Come in! Masterclass Event Part I.

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    Organising a community-led festival along the main principles of the good practise “Budapest100” is the task for Come in! partner cities. Organising the festival whilst applying co-creation techniques with both volunteers and residents and thus sharing ownership is the goal. The challenge for partner cities is how to accelerate the community impact generated by the good practice in other policy fields.



    Residents open the doors of their houses and organise programs for visitors reflecting on their own built heritage. Visitors get to know the history of the house and the architects by reading installations or listening to stories prepared by residents, supported by a massive number of passionate urbanist volunteers as researchers and programme organisers. Whilst listening to the local stories and reading the history of the house, participants, including the neighbours, start to talk to each other. And that’s the point! Visitors explore their own city through a new perspective, while residents explore their connections to their house and to each other. This does more than build reserves of important knowledge, it also builds communities. And the real question beyond the Come in! network is how to harvest the community impact within urban policies?


    The Budapest100 community festival was started in 2011 by the Open Society Archives and the Contemporary Architecture Centre in Budapest, celebrating houses turning 100-years old that year during a thematic weekend. The event quickly became a yearly, rather successful city festival, always celebrating buildings that were 100 years old in the given year. Since 2015 the celebration of 100-year-old buildings is not possible anymore due to WWI, so each year the focus is on different themes. In 2019 – in line with the international centenary - the theme was Bauhaus.


    For this unique reason Come in! partners came to Budapest to explore the good practice in operation. Besides discussing the good practice with the main organisers, the colleagues of the Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Centre, the Lead Partner, district 11 of Budapest, the lead expert and with each other of course, they walked along Budapest with other ca. 10 000 visitors, entered some of the 59 participating houses, talked with some of the local residents and ca. 180 volunteers as organisers, checked the locally made installations, listened to music also organised by residents, and enjoyed the best of the 323 bottom-up programs organised in courtyards and on staircases.


    This article sums up the main observations made by the partner cities during a Photo Safari session, in the mirror of the local implementation of the good practice. But this piece of work also intends to highlight the fact that mobilising citizens is key to many urban policies. Thus Budapest100 and a similar community-led city festival reflecting on ‘our heritage’ and strengthening the sense of belonging seems an efficient urban acupuncture, and thus it has the potential to boost other urban policies efficiently. So what kinds of benefits do participating cities get? It turns out from the next article.


    Check out our video about a Masterclass weekend here.


    Ferenc Szigeti-Böröcz

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  • The MVP approach for Innovato-R

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    By Loris Gherra

    “No matter how far you went along a wrong path: Go back”.  (Turkish proverb)

    Minimum viable product. Why is it so important for generating innovation within an organisation? 
    Is it applicable for a public administration?


    A minimum viable product (MVP) is a concept from “Lean Startup” that stresses the impact of learning over delivery, in process of new products and services development. Eric Ries (creator of the Lean Startup methodology and author of the popular book The Lean Startup) defined an MVP as: “That version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learnings about customers with the minimum effort”. 

    This concept has been applied to the Innovato-R project. Some of the key factors identified for the Innovato-R project were “Not ideas but small, realistic, feasable projects”, or “Public employees can innovate. Innovation as matter of people”. An ambitious project that needed an innovative approach to be realized, and MVP methodology should be  a valid method to work with “Minimum action that can be implemented in the short term”.

    The primary benefit of an MVP is you can gain understanding about your customers’ interest in your product without fully developing the product. The sooner you can find out whether your product will appeal to customers, the less effort and expense you spend on a product that will not succeed in the market.

    The MVP, despite the name, is not about creating minimal products. If your goal is simply to scratch a clear itch or build something for a quick flip, you really don't need the MVP. In fact, the MVP is more powerful and more demanding: the commitment it requires in being designed and executed, is directly proportional to the cost of doing no MVP, and completely failing to release your innovation. You may think that talking to customers, monitoring metrics and analytics, requires a lot of energy: indeed. And yet, it requires no more energy than needed to develop your product and then having to go back because you were wrong. And you will be wrong, most likely: the probability of making a mistake is objectively very high if you are developing a true innovation. If you think it is not true in your very specific case you are just deluding yourself.

    A key premise behind the idea of MVP is that you produce an actual product, lighter than your ideal product (which may be no more than a landing page, or a service with an appearance of automation, but which is fully manual behind the scenes) that you can offer to customers and observe their actual behaviour with the product or service. Seeing what people actually do with respect to a product is much more reliable than asking people what they would do.

    The fact that you need to validate with appropriate learning, long before finalizing your product, is: “Will my prospect customer purchase my product?”.

    This concept was the focus of the session of Cosimo Panetta (founder and president of the innovation consulting The Doers*) in the kick-off meeting in Paris (14-14 February), on Lean Design Methodology for innovation and, in particular, on the correct approach for building a pilot.

    An innovation has a great affinity with a startup. They both represent new ideas, which may or may not have an objective response, be appreciated, and be effectively used by the consumers or by the users of the services or innovative practices.

    The fundamental aspect, according to Panetta, is to minimize the risk of irrecoraverable failure - the point in which you cannot apply the Turkish saying. From 65% to 90% of the innovations are facing a failure. Instead, the development of a successful innovation progresses only by experimenting and testing interest of the end user and the feasibility of the solution, both from the user experience and technology perspective.

    It may happen that an innovative idea, a new project, is brilliant on paper, and nevertheless it does not meet the needs of the consumer: therefore it fails.

    The MVP stays at the core or the experimenting and testing disciplined practice: it represents the best strategy to acquire the maximum learning with the minimum investment of resources. The strategy to start well with an innovation is to learn quickly through numerous iterations. 

    According to Cosimo Panetta six rapid iterations most likely produce more learning than 3 clicks of longer experiments.

    1) Awareness
    The riskiest factor is: does your audience / your customer / customer have a problem to get rid of, that deserves your attention?  

    2) Interest
    The solution does not exist yet, and you want to have an indication of the potential interest in the product. You may have understood the problem, but have completely failed the concept of the solution...

    3) Trial
    You want to make sure your customers are happy, and to solve their problems appropriately. Therefore you need to validate the fact that the concept idea - although validated - actually works. 
    The big question is: How can you check the attractiveness, or the efficacy, of the solution, without actually developing the final solution? How can you test  the interest in a product that is not yet developed? Answer: creating something that imitates it, suggesting that the product is already available and delivering the benefit without the product. 

