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  • Improving children’s education for a sustainable urban future

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    URBACT is helping European cities find – and share – new ways to support children’s education for a better future. 


    From organic school gardens and innovative teaching methods, to community courses and better links with families, health specialists or local businesses, URBACT is improving kids’ chances with innovative approaches to education.

    Education is central to sustainable urban futures. Whether it’s to fight inequality and social exclusion, boost a town’s attractiveness, or help young people protect the environment, its vital role in building better cities is reflected in many URBACT networks past and present.

    Let’s take a look at what some of these cities are doing…

    The city as an orchestrator

    Why are city authorities well placed to improve education policy? “Because the municipality has proximity to the citizens,” says Mireia Sanabria, Lead Expert for the URBACT transfer network ON BOARD – Connecting cities through education. “They can directly understand, visit, dialogue with communities to know their specific needs. And they have a brokerage role.”

    As well as providing technical or financial support, space and equipment, cities can coordinate groups of local education stakeholders – schools, families, companies, associations, researchers, municipal departments and higher government. One example is Viladecans (ES), whose Education Innovation Network (EIN) approach is being adopted by five ON BOARD partner cities. This partnership inspired Nantes (FR) and Albergaria-a-Velha (PT) to develop new student wellbeing initiatives to improve academic results through happy, engaged learning. “We can provide schools with help, resources, and protection so they can dare to do things differently,” adds Sanabria.

    Social inclusion and children’s rights

    Laura Colini, Programme Expert for URBACT, points out that while the European Pillar of Social Rights states that everyone has the right to affordable early childhood education and good quality care, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union recognises education as a right, opportunities for children vary enormously across the EU – and from one city neighbourhood to another.

    Recent estimates show under 17s to be the most vulnerable to risks of poverty, particularly children from ethnic minorities or with migrant backgrounds. In 2018, 20 000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Europe in 2018, 40% of them in Germany and Italy,” says Colini. “This is why, the way the education system handles inequalities in family backgrounds can have an enormous impact, due to the crucial years pupils spend in schools.”

    The question of children and education should be treated with a holistic perspective, involving families and schools,” Fintan Farrel, Director of the European Anti-Poverty Network, said in an interview for the EU Urban Agenda poverty partnership (Colini & Tosics 2017).

    This is just the sort of integrated approach that URBACT champions. During the URBACT StayTuned network, for example, the Ampelokipi - Menemeni municipality in Thessaloniki (EL) formed a strong team that works closely with school directors and local Roma people, deepening the administration’s understanding of Early Leaving from Education and Training. This led the municipality to adapt its courses, information and support to the needs of Roma children and parents, both in schools and in a new easily-accessible Community Centre. “Through the collaboration and exchange of experience with partners, the way the municipality understands its problem and role, as well as the methodology for managing challenges in the field of education and training, has changed,” says Magdalini Rousseti, Ampelokipi – Menemeni’s Director of Social Policy, Education, Sports & Culture.

    As for Groningen (NL), with an aging population and jobs to fill, the city teamed up with its universities, academic hospital, citizens, employers and cultural institutions, to help international students and professionals “come, stay and be active”. Six medium-sized cities are now learning from this experience in the URBACT Welcoming International Talent network, including Bielsko-Biala (PL) who were recently inspired to open their own “Centre for Integration of Foreigners” MyBB.

    Macerata (IT), won an URBACT Good Practice label in 2017 for its co-regeneration of urban green spaces around inclusion and children’s education. The Pace neighborhood green space has since become a place for meeting, education and social inclusion for the whole community – grandparents, parents, teenagers and children. The Les Friches NGO behind the scheme says, “Our participatory action has given positive effects. There’s now a new and integrated community that lives in the common space.

    Of URBACT’s many networks set up to help cities fight exclusion, here are just three more examples linked with education: Prevent – “Involving parents in the prevention of early school leaving”; ONSTAGE – “Music schools for social change”; and Rumorless cities – “Prevent discrimination, strengthen cohesion”, led Amadora (PT), where cities work with art and theatre to prevent discrimination and rumours against children with migrant backgrounds.

    Methodology and tools for better learning

    URBACT not only helps cities solve urban problems by strengthening cross-sector participation locally while learning from peers across the EU – it also brings municipalities new skills and methodologies. For some networks this is the main focus. The URBACT Playful Paradigm network for example, seeks new ways to engage stakeholders better in urban development. The eight partner cities use games to promote “social inclusion, healthy lifestyles and energy awareness, intergenerational and cultural mediation, place-making and economic prosperity”. Klaipėda City Public Health Bureau (LT), wants to work with more schools to introduce more playful, physical activities for schoolchildren, adapting techniques from their EU partners. “The network is a good framework to generate new ideas, spread the good practice,” says Laura Kubiliutė, Head of Klaipėda’s public health monitoring and projects department. One such idea is a playful Wednesday afternoon for young and elderly people at the county library, with quizzes and board games, helping strengthen links between generations, tackle loneliness, and foster social inclusion.

