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  • 10 times URBACT has driven change for Gender Equal Cities

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    10 times URBACT has driven change for Gender Equal Cities - COVER

    Throughout the years, URBACT has led the way towards gender equality. The experience from cities bears witness of change.

    Gender equality
    Women in a protest for human rights (Creative Commons)

    Creative Commons

    From urbact


    Every year on 8 March, International Women’s Day reminds us the progress yet to be made for gender equality at international, national, local and individual levels.

    To support this fight, URBACT has funded several city networks working on gender equality for which tools, guidance and inspirational examples are captured in the Gender Equal Cities URBACT Knowledge Hub. The current open call for Action Planning Networks is a unique opportunity for cities to join forces when it comes to this matter, no matter which urban topic they choose to tackle. From mobility to digital transition and even green jobs, any local policy will be more successful and sustainable if the gender dimension is taken into account. 

    Get a taste of 10 stories when it comes to a just transition. Whether you are applying to join an URBACT Network or not, read on – and take a trip down memory lane – to get some inspiration of what can be done for more gender equal cities.





    Umeå (SE)
    A gendered landscape


    Umeå is definitely a city that holds gender equality close to its heart. Besides having a municipal Gender Equality Officer working across different departments, the city has long been involved with URBACT when it comes to this subject. Back in 2011, the municipality joined the WEED Action Planning Network (2008 - 2011) as a Project Partner and, later on, became the Lead Partner of the Genderedlandscape Action Planning Network (2019 - 2022) with the objective to further work on this issue with other EU cities. The city has greatly contributed to both versions of the Gender Equal Cities report (2019 and 2022), both developed under URBACT Knowledge Hub activities. For now, let’s take a closer look at another accomplishment from this city: back in 2017, Umeå received the URBACT Good Practice label for providing guided bus tours to show “the local gendered landscape”.

    This is an innovative way of showing how working with gender equality takes form in a city. It exemplifies successful changes and work in the city, as well as illuminating remaining issues. In line with Umeå’s high ambitions on sustainability and gender equality, the gendered landscape method is the first of its kind in Europe. It’s not about traditional neighbourhood safety or security surveys, it’s about taking the city itself as the starting point, highlighting gendered power structures and how they can be understood and transformed, while educating and raising awareness of locals. There are several examples of how the initiatives of the bus tour have made an impact in the planning and development of the city. For example, the Umeå’s Street and Parks department permanently changed their methods for dialogues with citizens and gender-mainstreamed the content of steering documents. Another example is the monitoring done by the culture sector, which has observed a positive trend towards gender equality. For instance, in 2015 there were 45% women (out of 2 000 events) were main performers in the cultural stages in Umeå, a big increase in comparison to previous years.



    Celje (SI)
    A pioneering city for women's employment


    Under the tagline “Women, Enterprise and Employment in Local Development”, the WEED Action Planning Network (2008 - 2011) was URBACT's first gender-led funded project ever. Ahead of its time, it aimed at mapping and developing integrated local actions to improve women’s labour opportunities in 11 EU cities. Led by the municipality of Celje, its Local Integrated Action Plan was focused in the identification of service gaps – alongside the focus on women’s employment – proved to be an effective way to attract significant fund opportunities. Based on an initial analysis of the local households, unemployed women were the ones who lacked the most training and access to jobs and skills’ resources. That’s how the idea for a Centre for Information, Consultancy and Education came up. The proposal consisted of creating an educational programme that could support women and enable them to even work in the centre later, if they wished to. By the time the WEED Network was coming to an end, 300 000 EUR from the European Social Fund had been secured for the centre. Most recently, the city has taken part in the Genderedlandscape Network as Project Partner.



    Vienna (AT)
    A gender equal city

    URBACT Gender Equal Cities - Vienna street lights (2022)
    Street lights in Vienna (URBACT, 2022)


    The city of Vienna is an example that is showcased in both editions of the Gender Equal Cities report (2019 and 2022) and in the Gender-responsive Public Procurement module (2022). The city also hosted twice URBACT Knowledge Hub workshops, notably the one in 2018. In this occasion, the first policy report was conceptualised. Moreover, the city represented URBACT during an interactive workshop in the 11th World Urban Forum 2022, in Katowice (PL). It also took part in the sub>urban Action Planning Network (2015 -  2018) to rethink the fringes of its urban area. The city is a pioneer when it comes to gender mainstreaming in urban planning. It has one of the longest legacies of gender-sensitive planning with the Women’s Office opening in 1992 and the gender mainstreaming – which means the implementation of gender as a cross sectional issue – starting in 2005.

    Today there are gender experts and multipliers all over the city. Gender is integrated into the city’s strategies and all public space, that is designed and built by the municipality, is done so with gender in mind. The outcome is an urban landscape that benefits everyone: parks are lit effectively to provide safety and access, social housing is architecturally designed with flexibility for different family situations, pavements are wider for parents and the elderly, street crossings are longer and pedestrians are prioritised, among other interventions. In addition, the municipality counts with Gender Budgeting Unit, which works with the finance team to oversee the annual budget across all departments using citywide data. As a frontrunner, the city is keen to share its experience with other cities across the world. It has published guides providing practical advice, offering explicit tools and tips, including gender-sensitive language, data collection and advice on how to avoid gender-mainstreaming becoming a catch-all buzzword.



    Trikala (EL)
    Piloting childcare support


    The municipality of Trikala has been involved in a series of URBACT Networks, but in 2019 it joined its first gender-led project, the Genderedlandscape Action Planning Network (2019 - 2022). Led by the city of Umeå, this was the perfect occasion for the municipality of Trikala to strengthen and support the delivery of Greece’s National Action Plan on Gender Equality 2021 - 2025 (NAPGE).  Prior to this experience, the city had already signed the CEMR European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life. In May 2020, a municipal gender committee was established to advise public departments. Trikala was able to experiment with different activities, which were developed under the Genderedlandscape small scale actions. A successful experience was the creation of areas within municipal cultural centre and other facilities dedicated to childcare. Henceforth, women and men have a safe space in the heart of the city for breastfeeding or feeding their babies and children, changing diapers, playing and even resting. This story has been showcased in the latest version of the Gender Equal Cities report.



    Val-de-Marne (FR)
    Welcoming and integrating female migrants


    In September 2015, European cities witnessed the largest migration flow since the World War II. Around the same time, the ARRIVAL CITIES Action Planning Network (2015 - 2018) had just been approved. The cities involved in this network came together to stand against a backcloth of rising discrimination and prejudice against immigrants,  with the objective to ensure social cohesion and the migrants’ integration. Val-de-Marne (FR) was one of the cities that joined this fight for immigrants’ rights. But contrary to the majority of its peers and other French cities, Val-de-Marne saw a particular rise on the number of women’s migrants. Despite the fact that women immigrants counted for more than 51% of the total immigrants in Val de Marne, they were considered as a minority. It’s worth mentioning that 20% of the people permanently living in the county of Val-de-Marne were born outside of French territory, a rate 18% higher when in comparison to the average in the Parisian region. 

