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  • Social and technological innovation at the service of educational success

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    Mireia Sanabria, URBACT III On Board Network expert says traditional education systems need to keep up with the current trends while keeping cities’ youths interested by evolving education into an open and progressive environment within the community.

    School has never had the monopoly over education nor exclusivity in the transfer of learning, but in recent years this has never been more apparent. Even though education centres continue to play an essential role as instruments for accessing and managing information and knowledge, learning today has to be seen in a broader social and technological context. Because information flows are more voluminous and faster than ever before, our school centres need to be fully aware of this and have the resources to keep pace with current trends to offer modern, relevant and quality education for today and tomorrow’s citizens. City governments, on their side, being the nearest administration to the locals and aware of the city developments and needs, are best positioned to facilitate an education environment in the city that is relevant, suitable and attractive to youths.

    Viladecans: the dawn of a new Educational Innovation Network

    Digital transition

    The city of Viladecans (Spain), 60.000 inhabitants (Barcelona), the Lead Partner of the URBACT III On Board Transfer Network, has been leading local education towards innovative approaches for youth by involving all kinds of public and private actors, including teachers, families, community associations and companies The Educational Innovation Network (EIN) is a stand out example of such cooperation. Gisela Navarro, Viladecans’ Councillor of Education, recalls the very moment when she realised the need to create the Educational Innovation Network in the city. While listening to a young 16-year old student at the local Research Projects Competition describe the results of her findings about the Alzheimer disease and the impact on the health of the patient and his/her relatives, she was struck by young girl’s explanation that it had not been possible to get more information on medical details “due to the difficulty in interviewing the doctor specialist at the Hospital”.

    Navarro decided something had to be done. How could it be that a student could not complete the excellent exercise she had just presented due to constraints in accessing such information? The City of Viladecans simply could not afford to miss such opportunities of nourishing motivated students, particularly in view of local scholars comparatively low educational results in the past years. Viladecans has since placed education as a chief priority in the local policies and strategies for three decades now. All existing local talent and expertise is being made available to the students, so that anyone in the city, at any time, can expand her or his learning opportunities to their full potential. As Navarro has said, “If we are not able to offer full learning opportunities to young students and researchers in Viladecans, then something is clearly being done wrong”.

    A community involved in “free flowing” education

    Viladecans’ full-time all-around education approach envisions that everyone in the city has timely and affordable access to educational opportunities. In the case of students, this means connecting lecture and non-lecture time –formal and non-formal education. It also aims for everyone in the city to be able to contribute, whenever possible, to broader, common education goals, helping every small child and youth to build her/his own life path with equity and without exclusions.

    To advance this model, Viladecans has started to break down the walls of the schools and make education permeable to other non-teaching agents in the community. The City is leading the process towards an open and progressive education environment, setting up the conditions for 360º learning. In this seamless education model, parents,neighbours, companies, youth clubs, cultural and leisure entities, institutions, sports clubs… each plays a role in the teaching responsibility. Mobilised entities taking part in local education projects and initiatives include the Municipality itself: the Departments of Education, Culture and Sports, local business support services, and other institutions and relevant public agents. Still, though, the primary mentoring role of teachers, as professionals in education, is preserved. The umbrella organisation that keeps all of them active, motivated and engaged is the Educational Innovation Network. The case of Viladecans proves that even though local governments cannot provide all the solution to education challenges, they can make a great difference by connecting the dots and integrating education opportunities throughout the community.

    Keeping up with the times: an ever-evolving challenge

    Besides getting local community agents engaged for education success, local authorities and education professionals need to keep up with the continuously changing reality that requires constant new learning and updating of skills, in particular regards technologies and digital learning tools. Today’s analogic top-down hierarchical and overly rigid school systems are confronted with a more horizontal online learning experience. Digital literacy comes naturally to youths due to their daily exposure to contents and smart devices. Youths access global information and social relations by connecting to social media networks and virtual sites. As a result, students’ technological abilities are often more sophisticated than their mentors’.