    Panetta illustrated during the meeting various testing practices like the Fake Door, or Pinocchio, Impersonator, Wizard of Oz, Concierge and Prototype.

    4) End of the process is the Adoption.

    In a context of shrinking of public resources, even more methodologies focused on use of minimum investment of resources  raise the attention of cities as key elements to introduce, validate innovation and activate change processes.

    And it’s not by a chance a main result of the training session in Paris was the request of the partnership to continue to invest in capacity building on these issues.

    In the next project meeting in Murcia (4-5 June), Liat Rogel (founder of HousingLab, freelance service designer and design teacher) will guide the partner cities, with the MVP technique, to understand their Capacity Building, focusing on short term actions in their own contest. 

    Liat Rogel explains that according to the good practice of social innovation it is necessary to take into account the context in which to introduce them, evaluating both the resources put in place and the cultural and economic barriers that can be created in different local contexts.

    In Murcia we will try to frame for each participating city its local context and its characteristics, applying startup methodologies, bringing examples of companies and projects and identifying for each public administration the minimum action that can be implemented in the short term. Without losing the big picture and the long-term objectives.


    * The Doers is a consulting firm founded in 2010 in Turin, which helps large companies and organizations to manage today's growth, and to prepare for tomorrow's transformation: turning into innovation ecosystems and using a scientific-experimental approach to design products and services that the market really needs. 

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  • First key points from the Action Planning Network call

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    The Action Planning Network call is now closed.
    We are delighted to announce that 62 applications have been submitted.


    Lead Partner Cities are from as many as 17 countries: Italy (16), Spain (7), Portugal (7), the Netherlands (6), France, Romania and Belgium (with 4 proposals each). Other member states with more than one proposal include Poland (3), Greece (2) and Germany (2). The member states with only one lead partner city are the United Kingdom, Austria, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia and Sweden.

    The most popular thematic objective is “environmental protection and resource efficiency”, with almost one quarter of the proposals. Thematic objectives of “social inclusion” and “research technological development and innovation” are covered by about one fifth of the proposals. “Sustainable transport and education” and “skills and lifelong learning” are at the core of about 10% of the proposals.

    The URBACT Monitoring Committee will make a decision based on the assessment of the external experts on 25 June 2019. A maximum of 23 networks will be selected.

    Well done to all those who submitted and good luck!

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  • Pooling urban commons: the Civic eState

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


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

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

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

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

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

    Transferring Naples’ Good Practice on urban commons collective governance

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

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

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

    The path to civic use

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

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

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

    Urban commons

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

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

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

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

    Public-civic partnerships: a transferable model

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

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

    A blueprint for the future?

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

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


    Visit the network's page: Civic eState

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  • Fighting homelessness: the role of cities

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    [[{"fid":"25291","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_author[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_author[und][0][value]":""}},"link_text":null,"attributes":{"height":1322,"width":1322,"style":"height: 150px; width: 150px; margin: 6px; float: right;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]Laura Colini, URBACT programme expert gives an overview of the Policy LAB and URBACT Knowledge Hub initiative’s collaboration with FEANTSA and the Mairie de Paris, following their December 2018 gathering to share information, exchange local practices and launch collaboration among small, medium and large administrations in Europe to combat homelessness.

    Inaccessible, inadequate, unaffordable, undignified, insecure or absent housing are conditions feeding the downward spiral of individual and societal deprivation. In Europe such conditions affect a growing number of people in different ways. Public authorities carry responsibility for dealing with a problem, not due to individual circumstances but rather a lack of housing, welfare failures and predatory market-oriented practices.

    Housing NOT for all


    According to Eurostat, 82mil people are affected by the housing overburden rate, meaning they spend over 40% of their disposal income on housing costs. House prices are rising throughout Europe, whereas incomes are mostly stagnating. Meanwhile homelessness is on the increase almost everywhere.

    The most comprehensive analysis on homelessness in Europe was provided by the “Third Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe” report by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (Feantsa) and the French Abbe Pierre Foundation. It provides a gloomy picture of homelessness skyrocketing across Europe, with the highest rates being 169% in England, 150% in Germany and 145% in Ireland.

    In particular, in Germany, the BAG W (the umbrella organisation of non-profit homeless service providers) estimated there were 860,000 homeless in 2016 with a prognosis of 1.2 mil for 2018, a further 40% increase due to asylum seekers. In Ireland 8,897 were estimated to be in shelter accommodation, and 3,333 children were registered as homeless (end of 2017) which is 1 in 3 homeless being a child. Discrimination and fragility of certain groups are also largely under-studied and underrepresented by statistics such as women, LGBTIQ, prisoners becoming homeless after release, etc.

    Measurement and causes

    One of the main difficulties in addressing homelessness in EU, national and local public policies is the provision of accurate statistics due to the techniques used to gather them and how homelessness is defined. If accurate measurement is crucial for designing evidence-based policies, an analysis of the causes of homelessness is crucial in designing appropriate policy measures. The causes might often be hidden or misinterpreted: one of many persistent misconceptions is that homelessness is the result of individual circumstances rather than unjust inequalities in housing, welfare, public services, jobs and, above all, wealth creation and distribution.

    One of the main findings of a study by Fransham and Dorling (2018), is that one of the main causes of homelessness is the “end of private-sector tenancy”, namely the lack of affordable and adequate housing solutions. This is clearly a systemic issue depending on the housing market and its distortions.

    Along the same lines Leilani Fahra, the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, points out that the phenomenon of homelessness is dependent on how the residential real estate sector is dealt with globally.

    Indeed, homelessness has to be contextualised in a discourse on wealth production and the role of government in providing leeway to unregulated financialised residential real estate markets, meaning viewing housing not as a right but as a commodity – a financial asset to leverage more capital. Contradictions are evident, according to Leilani Fahra, when linking data to national GDP. “Germany is the 4th-largest country in the EU in terms of GDP with 420,000 homeless (excluding refugees), Italy the 8th largest GDP with roughly 50,000; France 6th with 480 people dying on the streets every year” Leilani Fahra, Housing For All, Conference (Vienna 04.12.2018). Therefore, how can housing be transformed into a guaranteed right in the context of scarce affordable housing and increasing injustice?

    Housing all homeless is possible

    Macro-economic trends are fundamental to understand why scarcity is maintained to fuel capital, and why housing is the most profitable sector worldwide. However, at micro-economic level cities must have a say. Local governments can count on many instruments and solutions to counteract housing shortages, prevent homelessness and support every citizen starting from those most in need.