    Small-but-powerful responsible citizens

    From helping children enjoy nature to rewarding schools that lower their carbon footprint and support local organic farmers, cities of all sizes are helping shape the next generation of healthier, environmentally-conscious citizens.

    Working with schools is fundamental to collectively learn about rights and values in social, environmental and economic terms, because through schools one can reach out not only children but parents, families, the wider community, also those that are not active in civil society,” says Laura Colini.

    Torres Vedras (PT), is a good example here. They have a rapidly expanding sustainable food school programme with 11 school organic gardens growing tomatoes, beans, peppers and other fruit and veg. Children already learn about food production, seasonality – and identifying the organic food label in shops. Still, the URBACT BioCanteens network has brought new ideas, including “freshness” criteria to improve public procurement for suppliers, and Mouans-Sartoux’s (FR) food-waste reduction scheme that covers extra costs of healthy, organic school meals. “For us it was: ‘wow!’, a very great idea, because we’d never thought about this before!” says Paula Rodrigues, Responsible for managing biocanteens and school gardens for the municipality.

    Torres Vedras launched a pilot project in a school whose vegetable patch is the size of 10 parking spaces, and World Food Day celebrations last a whole month. Here, having followed the food from planting to harvesting and delivery to the school kitchens, 150 six-to-ten year-olds are now learning to reduce food waste and weigh their leftovers so menus can be adapted. For Rodrigues, their new understanding of food waste is the “golden key to close the cycle”. The city will expand the scheme to nine more schools this year to reach a total of 1200 children.

    Why are children good ambassadors for a sustainable future? “Because they are the future!” says Rodrigues.

    There are many more stories of cities that have developed innovative, sustainable solutions involving education and children:

    Read more on URBACT and Education :

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  • Local drive for a cycle-friendly city

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    Facing severe pollution from over-reliance on cars, Thessaloniki (GR) committed to promoting cycling proactively, and, through the URBACT RESILIENT EUROPE network, drew up its first-ever strategy framework to increase cycling in the city.


    As Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki has experienced a concentration of the challenges facing the country: a financial crisis reducing service resources; severe air pollution from a dependence on cars; poorly maintained mobility infrastructure; and a climate of mistrust between civil society and local government.

    The Municipality of Thessaloniki recognised that its previous responses to urban problems had not included citizen input. By participating in RESILIENT EUROPE, Thessaloniki wanted to learn from partner cities how to implement a more open approach of developing local strategies and plans in collaboration with citizens, and in turn build better trust in local government.

    The city decided to focus its work on developing a collaborative action plan for promoting and improving cycling in the city, which had been suffering from low citizen engagement as well as inefficient, poorly maintained infrastructure. In its Sustainable Energy Action Plan, Thessaloniki had already determined to decrease CO2 emissions by 20% from 2011 to 2020, but it needed more support to engage citizens in the process and promote cycling as a viable travel mode.

    An action plan: mobilising the community to travel safely

    Thessaloniki hoped the URBACT network would improve collaboration between urban actors. Creating an URBACT Local Group helped by bringing a variety of stakeholders together to work on promoting cycling, while improving local air quality and residents’ health. The URBACT Local Group consisted of a mix of people from the city’s department of sustainable mobility, alongside local agencies like the Metropolitan Development Agency and NGOs, including cycling clubs.

    To test out new approaches and work towards the creation of an Integrated Action Plan, the group undertook an experiment in the area of Toumba in eastern Thessaloniki, focused on co-creating new solutions with citizens to increase bicycle use.


    The group organised a public event in May 2017 called ‘I move in my city with safety’, inviting local residents to hear about how cities around the world had encouraged cycling, as well as understand more about the URBACT network. A questionnaire collected citizen feedback on the challenges of cycling locally, and suggestions for improvement. The feedback showed that local residents desired more bicycle nfrastructure — including bike lanes and cycle parking facilities — as well as better road safety, traffic calming measures, free cycling and traffic safety courses, and an expansion of the existing bike-share system. The URBACT Local Group included these suggestions into the Integrated Action Plan for the city.

