POINT (13.234579 46.071067)
  • Playful Paradigm


    Kick-off meeting
    1st TN Meeting in Esplugues de Llobregat | 2nd TNM in Udine | 1st Customized Activity in Udine: Ludobus and Social Transformation | 2nd Customized Activity, Paris, Toy Libraries Study Visit | 3rd TNM in Klaipeda
    4th TNM Viana do Castelo | TNM Online (Parts 1+2+3) | Webinar "Network Management for Tackling the COVID Crisis" | Webinar "Public Procurement" | Webinar "Manifesto of Playful Cities" | Playful Paradigm to re-think cities (virtual session @ EURegionsWeek)
    Sharing Period | Final Event 20-21 April

    Municipality of Athienou
    2, Archbishop Makarios III Ave.
    7600 Athienou Cyprus


    Municipality of Santiago de Compostela


    Municipality of Udine (Italy)


    Cities offer unique opportunities for addressing the challenges of urbanization, ageing, climate change, social exclusion, only if enabling, enjoyable places are co-created. This Transfer network aims to replicate the “playful paradigm” based on gamification as an innovative concept for promoting social inclusion, healthy lifestyles & energy awareness, intergenerational & cultural mediation, place-making & economic prosperity. Games offer new strategies for engaging city stakeholders in urban development.

    Games for inclusive, healthy and sustainable cities
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  • Covid walks, societal change, and rethinking public spaces

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    Take a stroll through the solutions URBACT towns and cities are finding to ensure shared spaces meet citizens’ evolving needs.

    City planning


    The Covid-19 pandemic has created temporary but also permanent societal changes. How can cities manage these changes and remain resilient? Lilian Krischer, National URBACT Point for Germany and Austria, explores how increased strolling in pandemic times has influenced public space, and how four URBACT networks are working together with citizens to adapt and ensure public spaces meet our needs.



    Strolling in times of the pandemic creates space for fleeting encounters

    Urban everyday life in times of the pandemic © Lilian Krischer

    For urban sociology as well as urban planning, it is clear that people's practices determine public space. So far, much focus has been on people's “quality of stay” in these spaces. But movement, such as strolling, is also relevant: and this became very clear during the pandemic.

    After strict Covid-19 lockdown rules prohibited many leisure activities, and even – temporarily – stopping in public spaces, many people discovered the benefits of strolling as a rare window to urban life. It was not only an opportunity to meet people at a distance, thus reducing risks of infection. It was also a way to see unknown people in the city – and to be seen oneself! Closely related to this was a new awareness of other people. In Germany, in order to keep the required distance of one and a half metres, even on narrow streets, people deliberately dodged each other. These moments of interaction, through eye contact, turned public space into a space of fleeting encounters. It is this kind of societal change that cities must respond to in order to remain resilient and attractive for their people.

    New hybrid forms of urban interaction

    What is interesting here is that this type of urban interaction in public space does not fit into classical categories. It sits somewhere between face-to-face encounters where people stop still in order to enter into dialogue with each other, and indifference and anonymity where people walk past each other, ignoring each other. For many, the possibility of these fleeting encounters based on an attentiveness to others was an important reason for strolling during Covid. This new form of urban behaviour should be taken into account in the future planning of public space.

    URBACT networks helping design public space according to people's needs

    Arad in Romania shows how important it is to ask citizens about their needs © Space4People / URBACT

    In order to make a city resilient, these societal changes must be perceived and addressed. If cities want to react quickly to societal changes and to adopt urban governance according to the citizens’ needs, they have to watch and listen closely and engage with diverse local interests.

    This is where URBACT, its method and its networks come in. Cities in the Action Planning Network Space4People, for example, have set themselves the task of designing attractive public spaces for diverse user groups by focusing on walkability, quality of stay, mix of functions and interchanges, and parking management. The cities of Arad in Romania and Guía de Isora in Spain have shown how important it is to ask citizens about their needs. It became clear in Arad, for example, that citizens want a continuous pedestrian zone in their city centre, while in Guía de Isora they would like more cycle paths and recreational spaces for young people. Being flexible and trying out new ideas also proved successful.

    Network partner Saint-Germain-en-Laye in France tried expanding its pedestrian zone in Covid-19 times, providing safe outdoor space to move around, and helping reach pedestrianisation objectives faster. Furthermore, they redesigned the public space with flowerpots, bicycle stands and more space for gastronomy. Surveys showed the approach was successful in regaining people's trust in public space.

    In order to build on their experiences of these practices, Space4People, together with the URBACT networks RiConnect and Thriving Streets, launched the exchange platform #WalkandRollCities on the topics of mobility and public space.

    Identifying current social processes for demand-oriented design of public space

    Another URBACT network that shows how important it is to observe the dynamics of public space and then adapt it to the needs of the people is Genderedlandscape. This Action Planning Network seeks to create an understanding of the city as a place where gendered power structures are always present, and develop locally contextualised tools and approaches to promote gender equality in urban policies, planning, and services.