    The seminar in Paris called on EU cities engaged in fighting homelessness to share their practices and experiences in designing and implementing strategies fighting homelessness.

    The seminar covered the challenges of measuring homelessness, the implementation of the Housing First programme, practices of homelessness prevention, and reuse of vacant buildings.

    Every thematic area was presented and debated through the experience of cities active within the URBACT programme and city administrations collaborating with FEANTSA. What follows is a glimpse at the topics and practices of some of the cities contributing to the success of the seminar.

    Counting homeless in Paris (FR): La Nuit Solidaire

    Although homelessness falls within the jurisdiction of the French state, moral and political responsibility for homelessness is considered part of the mandate of the City of Paris under the socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo. Since 2015 the city has built a coalition of partners around a plan to fight social exclusion (Pacte Parisien de lutte contre la grande exclusion 2015-2020) and reduce street homelessness, including the recent city-wide plan to use public buildings as emergency shelters.

    Paris has 2.1 m inhabitants (metropolis 6.7 m, urban area 11 m) and provides 16,000 shelter beds with around an additional 2,000 in winter. Homelessness has been on the rise for the last 20 years. Street homelessness is highly visible, but reliable data and research are lacking. To gain a clearer picture the “La Nuit Solidaire” initiative managed by the Mayor’s Office was launched overnight between 15th and 16th of February 2018 to count the number of street homeless in its urban area by 356 coordinated teams, comprising 1 professional and 4 or 5 volunteers – with training ahead of time for the professionals and on the spot for volunteers. Around 2,000 civil servants and volunteers participated in the nocturnal count of homeless people city wide, street by street, conducting a survey to gather information on demographics, sleeping places, use of homeless services, and needs.

    The results provide significant findings that both contradict and enrich the information gathered previously. According to Mme BenoitIn Paris homelessness is a phenomenon of concentration and dispersion, which concerns the whole city. The survey uncovered some significant data: for instance, it was estimated that around 5% of homeless were women, but in reality it turned out to be 12% due to fact that women tend to hide and thus are not as visible in public spaces. Moreover, the survey showed that approximately 64% of those in need do not call 115 (the number for Samusocial proving emergency support for people on the streets).” Moreover, the survey shows that the phenomenon of homelessness is closely related to spatial dynamics that differentiate location preferences in relation to age, short- and long-term experience of homelessness, recipients of 115 support, etc.

    As a follow-up, every year in February the survey will be repeated, possibly extending beyond the peripheral line of Paris to the metropolitan area. The Solidarity Bubble centre has been created to host a 5-point programme to provide education on the reality of homelessness, combat stereotypes and preconceived notions; promote projects aligned with municipal priorities; provide training on homelessness and skills useful when serving them; and help volunteers connect with opportunities or test their own ideas.

    Housing First: how Finland (FI) and the city of Helsinki stop homelessness

    Housing First provides unconditional accommodation for people experiencing homelessness successfully applied in the United States, Canada and several European countries. “A Housing First service is first and foremost concerned with providing housing to homeless persons immediately or very quickly, combined with support tailored to the individual. Within this framework, the immediate focus is placed on enabling a person to live in their own home.

    In Europe Housing First has been successfully adopted in many cities and applied throughout Finland, the only country in Europe where homelessness has fallen. The particularity of this case is that Housing First has been adopted at national level with three main targets: halve long-term homelessness by 2011 and end it by 2015; reinforce the Housing First approach as a mainstream organising principle for housing and support services for the homeless; and convert all shelters and dormitory-type hostels into supported housing units.

    The Ministry decided to take action in 10 municipalities with existing homeless shelters being gradually improved and turned into serviced flats (some with 24/7 help). Many existing old buildings in poor locations were turned into flats for the homeless: a “big hostel for the homeless in Helsinki with 250 beds was run by the Salvation Army. (Around 2014) this hostel was renovated to become 80 independent apartments with on-site staff.” There are different grades of flat: serviced flats in large buildings or scattered flats with no service across the city, owned by the Municipality or housing associations, which through loans from the Municipality allow new flats to be built. Tommi Tolmunen, a Helsinki social worker, points out that “this is different to the staircase model in which escaping homelessness is the result of good behaviour. In Housing First the initial step is to hand over a key and say let’s talk when you’re ready…” An important change was the moral attitude toward the provision of support: “to stop taking drugs and get treatment for alcoholism is no longer a precondition for a flat”.

    Today all units are full and waiting time is over a year. “The problem is that people are not moving out from these units as fast as those wanting to move in…” Tommi Tolmunen. Alternative housing solutions and flexible support and services are the next challenges for a thus-far-successful method, from which other EU cities are learning (see Housing First Europe Hub).

    Prevention of homelessness: Strategy against eviction in Barcelona (ES)

    The city of Barcelona is one of the best examples of public policy being implemented to combat housing speculation. From the period of booming investment in the late nineties up to the financial crisis, the real estate sector witnessed a flurry of speculation leading to mass evictions (Coq-Huelva, 2013; García‐ Lamarca and Kaika, 2016): Between 2008 and 2015 there were 35,234 evictions in Barcelona. The city has 1.7 m inhabitants (metropolitan area 3 m) and less than 1.5% social housing. Since 2017 rent has increased by 7.8%, house prices by 9.2%, and there have been an average of 30 evictions each week (81% rental).

    The Municipality aims for more social housing but its provision is the remit of the Generalitat, the Government body of Catalonia. Despite this, the Municipality of Barcelona has formulated the comprehensive Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025 Barcelona, with a 5-point strategy to improve housing affordability, adequacy and accessibility. Among the many actions to guarantee housing as a basic right to all citizens, the Municipality is creating its own housing association, which will build on land offered by the Municipality. A special service to support people affected by eviction is provided in the Right to Housing Plan called Intermediation Service for People in the Process of Evictions and Occupancies (SIPHO), which received the URBACT good practice label. Specialised lawyers work in housing offices (13 across the city) coordinating the efforts of social services in each district. With 10 m euros of funding, these offices offer help in mediation with landlords, management of debt and arrears, legal aid, alternative housing, and advice and information. “Citizens are informed via different communication channels, and shown a graph explaining the steps they need to take within 15 days to avoid eviction”.

    In 2017, this service attended 2,351 new families in residential exclusion, which represents more than 7000 people of which 2,377 were minors.

    Reuse of vacant building

    In 2014 a UK-based NGO calculated that there are 11 m vacant homes in Europe (over 3.4m in Spain, over 2m in each of France and Italy, 1.8m in Germany and over 700,000 in the UK).