    In June 2017, the local group organised two family-friendly, community cycle events to help promote cycling. The cycle routes passed through quiet streets and connected various schools, to help citizens realise that, even without bicycle infrastructure, there existed safer streets that could enable daily bike commuting. Participants in the cycle event agreed the route was safe for cycling and felt that the event’s in-situ experiential bike training and road safety lessons were very useful.

    Following the community events, the local group formulated an ‘Integrated Action Plan to promote cycling and improve the resilience of society and the city of Thessaloniki’. It proposed measures such as: introducing a compulsory education course in cycling; implementing awareness and motivation campaigns to promote cycling; creating cycle parking lots near businesses; and encouraging a cycle-to-work campaign.

    Constructing a positive legacy

    After the project, the municipality applied lessons learnt from the RESILIENT EUROPE network and submitted a proposal for regional funding. It was successful — and Thessaloniki received funding to expand the current bike lane network and renovate a portion of the existing one. “We believe that the participation of the municipality in the RESILIENT EUROPE network had a significant role in the success of our proposal,” says Georgios Papastergios, Operational Planning Officer at the Municipality of Thessaloniki.


    Andreas Karadakis, Finance and Project Manager for the municipality, elaborates on how the URBACT programme benefitted Thessaloniki: “I think the most important thing we gained from our participation in the RESILIENT EUROPE network was the methodology of participatory action planning. It's really important to transfer this know-how to other municipal services. The interesting element of the network was the pillar of resilience that brought together cities facing different challenges. Municipal services that worked in different fields came into contact, and this interdisciplinarity was a source of inspiration for the service of our municipality.

    Thessaloniki had never before implemented a concrete framework of strategies for the promotion of cycling, and the very procedure of creating an Integrated Action Plan was a new methodology for the city. Building on this successful first experience, the municipality hopes to apply the same methodology in future projects around the city.


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

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  • Are Urban Gardens the place for modern community hubs?

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    From Rome (IT) to Vilnius (LT) and A coruna (ES), Urban Gardening plays a key role in creating social links and is at the forefront of social innovation.

    Urban Gardening is a now widespread concept. That is how Wikipedia proposes to define it: "Urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around a town, or city. The concepts in Urban Gardens and the associated facilities have received significant attention and popularity in the last 10 years and are growing to meet the needs of the ever-developing urban life."

    But what happens in real life in European cities and towns? How can one build and manage urban gardens? Are Urban Gardens just about gardening in public or private plots, or are they creating something else, that one could call real community hubs?


    Implementing successful actions that result in improved citizens’ quality of life, actions that are also supported by local authorities, is both a target and a great challenge for modern cities and societies.

    During the last decade intra - and peri – urban agriculture expanded rapidly. It went beyond the initiative of self-organized citizens or associations. Urban and peri-urban gardens are becoming a promising trend in some cities & towns all over Europe.

    Benefits of Urban Gardening

    Urban gardening and agriculture plays an important role in enhancing urban food security. Urban agriculture contributes to local economic development, poverty alleviation and social inclusion of the urban poor, as well as to the greening of the city. The importance of urban agriculture is increasingly being recognized by international organisations like UN-Habitat & FAO (World Food and Agriculture Organization).

    Today associations managing urban gardens already often at the forefront of innovation: they put in place new techniques such as permaculture, use new technologies, create green parks for leisure and therapeutic purposes, stimulate citizens participation to all environmental activities through the abolition architectural barriers – in particular of those with motor disabilities and the visually impaired – they improve social inclusion and integration, disseminate the culture of sustainability and resilience by raising awareness among citizens, families, groups, associations and institutions on the need to safeguard and regenerate the territory through self-management processes of common goods and self-organization.

    Rome (IT) has been awarded the URBACT Good Practice label for its participatory urban gardening project. The city has a long tradition of urban gardens but the novelty is that the City Council of Rome recently approved a regulation for Urban Gardens. Urban Gardens are now on expected to fulfil social, environmental and cultural goals for the inhabitants following clear steps for their establishment, but also their management.

    Ru:rban: Transferring the Urban Gardening Good Practice

    The Ru:rban project is one of the 24 new “Transfer Networks”. It focusses on the aspect of urban gardening, transferring knowledge and valuable experiences from the lead partner to the other participating cities and backwards. Urban gardening is a tool to include disadvantaged people (including refugees), to encourage citizens to reconnect with nature, notably if it involves schools, the young and the elderly. In terms of social inclusion, urban gardening also helps reduce the risk of mental health diseases, promote a

    healthier diet and lifestyle. Urban Gardens can combine cultural activities with societal wellbeing and spread democratic values, as it offers the occasion for social and political engagement, citizenship rights.