    The issue of social, territorial and gender inequalities have long been at the heart of political and civic commitments in Val-de-Marne. The ARRIVAL CITIES Network was the perfect occasion to further support the emancipation and empowerment of the migrant population. The main challenge when it came to integration and gender equality was the significant professional deskilling. The participation of this city in this URBACT Network has strengthened partnerships with different associations, including the support to the Internship and Training Programme for Women, meaning women could start the process of job integration from the moment they set foot in France. In addition, the Local Integrated Action Plan set out a series of activities for civil society capacity-building and participation, including a Kurdish Women’s Festival that was held in 2017 in partnership of a series of NGOs.



    Gender Equal Cities 2022 report cover

    Gender Equal Cities 2019 report cover














    Gdańsk (PL)
    Women in blue entrepreneurship


    The municipality of Gdańsk has taken part in countless URBACT Networks. Unsurprisingly, the city is also one of the key case studies that are showcased in the latest version of the Gender Equal Cities report. The municipality has developed an app to feature the changing role of women’s employment in its famous Shipyard, simulating experiences from 1945 to 1996 with photos, biographies and audio material. It also used archives and other records, including extracts from a documentary that was shot in 1968. The objective was to give a voice to women’s from the past, telling their everyday working experiences, while encouraging girls and women to reflect on their career development. It’s worth mentioning that the city is a Project Partner in the BluAct Second Wave Transfer Network (2021 - 2023) draws lessons from its previous edition, the BluAct Transfer Network (2018 - 2021). This time around, a big emphasis was put on how blue economy entrepreneurship could help achieving gender equality.



    Pordenone (IT)
    The city of the future?


    Following the success of the Playful Paradigm Transfer Network (2018 – 2021), a spin off network was approved: the Playful Paradigm Second Wave (2021 - 2023). While the first experience focused on gamification, public spaces and using “play” as a tool to re-think cities, the second time around allowed involved cities to look deeper at placemaking and building gender-sensitive places. During one of its meetings, this network decided to focus on the topic of “play for sustainable urban regeneration”, which resulted in a Gender Toolkit. Among the case studies, the city of Pordenone (IT) was showcased. This is a forward-thinking municipality that is always on the lookout of innovation – hence its involvement with the SibDev Action Planning Network (2019 - 2022). The story of how they used immersive techniques to explore gender and urban planning is also told in the most recent version of the Gender Equal Cities report. In Italy, women make up more than half of the national population, still they continue to live, move and work in urban contexts that were historically designed and coded by men. The gender gaps in participation and planning highlight persistent structural inequalities.

    The city of Pordenone sought to develop a participative format that could be applied in medium-sized cities to encourage the collective conceptualisation of how the future of the city might be. Their core question was: can we envision a better future from a gendered perspective? Their main goal in this process was to raise awareness among the population of the city and embed gender mainstreaming in planning and policy in the city. The city chose strategic areas to focus  – work, intergenerationality, time and spaces – and designed a treasure hunt through the city based on Live Action Role Play (LARP). A path was established, which included stops at schools, supermarkets, public buildings, the cinema etc. Female participants were instructed to answer questions at each stop and find an object from the past and the future. The next point in the path resulted from their answers and choices. The goal was to facilitate a new vision among the participants by disrupting usual scenarios and offering a new perspective on familiar spaces.



    Cesis (LV)
    Girls' school coding clubs


    URBACT Gender Equal Cities - La Rochelle hackaton (2022)
    La Rochelle hackaton (URBACT, 2022) 

    Up until today, the lack of girls and young women specialised in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in school and universities is undeniable. Taking part in the TechTown Action Planning Network (2015 - 2018) to build more digital cities, the city of Cesis has quickly noticed this structural issue. The school curriculum is normally fully dedicated to other priority topics and cities, themselves, have little or no ability to influence children’s preferences. However, there are often possibilities to “hack” the programme. For instance, the municipality can suggest schools to add extra-curricular activities: coding clubs or “lunch and learns” – which target girls and provide strong female role models in STEM jobs.

    The Cesis branch of the Riga Technical University has created additional activities for students aged 12 - 19 and lego robotics classes the in Cesis Children and Youth centre. Even short interventions can make a big difference. Throughout its action-planning journey, inspiration was drawn from the in Latvia. This experiment showed that after only a two-hour workshop on STEM subjects, girls’ interest in studying coding switched from 2% to 13%. It’s also worth mentioning, that this is still a very current challenge. More recently, in the framework of the Genderedlandscape Action Planning Network (2019 - 2022), the city of La Rochelle (FR) – which is known for its heavy nautical and industrial sectors, with a vast majority of male workers – has developed a series of hackathons for school children and, more specifically, girls.



    Basque Country (ES)
    Gender and regional law


    Although not an URBACT beneficiary per se, the Basque Country is not a “new face” to the URBACT community. Besides being showcased in both versions of the Gender Equal Cities report – brining to light matters from guidance to women who are elected officials to education to end gender-based-violence – a speaker from Emakunde (the Basque Institute for Women) was invited to take the floor during a plenary session “How gender equality creates sustainable cities”, during the URBACT City Festival in Pantin – Greater Paris. More recently, the city was showcased alongside Vienna as a key example for Gender-responsive Public Procurement. This new module of URBACT’s Online Course on Strategic Public Procurement was done in partnership with the Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).



    In 1999, gender equality was first incorporated into regional law in the Basque Country. Since then Emakunde has worked alongside the Association of Basque Municipalities (EUDEL) to incorporate gender considerations into public policies and procedures, including into procurement. This collaborative approach has created enabling conditions, built capacity and supported local level actions. As a result, according to the latest available data, in 2020, 87% of public procurement included at least one gender equality clause. That is up from 67% in 2015, 42% in 2010 and 11% in 2005.  A concrete example is from Artziniega, a small Basque town, where the municipality contracted daycare services for elderly people in 2021 including specific criteria in the tender related to equal opportunities for women and men. To find out more about this experience, check out the URBACT Gender-responsive Public Procurement modules.



    Future Action Planning Networks' cities
    What URBACT IV holds for beneficiaries


    URBACT is committed to improving gender mainstreaming in all programme activities: in EU responses to urban challenges and in the planning processes of all URBACT cities. Unsurprisingly, gender is among the three crosscutting priorities for this programming period (2021 - 2027) – alongside the green and the digital themes. This doesn’t mean that, from now on, all URBACT Networks will exclusively work around these topics. On the contrary, the programme welcomes a bottom up approach where eligible cities can choose to tackle different urban challenges that are common to projects partners and which are fit to the local needs. Henceforth, gender should be considered as an underlying matter, from which solutions can be drawn to hindering issues. As the Cooperation Programme states:


    “Although URBACT operates a ‘bottom up’ principle to allow cities to identify their own challenges, the horizontal principles (EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, gender equality, non- discrimination, sustainable development, accessibility) outlined in Article 9 Regulation (EU) 2021/1060 will be addressed by all networks as part of the assessment criteria for selecting projects. The ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the networks will aim to highlight good practice in these areas. Specific training on gender equality, digital transition and climate action will be compulsory for all networks.  (…) URBACT IV will increase the capacity building offer linked to digital, green and gender as cross-cutting elements for all networks and activities of the programme.  (…) As part of the URBACT Knowledge Hub, thematic activities will allow cities to meet and exchange on topics cutting across URBACT networks, including green, digital and gender-inclusive’’.