    Consequently, we need to enable more tech-savvy teachers who can adapt to these trends and make use of ICTs in the teaching-learning process. Schools must transition from using the traditional classroom analogic methods to those that the new environment of digital learning can offer. In addition, there’s no avoiding the fact that the requirements to enter the labour market today involve an increasing level of technological skills, using digital solutions in a constantly evolving technological context where these capacities are an integral part of today’s qualified jobs.

    Future proof tech training

    Aware of the challenges faced with the ever evolving digital world youths access daily, the EIN has been offering tech-training programmes for teachers, but also parents, so they are able to support their children’ educational progress. Viladecans has also implemented a multiple-year investment to digitalise each and every classroom in the city. In addition, the EIN is helping to build bridges for information and resource sharing between school centres and local companies so each can better know the other’s needs and interests and can plan together the skills training needed for students in the city - all in a win-win strategy. In practical terms, this has translated into a variety of exciting, inspiring projects worthy of international interest: students, teachers and technological start-ups meeting in the classroom for the testing of educational digital devices; secondary students teaching coding and robotics to primary students and local companies mentoring upper secondary students’ research projects so they can familiarise with the local labour market, amongst others.

    Viladecans’ EIN was foreseen in the city’s Plan for the Improvement of the Educational Success. While many national governments bother about PISA results and how students are being ranked on a specific subject, Viladecans has sought to enact a more comprehensive and holistic approach to education counting on everybody’s commitment and engagement. As a result of this innovative and collaborative way of doing things the City has started to see positive impacts: secondary accreditations raised from 81% to 84’52% in 5 years (2012- 2017) and school failure decreased from 19% to 7% in the same period. In addition, the EIN has proved to increase commitment, competences and a change in teachers and families’ thinking.

    City by city

    All this has led five European cities to join Viladecans in the URBACT On Board project, for the purpose of adapting and transferring the EIN in each of the new cities. Each of the five cities comes from different starting points and contexts, and each one’s core motivations and goals differ. Nantes (France) is home to a developing innovation pole with technological companies that need a skilled and qualified workforce. At the same time, the city has socioeconomic imbalances that the local government wants to address using education as a key tool. Nantes expects that the EIN’s collaborative structure can be instrumental achieving both these objectives. Tallinn (Estonia) has targeted digital and smart policies with a strong interest in reinforcing the digitalization of education, too. The city will also benefit from a change of views and attitudes towards innovative education and projects. Albergaria (Portugal), with its important local manufacturing sector, wants qualified young people to access high tech jobs. Here, the example of collaboration between the business sector and the schools that Viladecans’ EIN has developed is of high interest. Halmstad (Sweden) already has a modern and decentralised education sector that facilitates innovative and multi-partnership projects. However, the city wants to encourage even more involvement of families and the community in school life. Finally, Poznan (Poland), which already has long-term experience in giving a voice to students through participative processes, wants to integrate more social and institutional actors in school life so as to improve education results and create an increased sense of belonging amongst members in the community.

    All On Board cities place education high in their policy agendas and have therefore decided to take on the responsibility as drivers, catalysts and facilitators of an educational environment that offer more opportunities to youths. The EIN transfer will help them build a coordination entity that facilitates information sharing, dialogue, reflection, coaching, and collaborative processes among education stakeholders in the city, both public and private.

    A steep learning curve

    Naturally, there is room for improvement in Viladecans’ Educational Innovation Network. The initiative just started in 2014 and will, no doubt, evolve and improve as part of the On Board transfer network experience. For example, Viladecans expects to learn from other On Board partners about ways of giving a voice to students and making them actively participate in their own education as well as learning about ways to involve local non-formal education entities and institutions so they can share their experience and knowledge with other EIN members; and also about defining a set of indicators to measure EIN impacts in the city.

    The Educational Innovation Network interlinks different agents in the city to nurture the educational ecosystem and offer more opportunities to students while increasing the sense of ownership and professional pride among members involved. The On Board Transfer Network will connect Viladecans with 5 other European cities with different backgrounds and experiences in a joint venture that will enrich and upgrade each one’s own educational model using the EIN as a key instrument.


    Visit the network's page: ON BOARD

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  • Lyon Metropolis context and social strategy

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    The first version of the Genius process map, produced at the beginning of the project.