    Ru:rban Transfer Network is an opportunity to make urban agriculture a valued and essential element of policy in favor of green urban infrastructures.

    The cities involved in the network (Rome, A Coruna, Vilnius, Thessaloniki, Krakow, Caen and Loures) will exchange on methodologies in order to improve the impact of their urban gardening practices focusing on the policy topic management. The project will involve a wide range of stakeholders that have a strong relation with the existing gardens in each city, but also people responsible for the management of city gardens on behalf of the cities.

    The targets set for the network are to enrich Rome urban gardens regulation with new ideas, to transfer this updated regulation to the other cities, to assist these cities in improving their urban garden practices, to train in a vocational way people to manage urban gardens (Gardenisers) as parts of a small scale action plan for each city that will be prepared early 2019. The small scale actions plans will aim at increasing inhabitants’ interest, in order for them to be involved for the first time in urban garden projects and make of these places interesting community hubs.

    3 different views and practices of urban gardening from 3 cities visited so far within Ru:rban.

    While comparing the cities experiences, different approaches appeared. The first community Urban garden in Rome was implemented in 2009: Orti Urbani Garbatella. Today more than 200 community-run green areas are mapped. A regulation for the Assignment and Management of Municipal Green areas and Allotments was approved by the COR in July 2015. According to this Regulation, community gardens are considered as agricultural activities places, public spaces, green areas and community associations, all at the same time. They must conform to the prescriptions that each of these domains imply. Consequently, they are expected to fulfil social, environmental and cultural goals.

    The city of A Coruna uses its own budget and human recourses to fund the urban gardens infrastructures and organisation. This self-government policy challenge is a core element of the city action plan.

    Vilnius has a long history of urban gardening. They were mostly created by the institutions. There are very few examples of community based gardening actitivities but the potential is huge due to the amount of green public and private spaces avaialble in the city.

    Identifying common challenges beyond each city’s expectations Each of the city visited by the partnership so far has expressed its own expectations as regards to the network:

    • Rome would like to learn from the other cities in order to improve its existing regulation.
    • A Coruna would like to transfer elements of the good practice about management of urban gardens and would like to understand how to access funding to support of this specific policy challenge.
    • Vilnius would like to design a model for the continuous growth and expansion of community led gardens in the city; one that is sustainable and beneficial to everyone, notably by engaging public and private stakeholders. Vilnius would also like to review - and if necessary revise – the functioning of the municipal company in charge of public parks (Vilniaus Parkai) for it to focus more on community gardening.
    • There is also a critical common challenge for all cities participating to the the network: to improve their governance effectiveness in managing urban gardens through an improved city regulation.

    Through the Ru:rban project, the partners want to meet those objectives, notably by exchanging on the existing knowledge and practices that exist today in Europe.

    They wa

    nt also to work in the direction of building a European Urban Gardens City Network. It is a great opportunity to explore the situation of urban gardening in Europe.

    But above all these objectives there is also a very ambitious goal: that of inspiring new people to involve in community gardening and to make of urban gardens modern community hubs, in which people meet daily and act together with other people.

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  • Accommodating and integrating refugees in the city of Thessaloniki: the multi-stakeholder programme REACT

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    Thessaloniki has been at the forefront of the management crisis of refugee flows. The city launched its emergency response in 2015, just before the closure of the Balkan Route and the EU-Turkey common statement of March 2016. In 2016, three times more people applied for asylum in Greece than the year before, with 51,092 asylum applications, compared with 13,195 in 2015. And as the ‘temporariness’ of the transit refugee population has evolved to become semi-temporary to potentially permanent, a strategic urban response has been all the more essential. With this in mind, the Municipality of Thessaloniki, with support from the URBACT network Arrival Cities, is drafting an Integrated Action Plan (IAP) to provide a holistic inclusion and integration strategy coordinating key state and non-state actors. As a partner in Arrival Cities, Thessaloniki formed an URBACT Local Group, which helped to create a multi-stakeholder consortium for the REACT programme. This type of consortium for managing refugee integration is a first in Greece, and has been considered as best practice by the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

    REACT programme and the role of the URBACT local group


    A good number of registered refugees in north and northwest Greece (Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Central Macedonia, Western Macedonia, Epirus) now reside in apartments in urban and semi-urban areas rather than in refugee camps ( Urban accommodation for refugees is a more dignified living solution because of increased access to employment, services, learning opportunities, local markets, social and cultural spaces, and more favourable conditions for joining community networks.