    With the current open call for networks, you can already see some hints in the Partner Search Tool as to how cities plan to incorporate the equality spectrum to their proposals. At last, following the example from WEED and Genderedlandscape, some cities might see the potential of focusing their efforts directly in the core of this subject. This is the case of at least four project ideas and, maybe, many more that are not published online. The open call for Action Planning Networks remains open until the end of March and the URBACT team looks forward to seeing what comes next.





    URBACT Knowledge Hub


    After reading these 10 examples, we trust that you will be as inspired and galvanised as much as we are to continue fighting for true and concrete gender-led action across European cities, ensuring equity, diversity and inclusion to all.

    To find out more about Gender Equal Cities, be sure to check the URBACT Knowledge Hub!




  • Is the compact city model endangered?

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    Is the compact city model endangered? Article COVER

    Three Action Planning Networks (2019 - 2022) came together to gather inspiration on how people can experience and move through the city.

    From urbact

    The Walk’n’Roll initiative, 27 different towns, cities and metropolises from the RiConnect, the Thriving Streets and the Space4People networks had a common mission. Together, they reflected about how mobility can play an important role when building better public spaces and increase the quality of life for local communities.  Iván Tosics, URBACT Expert who followed their exchange and learning journey, shares with us some of the key take-aways, findings and open questions that were raised during the Walk’n’Roll many and which are compiled in a brand new Guidebook. Take a ride with us and enjoy the read!



    URBACT Walk'n'Roll


    The recent pandemic was an important episode in the history of urban development. Much can be learnt from the immediate reactions to the health crisis, especially in dense cities. There were many brilliant examples about innovative tactical interventions in public space, inclusive housing policies, new types of economic support and social protection mechanisms, from which we can take stock.

    As the peak of the pandemic has slowly come to an end, the life in cities has quickly returned to its pre-Covid pace. A negative legacy is the incessant growth of suburbanisation, a process that has exploded over the last two years not only in Europe, but also in almost all parts of the world...


    A common effect in different cities


    In Oslo (NO), internal movements in and around the city, have shown an increased outmigration in the past two years with people aged between 25-30 and 60-70 moving away from the city, towards its outskirts and beyond. The “working from home effect” can partially explain this phenomenon. People with higher wages had a tendency to move away. It’s interesting to note though that most of the outmigrants were people who were not born in Oslo, according to studies.

    Likewise, in American cities, a substantial reallocation of housing and office demand has become tangible. People chose to move to the suburbs, away from dense city centres. Some analysts have called this as the “doughnut effect”. Meaning the rise of the suburbs and the slump of the city centre, driven by a fear of crowds and the opportunity of working from home.

    In a very recent analysis on the situation of the Paris urban area (FR), the academia has tried to collect all available information about internal residential migration, using unusual data. Information from rural associations, from the post office regarding permanent re-direction of mails to new address, or even schools' registrations were used as unexpected, yet rich sources. As evidence shows, migration flows from the downtown to the urban fringe are visible. According to this analysis, such movement of people cannot be considered as an urban exodus though. So, if not an exodus, what are these new forms of migration then?


    The new intra-urban migration tendencies


    First of all, research suggests that no direct, causal links exist between the spread of the virus and urban density. According to an OECD, it’s not density alone that makes cities vulnerable to Covid-19, but rather a mix of factors. The structural economic and social conditions play a role in this regard with overcrowdness, inequality, insufficient living conditions and the spatial concentration of the urban poor.

    The consequences from this new suburbanisation, on the other hand, are very clear: growing climate and energy problems due to increasing car-use, intensification of social disparities, since those who are leaving the city centre are the ones who can afford to do so. Moreover, there are also more and more problems in places where people tend to move out from. In the Budapest area (HU), for example, there are growing complaints in the agglomerational settlements with physical and human infrastructure problems, caused by the quick, unplanned growth of new residents.

    That being said, the post-Covid city presents us with a silver lining, an opportunity to rethink the principles of the urban compact development. For instance the British professor, Greg Clark, offers us a vision with blended cities and a more spread planification process. He argues for a wider distribution of activities between urban areas to offer second and third tear cities more chances. He also makes the case for better disposition of services within functional urban areas, based on the growth of "neighbourliness" and the emerging social capital.  

    Clark argues that people living in the fringes might still travel to the larger city centers from time to time, and acknowledges that they might not always work from home. At the same time, they will also get a taste for the local life where they live. People will spend more time – and money – in their neighbourhoods and, by consequence, new opportunities might arise for towns, suburban and secondary downtowns. So, these are not simply places where people sleep and work from home, but also places of exchange and for gatherings. Where, eventually, communities might thrive.

    This idea raises challenges for future urban development, for instance, issues related to metropolitan planning. Where to build new housing and dwellings? And how to regulate transport fares? These are just a few of the questions that were discussed during the Walk’n’Roll conference in Barcelona (ES), held in July 2022. The findings are summarised below.



    How to improve existing dense areas?


    The most widely accepted definition for adequate urban density is the one that acknowledges the need for an accessibility shift: changing urban transportation and land-use planning on the basis of people's ability to reach destinations, rather than on their ability to travel fast. This vision relies on the principle of re-humanising cities.


    The proximity aspect


    In the Walk’n’Roll conference the topic of proximity was at the heart of the discussion. In order for residents to give up the frequent use of car and, in perspective, also the ownership of a car, urban areas have to be changed. They must allow people to reach the most important everyday-destinations in a short time on foot, by bicycle or using public transport rides. There are many ideas raised for this shift, like the concept of the 15-Minute city. Besides the innovative practices of superblocks, Tempo30 and parking management – which are thoroughly described in the Walk’n’Roll Guidebook, Booklet 2 – you can find below two other ideas.


    The pedestrian-priority city


    Pontevedra (ES) is a medium-sized city with 83 000 inhabitants. In 1999 it was just another car-oriented city, but things started to change with the election of a new mayor – who still holds this position until this day. Mr Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores told citizens back then that the act of buying a car didn’t magically grant people with 10 square meters from the public space for a parking spot.

    His ideas consisted of making a distinction of the need for mobility, according to social criteria. He put people in the foreground, with at least half of the surface of all original streets turned into pedestrian areas. Intersections without lights and raised promenades were created, alongside he limited of parking hours in the downtown to a maximum of 15 minutes. In addition, underground parking was built under a concession and free public parking spaces were provided within a 15-20 minute walk of the centre.

    The results of these interventions were staggering: a decrease of motorised traffic by 77% in the dense urban area and by 93% in downtown, besides a decline in traffic accidents with no fatalities at all. Pontevedra became a high quality place to live with all public spaces serving the people, instead of the cars.


    Car-free places in every neighbourhoodURBACT Walk'n'Roll


    Back in 2014, in collaboration with 24 parish councils, the municipality of Lisbon (PT) started a programme called “Uma Praca em Cada Bairro” (“A space in every neighbourhood”). Currently being implemented, the programme is helping to renovate areas in the city to get people out of cars and to create new public spaces. The squares and streets will become the meeting point of the local community and “microcentres”, concentrating activity and employment.

    Henceforth, walking, cycling and public transport will be favoured, as the car traffic will be significantly restricted. The citywide programme in 150 squares and streets, practically in all neighbourhoods of Lisbon, could only be carried out with the support of the population. The programme counted with strong public participation processes.