    The Lyon metropolitan area is quite dynamic and attractive. With 1.3 million inhabitants, it ranks as the third French metropolitan area and its population is still increasing. However, with a poverty rate of 15.2%, more than 195.000 people live under the poverty line. The most deprived areas are located in the South East, combining social and territorial inequalities.

    The Lyon Metropolis is an institutional innovation based on the merger of the Lyon urban community and the Rhone Department. Created by law on January 2015, it is responsible for a large number of competencies: economic development, town planning, environment and quality of life, housing and social cohesion, solidarity, education, culture and sport.

    The housing strategy seeks to maintain a high level of housing construction (9.000 per year) and to implement a mixed and varied set of construction programmes (every kind of housing, everywhere on the 59 municipalities). Its objective is also to improve quality of the existing housing units and to facilitate provision and preserving housing units.

    The Lyon metropolitan area is challenged by many social and territorial issues. Thus, the Lyon Metropolis adopted its first Metropolitan Solidarity Project on November 2017. This project covers a broad range of responsibilities, such as: early childhood, child protection, disabled and elderly people, health prevention and social development. It is built around 4 strategic axes and 80 actions.


    Within URBInclusion, the Lyon Metropolis chose to focus on 6 actions addressing a key implementation challenge of the Metropolitan Solidarity project: how to renew social approach to better include vulnerable people among society? These actions are mainly located in two less-favored municipalities of the Lyon urban area: Saint-Fons and Vénissieux.

    1. Co-producing, with social workers and researchers, a new framework for social work, in the field of child protection.
    2. Training social workers, in the field of social housing, to use collective intervention and citizen participation methods in order to improve community life in social housing neighborhoods.
    3. School dropout prevention with social workers intervening in schools to facilitate relationships between families and teachers.
    4. Preventing energy poverty, supporting households who can not pay their energy bills to improve the energy performance of their housing.
    5. Developing social clauses in public procurement in order to better promote local employment and diversify the types of jobs that are offered.
    6. Fostering innovation for solidarity: the « Espace créateur de solidarités » / “space for solidarity making” offers a comprehensive social support to vulnerable families through a wide range of actions for the inhabitants of the area (social grocery, local community gardens, a recycling and upcycling shop, and a tool library).
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  • Innovability: can social media innovation foster development in the field of urban mobility?

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    The final report from the Genius-open project.
    Disadvantaged neighbourhoods

    The idea of the meeting came out by the common need felt by the managers of the many projects working on the issue of urban mobility in Palermo to share the results reached so far and confront them with the various stakeholders in the field. As a matter of fact, Innovability has been organized by the Interactive Cities ULG in collaboration with Urbact III project City Mobilnet and Partecipattivi, also managed by the Municipality of Palermo and Muv, run by the design lab Push.

    The four of them have worked or are still working on promoting participation in the field of urban mobility through social media, gamification and open data. At the event an heterogeneous parterre of participants intervened and in particular representatives from: Trenitalia, the Italian railway company, Amat the local company for public transport, Open Data Sicilia, the local web magazine Mobilita Palermo, the Municipal Pon Metro programme, the Department of Transport of the University Kore of Enna.

    The experiment turned to be successful by showing as social media and open data can make the difference in the urban development policies if the process is accompanied by the participation and collaboration of the stakeholders involved.  As a matter of fact, Innovability allowed these ones to meet and share the difficulties they encounter in implementing their policies. The debate started up from the presentation of the results of the game event “Ugame: mobilità agrodolce” that took place on the 17th and 18th of March in the framework of  Interactive Cities and Partecipattivi and in collaboration with Push, Social Bike and Mobilita Palermo.

    During the game event the participants had been involved in a treasure hunt around the city carried on through the use of social media that allowed to record the way they moved and the transports they adopted (thanks to the use of ashtags as #interactivepalermo, #partecipattivi, #ugame). The elaboration of the so collected information produced some interesting findings that have been showed to audience during the Innovability event. For example that majority of participants’ movements have been made by walk (42,45%) and by car (30,94%) whilst the minor average time of journey has been registered by walking and by the use of car. All the speakers invited stated the importance of the use of this kind of data for the implementation of their ordinary policies, and also the need for even more information about citizens’ mobility demand. In conclusion, all the stakeholders agree on the necessity of reiterating meetings as Innovability in order to keep on sharing data and plan integrated activities.