    Reacting to this gradual movement of the refugee population from refugee camps to urban areas, in May 2016 the Municipality of Thessaloniki launched an ambitious integrated housing programme called REACT, which stands for Refugee Assistance Collaboration Thessaloniki ( Thessaloniki runs the scheme in partnership with the UNHCR, and with funding from the EU, collaborating with local NGOs and the municipalities of Kalamaria and Neapoli-Sikies.

    The design and structure of Thessaloniki’s multi-stakeholder consortium is a direct result of the work of the URBACT Local Group and a clear outcome of a series of consultations it conducted.

    The programme responds to the immediate needs of refugees, while also organising the integration process, both for the current host and destination country. REACT identifies and establishes a target 888 temporary

    accommodation places in private apartments or collective centres and host families, and provides basic support services to the accommodated asylum seekers and relocation or family reunification candidates. The programme also provides social integration support.

    The programme’s “Persons of Concern” (PoC) are the asylum seekers who are eligible for relocation and/or family reunification (with priority given to vulnerable groups) and especially those who have applied, or will apply, for asylum in Greece and/or decide to settle in the city of Thessaloniki after they submit their asylum applications.

    REACT innovates in three major areas namely:

    1. The adjustment of the accommodation criteria according to the real estate market characteristics of Thessaloniki (e.g. assist home-owners with their financial difficulties, lowering the demands in terms of apartment square meters)
    2. The carefully planned distribution of the refugee population in city areas that are not overly-populated by refugees but are strategically located in areas with easy access to services and facilities.
    3. The introduction of a fast-track alternative application procedure called “Pre-approval Application of Appropriateness” and the support of the pertinent Municipal Department and the “Committee for the Appropriateness of Accommodation” in order to facilitate home-owners’ need to estimate their property’s monthly rent value before investing in the renovation of their apartments (i.e. painting, installing air-conditioning, restoring damages, etc.) and in the full application process and costly certificates.

    Currently the REACT programme employs 50 people from all nine partners of the consortium. Each family is allocated a social worker, each of whom is responsible for about 10 families.

    According to latest data (16/6/2017 Source: REACT programme) the current accommodation places and number of PoCs are as follows:

    Age group MaleFemaleTotal
       In numbers In %In numbersIn %In numbersIn %
    0 to 5 3710,4226.26016,8
    6 to 175916,65114,311030,9
    18 to 59 9827,58323,318150,8
    Country of originNo.In %
    Syrian Arab Republic30986,8

    Integration through housing

    The REACT programme does not purely provide housing, it also integrates basic and essential services for refugees (to find out more see links below). As there are varying needs among a highly diverse and vulnerable target group, common standards in delivery of services and response to emergencies has been necessary. For this purpose REACT established, with assistance from the UNHCR, a set of SoPs (Standard Operating Procedures) which ensures that clear, efficient and rights-based procedures are followed on a range of issues from referrals to emergency response. This also enables REACT workers to act as facilitator and mediators of potential controversies.

    There are often cases of neighbours complaining, either before arrival of the actual persons to be hosted, or afterwards. In these cases the Municipality appoints a three-person committee for conflict management and processing of complaints. In addition the staff undertake preventive measures such as prior consultations and post-arrival meetings with the host population in the neighbourhood. As the project is implemented by the Municipality and the Municipal Council is accountable to its citizens, there is a clear link between what happens at the community level and the programme.

    A case of five young refugees placed in one of the hosting apartments sparked furious negative responses among future neighbours before their arrival. Through REACTs community-level work, not only did the neighbours withdraw their complaint, but they actually developed exemplary neighbourly relations with the newcomers.

    In another case, one of the REACT social workers observed that a woman from Syria was heavily bruised, perhaps from domestic violence. There are clear SoPs for dealing with Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV). In this case, the social worker met with the woman privately several times, with referrals to psychologists and a lawyer. Finally after weeks of support the woman moved out to live on her own in another apartment assigned through the REACT accommodation programme.

    A clear advantage of REACT has been the technical know-how and flexibility that the partnership scheme provides on different issues. The URBACT Local Group includes nine specialised partners, namely Municipalities of Neapoli-Sikies, Municipality of Kalamaria, ARSIS, PRAKSIS, GCR, HLHR, and the YMCA.

    In addition, the Municipality is responsible for implementation. It is the first municipality in Greece to implement such a programme – other municipalities have chosen to implement similar programmes through their Development Management Agencies. The UNHCR has noted that future programmes will have to be implemented through similar consortia under the leadership of local authorities. Similarly, the strong official involvement of the Municipality allows for sound financial management as well as bolstering accountability to citizens and donors. It also provides quality assurance as the Municipality is bound by its control mechanisms and operational systems in line with EU regulations.