    A ‘healthy’ vacancy rate for a housing market, both in the US and Europe, is considered to be 3 to 5 %. When vacancies rise, house prices should decrease and vice versa in response to supply and demand mechanisms. However, high vacancy rates have gone hand in hand with rising house prices especially in Mediterranean countries”. In practice, high vacancy rates to not automatically lead to reductions in house prices. Most problematic are empty dwellings likely to remain so for long periods (overoptimistic pricing, unfit for habitation / reluctance to invest in refurbishment, inheritance, health, etc., holiday home, change of occupants, voluntarily off the market).

    The question of whether this housing stock can be a potential supply for the lack of affordable housing, demands different types of information and competencies regarding data about property, existing vacancy and market dynamics, expertise in urban planning, competences in legislative and fiscal conditions etc.. In particular, taxation procedures and strategic incentives can make a difference in potential use of vacant apartments: Is a discount offered if the empty apartment is rented out? Is there discount for social renting? In England, local authorities can demand a local tax increase of up to 50% for properties that have been unoccupied and unfurnished for more than two years. And in terms of incentives, some local authorities in England, suggest that owners rent their property long term (5 to 10 years) to renters chosen by the council and awards a vacant housing grant to cover 50% of the renovation costs.

    In Paris, urban planning and municipal decision making, especially though the Plan to Fight Social Exclusion, have made a difference in the reuse of vacant buildings for social purposes. There are many examples such as the reuse operated by an intermediary between the space owner and the operator of activities that will be hosted during the period before redevelopment; the reuse of former hospital Saint Vincent de Paul to host shelters and charities vacant before being redeveloped as social housing. The re-use of public buildings, known to have been empty for at least 2 years, turning them into temporary shelters like the example of public buildings for homeless women managed by NGOs. However, as Gabriel Visier, who works on a day-to-day basis with NGOs, warns “the use of vacant spaces for shelters implies some challenges: there are costs in turning them into places suitable for use as a shelter (showers, kitchens…), sometimes the period the vacant building can host a temporary shelter is too short to be financially viable for the charity that will operate it (as it must to provide the investment required to make the space fit for use as a shelter, but will have little time to pay off that investment).” The necessity to relocate the shelter once redevelopment starts is also a major challenge charities are facing.

    On a smaller urban scale, the Municipality of Villafranca del Penedes (ES) created a strategy to facilitate accessibility of affordable housing through the URBACT good practice programme, which maps empty buildings, provides rehabilitation for social purposes, uses construction work for occupational training and job promotion for the unemployed, and ultimately housing for families in need. The procedure is fairly simple and has been running successfully for 25 years: first, the owners of vacant old buildings can voluntarily request to be part of the programme; second, the city council analyses each case, if fit, makes a contract with the owner who transfers the use of the building to the city council for a period of time proportional to the size of the investment; third, construction is carried out with training monitored by Social Services; fourth, the selection of beneficiary families, preferential rent up to 5 years. Since 1992 250 flats have been renovated, with 90 still managed by the municipality. Over 500 families have been helped this way, and beneficiaries are contacted every 2nd month by social services.

    Contextual conditions for the programme’s success are crucial: In Vilafranca few banks are registered as home owners as it would be difficult to cooperate with them; the owners of old vacant buildings cannot easily sell their flats, and heritage law creates problems. Moreover, they are also unwilling to have flats remain empty due to the threat of squatters. As such, home owners, who cannot be forced to participate, see an advantage in joining the programme. The variety of cases and practices in the reuse of vacant buildings is manifold and context related. URBACT has produced an online tool of practices to showcase some of the solutions implemented across Europe.

    Special thanks go to all the city participants ( e.g., Ghent, Manchester, Newcastle, Gothenburg, Lisbon, Thessaloniki et al.) of the seminar, which contributed cases, examples and questions from local practices to be showcased in an upcoming report.

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  • Breathing new life into abandoned spaces

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    This is the report of the Creative SpIN Final Event, held in Birmingham, 21-22 April 2015

    Located 10 km from Naples, in a mess of urban sprawl beneath a major airport flight path, Casoria has struggled through years of economic and social crisis. If it once benefited from the post-war boom, there is little evidence today beyond the shells of old factories. A maze of roads and railway lines chokes the chaotic modern city, which is home to an estimated 7 000 unauthorised buildings. Many of these sit empty, surrounded by concrete. Unemployment is at 30% — rising to 65% among young people — and more and more people are forced to leave the area to find work elsewhere.

    Trying to improve these conditions is notoriously difficult. Some problems are a reflection of national and regional inequalities. Others go back decades or are rooted deep in society. Despite this, in 2013 the municipality drew up an ambitious new urban plan, based on sustainable ecological models. The idea was to develop a network of abandoned and underused spaces that would be transformed into green or cultural hubs as the basis for a radical regeneration. After two years of preliminary work, as they waited for approval from the regional government, the municipality joined URBACT to share planning experiences with other cities

    Starting from zero

    We had no experience of an initiative like this,” says Francesca Avitabile, an architect in the municipality’s Public Works Department. “Before anything else we had to learn how to work as a community.” Thanks to their participation in URBACT, the city set up a group of local stakeholders (URBACT Local Group) to plan actions. The group’s meetings were large while the minutes were published online. The aim was to plan a series of small interventions in line with the broader urban strategy. From the offset, for example, owners of key brownfield sites were asked to provide temporary public paths on their land to connect future regeneration sites directly with the city centre. This was a simple and effective way of challenging the city’s fragmented geography.

    The group closely followed a step-by-step strategy, which formed the basis of their Integrated Action Plan. They had already identified Michelangelo Park, an overgrown ex-military base, as a pilot site from which to begin their gradual improvement of the town. “Transforming this was a practical demonstration of future visions, a prefiguration of those urban transformations that would be infeasible today,” says Enrico Formato, an external expert for Casoria, based at the University of Naples. During the development, the local group coordinated guerrilla gardening events and citizen-led clean-up initiatives. Even the furniture was co-designed during participatory sessions and procured for free, thanks to a programme of public sponsorship.

    Rebuilding a local identity

    In April 2018, Michelangelo Park was finally opened for use and it is now the biggest green space in the town. “This was the first tangible result of participatory methods in Casoria,” says Ms Avitabile. “It was the start of a whole new process for the community.” Even more remarkably, this was achieved in spite of sizeable political changes. In 2016, a new municipal administration was elected. And while the new party supported the park, they slowed down the wider implementation of the 2013 Structural Plan. That the sub>urban integrated plan survived this shift in policy is testament to the project’s popularity among citizens.