    Municipality of Palermo

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  • What do you know on children and seniors? A mobility survey from Agii Anargyri & Kamatero

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    Genius-open project - a Ning User guide to setting up an online open innovation platform.

    The survey was scientifically supported by the Transportation Systems Laboratory of the University of Piraeus and was jointly executed by the CITYMOBILNET AGANK team and the supporting external consultants. The survey questionnaire was designed according to modern European standards and particularly modified to the needs and particularities of the Municipality. CITYMOBILNET’s experience in this domain was sought after and the partner cities provided a lot of insights as well as issues to consider as well as to avoid. Its overall purpose was to capture the citizens’ trip profile in addition to behavioral aspects. The questionnaire consisted of three major categories: general household characteristics, mobility behaviors and mobility problems faced at the municipality. The team focused particularly in schools (pupils) and senior centers (senior citizens), since these are the most vulnerable groups but at the same time the main target of the Mayor’s strategic focus. Some initial insight include missing PT links, areas with problematic safety and security issues, economic aspects etc.

    Based on the analyzed results, the Municipality of Agii Anargiri-Kamatero will be able to develop sensible decisions about making urban mobility more effective, efficient and sustainable.

    See the survey in Greek here:


    See Portuguese translation here:

    See Romanian translation here:

    See German translation here:


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

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

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


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

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

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

    Inspirations and Learning from Barcelona, Dupnitsa and Poznan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Learning from one corner of Europe to the other

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

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

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

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    Striving towards sustainability together

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

    The incremental integration of citizens in sustainable policies


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

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

    How can behavioural change be supported?

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Spring clean-up campaign


    Engaging citizens in their city's environmental maintenance, promoting environmental awareness and volunteer work

    Monika Jasson
    Project manager
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    Every year from April to May, the City of Tallinn (EE) holds a big Spring Clean-Up Campaign. Volunteers get together to clean salt from streets, plant trees and flowers, pick up litter from Baltic beaches. There are celebrations and a far-reaching environmental awareness campaign. In terms of waste management, the main actions are to remove self-generated landfills, collect hazardous waste and clean up roads and green areas. This involves the city cooperating with waste treatment companies, residents of city districts, non-profit associations, apartment associations, schools, youth organisations and pensioners. The Spring Clean-Up Campaign is widely publicised in Estonian and Russian, with a public screen in the central Freedom Square, coverage in district newspapers, a campaign website and a booklet "The ABC of Public Facilities and Maintenance". In 2017, the event took place for the 26th time.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    Clean-up of roads, residential areas and green areas. Clean-up actions organised by city institutions, district authorities, NGOs, local communities, schools and residential associations. Planting of trees in schools on Earth Day. An educational project for schools: "Let’s see, know and do!" Participation in European Clean-up Day. Demonstration of environmentally friendly cleaning products. Mobile collection of hazardous wastes in residential areas.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    For each year, the city has planned a specific budget to organise the Spring Clean-Up Campaign, covering the costs for different city-wide activities related to maintenance. All the city districts are involved in the activities of the Spring Clean-Up Campaign and the needs for specific activities are discussed jointly. In addition, opening and closing events of the Spring Clean-Up Campaign are organised. In the opening event, the traditional Spring Clean-Up Campaign is officially declared open and in the closing event, the most active and industrious participants of the maintenance works are thanked and recognised. There are traditional activities, such as washing the waiting shelters for urban public transportation and cleaning urban waste and trash from roads and pavements. In addition, road salt is removed from the streets during the Spring Clean-Up Campaign. Trash piles, which have accumulated over time, are also removed.

    Based on a participatory approach

    If such events are regularly organised each year, then people want to participate and wait for the next event, so as to help keep their home surroundings in good order. The time and place of a specific event is announced in the local newspaper (Linnaleht) and the citizens are invited to participate. Posters are placed in public places and public institutions, announcing the time and place of the event, and advertisements are displayed in supermarkets informing the audience of the specific event taking place in their city district. In public transportation, if there are screens available, information about the events organised in the city is displayed. City district governments send e-mail invitations to different authorities located in the city to participate in these events.