    The sponsored accommodation programmes provide mostly temporary accommodation and the aim is to promote self-reliance among refugees. However the most important challenge is to be able to have bottom-up impact on housing policies at the national and local levels to facilitate access to affordable housing for all.

    Furthermore, it would be crucial to consider:

    • Creating a flexible mechanism which can address the changing needs to the refugee population (for instance in the past months there has been an increase in the number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and the African continent which has drastically shifted the language and interpretation needs);
    • Coordinating and setting up systems for efficient and effective implementation of the programme, despite strong commitment from all actors involved. For example, 20% of the population is extremely vulnerable and needs daily assistance, which strains the resources of the programme, both HR and in terms of dedicated budget lines;
    • Creating mechanisms which can allow such services to be independent or semi-independent from external funding cycles;
    • Integrating more tailored services – in addition to basic services – to programmes that can assist refugees in their endeavours to be more self-reliant;
    • Ensuring community engagement is an integral aspect of local integration (both targeting the host community and the refugee community), including combatting xenophobia.

    The REACT programme primarily hosts refugees of temporary character – i.e. candidates for relocation and family reunification – but is widening to include asylum seekers in Greece as well. The experience, innovative approaches and standards attained through the REACT programme will provide a sound basis for future accommodation programmes. As the housing initiatives will increasingly be dealing with potentially permanent refugee populations, the challenge will be to provide genuine and long-term strategic response to refugee integration. Through REACT, the Municipality of Thessaloniki, with support from URBACT, is adopting a multi-stakeholder approach, tapping in national policy processes while harnessing the dynamism and potential at local level.

    About the partners in REACT’s local group

    ARSIS provides direct psycho-social support, interpretation services, individual/group meetings with psychologists and/or social workers concerning the difficulties and problems faced by refugees in their everyday life, during their accommodation & counseling in case of personal or family problems, in order to address complaints, trauma, and tackle with issues of abuse, violence, racism, discrimination, etc., support for refugees’ access to education and children enrollment in schools and direct assistance to PWSN, SGBV survivors and other persons with vulnerability and/or referrals to existing specialized services.

    HLHR and GCR provide legal information, interpretation services and counseling to individuals/ groups on: a) Asylum issues, i.e. access to the asylum process, rights and obligations of asylum seekers, migration, family reunification, Dublin Regulation, etc.) b) Legal issues relating to their personal situation and the exercise of their rights. Also provide mediation between relevant bodies/authorities PoC, e.g. w/ Municipalities, Asylum Services, Police, Social Services, etc. & direct assistance to PWSN, SGBV survivors and other persons with vulnerability and/or referrals to existing specialized services and support for refugees’ access to education and children enrollment in schools.
    Praxis offer health management services in terms of personal hygiene and health prevention based on PoC medical history and medical exams (e.g. HIV diagnostic tests, HEP B, C, etc. when required). Detailed information sessions are provided, as well as interpretation services, referrals to primary health facilities, provision of medication/ prescriptions through Municipal social pharmacies, Polyclinics of Praxis, etc.

    YMCA organise creative and athletic activity classes within the premises of YMCA & other buildings in the neighborhood Municipalities, for children aged 4-16 years old, targeting the development of social skills, such as interaction and cooperation, cultural skills, communication skills, emotional intelligence, etc. through experiential learning, i.e. games, sports and the arts. A range of social services, including accommodation provided by Filokseio.

    Author: Meric Ozgunes, Local Coordinator for the URBACT network Arrival Cities
    With editing from: Laura Colini, URBACT Programme Expert

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  • Can nature make your city climate-resilient?

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    Among the headlines of summer 2017: disastrous floods in the South of England, Istanbul and Berlin, extreme water scarcity in Rome, wild fires damaging homes on the Croatian coast, the Côte d'Azur and elsewhere… The magnitude and frequency of these and other events indicate that climate change is already a reality, and the impacts will be even bigger in the future. Yes, we need to reduce greenhouse gases to limit climate change, but equally urgent: we need to adapt to the remaining impacts. All cities, depending on their geographical position, are likely to experience prolonged and more intensive heatwaves or droughts, more frequent wild fires, coastal flooding, or an increase in the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall with the associated threat of urban flooding, river flooding or landslides. How can cities cope with these huge predicted impacts of climate change in the future, even when they are faced with tight budgets? Can nature be a solution?