    As a result of URBACT, a network of associations and civic committees has been formed and consolidated in Casoria,” says Mr Formato. “Today even without a strong coordination of the municipal administration, they are carrying forward the ideas and methodologies shared during the sub>urban experience.” The ongoing development at another green site, Boccaccio Park, is the most visible sign of this unfolding impact. The main legacy, however, has been a shift in mentality. “URBACT is very important for people here,” confirms Ms Avitabile. “This wasn’t just about a park; it helped us rebuild our local identity.”


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


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  • BLUACT: Why the Blue Economy is an increasing sea of opportunity

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    A report by Darinka Czischke, Conor Moloney and Catalina Turcu
    Carbon neutrality

    The origins of the Blue Economy concept can be traced back to the mid 90’s, when the Belgian businessman turned author, Gunter Pauli, was asked by the United Nations to think about innovative business models of the future.

    Originally conceived with the aim of reconciling the shared goals of stimulating entrepreneurship whilst also preserving marine eco-systems, today, the term ‘Blue Economy’ covers a range potential policy interventions ranging from;

    • Practical programmes for delivering any form of economic growth which is linked to the marine and maritime economy;
    • More complex economic philosophies which draw on a range of ‘circular economy’ concepts and frameworks to deliver growth in such a way which preserves, maintains and enhances the marine environment (and therefore delivers more significant, long run benefits to society).

    The latter concept is an ever-evolving model, which has come to particular prominence recently, over growing concerns about the invasive impact of single use plastics on the marine environment.

    In 2012 the European Commission estimated that the Blue Economy represented over 5 million jobs and a gross added value of around €500 bn per year – a figure which is roughly equivalent to 4% of the EUs total economic output. It also affects a large number of the EU residents with an estimated 40% of the EU population living within 50km from the sea.

    Over the last decade, some member states have seen the Blue Economy grow faster than their national economies. One city that has been at the forefront of trying to stimulate innovative, new Blue Economy businesses is the city of Piraeus in Greece.  

    Helping Blue Growth Entrepreneurs become ‘investment ready’

    The Piraeus Blue Growth Initiative (BGI) is a structured entrepreneurship and innovation competition focussing on the marine and maritime economy. It was the first EU level innovation competition for the marine and maritime economy (Blue Economy) originally established in 2014. It was successfully awarded an URBACT Good Practice status, last year.

    The BGI helps early-stage entrepreneurs develop and realise innovative business concepts and create jobs in the Blue Economy. Operating as an annual business plan competition, the initiative is effectively a programme of activities to help aspiring Blue Growth entrepreneurs get ‘investment ready’ – to effectively prepare their business ideas to the stage where they can secure external investment.    

    The Blue Growth Initiative is structured around a number of elements;

    1. Governance: Establishment of a strong multi-agency Blue Growth governance structure for overseeing the delivery of the programme.
    2. Competition preparation: Building the partnership-based delivery programme and developing the marketing collateral;
    3. Competition delivery: Includes business plan idea generation, proposal evaluation, preparing the successful applicants for a demo day; and organising the demo day/award ceremony 
    4. Incubation Programme: Supporting the successful entrepreneurs to scale their business; and
    5. Ongoing celebration and promotion: to build the profile of the exercise, to recreate it again the year after.

    Transfer of the practice to other cities across Europe

    Having been awarded with the URBACT Good Practice Label, the City of Piraeus was subsequently successful in securing funding to work with Burgas in Bulgaria, and Matosinhos in Portugal, to explore the potential to establish an URBACT Transfer Network, to examine how best to transfer the programme to seven other cities across Europe.

    This process will conclude in October this year when Piraeus submits its application for Phase 2 of the URBACT Transfer Network programme with its seven partners cities.

    If successful, this project could establish a pan-European Investment Readiness programme for aspiring Blue Growth Entrepreneurs and a network of cities keen to build on their marine and maritime assets.

    A European Platform for Investing in the Blue Economy

    What makes this URBACT project particularly timely is that the European Commissioner for the Environment, Karmenu Vella, announced at the 2018 European Maritime Day in Burgas, that DG Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is building a European investment platform dedicated solely to the blue economy.

    This builds on the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, in which the Commission proposed;

    • That the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will focus on ‘promoting the blue economy in fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, ocean energy or blue biotechnology, in coastal communities, at EU level to provide real EU added value by encouraging EU governments, industry and stakeholders to develop joint approaches to drive growth, while safeguarding the marine environment’.
    • That ‘synergies for the maritime and blue economy will be exploited in particular with the European Regional Development Fund for the investment in blue growth sectors and for sea-basin strategy, with the European Social Fund+ to re-train fishers in acquiring skills and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development for support to aquaculture. The collaboration and synergies with Horizon Europe for marine research and innovation will be achieved, for instance by supporting small and medium-sized enterprises for the deployment and market replication of innovative solutions for blue growth and by supporting a thematic investment platform for research and innovation in the blue economy.’; and
    • That ‘the InvestEU Fund will play an important role with financial instruments for market related action, in particular by supporting a thematic investment platform for research and innovation in the Blue Economy’.

    The same document goes on to explain that one particular element of the EUInvest Programme InvestEU Assistance will be established by partners, to provide advisory support and accompanying measures to foster the creation and development of projects, helping projects get off the ground and make them investment-ready.

    However, InvestEU Assistance will need to reach deep into the Blue-Growth entrepreneur community across Europe, if it is to be successful at stimulating innovative, new businesses ideas that possess the potential to add value to the European economy. That’s where a close integration with initiatives like Piraeus’ Blue Growth Initiative can really help.

    As Petros Kokkalis, the Councillor for Local Economic Growth & Entrepreneurship in the Municipality of Piraeus remarked “The Piraeus Blue Growth Initiative has created a value for the city and for Europe, in that it has created a platform for bringing together different parts of the innovation eco-system, to support aspiring Blue Growth Entrepreneurs”

    “One of the major challenges for many of the early stage businesses that we see is raising the funds they need to develop and scale their business. We welcome the establishment of a central Blue Economy investment platform, as it will help address this critical area of market failure and look forward to working with it to support Blue Growth Entrepreneurs.” 

    An increasing sea of opportunity?