    What difference has it made?

    Regarding the information campaign of the Spring Clean-Up Campaign, there is an animation clip that is shown on TV, on the website's home page, on Facebook, in public transportation and on the screen located at Freedom Square (Vabaduse väljak). There are also urban media, information days, outdoor posters, hanging banners. The people’s environmental awareness has increased. Satisfaction surveys of the citizens of Tallinn show that the Spring Clean-Up Campaign is well-known (69% of all citizens) and people participate willingly in many events and cleaning campaigns.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    Organising the Spring Clean-Up Campaign is a very good opportunity for local government to include city residents in the maintenance of their home surroundings. Such activities increase the satisfaction of people and help them to change their habits. Therefore, it is easier to acknowledge the importance of each person’s contribution in ensuring proper maintenance.

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  • URBACT, another paradigm for European cities

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    With the integrated urban development approach promoted by the URBACT European programme, new models for improving our cities together are currently under construction. This is the narrative of a story that is already over fifteen years old.

    (Translation of an article published in French in the magazine Urbanisme, issue n° 404, Spring 2017)

    By Emmanuel Moulin, Head of the URBACT secretariat, and Eddy Adams, URBACT Programme expert


    The official publications of the European Union (EU) on the city in Europe (Cities of tomorrow, 2011, 6th cohesion report, 2014; The state of the European Cities, 2016) present a rather pessimistic panorama, nine years after the crisis of 2008. The key aspects of this are well known: increase in disparity and poverty /1, massive unemployment in the South of Europe especially among the young /2, the concentration of development in the metropolises with small and medium-sized cities often in difficulties /3, the financial challenges of cities and falling public investment, inappropriate administrative boundaries and problems of regional governance, growing environmental and quality of life issues /4...

    Recently, new issues have taken centre stage, including the influx of migrants and the digital transformation of society. Faced with these issues, cities all over Europe are reinventing their mode of operation; faced with the weakness of representative democracy, especially among the young, in low-income districts, in many cities in the East of Europe, they are seeking to build and implement their policies in a different way /5.

    Rebuilding a trusted relationship between local stakeholders and citizens is essential and requires the elected representatives and administrators of cities to reinvent their role. They are having to gradually move away from a command and control role to the role of facilitator, making co-building of policies possible. This is a new contract the municipal authorities are having to sign with inhabitants and local stakeholders. And it is precisely at this juncture that URBACT, supporting integrated urban development, comes in.

    Integrated urban development

    The European regional cooperation programme URBACT /6, co-funded by the European Union's 28 States, Switzerland, Norway and the European Commission, is working for the cities to strengthen their capacities and design and implement integrated policies. With the networks of cities it funds, it has been promoting an integrated, participative approach to urban development among elected representatives and local stakeholders for fifteen years. In this it holds a unique position among the urban initiatives launched by the European Union during the programming period 2014-2020 /7.

    The integrated approach to urban development has been gradually developed since the beginning of the millennium, with important steps like the Leipzig Charter signed by the Union's Member States in 2007, which attempted to formalise it for the first time. It is based on the principle, on the one hand, that in order to respond to sustainable development issues, the social, economic and environmental aspect of a local policy must be considered as a whole, and, on the other hand, that policy integration can only be done locally /8.

    In its methodology with the cities, URBACT draws on the notion of horizontal and vertical policy integration. The region is the place and the local stakeholders are the implementers of this integration. The vertical integration of policies within a city requires the various municipal services and local agencies to work together closely. Therefore, a project to build a site to host activities must be designed and implemented by incorporating planning (choice of site), social (training, employment measures) and economic (support to business) aspects. Vertical integration puts the focus on a co-production of policies and actions with the local stakeholders concerned (inhabitants, associations, public and private-sector partners). It also underlines the need to mobilise the competent higher level authorities and the State upstream to ensure they work together.

    The URBACT programme often encounters cities that want to work differently but that don't have the know-how or the tools to make the necessary changes. It has therefore created an environment for city employees that favours learning through practice.