    Potential externalities of public space improvement policies


    It goes without saying that the improvement of living conditions, with more public spaces and fewer cars, can lead to raising rents, pushing the most vulnerable residents away from the city. This is why it’s fundamental for the public sector to control the gentrifying effects. The efficiency of the public intervention depends on the willingness and political power of the municipal leadership, as well as on the housing system of the given city. A good example is the city of Vienna (AT), where the majority of the housing stock is under direct or indirect public control, with little or no gentrifying effects as a consequence of mobility and public space improvements.

    The situation is slightly more difficult in Barcelona, where the share of rental housing represents 31% of the housing sector. Only a small portion of these houses is actually owned by the public sector, making it almost impossible for the municipality to defend tenants. To tackle this challenge and avoid a “New York Highline effect”, the municipality provides subsidies to the urban poor, regulates private rents, oversees the housing market and even negotiates with landlords.



    How to create efficient metropolitan cooperation in blended cities?


    In the post pandemic world it’s not enough to make the dense urban cores more attractive, attention has also to be paid to those peripheral locations where many families aim to move to. Planning in larger territories can bring to light different questions, as to where new housing stock should be constructed or how to regulate and tax different forms of transport. The key aspect for public intervention in wider territories is a metropolitan coordination, which can be illustrated by the examples below.


    Turning highways into urban boulevards


    The classic period of suburbanisation started in the late 1950s in the USA, with the construction of 40 thousand miles of motorways financed by enormous central state grants. Urban planners were unstoppably carving highways into the urban structure, eradicating vulnerable neighbourhoods with fewer abilities to resist and, finally, ensuring the separation of functions following the leading planning concepts of the time. A similar car-oriented “modernisation” wave also reached most of the European cities. During the Walk’n’Roll conference, city practitioners showcased examples of recent efforts to reverse this phenomenon.

    In the course of the work done by Metrex for the From Roads to Streets learning platform –with support from Eurocities and URBACT – many European cases are analysed, including the transformative strategies adopted in Helsinki (FI), Oslo (NO), Lyon (FR) and Brussels (BE). In these dynamically growing cities the leading model is the urban intensification to concentrate growth and avoid urban sprawl. One way to achieve this principle is to direct new development to areas along the highways – provided that these are transformed into urban boulevards, with more space given for non-motorised vehicles. In Utrecht (NL), for example, two alternative projections were calculated for future scenarios and, according to them, the "A Proximity Model" foresee 20% less car-use.

    The opportunities and challenges of these new urban boulevards are gathered in a project to humanise the N-150 road, which is the central element of Barcelona’s Integrated Action Plan for the RiConnect network. This project deals with the motorway-like national road at the fringe of the metropolitan area, which created a division between the settlements and was putting the speed of mobility as the top priority. In order to restore old connections between the peripheral municipalities, the concept of metropolitan roads was born: without building new roads the extinct links between areas should be revived. This shall calm down traffic on the national road and even enable people to cycle from one town to another, which was not previously possible with the highways.


    URBACT Walk'n'Roll


    Improving the rail network to ensure metropolitan cooperation


    The Krakow (PL) Integrated Action Plan for the RiConnect network shows another way how metropolitan cooperation can be created. The Skawina Mobility Hub aims to create a connection point in one of Krakow’s satellite cities, on the line of the fast speed agglomerational railway that is under construction.

    Besides exploring the future functions of the evolving mobility hub, the intermodal links, park and ride (P+R) facilities and how to connect the station with city centre of Skawina, many efforts are being made to change the mobility mindset of people. This includes co-creation workshops, which resulted in the establishment of the integrated ticket system.

    Krakow is a good example for bringing public transport to the overall reflection on the metropolitan area. Such strategies, however, have to face the financial challenge of running public transport. During Covid times the ridership of public transport decreased almost everywhere and the rebouncing is still slow.


    Bringing planning and governance together at metropolitan level


    The Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB) is a great example of how planning and governance can come together, not only at city, but also at metropolitan level. The AMB, the Lead Partner of the RiConnect network, is an agency with competencies in terms of mobility and public space in the metropolitan area – which counts with the double of inhabitants in comparison to the city itself. AMB is managing a very innovative mobility plan covering different aspects, such as generating safe and comfortable spaces for pedestrians, and sustainable methods of mobility, while reducing the use of private motorised transport.

    Unfortunately, not all cities have powerful metropolitan governance systems and/or strong agencies for planning and mobility. In the lack of these, urban planning cooperation between the municipalities of the urban area can help a lot. Sometimes these are initiated in bottom-up process, in combination with the national level, in order to use efficiently the EU Cohesion Policy resources. The Kraków Metropolitan Area (KMA), for instance, is responsible for coordination of transportation investments, which are implemented in the Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) framework for the city and and its 14 surrounding municipalities.


    How to move towards an accessibility shift?


    Action Planning Networks labelThe new Walk’n’Roll Guidebook is split in three booklets – WHY, WHAT and HOW – and brings to light solutions that any city, regardless of its size, can use as a reference to drive change towards more blended and less compact cities. In order to tackle the most recent challenge of post-Covid suburbanisation, however, the practical interventions that are presented have to be combined with territorial visions. Regulation, planning and the support of governance institutions are equally important. Although this might sound challenging, there are different resources that can be particularly useful. Take for instance the EU Cohesion Policy, where investments in urban transport have more than doubled – from 8 billion EUR in 2007 - 2013 to 17 billion EUR in the 2014 - 2020, with even more opportunities in the next programming period.

    The first URBACT IV (2021 - 2027) call for Action Planning Networks is also a great occasion for cities to find partners to exchange, pilot ideas and develop an integrated set of actions at local level. While URBACT stresses the importance of the priorities of green - gender - digital, the RiConnect, the Thriving Streets and the Space4People networks are living proof of the wealth of themes that can be tackled within the spectrum of any urban subject, as today’s mobility challenge. These projects are in the crossroad of building more inclusive cities – for women and all – while also promoting the reduction of carbon emissions.

    Cities that wish to apply to the call are welcome to choose whichever network topic they deem relevant to their context. URBACT welcomes – and always will – bottom-up approaches that look at the big picture. Walk’n’Roll is bear fruit of the past round of Action Planning Networks and, hopefully, the next batch of URBACT cities will carry on its legacy and put its knowledge into action.

    URBACT Walk'n'Roll Guidebook

  • sub>urban

    LEAD PARTNER : Antwerp - Belgium
    • Casoria - Italy
    • Solin - Croatia
    • Baia Mare - Romania
    • Vienna - Austria
    • Brno - Czech Republic
    • Oslo - Norway
    • Dusseldorf - Germany
    • Barcelona Metropolitan Area - Spain


    CONTACT: City of Antwarp, Grote Markt 1 - 2000 Antwarpen


    All video stories are available here.


    Kick-off meeting in July (Antwerp). Transnational meeting in November (Casoria).

    Transnational meetings in February (Oslo), June (Brussels) and October (Dusseldorf).

    Transnational meeting in January (Brno). Final event in May (Barcelona).