    It’s actually a little-known fact, but the word ‘opportunity’ comes from a Latin seafaring phrase, ‘ob portus’, which is made up of the terms ob, meaning “toward”, and portus, meaning “port”. The word came about, because sailors used to have to wait for the right combination of wind, current, and tide to successfully sail into port. They had to seize the right opportunity.

    Today, the opportunity presented by the Blue Economy across Europe is significant and growing. Despite the well-developed nature of the blue economy, there is a scope to further increase its productivity, potential and contribution to the European economy.

    Whilst a wide range of opportunities exist to further this aim, expanding Piraeus’ Good Practice in the field of Investment Readiness to a range of other cities across Europe and connecting this into a central Investment Platform like the one being developed by the Commission will help to establish a coherent cross-sectoral strategy to tackle one of the major obstacles to growth in the sector.


    Visit the network's page: BluAct


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  • Experimenting with governance

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    Innovative governance work is notable is several of the 97 URBACT Good Practices. Common themes emerge around how cities are beginning to innovate. Firstly, how they relate and connect to their citizens. Second, how they build new alliances with a wider range of organisations. Thirdly, how for innovative practices to truly function, significant internal change is required from government organisations.

    The roots of modern European governance


    Governance systems currently in place in much of the European Union were first developed in the 19th Century as the industrial revolution unfolded.  Some aspects have changed but often the essential form has remained the same. ‘Management’ as Manfred Weber first documented is bureaucratic and based on rules and procedures, which are systematised through reports, signatures and files. This written paper culture still informs the way of doing business in much of the public sector, even in countries where digital technologies are most advanced. Although flatter hierarchies are now the norm in some countries, elsewhere, rigid hierarchies and promotion based on seniority limit the potential and creativity of younger staff. Everywhere, departmental and professional boundaries restrict our ability to tackle complex problems in a holistic way.

    Key characteristics of the old 19th and 20th Century economy were industry and urbanism. Local government responded to these new needs by developing forms of governance that were essentially paternal, aimed at a newly urbanised working class. Their main drive was to deliver healthy enough conditions, enabling a working population to make new industrial products in the workshops of the world. 

    Changing governance to meet dynamic cities

    URBACT challenges such ways of working by proposing integrated and participative approaches. But these are often superimposed on the old structures so that although some relations with the outside world change, the internal organisation remains the same.

    In the 21st Century we are slowly beginning to see the emergence of new forms of governance that rebalance the relationship between government and citizens. Instead of redistribution through the raising of tax and the delivery of public services we see the notion of coproduction that puts the service user at its centre. Instead of a one-service model for everyone we see the emergence of personalised models that fit around the individual. But the new coexists with the old and there are inevitable tensions between the paradigms.

    Many of the good practices presented at the URBACT city festival illustrate facets of this emerging model of governance. They range from changing internal ways of working, to how the municipality reaches out to citizens through new forms of regulation for common space. 

    Naples, civic cultural success

    Nicola Masella from Naples explained how active civil society movements had taken over vacant and derelict buildings owned by the municipality. Initial success then provoked a reflection inside the city about how this ‘temporary use’ could be organised on a more regular basis, and what form of regulation was needed to facilitate this process. Naples provides and excellent example of how regulatory change can quickly stimulate new activity within the city. Inevitably this activity generates more growth and activity. Here are signs of real change, in other times the response would have been to insist on eviction and increase the security of empty buildings, at cost to the public purse.

    By revisiting the notion of civic use, the good practice proposed by Naples city council aims at guaranteeing the collective enjoyment of common goods. These common goods can be cultural and natural heritage, essential public services, public spaces and water resources. Through its willingness and use of its administrative process the city has strengthened civic participation and enabled the fair use of common resources while at the same time allocating clear responsibilities for maintenance and management.

    In particular, Naples aims to make spontaneous, bottom-up initiatives recognisable and institutionalised, ensuring the autonomy of both parties involved: the proactive citizens and the institutions.

    How it works in Naples: Filangieri Asylum

    The first common good to be recognized was the former Asylum at Filangeri, Naples, a complex that in 2012 had been occupied by a group of art and culture professionals protesting against the restoration and recent abandonment of the premises. The city council acknowledged its civic use in a resolution in 2012 which recognised the building as a “place with a complex use in the cultural field, and whose spaces are used to experiment in participative democracy”.
    Re-use produces high social and cultural value as well as generating positive economic externalities. Uses must involve not only the users of the space but the whole neighbourhood and the wider city. In return the administration contributes to the operating expenses to ensure an adequate accessibility of the property and general safety conditions: maintenance, cleaning, electricity consumption and surveillance. An ah-hoc unit on the technical level, and a political coordinator are in charge of promoting and fostering an integrated approach particularly, between municipal departments involved and other institutions or agencies.

    The facility in its new form has to be free and inclusive, i.e. it must guarantee access to all. Finance comes from donations, voluntary contributions, self-financing and other forms of social pricing, which is permitted for cultural events. The management model must be based on a strong participatory process. In the Asylum Filangieri three different structures manage the building the "Management assembly", the "Steering assembly“ and the “Board of Trustees”. Each has its own distinct remit.

    Since the passing of the regulation in 2012 there have been more than 200 weekly open meetings held in the Asylum Filangieri. Working groups are formed as necessary for implementation and over 900 events have been produced with attendance of 18 000 people. The venture has strengthened community cohesion by building bonds between citizens, and has narrowed the gap between artists, academics and citizens.

    A second resolution in 2016 recognised a further seven public properties as “relevant civic spaces” and as “common goods”. These facilities have generated 5,800 activities 1,500 days of theatre, dance and music rehearsals; 300 exhibitions; 250 art projects, 300 concerts musical groups plus as many rehearsals and 350 debates. An estimated 200,000 citizens have taken part. In addition, the community-based organisations have provided a range of free services including training for the unemployed, a neighbourhood nursery, schooling for migrants and health services.

    The Naples approach puts empty buildings at the service of the community and allows the community’s creativity to flower in a new setting.

    Umeå: Governance from a new perspective

    The city of Umeå, in northern Sweden has taken an innovative approach when working towards a more gender-neutral cityscape. Unlike other governance innovation schemes the city has chosen to look broadly at the governance perspective and work towards dismantling a male lead system that precludes the needs and wants of almost half its population.

    The city’s municipality began by focusing on how the city works from a gendered perspective. Their practice is to take citizens, policy makers and visitors around the city on a bus tour during which issues facing women and men are explored by visiting different sites in the city and examining them with gender in mind. Interest was ignited when work began on a long pedestrian underpass, used to access the train station, the Lev. This was redesigned with gender equal safety in mind and so is better lit, wide, with no corners behind which people can hide. The main aim of the tour is to view the overall city space and highlight the need for collaboration when creating new, safe, inclusive environments.