    Thus the city of Amersfoort (Netherlands) has shared "Sustainable food for Cities" among the network /9 in which its shared governance model and its experience were involved in helping inhabitants design and shape urban regeneration initiatives. One of the city council's bywords is "enabling", to gain the trust of and finance groups managed by inhabitants, to improve their neighbourhood. Another important component is the emphasis put on encouraging municipal employees to leave their offices and act as leaders of resident groups. This concept called free-range civil servants by Lucas Bols, the mayor, has inspired many cities outside those involved in the URBACT programme.

    The city of Genoa (Italy) is currently managing the "Interactive Cities" network /10 which explores the impact digital tools have on governance. The trust issue is again at the heart of this work, especially in this period in which it is so elusive. A central component of the network's activities is the use of digital tools to encourage residents to participate. There again, URBACT plays the role of an urban laboratory for experimentation.

    It is therefore in its implementation that integrated urban development reveals its true nature. Taken seriously, it is revolutionising how things are done. It needs horizontal preparation and the application of decisions, which cannot be taken for granted, even in the most advanced cities. In this sense, it reveals a very strong democratic requirement; it is therefore hardly surprising that URBACT primarily mobilises stakeholders in innovation and social transformation in its networks.


    Practical solutions within reach

    Most of the time, changes in attitude and ways of doing things appear in organisations little by little. URBACT proposes networked learning with tailored measures in which discussion between "peers" from different cities sharing similar issues is central.

    Learning by doing is one of the programme's fundamental principles. URBACT works based on its participants' practice, following the formula of the organisational theorist Karl E. Weick, which says "we are much more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking than we are to think our way into a new way of acting". /11

    By adapting the classic project development cycle, the cities involved in the URBACT network are encouraged to design new solutions to their problems. This learning first takes place in the transnational networks that presently take various forms /12 and that are strongly supported by targeted expertise and methods.

    The networked activity hinges on ad hoc capacity building activities aimed at local practitioners and stakeholders of the cities involved, centring on the design and implementation of integrated strategies and action plans. These activities are organised both at national level, taking the specific contexts (languages, urban policies) into account and in a transnational framework.

    URBACT's summer universities are a central component of this training system. Each of them brought together hundreds of participants involved in the URBACT networks from all over Europe, who worked together to draw up an integrated action plan to meet the challenges of a fictitious city created for the occasion. The results were impressive and the summer universities have been a foundation stone for participants to build further experience on.

    These various components that have been built over time constitute the "URBACT method" of working transnationally with the cities (see inset); in Quito, in October 2016 at Habitat III, the third United Nations conference on building and sustainable urban development. The European Commission presented the diffusion beyond Europe of the URBACT method for transnational learning as one of its three commitments to cities.

    In Europe and beyond, local councils are looking for new approaches for working with citizens. Elected representatives and local councils are busy redefining their functions and the way they act. URBACT is looking to help local authorities in this transition through the sharing of good practice and capacity building activities, drawing on its long experience.

    Thus a community of practice has gradually been built /13, now well established, which brings together several thousand practitioners from all Europe. It is a vehicle for the transformation of practices in Europe's cities, constituting a true exercise of local democracy.

    A knowledge exchange platform

    The transmission of the knowledge acquired within the URBACT community of practice towards a much larger circle of urban stakeholders not involved in its networks (other cities, States, Regions, public and private stakeholders, research) is a particularly complex challenge. How can we transfer knowledge stemming from a practice without being put in a position to put it into practice? URBACT has nevertheless taken it on and will draw increasingly in the future on its website as a platform for exchange of knowledge on urban development, with articles, blogs and thematic publications that summarise acquisitions of emerging knowledge. Furthermore, national URBACT points /14 provide the chance to link up in the national language with the country's cities and stakeholders in the 24 countries of the European Union.


    Since 2015, URBACT has also developed a new concept for its European conferences, now called the "URBACT City Festival" /15. Unlike the summer universities, which are transnational activities strictly reserved for the beneficiary cities of the URBACT networks, funded to participate in them, the city festivals are open to all cities and all urban stakeholders in Europe, whether or not they are involved in URBACT.