    The cities from this network searched for a solution to the following challenge: how can we make existing 20th century urban tissue attractive and qualitative again? How can we add a different urban layer? For the past two decades, urban development and planning practice in European cities and regions have focused on the renewal of metropolitan cores and historic inner cities. This has resulted in numerous success stories, but the wave of urban renewal in centres has generally coincided with strong population growth and demographic changes. Many inner cities have reached their peak in terms of density, population and mobility. At the same time most of the housing in 20th century (sub)urban areas are in need of renovation. The next logical step is a combined solution to these issues by reconverting this areas, to create a more sustainable and attractive environment.

    sub>urban APN logo
    sub>urban logo
    Reinventing the fringe
    Ref nid
  • CoRE


    Centre of Refugee Empowerment

    Christoph Reinprecht
    Municipality of Vienna
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    As a response to the dramatic increase in the number of refugees arriving 2015 in Vienna posing huge challenges to social welfare and social housing systems and to the labour market, the CoRE project aimed at strengthening the local integration system and at developing innovative and inclusive integration measures which addressed the specific needs of asylum seekers and refugees. CoRE operated as hub and incubator for empowerment processes, jointly planned, utilised and operated by public institutions, NGOs, civil society initiatives, and refugees. By pooling resources and knowhow and by making refugees equal partners instead of passive beneficiaries, it helped to initiate smart transformation processes for the whole integration system, also aiming at changing public discourse. The physical infrastructure in the form of the CoRE Centre offered community spaces as well as service spaces.
    One of the main achievements so far relates to the certification course for refugees with university diploma and experience in teaching in their home countries, developed and implemented together with the Educational Department of the University of Vienna.  The most innovative dimensions is represented by the CoRE participatory approach. This included (self-)empowerment strategies for refugees, the active involvement of target groups, the prioritisation of bottom up processes vs top down, and the use of multi-level governance approach. Innovative is also the CORE center as a meeting point an

    The innovative solution

    Implementing the “integration from day one-approach” was a key objective of CoRE, based on the principles of the Vienna Integration Concept. Its five pillars are: Language (German and multilingualism); training (education and work); social integration (living together and participation); awareness work (objectivity, assessment and information), and Human Rights. The involvement and commitment of both institutional actors, stakeholders, NGOs, volunteers, but most importantly, targeted groups had been essential e.g. in fighting de-qualification or other integration barriers. The main solutions tests are: information modules, workshops, peer-mentoring (self-empowerment), competences assessment (participation in labour market), -    measures to strengthen skills and qualifications (from support for medical doctors for being enabled to practice in Austria, certification courses for teachers and qualification training for accountants and care assistants to training in professional language skills or entrepreneurship training), -    public events for bringing skills and talents of refugees to the curtain, training for volunteers, and the CORE centre as a meeting and contact point for organised initiatives.

    A collaborative and participative work

    Each project partner represented a key area in the field of integration (social welfare, education, entrepreneurship, labour market, etc.). Their commitment – irrespective of their share of the activities/budget – was one key success factor; same for their willingness to cooperate at eye level with civil society and targeted populations. Another key factor: strong support from local government, and involvement of scientific community.
    The active involvement of refugees was in all phases of project implementation of utmost importance and the key to success. Pooling of resources of the project partners created a context that encouraged refugees to play an active role in their own integration process, and to be involved in the implementation of the project. Refugees acted as protagonists of the project, e.g. by holding workshops and lectures in schools.

    The impact and results

    The framework conditions have changed substantially over the course of the project. At the very beginning, requirements directly related to the arrival of asylum seekers had been priority; later, integration issues on a more structural and emotional level came to the fore. At the political level, national elections brought restrictions in asylum law and tightened anti-immigration discourse, positioning the local government as an antipode. Project implementation was achieved through the capacity of all actors involved to collaborate across sectoral, disciplinary and institutional boundaries.
    CoRE achieved a number of outputs that help making integration more inclusive, strengthening the integration from day one approach, and putting (self-) empowerment into the core of integration work. Concrete and measured results concern e.g. the number of refugees who benefitted from first-hand information, who ate able to stabilize their living and housing situation, who increased their professional skills and (also language) knowledge, attended a certification course, gained first working experiences, passed successfully exams, or who had been involved in activities promoting awareness of issues relating to flight and integration.

    Why this good practices should be transferred to other cities?

    The situation of asylum seekers and refugees is requiring answers both at European, national and in particular local levels. The CoRE project is a complex project, focusing on various aspects of the integration process. As the project was characterized by the specific challenges in Vienna at that time, the project as a whole is not transferable one to one. However, the various activities of the project themselves are transferable – not only to other cities, but partly also to other target groups. But there are also more general lessons to learn from CoRE: The project’s main experience to share with other cities would be to dare to follow the concept of 'integration from day one', and to apply a bottom-up approach. Even if following a bottom-up-approach, with the active involvement of the target group and a high level of participation, might be challenging, the outcomes are worth it. The experiences also suggest not to focus only on results and outcomes of the project, but also on the process itself. Following a participative approach, the process of developing, modifying and testing new solutions together with the target group, is itself just as valuable as the outcomes. On the one hand, the collaborative work promotes a deeper understanding of the target group and on the other hand it changes the role of the target group, from being passive beneficiaries to active co-creators in their own integration process. 

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  • Fighting homelessness: the role of cities

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

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

    Housing NOT for all


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

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

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

    Measurement and causes

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

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

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

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

    Housing all homeless is possible

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

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

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

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

    Counting homeless in Paris (FR): La Nuit Solidaire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Reuse of vacant building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The housing paradox: what can local municipalities do?

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    The negative consequences of the financialisation of housing can be felt first and foremost on a local level, in the urban housing markets. Thus the crucial questions are: what are local municipalities doing? Or to what extent can the growing problem of affordable housing be handled on a local level?


    The differences between European cities are even larger than between countries – depending on political colours, cities within the same country might have totally different answers to the same challenges.

    Here is a short overview of positive examples, i.e. cases where cities achieved success to mitigate or prevent the problems on the housing market – either through subtracting land out of the property market (i.e. limiting speculation) or through creating additional resources to make housing affordable. The sources of the information are international meetings and the very informative book of Patti-Polyák (2017).

    Community-led housing models

    According to Patti-Polyák a diversity of community-led housing (CLH) models have emerged across Europe including the Danish co-housing model focuses on shared spaces and environmental sustainability and the traditional cooperative housing model in Germany, Switzerland and France - which are undergoing a renewal with a focus on democratic governance and anti-speculation. Meanwhile, the Anglophone Community Land Trust model that aims to pull land out of the property market, is progressively gaining a foothold in continental Europe.

    Community-Led Housing projects are costly and require investments exceeding the financial capacity of most inhabitants, particularly low-income households. To be viable and to leverage sufficient economic resources, community-driven housing initiatives need to organise a wide range of actors around their project and attract external funders. For example, the organisations Stiftung Trias and Edith Maryon Stiftung are acquiring land for non-profit purposes and providing long-term leaseholds to civic actors with the aim of enabling non-speculative housing developments. Community-Led Housing projects usually start by aggregating their economic capacities and financial means in the form of savings. Resources that were put in common are then used to leverage further public and private funding. In fact, the success and adaptability of Community-Led Housing models depend largely on the capacity of inhabitants to negotiate external funding at favourable conditions (at low interest rates, for instance) and to advocate for public support mechanisms, such as public guarantees or enabling public policies.