    They demonstrate this approach using the Place du Panthéon in Paris, France. From this square, a symbolic inscription is visible on the stonework of the Pantheon, "aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante": “to great men, the grateful nation”. The project partners noticed that there were fewer women than men using the space. One reason proposed was that the large area did not offer a real place of retreat – each person was very visible.

    With this data coming from close observation, the Genderedlandscape network implemented its measures: Diverse seating options were placed so that people could sit together in different situations. In addition, names of various female artists, but also queer artists and those with different cultural backgrounds, were inscribed on the benches. In this way, women became more involved in the use of the place, as well as in its representation.

    Place du Panthéon in Paris with different seating options © Genderedlandscape / URBACT

    Let citizens design public space themselves

    Next to designing public space for the people, it is also important to let them do it themselves. This bottom-up approach is evident in the Urban Innovative Action (UIA) and URBACT network CO4CITIES. It promotes the co-management of urban commons by the municipality and citizens’ organisations. Talking about urban commons, the city is understood as a platform that can be used and improved by citizens from all backgrounds and social statuses.

    This urban commons approach can be purposeful in the design of public space, as it is the people who use the public space who understand what the places – and they themselves – need. For this, it is important that a change of mentality takes place, both in municipalities and in non-profit organisations. Cities can benefit when public administrations give up their authoritarian role, allowing citizens more freedom, and the third sector learns to take more decisions for itself.

    One city that is starting to apply this approach in the context of public space is CO4CITIES partner Budapest, Hungary. The city authorities cooperate with civil society organisations and residents to discuss current priorities in the renewal of public space, and future approaches to co-management and co-creation.

    Designing public spaces that adapt to change

    The URBACT Playful Paradigm network is a good example of cities reacting to global challenges including those that emerged during Covid-19. In this network, gamification is used as an innovative concept to promote not only urban spaces, but also social inclusion, healthy lifestyles, energy awareness, intergenerational and cultural mediation, place-making and economic prosperity.

    People playing in Udine, Italy © Playful Paradigm / URBACT

    Partners in the first Playful Paradigm network, in 2018-2020, found that people need colourful, green, safe and comfortable public spaces that are free and open for children, young people and adults to play. These lessons learnt, and the consequences of Covid-19, led to a new edition of Playful Paradigm. The new project uses playful methods to look particularly at gender issues, intergenerational approaches, older people or people with chronic diseases, and adolescents, to re-think urban spaces and address specific health challenges, such as the prevention of loneliness and isolation.

    One module of the network deals with play for sustainable urban regeneration. The aim is to find out what possibilities games offer for re-thinking urban public spaces. In doing so, it builds on the experience of its first edition with the Ludobus initiative and the Playmaking project. The Ludobus is a bus in Udine, Italy, where residents can borrow games to play outdoors. The bus drives to different public places, according to demand.

    The Playmaking project in Udine and in Cork, Ireland, was about testing play as a method of placemaking. During the pandemic, when public space was already perceived in a new way, cities tested a playful festival and pop-up play events on streets closed for traffic. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and people were happy to use the street for play. These practices help to transform the pandemic’s fleeting encounters into a more classical understanding of public space, a connectedness or “positive proximity” as URBACT Lead Expert Wessel Badenhorst calls it with reference to the author Dar Williams.

    Resilient public spaces and strolling in them beyond the pandemic

    Discovering small details of the city while strolling © Lilian Krischer

    It has become clear that a city and its public spaces are only resilient if they adapt to new societal behaviour and structures, such as increased strolling during a pandemic. The URBACT networks presented above address this challenge accordingly and all engage in improving public spaces together with the people. They identify social dynamics and adapt to the needs of the people, to change or even let the people themselves adapt their urban spaces.

    But what about beyond the pandemic?  Cities will still need public spaces for walking. To create more space for pedestrians, temporary street closures offer the opportunity to explore street spaces that are otherwise occupied by traffic. But, as many URBACT cities have discovered, there should also be more permanent spaces for walking. In addition to shopping streets in city and district centres, these walking spaces should be evenly distributed across all neighbourhoods – including ‘consumption-free’ areas.

    Furthermore, the mixed use of the streets is relevant here. People like to walk where they can see people, but also have interesting surroundings to discover. Monofunctional shopping streets are counterproductive for this. A mixture of different uses initiated by the cultural and creative industries, gastronomy, educational institutions, and communities, creates varied, attractive street spaces that also encourage walking.

    URBACT and the URBACT method help cities to adapt actively to societal change and create needs-based spaces for, and with, the people who use them. The programme acts as a catalyst by developing processes and tools that decision-makers, city practitioners and citizens can use to help shape new models of local governance. The process of continuous exchange between different European cities and the bottom-up approach are particular success factors on this path.