    Umeå’s approach to improving its urban environment should be celebrated yet its simple, almost obvious idea of inclusive and representative design only highlights the astonishing fact that cities and towns worldwide still do not design educate, design or govern with women in mind. Aside from specialist projects, most major designs that relate to our cities, from the macro level of masterplanning down to the design of public space, schools, hospitals and indeed housing are lead predominantly by men.

    Gender balanced governance: Inspirations from Umea

    Women mayors are still relatively rare in local government in most of the EU Member States. Even the famous mayors of big cities such as Anne Hidalgo in Paris and Ada Colau in Barcelona are unusual in their own countries. Finding new ways to help policy makers understand issues from a gendered perspective is therefore essential to reach better decisions about design, usage and management of urban facilities. The Umea bus tour which helps people to understand the city from a gender perspective does just this. 

    Turin opens up to innovation

    Fabrizio Barbiero explained how the city of Turin chose to mobilise the innovative capacity of its ten thousand strong workforce in a project called ‘everyone is an innovator’ led by Innova.TO. A challenge was made to the city’s workforce to come up with innovative ideas that were capable of being implemented. Its main aim was to create a cultural shift within the governing body, from being a rule-bound organisation towards a more creative and open structure with a focus on reducing both cost and waste and improving services. 71 project ideas were received in the first round held in 2016. In addition, over 4000 contacts were recorded on the web platform and the initiative has attracted international press coverage as well as in the city itself. One limiting factor at present is that projects must raise their own resources for implementation.

    A key aspect of the project is that it is open to regular staff at any level with the exception of directors. Individuals propose most projects but about a third are by two or more staff. The project proposers are anonymous during the selection process which is carried out by a panel which mixes external experts from the University of Torino and the private sector with internal officials. Innova.TO is just one part of wider programmes for social innovation involving communities and other actors in the city.

    In the 2016 edition ten projects were taken forward. These included an idea to improve community participation in local projects, a proposal for sensors to control lighting in public buildings, a new model for smart procurement and a method by which citizens can see how their donations encouraged through the income tax submission finance public actions. None of these projects has imposed any cost on the municipality.

    The key aim of the project is in changing the perception that only the private sector is innovative.  By creating a reflective space for innovation within the municipality the project starts the process by which the public sector can be reinvented. Although it is a bottom up initiative it ultimately depends on senior and middle management for implementation of the chosen proposals. This helps to develop a listening culture among senior managers who need to become more open minded to change.

    Aarhus: Culture as an Intermediary

    Lars Davidsen from Aarhus presented their approach using culture as a way of intermediating with citizens. Their specific approach has some echoes of what Naples has been doing as they take the opportunity presented by empty properties to create a form of popup revitalisation. 

    Aarhus is using participation around culture as a way of integrating policy and addressing more complex problems such as loneliness, the inclusion of vulnerable young people and youth unemployment. The use of empty property on a temporary basis allows greater flexibility and for a quick learning by doing approach which might be stifled in a permanent solution. 

    The city works with a mantra “City life before urban spaces and urban spaces before buildings”

    Change in action in Amersfoort and Swindon

    The change in workplace culture taking place in some cities has been written about previously in URBACT workstream Social Innovation in Cities with two cities mentioned in particular: Amersfoort and Swindon. Amersfoort’s city manager started a process in January 2015 when he asked his 800 staff to become ‘Free range civil servants’ in the sense that they were asked to go into communities to listen and coproduce rather than staying walled up in the Town Hall. One of the first projects was to develop a former hospital site into an activity park.  It showed that co-production could work as a popular planning tool.

    In Swindon restructuring of the city’s services created three directorates. All service delivery departments were put in the same department under one director.  A second department deals with localities or neighbourhoods while the third is engaged solely in procurement. This radical redesign was aimed at developing services that cost less to deliver and could produce better results for the citizen. But it is only a start, in complex interventions for example concerning troubled families, a host of non municipality agencies are also involved from police and criminal justice to housing associations, job centres and social security. Providing an integrated service to the user can start with the municipality but also needs to address these other fields that are run by other government departments. 

    Public Administration needs to go Dutch

    Our cities continue to change at an increasing rate and yet many of the systems and processes we use to deliver services are groaning under the strain of modern needs. The examples looked at here point to the necessity for a cultural or even philosophical shift in the way we envisage governance engaging with citizens. New, non-hierarchical and inclusive models of governance need to be enacted, systems that represent the needs of every citizen and not simply those within the system. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect. Organisational cultures are very rigid and fixed. Saying that public administration needs to go Dutch is one thing. Doing

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  • The growing role of food in fixing our cities

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    El pasado 7 de enero de 2019 se lanzó oficialmente la nueva convocatoria las URBACT Action Planning Networks, que estará abierta hasta el 17 de abril. Puedes conocer todos los detalles aquí
    Circular economy

    Representatives from small and medium sized cities in the URBACT network Agri-Urban met recently in Fundao to exchange ideas about improving the food infrastructure in their cities. They got together to ask: How can we work more effectively with producers? How can we stimulate innovation in the supply chain? How can we optimise public sector procurement in schools and care homes to reshape our local food supply lines - and consumption habits?

    Around the table, Agri-Urban brings some heavyweight experience. Among the partners is Sodertajle from Sweden, with its trailblazing work in public procurement. There is also Mouans-Sartoux, a small French city punching above its weight and challenging city decision-makers on key questions of land use.

    Fundao itself has overcome its apparent vulnerability to dependence on one product by diversifying its local cherry economy in highly innovative ways. Its “Fablab” enables local producers and creatives to collaborate using state-of-the art facilities. One local business is cultivating mushrooms in used coffee grounds, exploiting commercial waste to generate value – a great example of the circular economy in action.

    In the fading sunlight of a long productive day the international group visited the Natura glamping site, glamorous camping to the uninitiated, where Agri-Urban’s city partners planted a row of trees – cherry trees of course – on a ridge overlooking the valley.

    In this network we can see the URBACT integrated principles at work, truly encompassing environmental, economic and social activity. And Agri-Urban is not working alone in this sphere. Food has become a hot topic for cities.