    Malmö enjoys its green infrastructure solutions

    Climate adaptation

    Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, has a long tradition of coping with excessive rainwater, going back long before climate change adaptation came on the agenda. The solutions have become even more important now with the projected increase in the number and intensity of extreme rainfall events. Just across the Øresund, Copenhagen was heavily flooded by an immense cloudburst in 2011. Damage costs mounted up to 800 million EUR. Such an extreme event could also hit Malmö. On a smaller scale, the neighbourhood of Augustenborg in Malmö already experienced frequent flooding from an overflowing drainage system in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of extending the sewage system, the city experimented with green and blue infrastructure: vegetation and water. This solution comprises several kilometres of water channels and retention ponds, green roofs on new and retrofitted buildings, and green areas redesigned to better store and drain rain water or delay its discharge. Only excess water is led into the sewage system. As a result, problems with flooding have ceased. At the same time, the area has become much more attractive to its residents.

    The city has used this approach again in Western Harbour, a new residential area built on a former brownfield. It copes with rainwater mostly with the support of the many green roofs, green areas, water channels and retention basins. Water has become a playful feature in the urban design of the area, which was co-created with the future residents right from the planning phase. The design also helps mitigate climate change thanks to low-energy housing and the integrated generation of renewable energy. All of this has made the area extremely popular not just to its residents, but also to lots of other citizens and tourists who enjoy the nice seaside area. This long-term valuable experience and knowledge is an asset that Malmö shares with other cities as a member of the URBACT network Resilient Europe.

    Indeed, nature-based solutions can be a key tool for climate change adaptation. They comprise green infrastructure of all kinds but also solutions that allow natural processes, like floods, to happen without harm, e.g. by building floating or elevated houses. While Malmö is already enjoying the many benefits of green infrastructures in boosting quality of life, Hamburg and Copenhagen have recently calculated that they urgently need nature-based solutions to cope with climate change. They simply cannot extend the technical infrastructure – their sewage system – to the extent that it can cope with the amount of water expected under heavy cloudbursts. Costs for such a solution would be astronomically high, if feasible at all. Instead, green areas, green roofs, storage areas or streets as temporary waterways will take their share of water, storing, draining or delaying the discharge, thus relieving the sewage system. Calculations show that today’s solutions as we know them won’t do the job in Europe’s climate of the future, but a combination with nature-based solutions can work.

    Rotterdam opts for multi-functionality in its dense urban setting

    Rotterdam also has to cope increasingly with water – from a rising sea level, more torrential rain, and river flooding. There are not many places the water can go, as much of the area is low-lying and water needs to be pumped away. That makes the city very vulnerable and dependent on a functioning technical infrastructure. The city needs storing capacity to delay the discharge of water during heavy rainfall, but space is scarce in the Netherlands, where almost every square meter is used either for houses or for agri- and horticulture. In addition, as a dense city, Rotterdam aims to be both energy and transport efficient, and liveable and attractive. In its search for innovative solutions, Rotterdam came up with a range of ideas that are being explored further in the context of the Resilient Europe network. Some are swimming structures like the solar-powered floating pavilion in the Rijnhaven that copes with different water levels, others are roof-top farms or the famous water squares. Their special design offers multiple uses and benefits: Normally, these squares are dry and include playgrounds, sports facilities, nice places to meet or take a break, but under heavy rainfall they fill up with water and protect the surrounding from flooding, and are attractive in a different way.

    Nevertheless, such innovative ways to deal with climate challenges are not always easy to establish. While planners were enthusiastic, citizens were concerned: For example, would the area still be safe for their children? The planners had to find ways to overcome these barriers, build trust and convince. Meanwhile, the first water squares have been established, and they are highly appreciated.

    Combinations of green, grey and soft measures to make Vejle climate-resilient

    Water forms part of the identity of Vejle in Denmark too. It comes from all sides: the rising level of the Baltic Sea, combined with storm surges, elevates the risk of coastal flooding. And the rising number and intensity of heavy rainfall events brings more water from the sky and the streams. Important assets of the city, like the harbour, the city centre and some infrastructure are vulnerable, and the sewage system is not prepared for extremely high water loads. Current measures alone, like the soft measure of today’s well-functioning emergency responses, won’t suffice in the future.

    The city already uses green infrastructure in several areas. However, as great and effective as it is, green infrastructure alone cannot deal completely with future impacts in Vejle, in particular in the event of storm surges. Hence, the city is actively searching for new and innovative solutions combining green, grey and soft measures. Its district project ‘Fjordbyen’ will serve as a laboratory for climate change adaptation and flood control and explore how water can also be an asset for the quality of the area, not just a risk. Innovative solutions where water can be embraced can improve knowledge, economic growth and welfare for local people.