    These festivals are designed to be interactive places of discussion nourished both by the experience of the URBACT networks, by external contributions and by the practices of the host city. The next edition is scheduled for the 4th and 5th October 2017 in Tallinn (Estonia) and will be the chance to present the "good practices" of cities in Europe, selected from an open URBACT call. When the European Union /16, launched its Urban Agenda with the aim to secure better sharing of knowledge between cities, European Union Member States and the Commission, they already had, in URBACT, a key tool with which to both promote city practices and make their know-how available to all levels of governance.

    For URBACT, the crux lies in finding out how the programme can also contribute to the wider transfer of knowledge and recommendations from its cities to an even wider audience of European Union Member States and other stakeholders. The twelve thematic partnerships of the Urban Agenda /17 for the European Union that bring together each of the States, cities and organisations or programmes, including URBACT, to draw up, over a three-year period, an action plan for funding, regulation and exchange of knowledge, are the beginnings of a response.

    This is the chance for the programme, through its representatives in these partnerships, field experts, local council managers involved in the URBACT networks, to broadcast the message of the cities and the local stakeholders they work with daily. The programme's various capitalisation tools could furthermore be mobilised in a targeted fashion to encourage and support the wider adoption of practices in integrated sustainable urban development.

    Thus URBACT is gradually taking shape as the European platform for exchange of knowledge between cities and the other urban stakeholders in Europe: the European union, Member States, Regions, research institutions, etc. The message is simple: for city stakeholders, there are specific solutions within reach. By knocking on the right doors and taking the time to share with our peers in Europe, together we can learn to do things differently.

    The URBACT method

    For fifteen years now, URBACT has been developing principles, methods and tools for learning by cities through transnational networks. Three types of network bring together five to twelve cities for two to three years. The integrated action plan design networks and the networks to implement these plans are currently in progress. A call for proposals for good practice transfer networks will be launched in September 2017 based on previously selected cities.

    The main components of this method are as follows:

    • the production and implementation by the cities of action plans integrated in the context of local groups that bring together all the stakeholders concerned (residents, associations, public and private partners, etc.);

    • learning within the networks through transnational meetings, peer exchange, study visits;

    • national and transnational training courses (summer universities);

    • a network support expertise, 100% funded by the programme;

    • the application of an assessment method with impact and result objectives, indicators and a progress monitoring mechanism;

    • the capitalisation and dissemination of the knowledge and practices of the city networks through conferences, seminars and publications.

    All the information is available on the website

    1/ Cf. "Against divided cities", URBACT, 2013.

    2/ Cf. "Better cities, job generation for a jobless generation", URBACT, 2013; "Urban youth, more jobs", URBACT, 2015.

    3/ Cf. "Shrinking cities", URBACT, 2013.

    4/ Cf. "Energy efficiency" and "New mobility mindset", URBACT, 2013; "Sustainable regeneration in urban areas", URBACT, 2015.

    5/ Cf. "How cities can rebuild trust in politics through meaningful public engagement", on the URBACT website.

    6/ The URBACT III has a budget of 96 million Euros for the period 2014-2020. It is managed for all Europe by a Secretariat of fifteen people located in France in Saint-Denis in the premises of its management authority, the General Commission for Territorial Equality (CGET).

    7/ Urban Innovative Actions, Urban Development Network.

    8/ Cf. the Barca report "Place based approach", available on the Internet.

    9/ Network of the URBACT II programme (2007-2013) which was managed by the Brussels region, on sustainable food.

    10/ One of the twenty networks funded by URBACT III, which brings together ten cities from nine countries. Started in October 2015, it will end in May 2018.

    11/ "We are much more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking than to think our way into a new way of acting" (Karl E. Weick)

    12/ Cf. inset below.

    13/ The URBACT programme has organised three summer universities, in Krakow in 2011, in Dublin in 2013 and in Rotterdam in 2016.

    14/ 500 European cities, 10,000 local stakeholders have participated in URBACT's activities since it was created. Over 250 European experts are identified in the URBACT experts pool. Many of them have put the URBACT method into practice.

    15/ For France, the national URBACT point is held by the General Commission for Territorial Equality.