    Since 2015 Barcelona (ES) introduced new models for affordable housing. One form of this is based on giving public land to cooperatives. Javier Buron Cuadrado, Housing Manager of Barcelona city council described this model in the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona (November 2018), starting from the point that in Spain cities do not have power in housing policy, as this is regulated on regional level. Even so, Barcelona has set up the Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025 with the aim to create more than 18 000 affordable housing units, mainly on rental basis. New ideas are used, such as building temporary places and using rooftops. Barcelona also tries to negotiate with the settlements of the metropolitan area, where at least 75 000 affordable units are missing. All types of financial and technological ideas are discussed, especially how to build faster and cheaper. Barcelona is open to all solutions existing in other cities, coming from residents and the academia, to find answers to the affordable housing challenge.

    The Community Land Trust (Patti-Polyák) is an interesting Anglophone model. This is an organisational form in which communities come together to address housing issues. Perceiving a need, a group starts to look for land. This can be in the form of raising capital from an ethical lender for buying land, asking for municipally owned land or through private negotiations with a farmer. The next step is building new houses or redeveloping existing houses into affordable homes. When the community achieves ownership of the land, they can make housing on it affordable. They can sell homes or properties, at about half the market rate. It can be a shared ownership model, or be a socially rented model.

    In the book, the case of the Granby Four street Community Land Trust is described in details. In a poor area of Liverpool (UK), a former residents association was re-created as Community Land Trust in 2011. They met up with a few partners and began to draw plans together for an urban regeneration process with very small incremental stages. In 2012, the association won a small urban garden competition, the result of which got noticed by the Steinbeck Studio social investment organisation. They saw what was happening in the neighbourhood, liked the idea of citizens being active in the community and offered a £ 500 000 loan. From that moment, Liverpool City Council also began to take notice and started discussions with the Community Land Trust, finally deciding to transfer 10 properties over to the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust. The Community Land Trust holds the land in trust, separating its value from the building on it, and it fixes the price the buildings can be sold for later. Any value increase is locked in by the Community Land Trust for community benefit, so the profit motive has been cut out.

    Using public land in new way

    Berlin (DE) is well known as a city of pioneering attempts to change the usual market oriented models. During a long period of experimentation with temporary use projects, and initiatives mobilising protests against large-scale development projects like the Media Spree, the idea emerged to develop economically sound and secure models of tenancy, based on long-term rental contracts or cooperative ownership arrangements. An example for that is the StadtNeuDenken initiative with a new concept for privatisation (Patti-Polyák). The basic idea is to change the privatisation mechanisms from the highest bid to fixed prices and the best concept.

    This idea was soon adopted by the municipality of Paris (FR) and shortly after the victory of Anne Hidalgo in 2014 their own top-down version of concept-based privatisation was launched in a series of competitions. Besides defining affordable housing goals, Hidalgo and deputy mayor Missika launched the urban development competition: Reinventing Paris. 23 municipally owned sites were selected in Paris – some in quite deprived and remote areas to sell public land, linking sales price to its future use. In an attempt to foster innovation in real estate and extending the scope of urban commons only multi-disciplinary teams could win, and the final users had to be included from the beginning. The competition was very successful and since then two new rounds were launched, on a similar basis.

    Municipal regulation against housing speculation

    Vienna (AT) is known worldwide for sustainable and inclusive urban development, of which housing policy is one of the corner-stones. The city is probably the biggest public landlord in the world with 220 000 public rental units. A particular challenge recently was the quick growth of the city, having in the last years 12-20 000 people moving yearly to Vienna. This means a need for building at least an additional 6 000 housing units yearly. There is, thus, a growing interest for land, suitable for new housing.

    Vienna recognised quickly, that in the case of open competition the interest of international investors would lead to the increase of prices of the scarce land reserves for housing. One of the leading principles of urban development in Vienna is the inclusivity of the city, avoiding changes in the housing market that would push certain strata out. In order to avoid price increases as consequence of speculative capital investments, making housing in the longer term unaffordable, Vienna reacted quickly. A new regulation is about to be introduced, limiting access of investors to real estate that is potentially suitable for affordable housing. The regulation aims to maximize the purchase price for the land, introducing a rule so flats cannot be sold for 40 years to maximise the rent of new units. Moreover, another new decision requires that half (later 2/3) of any new housing projects should qualify for the affordable housing model, determined by the city. These are important initiatives by the public sector to regulate the market, to avoid price increases - as a consequence of financialisation of housing.

    Need for cross-country agreement on the social understanding of housing

    For the moment, the efforts to handle the negative consequences of the financialisation of housing lead only to limited results on a national level and the local attempts face even more challenges.
    For example, Sorcha Edwards from Housing Europe reported on a Dublin (IE) case, where a local group was bidding for an empty standing building to turn it into social housing, but their position was hopeless as their competitor was the largest US pension fund.

    It is clear that international cooperation and joint efforts are needed to strengthen the social aspect of housing, as opposed to the market commodity understanding of it.

    In the Vienna Housing for All conference a range of ideas were raised on how such an international effort could be initiated.

    EU or national government intervention

    Barbara Steenbergen, International Union of Tenants, emphasized that mergers between real estate funds are going on in order to avoid national taxation. The EU and national governments should find out ways to keep housing affordable: real estate investors should be limited or stopped at all to buy up the existing affordable housing stock.

    A European housing forum

    Kieran McCarthy, Member of the EU Committee of the Regions, Councillor of the City of Cork (IE), suggested organizing a European Housing Forum. In the Committee of the Regions housing, it should be taken more seriously, it cannot remain one of the last priorities.

    A set rate of income share, a basic right and the end of VAT

    Evelyn Regner, Member of the European Parliament (S&D), pointed to the European Semester as one of the possibilities, where housing could be included without making huge changes in the basic documents of the EU. She suggested including the principle that people should not spend more than a given share of their incomes for housing costs. Housing should be acknowledged as a basic right. The EU should take steps to achieve housing-related expenses without or with little VAT, which would bring a real decrease of housing costs to normal people.

    The European Semester

    Jörg Wojahn, Representative of the European Commission in Austria, also mentioned the importance of the European Semester, turning soft law into a harder tool. Already today large sums of EU money, some EUR 1,5 billion is invested into housing. Also, loans from EIB and some parts of the Juncker fund (for the energy efficiency in buildings), should be taken into account. However it is clear, that e.g. energy efficiency investments make housing more expensive, thus such investments have to be acknowledged as long term financial commitments, and should be made exempt from the deficit rules. The European elections are a good moment to vote for candidates who agree in the importance of urban and housing issues against the dominance of agriculture and other investment goals.

    EU and municipal responsibility

    Lea Ortiz, deputy mayor Barcelona complained about dozens of evictions weekly in the city (against all efforts of the municipality), and about the fact that investors are buying up growing parts of the city. She also suggested turning to Europe, influencing the upcoming EP elections. The view that “housing is not responsibility of the EU” should be changed. Sustainable and just cities cannot be achieved without a growing public influence on the housing markets and the EU has a large responsibility to achieve that. The movement of cities - the emerging municipal cooperation - should push housing to become part of the discussions in Europe.

    Banning private equity fund investments and airtime at the G20   

    Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing suggested putting the financialisation of housing on the agenda of G20, as the finance ministers of this group are of crucial importance. After food security, housing should be on their agenda. Private equity funds should be banned from investing into residential housing just as investments into harmful environmental investments is already prohibited.