    Main course: URBACT’s food adventure continues

    At the recent Unusual Suspects Festival in London, Agri-Urban had the chance to connect with a global audience interested in their work. With inputs from across the city, participants from as far afield as Canada and South Korea assembled at the wonderful Calthorpe Project to exchange ideas and inspiration.

    Albert Garcia, representing Mollet de Valles (Spain), another URBACT food pioneer, had some interesting take-aways from the event. He noted the important role of food in helping reach some of the goals cities have today – including meeting health, social and economic priorities. He said: “What I really thought in the plane is that I will commit as a civil servant to make the unusual more usual. To work hard to convince the main actors that making innovative contributions to their city with unusually good initiatives or approaches is possible. From the city hall we have to struggle to create the right framework to let the unusual grow and become usual as a major achievement for the city. A long way to go but lot of unusual suspects full with energy and commitment.

    In Mollet, as in many URBACT cities, the food theme remains strong. As well as Diet for a Green Planet, which was Mollet’s first programme experience, we have had Sustainable Food, led by Brussels, as well as URBACT Markets exploring the important role of city markets, led by Barcelona. The recent announcement of the URBACT Good Practices continued this food-related momentum, with labeled cities including Mouans Sartoux (France) and Turin (Italy). Mouans Sartoux confronts city planners with key questions about how urban land should be used in the 21st Century. Many cities are under pressure to accommodate growing populations and provide additional housing. But where will the land come from – and how can we ensure a balanced approach where cities retain green spaces, not only for recreation but also for cultivation?

    One of Turin’s two URBACT Good Practices taps into Italy’s integral relationship between food and local communities. In recent years the city has supported the redevelopment of its network of neighbourhood markets, giving each community access to local produce within walking distance of home. This helps sustain hyper-local micro-economies. It also provides a valuable social forum at a time when there is much talk of the increase in loneliness and isolation in our cities. Additionally, the fact that these markets are a short walk from home discourages driving and promotes cycling and walking which are not only low-carbon activities but also ones more open to chance encounters with neighbours and other shoppers.

    Food in the wider urban family

    A short hop from Turin, Milan has almost 30 square kilometres of agricultural land within its municipal boundary. On the back of its 2016 Food Expo, there is a variety of food-related activity in the city. Their URBACT Good Practice focuses on peri-urban agricultural activity, exploring the role of the food sector in driving entrepreneurship, innovation and employment. The city is also among the first wave of Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) cities, with this project building on their growing wealth of food-related experience. The potential crossover between this and some of the URBACT projects is clear, helped by the fact that this UIA and URBACT’s Agri-Urban project both have support from the same expert, Miguel Sousa.

    In the initial cluster of 18 UIA cities, two others also have a food dimension. Pozzuoli, in the greater Naples metropolitan area, focuses on encouraging zero-kilometre food production in a part of Italy that is the victim of its own gastronomic success. Local producers are more likely to export their mozzarella to New York than produce it for the local market. The domino (pizza?) effect is that the food for sale locally is often imported from North Africa. This may reflect an effective market at work – but it’s an environmental own-goal. Addressing this imbalance, with the aim of stimulating local production and consumption, is one of Pozzuoli’s UIA goals.

    And the UIA focus on food doesn’t stop at the Alps. In the north of France, the city of Lille is also embarking on an approach that puts food at the centre of its anti-poverty activity. Their intention is to transform a well-known local brownfield site, Fives Cail, into a variety of food-related initiatives. Their proposed Halle Gourmande will be a hub of food-related activities, providing opportunities to learn, share and enjoy. In doing so the project’s transformation of this old heavy industrial site will be emblematic of Lille’s post-industrial shift.

    So, when did food and cities hit it off so well?

    Why the big buzz around food? One clear reason is food’s role as a social connector. In an increasingly polarised world, where tribal behaviour and bubble living keep us apart from those who may think differently from us, food can act as a bridge. The inspiring Zipbob social dining project in Seoul, for example, brings neighbours together through food. This is important in a booming megacity where traditional neighbourhoods are fast disappearing with socially unsettling effects. Back in Europe, early findings from an ongoing OECD study on migrant integration in EU cities have underlined the importance of creating shared spaces where locals and new arrivals can meet. Sharing food is an obvious way to do this. For example, it is exactly what Options Food Lab does, linking migrants with cookery skills with Athenians willing to host food sharing events in their homes. As well as the evident social benefits, this has also created a pathway into employment for a number of new arrivals in the city.

    In this same space, we can also see initiatives like Conflict Kitchen using food as a platform for the building of mutual understanding and respect. This project, which initiated in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, runs a restaurant offering the cuisine of a country with which the US is at war. Over the years, the culinary offer has included Iran, Cuba and North Korea. Currently, it is focused on Palestinian food and the restaurant also provides a platform for cultural events including poetry and theatrical performances. The overall idea is to give Americans an insight into cultures that are often widely misrepresented in the mainstream US media.

    Afters: How do we maintain this momentum?

    One of the best things about this new urban food movement is its organic spontaneity. Innovative projects, often run on shoestring budgets, are popping up all over the place. Energetic young people with an interest in food and a commitment to social change are developing many of them, like Options Food Lab. Spark York is another example - a new social enterprise on a temporary site, modeled on London’s Pop Brixton. This will create an attractive pop-up facility where a diverse range of food outlets will each have a strong social purpose.

    We have also seen some of the biggest names in the food industry getting involved, investing their own funds and attracting support from others. The UK’s Jamie Oliver is one well-known example. Another is the French chef Thierry Marx, through his Cuisine Mode d’Emploi. Perhaps most impressive of all is the inspiring work of Modena super-chef Massimo Bottura, with his ambitious attempts to feed the homeless in his Reffetorio Ambrosiano in Milan. Superstar chefs can’t drive the structural changes our cities need, but they can draw attention to the issues and mobilise support across the political spectrum. This includes underlining the food sector’s long-standing role as a route into the labour market for people facing multiple barriers.

    The Botturas of this world don’t need much municipal support. But most social entrepreneurs do, and city administrations can help in lots of ways. They can ensure their cities have space for agriculture, as Bristol has done, through their innovative Food Plan. They can also help by supporting access to premises, even on a temporary basis – particularly when so many spaces lie empty in our cities. And, of course they can provide the financial and business support that all enterprises need.

    In the URBACT Good Practices, municipalities have played a key role which can inspire others. The URBACT Festival, in Tallinn on 3-5 October, will showcase these – and all the other good practices. URBACT will also be supporting a new generation of good practice transfer projects and, who knows, there may be some food projects amongst them.

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