    16/ The first URBACT city festival took place in Riga (Latvia) and brought together 470 participants from all over Europe and beyond from 6th to 8th May 2015.

    17/ The European Agenda for the European Union was launched by the Member States of the Union and the European Commission in May 2016 by means of the Amsterdam Pact. Through cooperation between the Commission, the Member States and the cities, it aims for a better use of funding, improvement of the legal framework for cities' actions and their knowledge, in particular through discussion. URBACT is a key stakeholder, both through its coordination bodies and the twelve thematic partnerships that form this agenda.

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  • The challenges of implementation

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    “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.” All European cities can certainly endorse this quote by President Obama and testify that taking action – or implementing – presents a whole set of challenges that can sometimes be daunting. How can delays in implementing a strategy be anticipated? How can expectations or potential conflicts be managed around the implementation of a strategy? How to remain within the initial budget planned for the strategy during its implementation? These are some of the issues that the newly launched URBACT Implementation Networks are now set to work on. 


    The seven URBACT Implementation Networks that have been approved will tackle a variety of issues: urban regeneration, social inclusion, boosting the local economy by using the creative sector, interventions in the local labour market, among others. 

    Let’s look in detail at one of them: the network IMPACT on early-school leaving. Nine cities come together to learn from each other and exchange on the challenges they face whilst implementing an action plan or strategy to tackle early-school leaving. Some of the city partners in this project, Nantes, Sofia  and Tallinn, had already taken part in an URBACT network to draft their action plan on this: the network PREVENT. Other cities, for instance Gothenburg, take part in the Implementation Network IMPACT on early-school leaving on the basis of an action plan that they had drafted in another context. Gothenburg's action plan links tackling early-school leaving with other challenges such as tackling unemployment. 
    The lead partner city Ghent wants to reduce the total number of school drop-outs by 25% in 2020. The city of Ghent, schools, the centre of student guidance and other organisations have already implemented a variety of measures and interventions. But ensuring that all partners work together towards this common goal is a challenge. Allowing enough time for the implementation of policies to show some real impact is also important. At the same time, it is also challenging to maintain stakeholders’ involvement whilst measures are being implemented, or even just whilst they are being agreed. 
    What implementation challenges do URBACT Implementation Networks focus on?
    The difficulties cities can face while implementing their strategies have been translated into a series of implementation challenges; common headings to allow cities that are taking part in these networks to exchange on the issues that they all face. 
    Those are:
    1. Ensuring the integrated approach in the delivery of the strategy and their related actions or projects
    2. Maintaining involvement of local stakeholders and organising decision-making for delivery
    3. Setting up efficient indicators & monitoring systems to measure performance
    4. Moving from integrated urban strategy to operational action plans 
    5. Setting up Public Private Partnerships for delivery
    6. Designing smart public procurement frameworks
    7. Enhancing funding of urban policies by exploring financial innovation (urban development funds, crowd-funding, etc.)
    This list of challenges certainly does not cover all the challenges that cities face in the implementation phase of a strategy. Their purpose is to enable exchange and learning between peers. They will be further refined as the URBACT Implementation Networks go along.
    An innovative and experimental approach to exchange and learning among European cities
    Sharing experience whilst implementing is very innovative. It is in many ways a change of culture as implementation often remains within the walls of cities – it is less open to co-production. It is also generally strongly led by one department - not very integrated – sometimes for budgetary reasons.
    Most importantly, it also raises a series of rather wicked questions related to the switch from plan to action. Can one plan for the unknown? Can delays be anticipated? Can conflicts be prevented before they appear?  
    URBACT will support cities to manage this difficult switch from building a strategy to implementing it, from theory to practice, from what is planned to what actually happens. 
    Implementation Networks are a new “product” for the URBACT Programme. They will entail taking an experimental approach to finding the right mix of support measures that will help cities to improve their delivery of sustainable urban strategies.  
    For more information on PREVENT and on Early-School Leaving, you can consult on the URBACT PREVENT website a panorama of all action plans in the Local Action Plans panorama report, as well as the detailed action plans of Nantes and Sofia
    Credit image: Shutterstock/ Sunny studio 
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