    A basic human right

    In her passionate speech at the Housing for All conference Leilani Farha emphasized that gold is a commodity, but housing not – it is a human right. Seizmic, paradigmatic shift is needed, as the present problems are not only market failures, but so is the lack of viewing housing as a human right. All levels of government have to show up and adopt comprehensive, human rights based housing policies. Housing must be based on laws protecting basic rights, and strategies must be based on the rights of people. She announced the establishment of a new movement: SHIFT, which already has 25 signatory cities, including Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam (NL), Seoul (KR).

    Housing is a human right which should not be sold to the highest bidder.

    Progress in the EU on housing

    Compared to the situation a decade ago, there is some progress in the handling of housing in the European Union. Within the EU Governance (European Semester, Macroeconomic conditionality, Reform Support Instrument, Rule of Law) housing is not considered exclusively from a competition policy perspective, but also as a matter of the Rule of Law in which basic human rights are slowly gaining some importance. There is a chance that fundamental rights will become one of the horizontal enabling conditions in the post-2020 Cohesion Policy regulation.

    On the other hand, according to reports of the Corporate Europe Observatory, there are discussions going on between the lobby groups of the sharing economy sectors (including Airbnb, Uber, etc.) and the Commission departments responsible for competition and free market regulation. The outcome of these negotiations is not yet known, but the EU approach may unilaterally support the forms of collaborative economy against the will of national and local governments to constrain the platforms in order to protect affordable housing. In practice, the regulations on Airbnb introduced in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Lisbon (PT), etc. might be annulled by the Commission as hurting the competition law.

    Housing is one of the sectors where the fight between the competition and solidarity aspects is the sharpest. There seems to be a long way to go to achieve socially justified limitations on international capital investors, i.e. regulating the financialisation of housing – without limiting private actors in their will to invest along non-speculative principles into social/affordable housing.


    "The housing paradox: more financing - less affordability?" - previous part of this article by Ivan Tosics can be read here.

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  • The housing paradox: more financing - less affordability?

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    Programme expert Ivan Tosics, vice chair of the European Network of Housing Research (ENHR) and executive committee member of the European Urban Research Association (EURA) explores the effects of the "financialisation of housing".

    Disadvantaged neighbourhoods

    Two decades ago, housing problems seemed to be solved once for ever in many developed countries. Then something unusual happened: capital investments into the housing sector grew sharply, and – within a few years– so did housing problems.

    Economists call this phenomenon the "financialisation of housing". Indeed, as housing increasingly became a financial asset, a tool to keep the value of savings, it lost its social meaning. Moreover, new investments led to sharp price increases crowding out families from the opportunity to acquire new units, and at times even from their existing housing.

    In this article we analyse first the process itself, then give an overview of national and local government reactions, and how investments into housing (which are generally welcome) could be influenced towards minimising their unwanted negative consequences.

    1. The financialisation of housing

    New investments don’t always cause problems, so we have to raise the question: what proves that the financialisation of housing increases housing problems, rather than solving them?

    Saskia Sassen, at the Urban Future conference in Vienna (AT) in February 2018, highlighted the uneven territorial spread of these foreign investments: the top 100 cities with 10% of population concentrate 70% of financialised assets. Housing prices in so-called "hedge cities" like Hong Kong (HK), London (UK), Munich (DE), Stockholm (SE), Sydney (AU) and Vancouver (CA) have increased more than 50% since 2011, creating vast amounts of assets for the wealthy, while making housing unaffordable for most households who had not already invested in the market. Moderate and low-income households are pushed to peri-urban areas with scant employment and services.

    Sassen adds that in many cases new developments bring around empty buildings in the best locations. Besides, when rented homes or mortgages are owned by remote investors, money mostly flows out of communities and simply creates a greater global concentration of wealth. Tenants living in housing owned by absentee corporate landlords complain of sharp increases in rent, inadequate maintenance and conditions as a result of substandard renovations undertaken quickly to flip the home for rentals, and an inability to hold anyone accountable. Finally, financialised housing markets create and thrive on gentrification and the appropriation of public value for private wealth: improved services, schools or parks in an impoverished neighbourhood attract investment, which then drives residents out. (Plan Limited, 2017)

    Besides directly financing new investments, financialisation also means expanded credit opportunities, leading to increasing debt for individual households. This might make people vulnerable to predatory lending practices and the volatility of markets, leading to unprecedented housing precarity. Financialised housing markets have caused displacement and evictions on an unparalleled scale: in the United States of America over the course of 5 years, over 13 million foreclosures resulted in more than 9 million households being evicted. In Spain, more than half a million foreclosures between 2008 and 2013 resulted in over 300 000 evictions. (Plan Limited, 2017).

    Of course not all publications are so negative about the financialisation of housing. According to Gerritsen Leilani (2018) financialisation is not inherently bad or good, and financial innovation can have both positive and negative effects. However, the existence of negative outcomes and the need for additional regulation to counteract the negative effects of financial innovation are acknowledged.

    In a thorough analysis Fernandez and Aalbers (2016) show that the dangers of financialisation are the lowest in countries where privately-owned housing stock dominates, mostly free of mortgage debt – this is the sign that the housing market has not been financialized yet. However, the case of Spain, once following this trajectory, but having been transformed radically in the brief period from the late 1990s till the collapse of the bubble, shows that not even these conditions give a guarantee to keep out the global forces of financialisation from entering the national system of housing finance.

    A special case: Airbnb

    Airbnb is one of the leading examples of the innovative and recently very popular sharing economy. However, as Juliet Schor (Professor of Sociology at Boston College) has shown in a presentation at the Smart Cities Expo World Congress in Barcelona (ES) in November 2018, almost all hopes that the sharing economy can decrease inequalities and can contribute to sustainability, proved to be wrong. It is clear that there are such potentials but these are not at all automatic: cities have to intervene with conventional policies (taxation, incentives) as well as novel arrangements (big data sharing and use, social aspects, etc.) to make the promises to become true.

    Viennese investigations about Airbnb units have shown that these are located in the same districts as the hotels – thus the promise "you will live as the locals" is not at all true. Vienna (AUT) contacted 16 platforms, but only 10 of them agreed to collect the freshly introduced tourist tax, the others rejected to give the data, referring to EU data protection laws. The efforts of Vienna to influence the Airbnb market are (for the moment) constrained as many aspects can only be handled by national laws (e.g. income tax), while some aspects would need EU regulation (e.g. related to the privacy law).

    In a meeting of the European Network for Housing Resarch in Athens (EL), Dimitris Balampanidis gave an overview about the situation in his city. As a result of the economic crisis 15-20% of the housing stock stays vacant in Athens. Airbnb rentals took over the market, recently counting some 10 000 units. While Airbnb created work for many people and also contributed to the renovation of many vacant buildings and flats, re-introducing them to the market, it is further increasing income and wealth differentiation in an untaxed way, pushing up rental prices and leading to monofunctional uses. As one of the hottest topics of urban development, there is a debate going on in Athens whether the positive or negative effects of Airbnb are more important. It is clear that Airbnb is targeting the same stock as the public efforts directed towards the vulnerable people. Agencies interested in affordable housing already have growing difficulties to find apartments to rent as Airbnb is considered to be a better option by the landlords.