    A common factor for these, and similar examples of climate-resilient solutions in cities across the EU, is that they see climate change adaptation as part of a bigger concept. As well as collaborating in the Resilient Europe URBACT network, Rotterdam, Vejle, Glasgow, Bristol and Thessaloniki are also part of the global 100 Resilient Cities initiative. The concept comprises social cohesion, environment, health and wellbeing, economic prosperity, heritage and participation, and will enhance quality of life.

    Thessaloniki builds resilience on broad participation and collaboration

    In Thessaloniki, more than 40 organisations and 2,000 citizens from across the city have participated in the resilience strategy development. This ongoing co-creation process unleashes the potential for bottom up innovative solutions by residents and communities. Like Rotterdam, urban density is an issue for Thessaloniki with just 2.6m2 of green space per resident compared to the European average of 8-10m2. Nevertheless, the city sees green infrastructure as an important part of the solution. Hence, the city aims to increase the quality, effectiveness and number of benefits by redesigning the limited open space. This creates spaces for social interaction at the same time. It plans solutions such as permeable surfaces, rain gardens, green walls, but also supports urban agriculture in inner courtyards and pocket community gardens that, on top, come at low costs which is very important in times of austerity. These solutions not only involve residents in the design of their area, but encourage them to learn about agriculture and nutrition and may also help to integrate migrants and refugees with diverse agricultural traditions.

    For its valuable pieces of green infrastructure, the city developed the Adopt your Green Spot programme. It facilitates the active engagement of citizens in the maintenance of urban green by taking co-ownership of public green space while keeping public expenditures low. At the same time, this activity educates people, contributes to the local economy, and creates or fosters local communities and social cohesion. Participation, education, community, connectedness, integration and more; these are the important soft factors for building up long-term and effective resilience that technical measures alone cannot do. They are relevant for resilience towards any type of shock and change.

    Transforming cities with nature and innovation into thriving places – Bilbao inspires

    Bilbao, which recently became an URBACT Good Practice city, takes the holistic approach to adaptation a step further. Some decades ago, the city learned painfully that the business-as-usual way wouldn’t lead them out of their deep economic crisis. The city started the process towards a broadly integrated urban development strategy to cope with the complexity of its urban challenges. That continuous process is still ongoing. Over the last 30 years, Bilbao has undertaken a massive transformation. Interventions like the iconic Guggenheim museum, the clean-up of the river, new infrastructures, internationalisation, a focus on excellent design, nice parks and other urban greens, as well as the restoration of the historic centre, reinvented the city that is thriving very well now. In this tradition, the city has recently started adaptation activities that shall contribute to creating a flourishing, climate-resilient city that offers a high quality of life. One example is the regeneration of the Zorrotzaure district, a currently degraded, flood-prone industrial peninsula. A combination of grey and green measures of building and urban design will make it flood-proof and highly attractive as well, thus adding to Bilbao’s overall appearance of a modern, liveable and strong city.

    The cities here present feasible approaches that turned the need for making their city climate-resilient into an opportunity to boost quality of life and transform them into enjoyable and thriving places. The process to get there includes many of the ingredients already used in other urban regeneration and development processes, among them broad participation, good governance, and collaboration across sectors and stakeholders. The examples show that having a great, broadly accepted vision of the future, dedication and commitment to the task, as well as plenty of stamina, are important for a successful transformation process. Nature-based solutions have proved to be a key tool: attractive and multi-functional at reasonable costs, they are a valuable asset that every city can use.

    Birgit Georgi


    Photo 2: Rotterdam ©Rick Ligthelm
    Photo 3: Vejle Fjorbyen ©Finn Byrum
    Photo 4: Thessaloniki ©Municipality of Thessaloniki
    Photo 5: Bilbao ©Municipality of Bilbao

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    In September 2015, at what was the height of migration flows witnessed in the Europe since the Second World War, this Action Planning network began its activities. As a result of this global flow, one can observe a rapid change in the population structure and interactions between individuals and social groups: cities of migration are places of inclusion and exclusion. In this sense, Arrival Cities took place against a backcloth of rising discrimination and prejudice against immigrants. The network's cities have had to tackle the new and old challenges to ensure the migrants' integration.

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    Develop an exchange of experience between 9 cities facing an ageing population - in order to develop greater professional capacity and thus identify and develop good practices - and help them to put in place an integrated approach to dealing with this issues.

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