    Further reading

    Walk and Roll Cities: a transformation towards people-centred streets: meet the URBACT cities exploring links between mobility and public space to promote sustainable, inclusive, attractive urban areas.

    Join URBACT #WalkAndRollCities on LinkedIn to discover more innovative ideas on improving mobility and public spaces in towns and cities across the EU – and meet partners of the URBACT networks Space4People, Thriving Streets, and RiConnect.


    Cover photo: ©Lilian Krischer

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  • Five flawless ways to revitalise small town centres

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    Are town centres ready to welcome people again? Five solutions to make small city centres more attractive in the post-Covid era.


    There is no doubt that town centres were among the places hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic, worsening a crisis already felt in many European highstreets. Nevertheless, many elements of these town centres can be potential engines for attracting new residents or creating new economic opportunities for small shops and other commercial activities. 

    Coming from a big city, the most striking aspect when you arrive in a small or medium-sized town is the silence, the slowed-down activity compared to the symphony of horns, buses and incessant background noise that characterises a day spent in a larger urban context. This is particularly true when visiting the partner cities in URBACT networks that deal with the revitalisation of small historic centres, such as City Centre Doctor. The network has represented in recent years one of the main arenas of dialogue for small and medium-sized European municipalities committed to finding common solutions to a plurality of cross-cutting issues to design the small liveable cities of the future.

    Environmental care, the promotion of tourism, the revitalisation of urban spaces, economic growth: these are just a few of the main concerns for cities whose centres were hit first by the economic crisis and then by Covid, with each new crisis increasing the risk of depopulation.

    San Donà di Piave (IT)

    Much smaller than nearby Treviso or Venice, San Donà di Piave (IT), with 40 000 inhabitants, is the right size to be able to experiment with shared methodologies for the recovery and improved quality of public spaces, creating spaces where new forms and methods of innovation and participation can be tested. It is perhaps no coincidence that this municipality is the first in Italy to have launched a Department for Participatory Urban Regeneration, with clear mention of the URBACT Local Group as a long-term tool to make the collaborative methodologies promoted by the European programme part of the regular activities of the municipality.

    Compared to bigger cities, it is easier to focus attention on these issues in small towns where social cohesion is stronger and local government actions can be more incisive in revitalising social spaces, in order to recreate a new community spirit. It is also in small towns that important approaches can be developed to make centres more liveable and inclusive, with valid lessons for larger urban contexts too.

    The solutions, and food for thought, produced by City Centre Doctor and other URBACT networks on the theme of small city centres have animated national and European debates on the implementation of European and global Urban Agendas, as well as contributing to the new European cohesion policy. Here are five key lessons:

    1. To revitalise a city centre, think about what you want to do with the urban space

    Many cities focus on using empty spaces for parking, but the experience of cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Copenhagen teaches us that reducing the space allocated to cars can be a decisive contribution to making a city more vibrant and liveable.

    The use of large spaces, such as squares, for a variety of functions is the ideal way to revitalise a city, whether large or small, perhaps even providing original uses: a playground, an urban beach, or a place for art installations, yoga, or music for young people.

    In small towns, it is possible to return to the concept of the square and enrich it with new uses. The same is true for streets, which are transformed into temporary open-air markets during neighbourhood festivals in Belgian cities, or given back to the citizens to pedal, walk, meet or eat together in Medina del Campo (ES).

    It's not just a matter of pedestrianisation, but also of making the streets more beautiful: covering them with marble, as in Portugal, or with street artworks, as in San Francisco or in Quito, Ecuador, where a work of tactical urbanism was created at the occasion of the Habitat III Conference in 2016.

    2. It won't be the big stores that save the historical centres, but small-scale, high quality commerce

    Can bringing Primark or McDonald's into a small town make it more attractive? Not really, especially if you think about the economic and social sustainability of the whole operation. Instead, create the conditions to make historic centres a framework in which quality commerce can grow, bringing creativity and value to small towns, starting with a redefinition of public spaces to make them liveable, walkable, and attractive. Heerlen has tried this with the widespread use of street artwork, making the Dutch town an open-air museum of urban art – certified as a good practice by the URBACT programme.

    Antwerpen (BE)

    But street art alone is not enough. Experimenting with new systems of rules to encourage creative entrepreneurship, for example by making it possible to open temporary stores or encouraging young people to open new businesses with specific training actions and exemption from paying local taxes for two years, are some elements of the strategies revitalising cities in Belgium or Ireland, for example. Solutions include Cork’s ‘Streetwise’ programme or Antwerp's ‘Pop up to date’ initiative, another URBACT good practice.

    Many small centres are also focusing on maintaining local stores and enhancing activities such as craft breweries and bars. They put the focus on quality and reasoned use of public spaces, giving inhabitants the perception of an attractive and liveable place.

