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  • Urban Heritage within URBACT projects

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    Culture and Heritage are key topics for URBACT cities: from renovations of historic buildings to new management methods.


    This article gives an overview of the rich history of URBACT networks dealing with Urban Heritage.

    Historic buildings and urban landscapes

    Urban Heritage related work in the first years of URBACT covered many different angles, concentrating on historic buildings and urban landscapes - for example: the HerO (2008-2011) project. Another sub-topic of heritage dealt with specific areas of cities, such as abandoned military assets (REPAIR, 2008-2011) or ports (CTUR, 2008-2011). Finally, Heritage areas were discussed according to their current functions, how centrally located buildings with heritage values can be used to fulfil important functions such as offering well-located sustainable and affordable housing for the city’s population (LINKS, 2009-2012).

    A detailed account of all these projects was given in the first URBACT Project Results publication.

    At the time, the Heritage topic was managed by one of the Thematic Pole Managers: Philip Stein. The following summarises his thougts, remembering back to this period:"It is difficult to assess exactly what cities involved in the HerO, REPAIR and subsequently LINKS projects achieved in an ongoing perspective at local level. However, we can be fairly sure that while cities like Regensburg (DE), Utrecht (NL), Firenze (IT) and Bayonne (FR) would drive their experience and learning forward. The other partners made major gains in capacity building and opening their governance context to alternative methods and solutions."

    Cultural Heritage as an essential component of the integrated approach to urban development

    It was very important that URBACT was able to provide a new and effective platform for cities to explore how cultural heritage constitutes an essential component of the integrated approach to sustainable and participative urban (and rural) development.

    The HerO project was particularly important in pushing this message forward. It included strategic implications and designed integrated cultural heritage management plans as a valuable blueprint for historic towns and urban landscapes to follow.

    LINKS demonstrated that heritage and citizen engagement needed to be included in discussions about housing and energy conservation, as well as affordable renewal.

    REPAIR provided iconic examples of regeneration and reuse targeting former "military" sites and facilities, making real contributions to economic and employment opportunities, innovative SMEs and amenity.

    Steering the debate away from simply conservation of monuments and sites, or designation of protected areas, even World Heritage designation, allowed sights to be focused on emerging issues like the interaction between tangible and intangible heritage - and its importance for our cities, as well as the fight against exclusion. It also flagged up the potential of bottom up heritage approaches, now generally accepted (Horizon 2020, Faro Convention etc) but then embryonic.

    Beyond physical aspects of Heritage

    A few years later other aspects of dealing with physical heritage came to the forefront.

    The CASH project (2010-2013) dealt with the energy efficiency of affordable housing stock – some in heritage areas.

    The aforementioned LINKS project dealt with the creation of a better functional mix and improvement of heritage areas, with particular attention to keeping the original population of these areas, i.e. avoiding gentrification.

    These ideas were transferred to medium and smaller cities by the SURE project, developing tools like placemaking, social enterprise, community development.

    In the next round of URBACT the heritage-related physical aspects have lost momentum. On the other hand, this was when knowledge hub projects started, some of them addressing Heritage at least indirectly – such as the Building energy efficiency in European cities (2013) project or the Sustainable regeneration in urban areas (2015) project.

    These projects have demonstrated the difficulties of balancing different aspects, making it clear that too strong economic or environmental focus could compromise the achievement of social or heritage protection goals.

    In the last round of APN projects (finished during 2018) the SECOND CHANCE network dealt with the potential re-use of large historic buildings.

    Temporary use and participation

    The REFILL network explored the different forms of temporary use of underused buildings, while the MAPS network concentrated on the potential of military heritage areas. One of the cities of MAPS was Cartagena (ES), with a strong community acting in the targeted neighbourhood.

    In the current group of Transfer Networks the ongoing COME IN project offers a good opportunity to show a new approach to heritage areas: the organisation of special events, e.g. festival-type actions, carefully prepared with the help of volunteers to raise the interest of residents of old buildings which can in the longer term develop into bottom-up organizations and push for heritage renewal.

    The URBAN REGENERATION MIX project deals with historical areas from the point of view of collaboration, increasing the participation of residents, fostering their equal involvement into the urban regeneration processes. The good practice is the regeneration of a heritage area in Lodz.

    A collaborative online tool: Remaking the city

    In order to show good practices regarding place-based challenges in European cities, URBACT has developed a new online tool: Remaking the city. The aim of this tool is to help cities get ideas on how to make the most of their underused and/or problematic spaces. The empty/underused buildings challenge is one of the five space-related challenges, and good practices on heritage re-use can be found here too.

    The "Guardian Houses, Leipzig” practice shows how is it possible to get new tenants for vacant buildings.

    The "Regulation of civic use of urban commons/common goods, Naples (IT)” practice shows what type of public regulation can be introduced for the reuse of public vacant buildings through bottom up initiatives.

    The Tool-kit project of Brussels (BE) describes the innovative practice of deploying a regional fine for neglected heritage on top of the municipal tax and the possibility that the city can go to court to force the owners of heritage to carry out renovations.

    URBACT’s work in the European Urban Policy Framework

    Looking a bit outside of URBACT, the H2020 project OPEN HERITAGE is based on the statement that heritage should not be considered as a top-down defined term but much more as an open issue which should be co-developed with the affected population, creating ’heritage communities’.

    URBACT-related endevaours may have contributed to the fact that the Urban Agenda for the EU has launched a new round of partnerships including one dealing with Urban Heritage. Laura Colini, who is involved in this partnership from the side of URBACT summarises the work in the following way: "In this partnership, cultural heritage is seen as 'a powerful tool for achieving social, ecological and economic goals'."

    The partnership looks at actions which concern integration of environmental, tourism, and recreational activities.

    It looks at the following topics:

    • management of tourist flows and its impact on historic cities;
    • cultural industries as savoir faire, arts & craft but also innovation in arts and culture;
    • adaptive reuse, transformation, revitalisation and the reconversion of urban space focussing on community-based solutions for it;
    • financial sustainability and funding;
    • resilience of cultural and natural heritage, considering as patrimony the agricultural productions in cities, nature in urban environments;
    • integrated & disciplinary approach for governance, community-based approach through the mobilisation of citizens to work on the creation and enhancement of cultural heritage;
    • cultural services and culture for inclusive cities rethinking the use of pubic libraries, schools and museums to be accessible and usable for all parts of society, whether they are part of the city for generations or newly arrived migrants, women or men, young and old natives.

    Culture is a cross-cutting topic

    Thinking of heritage in terms of public policies is a challenging task due to its cross-cutting topic: culture – one that affects all our society, overarching all aspects of urban life. As in the past, the topic of heritage will give good opportunities to future networks to collaborate for more sustainable urban development.


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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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