    "A place needs to be cool, but you only create ‘coolness’ if you create better public spaces and properly support the work of entrepreneurs," comments Wessel Badenhorst, City Centre Doctor lead expert.

    Proximity shops proved their importance during the lockdown, helping revive community spirit in many towns and villages. What happened in 2020 is a reminder of the importance of this particular category of commercial activities, some of which innovated their offers to contrast the rise of online commerce with more personalised customer service.

    3. Kicking cars out of downtowns to make them more liveable

    In small towns, you can still see children riding their bikes on sidewalks, but residents are often dependent on cars to access basic services. There is no doubt that the longer cars stay out of town centres, the more attractive they become.

    The issue of mobility in small towns concerns not only the way people move from one place to another, but also the system of transporting goods, especially now that online platforms and courier lorries are revolutionising the way we shop, even in the smallest towns.

    Reducing pollution by organising mobility and supply systems differently is a key solution to improving the way people perceive the spaces around them. For example, the use of cargo bikes instead of polluting trucks to create delivery systems that are environmentally friendly and close to the end user is becoming increasingly popular in a sector that, despite a lack of major innovative improvements, can act strongly on established habits of the various links in the chain.

    Cure people from car dependency: an assumption that becomes the cornerstone of structured and collaborative actions and policies, especially in small towns.

    4. Making young and old the protagonists of change in historic centres

    Young people and the elderly are two social groups tied more closely than others to historic town centres. For young people who do not own a car, the historic centre can become part of their identity, with the consequence that if there are few local activities, they grow up hoping to leave, abandoning their small centre. Making young people protagonists of their hometown’s future is a solution to stop them wanting to ‘escape’.

    Idrija (SI)

    The mayor of Idrija, Slovenia, asked local young people to indicate a series of actions to be carried out in different parts of their town. Unexpectedly, rather than asking for disruptive, chaotic actions, they asked for re-appropriation of spaces, activities in the squares such as music and dance performances, or playing with skateboards. This proved that it is not just bars that make young people stay in a place, but rather the freedom to do their own thing. This was also true in Amarante, Portugal, where young people were able to organise a week of events on the theme of citizenship. "Young people are the ones who implement change in the inner cities," says Wessel Badenhorst.

    As for the elderly, and others who are unable to drive, access to healthcare and social services becomes a key factor in their ability to live in the area.

    Udine’s Playful Paradigm – a good practice shared with other medium-sized city partners thanks to URBACT – is one solution to help counter depopulation and promote social cohesion. The approach fosters links between different segments of the population through programmes and initiatives that strengthen people’s sense of belonging to the place they live, and promote its quality of life. Better urban planning starts from places and spaces designed and shared with people: Jane Jacobs' teaching is even more valid in centres where different parts of the population must cooperate to keep alive the branch of the tree on which they are sitting.

    Collaboration among residents of different generations during the Covid crisis is a perfect example of how communities can be resilient in small centres: a lesson for cities to implement in wider, integrated policies for social welfare, urban planning and liveability.

    5. Making inhabitants proud of the place in which they live

    Creating trust among people to change the collective perception of small historic centres is a political and cultural operation that participatory processes can help to revive by giving inhabitants a more complete picture of the in which place they live. By setting up URBACT Local Groups, and exchanging with other URBACT towns on the challenges of revitalising their historic centres, cities gain ideas and possible solutions not only to help manage, but also promote, their town centres.

    Though the history of a small centre cannot be changed, the trends and prospects for future development can be oriented to start again from an act of co-creation that makes people protagonists of the processes of change and management of their town centres. "No one owns the cities," said Jane Jacobs – and this is more true than ever in the centres, where collective action can lead to a collective re-appropriation of governance, in which everyone can have a decisive role. Making people proud to participate in the future development of their community also favours the visibility and attractiveness of small towns, the silent engine of a Europe that grows thanks to the vital and vibrant places that contribute original visions and practices in the time of big cities.

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    Playful Paradigm II map of partners


    • 1-TNM-Kick-off meeting - Virtual
    • 2-TNM-Grosuplie (Slovenia) - Virtual
    • World Play Day 2022
    • 3-TNM-Jelgava (Latvia) - Virtual
    • 4-TNM-Igualada (Spain) - Face-to-face
    • 5-TNM-Lousã (Portugal) - Presence
    • 6-TNM-Udine (Italy) - Final Meeting - Presence

    Playful Paradigm increases the capabilities of cities to answer global challenges including those emerged during covid19. It promotes inclusion, intergenerational solidarity, SDGs, resilience, healthy lifestyles. Play is a serious matter and can make the difference for a better urban future of cities. The Playful paradigm helps to re-think the community welfare and it is replicable adaptable to other urban contexts, since play is a universal principle, naturally practiced by every human being.

    Games for inclusive, healthy and sustainable cities
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  • Nine ways cities can become more just and inclusive

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    These local actions for a fairer society are inspiring cities across the EU. Could they work in your city too?

    Disadvantaged neighbourhoods

    The New Leipzig Charter highlights three forms of the transformative city which can be harnessed in Europe to enhance people’s quality of life: the Just City, the Green City and the Productive City.

    URBACT’s latest publication is packed with sustainable solutions to address these three dimensions – all tried, tested and transferred between EU cities, with adaptations for each local context.

    To give a taste of the full stories in ‘Good practice transfer: Why not in my City?’, here are nine examples of local actions for Just Cities. We hope towns and cities of all sizes will be inspired to ‘Understand, Adapt and Re-use’ these ideas for working with communities to fight exclusion and help drive a just transition to a green economy.

    1. Boost social inclusion through music

    One way Brno (CZ) is tackling social exclusion in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and encouraging children to stay in school, is a music programme inspired by the innovative Municipal Music School and Arts Centre in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat (ES). Brno is one of six EU cities in the ONSTAGE network, which have adopted l’Hospitalet’s inclusive approach – with groups including a symphonic orchestra, big bands, pop-rock, and jazz groups. Working with teachers and parents, Brno launched its own group music activities in deprived areas, bringing people together, facilitating cultural exchanges, and even improving school results in maths and other subjects.

    2. Encourage volunteering

    Pregrada (HR) has found a way to awaken its volunteering potential and encourage more young people to get involved in helping others. Forming a diverse local group to connect relevant associations, council staff, and citizens of all ages, they introduced a new governance structure around volunteering, part of a participatory model for solving local social problems. The town, which already had many active volunteers, and close links between relevant boards and the council, based its new framework on the well-established Municipal Council of Volunteering in Athienou (CY) while also exchanging with six other EU cities in the Volunteering Cities network.

    3. Commit to inclusion and tolerance

    Hamburg’s Altona district (DE) has launched an anti-discrimination strategy, with a set of principles known as the ‘Altona Declaration’, co-developed by political leaders and residents: “We in Altona,… stand for a free and democratic society; like to encounter new people; represent diversity and engage against discrimination; encounter every person with respect and tolerance; believe in the equality of all people; recognise the chances that come with diversity and encounter every person openly and without prejudices.”

    Inspired by Amadora’s (PT) ‘Don’t feed the rumour’ initiative, through the RUMOURLESS CITIES network, Altona appointed local campaign ambassadors, and asked residents about community, democracy and equality – confirming a common desire to live in a society where people take care of each other.

    4. Celebrate local heritage through storytelling

    A movement to celebrate the built environment, promote active citizenship and fight urban isolation is growing up around a former radio station in a 1950s suburb of Pori (FI). Working with the city’s cultural department, an arts collective based on the site formed a local group and asked neighbours and radio enthusiasts to share their stories, in person and online, sparking new events, interest in local heritage, and the re-use of abandoned space in the old radio station. Pori based the initiative on good practice from Budapest’s annual ‘Weekend of Open Houses’, thanks to the Come in! network.

    5. Co-manage city assets

    The Belgian city of Ghent has a long history of policy participation, with council-appointed ‘neighbourhood managers’ supporting a variety of citizens’ initiatives. The Civic eState network helped Ghent learn from urban commons legislation in cities like Naples, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Gdansk, further boosting cooperation with residents – and bringing the city’s policy participation, real estate, and legal services to work together. Ghent applied these learnings in the re-use of the decommissioned Saint Jozef Church. Commoners, citizens, and nearby organisations formed a local group to jointly assign a local coordinator to ensure the building’s management and activities take into account the needs of its diverse neighbourhood.

    6. Empower neighbourhood partnerships

    A new initiative in the French metropole of Lille identifies local associations and their potential synergies in deprived neighbourhoods, in order to empower communities to propose and build their own joint social projects – such as linking up a retirement home with a neighbouring school. The idea is to support these projects on the road to self-sufficiency. Lille based their initiative on learnings from Lisbon’s (PT) Local Development Strategy for Priority Intervention areas, thanks to the Com.Unity.Lab network. Lisbon’s scheme tackles urban poverty and empowers communities by providing micro-grants to thousands of local projects, many of which become autonomous and create permanent jobs.

    7. Engage with citizens through play and games

    Cork (IE), is taking a ‘playful’ approach to improving the city for all, steered by a local group ‘Let’s Play Cork’ which includes the City Council, public bodies and associations across health, education, culture and sports. Applying good practice from Udine (IT) and other cities in the Playful Paradigm network, Cork’s actions so far include: pop-up play areas in the city centre, parks and libraries; play-based resources for festivals; toy-lending in libraries; and providing ‘street-play packs’ for neighbourhood events. This approach has been a catalyst for local groups and residents to start tackling societal challenges together, such as co-developing playful ideas for public spaces, including the permanent pedestrianisation of certain roads.

    8. Build municipality-NGO cooperation

    The ‘NGO House’ in Riga (LV) is a place for civil society organisations to hold events, develop sustainable cooperation with the municipality; and receive educational, technical and administrative support. The model inspired cities across the EU to boost their own synergies between NGOs, citizens and institutions – with support from the ACTive NGOs network. The Sicilian town of Siracusa, for example, has developed three new public spaces with local associations: Citizen's House on an abandoned floor of a school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood; Officine Giovani in a historic centre; and the Urban Centre, a recovered space, bringing the administration and community together in planning local policies.

    9. Welcome international talent

    Home to several multinational companies and a university, Debrecen (HU) is expanding support for professionals and students arriving from other countries to feel welcome and stay on as valuable members of the community. Debrecen is one of six cities in the Welcoming International Talent network, inspired by Groningen (NL) where a multidisciplinary team provides international residents with active support in housing, work, city living and communication. With improved stakeholder relations convincing local leaders to see social aspects of economic development, next steps include support for affordable accommodation, and encouraging local companies to recruit international talent.

    Find out more about these, and many more, sustainable city solutions – in the new URBACT publication ‘Good practice transfer: Why not in my City?’.

    Visit the Good Practice database for more inspiration.

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  • Welcome to the European Playful Cities!

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    Games offer unique opportunities for engaging stakeholders in contemporary cities says Ileana Toscano. While European cities face challenges of ageing, climate change and social exclusion, we need to find enjoyable ways to co–create solutions. The URBACT Playful Paradigm transfer network is based on the use of “games” for promoting social inclusion, healthy lifestyles and energy awareness, place-making and economic prosperity.

    What’s in a game?


    An easy tool as a “game” can help cities to face contemporary challenges. Ageing population, migration, social exclusion and climate change are the main challenges tackled every day by European Cities. Cities need to define enjoyable and easy tools for engaging citizens and stakeholders. A Paradigm based on the use of “games” and “gamification” could be the answer.

    The Municipality of Udine (IT) has developed an urban practice focusing on the use of games as flexible, innovative place-making paradigm for fostering an equitable and democratic society. Games are used as vehicles for addressing healthy lifestyles and energy awareness. Games foster the inclusion of migrants, the involvement of elderly people and promote a better relationship between parents and children.

    Games in Udine have become an urban policy priority that enables citizens’ participation and a peaceful civic environment. The ‘Playful Paradigm’ initiatives are part of a comprehensive strategy that the Municipality has been implementing for years under the umbrella of the Healthy Cities Project (World Health Organization) and the European Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

    “Playful Paradigm” is one of the 25 Transfer networks funded by URBACT. It aims to adapt and reuse the good practice of “games for fostering inclusion, health and sustainability” in other 7 European cities: Cork (IE), Klaipeda (LT), Esplugues de Llobregat (ES), Larissa (EL), Novigrad (HR), Bratislava (SK) and Katowice (PL).

    Why are games so important for cities?

    Paolo Munini, chief officer for gaming activities of Udine Municipality, says “Games are essential for child development. Games are also important for elderly people because they maintain the physical and cognitive activity and prevent mental cognitive decay. Playful activities are powerful tools when applied in cities. Games can be used for working in deprived neighbourhoods with local community or in schools with students. They can trigger the participation of civil society, engaging citizens and local associations.

    The gaming approach could open opportunities for urban renewal. This is why Udine Administration uses “games” as a flexible co-created place-making paradigm. This innovative gaming approach works with participation to stimulate responsible change, and promote an healthy environment, by turning urban settings into incubators of sustainability and wellbeing (physical, mental and social/relational).

    In Italy the importance of games was recognized by the National Law 328/2000 (“La legge di riforma dei Servizi Sociali - Dal centralismo sociale al federalismo solidale”) that introduced the possibility of launching the Ludobus-initiatives in cities. The “Ludobus” is a van full of games moving through city neighbourhoods and bringing playful activities making games available to local population. In Udine the Ludobus began as a grass-root initiative thanks to a voluntary organization and later turned into a permanent activity, managed and funded by the Municipality. In Italy the Ludobus-initiative was a starting point to raise awareness on the value of games and to implement the first ‘gamification’ policies and actions in many cities.

    The Toy Library

    “Games are tools for social inclusion” says Furio Honsell, member of the Regional Assembly of The Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Mayor of Udine for 10 years (until May 2018). “We decided to establish a permanent Toy Library in Udine, which could also play the role of a hands-on science museum. The idea was to have a meeting space for families, elderly people, children, for all. The Toy Library has been a successful initiative and has provided answers to concrete needs of citizens to be active subjects and not mere passive spectators. The permanent toy library is a truly place for empowerment.

    In 2012 the Municipality of Udine decided to make the Ludobus-initiative a permanent experience, opening a “public Toy Library” in the city centre. Since 2013, 40.000 people have visited it. It is fully accessible and there is no age, gender or language restriction. It has become the emblem of social inclusion, cognitive stimulation, entertainment and lifelong learning in the city.

    During these years, the Municipality has invested about EUR 150 000 a year for the maintenance and equipment of the infrastructure and staff.

    Udine leads the way

    Since 2010 the City of Udine has been the leading city of the Italian Playful Cities Movement (GIONA), coordinating and sharing knowledge and experience with about 30 cities in Italy willing to implement ‘gamification’ strategies. Udine is also a member of the national association “Ali per Giocare”, which gathers private and public organisations at national level.

    On 25 November 2017, Udine launched the Italian National Games Archive aiming to establish the first Italian classification of traditional and modern games. The cataloguing activity of the Archive will rely also on crowd-sourcing in the coming years. The National Games Archive has been financed by the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia with an amount EUR 400 000 (for the period 2016-2020), according to the Regional Law n. 30/2017 ‘Regulations for promoting the right to play and to engage in play, physical and recreational activities’. It is worth mentioning that the Archive’s location was meaningfully chosen to be in Udine’s regenerated slaughterhouse.

    Moreover, Udine has a rich yearly calendar of events where games and ‘gamification’ strategies are meaningfully put into practice. The events are very popular across the region and bring many visitors to Udine. For example: CamminaMenti – Move your minds - run in community centres for dementia prevention and inclusion of elderly people, as well as the Energy in Play annual Fair, the World Games Day, Pi Day, Darwin Day, The library of living books, etc.

    Can gaming control gambling?

    A healthy gaming habit prevents the problem of gambling” says Munini. “The Municipality of Udine is developing a new project funded by Friuli Venezia Giulia Region to counteract the problem of gambling and promoting healthy games

    Gambling is increasing, especially among youths around Europe. According to the GuardianAbout 370,000 (12%) children in England, Scotland and Wales have gambled in the past week, the commission found. (...) They spent an average of £10 on gambling a week, more than a third of their £28 income from work or pocket money, with 8% claiming to have spent more than £40. Almost 1% of children aged between 11 and 16, or about 25,000, are defined as problem gamblers, with a further 36,000 at risk of developing a problem.

    The Municipality of Udine has been promoting an innovative project to fight gambling. Bars, Pubs and restaurants have been engaged by providing a tool-kit of “healthy” games replacing “slot-machines”. Unfortunately, the latter are more and more present in public venues, especially in deprived urban areas. Low income households are more deeply affected by gambling, which contributes to further deprivation. The introduction of healthy games in such areas can therefore be seen as an important form of prevention and protective factor for the most disadvantaged.

    Furio Honsell sums it all when he says that “to those who claim that games can be excellent tools for something else, I like to state that games are pointless and they don't have ulterior motives, much as music, mathematics, poetry, and love. But they can bring forward excellent fruit.

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  • Playful paradigm makes the healthy choice the enjoyable choice


    “Play” as innovative concept for promoting social inclusion, healthy lifestyles, energy awareness, place-making and economic prosperity

    Bruno Grizzaffi
    European Projects and Participation Operational Unit
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    • Adapted by the Playful Paradigm Transfer Network
    • and by the Playful Paradigm Second Wave pilot


    The Municipality of Udine  has developed an urban practice focusing on the use of play as a flexible, innovative place-making paradigm to Develop an equitable and democratic society. Play is used as a vehicle for addressing healthy lifestyles and energy awareness; it fosters the inclusion of migrants, the involvement of elderly people and promotes a better relationship between parents and children. Playful places such as the Municipal Toy Library and its public park, the Energy in Play annual fair, the Traveling Toy Bus, World Games Day and Pi Day, have contributed to the improvement of urban places in Udine and raised awareness of health, energy and sustainability issues.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    The “Playful Paradigm” initiatives is part of a comprehensive strategy that the Municipality has been implementing for more than 20 years under the umbrella of the Healthy Cities Project (World Health Organization), the European Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, while being the  leading city of the Italian Playful Cities Movement (GIONA). From 2013 to 2015, Udine was the Lead Partner of the URBACT Healthy Ageing Project, tackling a topic, which particularly concerns its population (Udine has an old age index of 217), where playfulness has been an important aspect.


    The solution proposed stems from using ‘games’ as a flexible and innovative co-creating place-making paradigm, in addressing the needs of an actively ageing, energy aware, equitable and democratic society.


    Evidence shows that it is easier to learn and establish relations through playing, because cultural differences or physical and cognitive deficiencies, or mere unawareness, can be easily compensated by emotional reactions.  The experience in Udine started with tiny temporary educational initiatives such as the Ludobus (a mobile toy library a project promoted nation wide in the early 2000s), which then has been permanently turned into a The toy library, an intergenerational meeting point in the city center. The toy Library has welcomed since 2013 by 40 000 visitors becoming the actual hub of q rich programme of play-related initiatives the city has launched e.g. CamminaMenti – Move your minds run in community centers for dementia prevention and inclusion of elderly people, the Energy in Play annual Fair, the World Games Day, Pi Day, Darwin Day, The library of living books, etc. Because of this experience in 2017 with the support of Regional Funds, Udine launched the Italian National Games Archive establishing the first Italian classification of traditional and modern games, relying also on crowd sourcing in the coming years. Most recently, Udine has launched a project to fight gambling by promoting a toolkit of “healthy” games replacing “slot-machines”, the latter more and more invading bars, pubs and restaurants hooking the population especially in deprived urban areas.


    Overall, the municipality has adopted a light touch policy based on “playing” that crosses all departments and programmes giving a new twist to the concept of social inclusion, education and place making that is a novelty for many European cities.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    Health, energy and literacy awareness are pursued through playful initiatives aimed at developing a sustainable urban living, fostering learning attitudes, and enabling citizens regardless of age, ethnic origin, income, gender orientation or ability. The playful paradigm, which integrates top-down policies and spontaneous bottom-up actions called also “middle-out approach” in the Udine URBQCT good practice, triggers collateral initiatives akin to co-generative welfare. The holistic feature of games naturally induces an integrated and participative approach. This paradigm has allowed Udine to boost the many existing grass-root initiatives which promote sports, physical activity, healthy and eco-friendly lifestyles, channeling them towards the overall health and sustainability goals of the municipality and involving all citizens, not just militants.
    The practice has thus achieved a vertical integration between different levels of government. Health and sustainability have become the 'lingua franca', i.e. the universal language, for carrying out city health and energy diplomacy, thus establishing relations and building partnerships with stakeholders within the city (non-profit organizations and public-private sectors), but also with other cities and regional and national authorities e.g. the creation of the National Games Archive, and the many transnational network Udine is involved in.

    Based on a participatory approach

    Over the years, Udine has implemented an integrated strategy for promoting physical, mental and relational well-being as well as ecological awareness in all policies. This approach has been applied by capitalizing on spontaneous bottom-up initiatives, building trustful alliances and partnerships within the community. In the Playful Paradigm approach, municipalities do not only act supportively of bottom-up suggestions and initiatives, but as catalysts of a broader societal engagement: the Municipality of Udine plays the role of social broker and mediator, facilitating networking among local stakeholders, and gently nudging their often idiosyncratic vision into a more coordinated, systematic and strategic framework. City health diplomacy plays a crucial role in this process, negotiating different interests towards a common goal, thus also avoiding the silo syndrome. The inter-sectoral participatory process is witnessed in Udine by the comprehensive programmes developed and co-created over the years, catalyzing and engaging a great number of different stakeholders. The whole-of-government, whole-of-society and health-in-all-policies approaches promoted by WHO within the Healthy Cities Movement was the inspiring principle.

    What difference has it made?

    Results have contributed to the improvement of urban places, and to awareness about health, energy and sustainability, with programmes and initiatives co-created using playing as the main paradigm. All these engage more than 3000 people per year.
    Associations from the private and public sector are engaged to co-design and raise awareness on energy efficiency, reducing CO2 emissions through initiatives in the main squares of the city. A wide range of offers is at hand for everyone in community centers, Move your minds (CamminaMenti), university, public library, municipal Toy Library.
    Non-profit and for-profit organizations offer music therapy, laughter yoga, anti-ageing games and creative thinking for combating cognitive decline and solitude. World Games Day: over 50 associations, small enterprises revolving around playing in all its different facets. Pi Day begins a little before 16.00 hrs on March 14 and brings together associations, individuals, schools to foster mathematics and scientific literacy. "You don't stop laughing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop laughing": workshops for health/social professionals improve the quality of life of elderly people. Energy at school, healthy eating, and food waste programmes: school programmes for educating children on sustainable consumption, carbon-blue-water-footprints, and healthy food. Eco-orienteering: different population groups experience the city by exploring cultural, social and historical aspects of places through treasure hunting.

    Transferring the practice

    The Playful Paradigm Transfer Network led by the Municipality of Udine demonstrated how much play could help cities to improve their capacity to leverage on health, wellbeing, and social innovation. The process of transferring within the network started with the lunching in different localities the simple project of the Ludobus, a colorful bus carrying games from the Ludoteca -the games library- all around the city. Using this project as leverage to link up other initiatives game oriented that could involve different sector of public life and education (see the toolkits produced during the lifetime of the network).


    The 2020 pandemic situation during the lifetime of the network pushed towards integration of the digital environment in the built and physical spaces. By the end of the project, and with the limitations of the lockdowns, Udine tested a new approach to engage citizens and small groups of tourists through a virtual urban game inspired by        an ancient game with dice and pawns exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of the city. The scope was to increase the knowledge and experience of cultural heritages and those historic urban places, more or less visible, which witness the history of a city/region/country.

    Is a transfer practice
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