    In the Housing for All conference in Vienna in December 2018 Rui Franco reported on the Lisbon (PT) situation. In countries like Portugal, Airbnb contributed to escalating prices of housing and gentrification of neighbourhoods, without creating affordable housing or other benefits for the local population (Plan Limited, 2017). A prime example is the centrally located Alfama neighbourhood, which was once a dangerous area – now the danger and the original residents are gone, the area fully changed, taken over and dominated by accomodations for tourists. Lisbon municipality did the opposite to what the financial actors suggested, i.e. tried to avoid an austerity policy. The challenge is that local salaries do not match levels from which local rents could be paid. Since last year Lisbon introduced a charge on tourism platforms, such as Airbnb and and on global real-estate investors. However, the leaders of the municipality understand that to achieve significant impact of these new tools, strong cooperation between cities and also EU regulation would be needed.

    2. How to handle the negative consequences of the financialisation of housing with national regulations?

    The Plan Limited (2017) publication lists a series of examples on national or regional level policies to handle the negative consequences of the financialisation of housing.

    • In response to the mortgage crisis in Spain, the autonomous regions of Andalusia and Catalonia introduced progressive laws explicitly affirming the social function of housing and facilitating temporary expropriation of vacant housing. Catalonian legislation also prohibited foreclosures and evictions that would result in homelessness. Both of those regional initiatives were struck down by the Spanish Constitutional Court as encroaching on the jurisdiction of the national government and opposing the general economic interests of the country. In response, at least in the case of Catalonia, the legislation was reintroduced with amendments and was passed again by the Catalonian parliament.
    • A number of countries, including Austria, China, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, have instituted restrictions on foreign purchasers of residential real estate. The province of British Columbia in Canada has introduced a 15% foreign homeowner tax. Net revenue from those taxes is to be invested in affordable housing initiatives. Singapore imposes an 18% property sales tax and an additional buyer stamp duty on wealthy property owners and investors, with revenues used to subsidize homeownership of low-income individuals. A number of jurisdictions, including China, Germany and Malaysia, have introduced a property speculation tax.
    • Some governments have chosen to encourage a more inclusive approach to private investment in housing via financial incentives to encourage the development of affordable units. The Government of Algeria, for example, finances the development of rental housing for households earning less than 1.5 times the minimum wage, on free government land. It also provides a lease-to-own programme for households with little down-payment capacity. Other governments require that developers include a proportion of affordable units. The Mayor of London recently announced that builders will be required to ensure that 35% of new homes that are built are genuinely affordable. Such prescription exist since long time in some other countries, e.g. France, Germany.

    Although similar examples could be brought up from many other countries, the best that can be said is that the reactions of the most affected countries are sporadic and mostly reactive. On the other hand, there are some countries which are relatively protected from the problems, having well regulated credit markets and strong national governance of the housing system (e.g. Germany). All in all, the large varieties in the national situations shows that without international cooperation the goal of ensuring access to adequate housing for all by 2030 is impossible to reach – partly due to the negative effects of the financialisation of housing.


    Our in depth article by Ivan Tosics continues here with what municipalities can do.

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  • Are you working on fringe?

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    Maarten van Tuijl takes a look at the “sub>urban, re-inventing the fringe" network, across 9 cities, re-thinking city fringes over the past 2,5 years and working on the implementation of local action plans on pilot sites. So, he asks: what did we learn and what are our recommendations for working on the fringe?


    The fringe is the post war urban area in between the inner city and the suburbs. Besides being an unsustainable fragmented belt of often sub-optimal and mono-functional land usage cut by big infrastructure with pockets of social deprivation, the fringe also holds the promise of combining the best of both worlds. It has more amenities and is closer to the city centre than the low density suburbs, but also offers more space and green space than the city centre. To both face its challenges and to fulfil its promises, the renewal of the fringe demands a new approach to urban planning. Because most of the property in the fringe is privately owned and administrations have limited powers there, a new approach to urban renewal is needed.


    Located in the southern part of Düsseldorf’s fringe, Garath is a typical housing project district of the 1960s and ’70s. Garath faces specific challenges: the district is home to 18,730 inhabitants, of whom 11% are unemployed, a higher proportion compared to Düsseldorf as a whole. Rents are below the city average and the living space is often not adequate for today’s demands, which sometimes leads to a concentration of social problems. In addition, there are other urban deficits such as a patchy retail supply and a lack of attractive green and open spaces.

    To develop a strategy for Garath, process management has been implemented focu¬sing on participation of different stakeholders, especially the residents. The process has been developed within a year: Defining the roles of expert skills and knowledge:
    - a high level steering committee (mayor, aldermen, head of offices)
    - a working team (offices, external expertise),
    - a local team (offices, stakeholders)
    - and an advisory board (members of local council, stakeholders).

    A special feature of the Garath 2.0 project is the comprehensive participation of citizens, with different formats integrated into each planning step. Managing the transformation is only possible if the inhabitants are involved and support the change. Therefore, the residents have been included in the planning process right from the start. The participation formats aim at gaining the active cooperation of different sections of the population and different age groups and to involve them in the

    planning phases. This intensive participation fosters the network of initiatives already there and supports a better exchange.

    Neighbourhood Branding

    Particularly noteworthy is Neighbourhood Branding, a project aimed at mapping a shared perception of the future of the neighbourhood. The residents specified what they saw as needs for action and development. To gain this information different kinds of participation tools were used: a kick-off meeting, a community festival, neighbourhood talks, interviews with the mayor, aldermen, administration and stakeholders, a branding session, workshops and a future conference. Children and young people were also invited and involved. Based on this input 50 measures have been planned in total. Some are already being put into action, while others are still being planned.


    Start with a careful analysis of what is already there. Know your fringe: the buildings and the people. What are the characteristics of the present fringe?
    How does it function at the moment?
    What are its assets?
    Who is living and working there?
    Who are the owners of the land and buildings?
    Who should be involved (participation)?
    What exactly should be done for whom?
    These are questions that all cities must reflect on when planning for the fringe. It is not only about analysis, it is about recognizing and reinforcing these qualities. Go from tabula rasa to tabula scripta.


    Because of Solin’s rapid growth, the public domain is fragmented and is generally underused. In the past few years, citizens have noticed this and expressed the need to reconnect with the waterfront. Large physical infrastructural barriers are not easily removed, however, especially not for a small municipality in Croatia. Building a large tunnel or reducing the number of lanes or the speed limit is not possible at this moment. Instead of being paralysed by these problems, Solin focused on making the mental barriers smaller. By making small, inexpensive and innovative interventions in the segregated urban space, the barriers themselves

    were put in the spotlight and treated as an opportunity. Solin has realized several specific projects aimed at creating new connections and uses.

    The first project is a pedestrian underpass beneath a street with heavy traffic, which children use daily on their way to and from school. To avoid the danger of making it an unattractive and dark space that ends up underused, the walls were painted with site-specific graffiti. The underpass area is larger than its primary function requires, making it more of a space and less of a passageway. There is even scope for small-scale sporting activities. Thus, the underpass has become a new public space and a new tourist attraction because the artists are internationally known.

    A second project concerns the refurbishment of the beach. This beach had been used for generations, but because of industrial expansion during the 20th century and regional infrastructural networks, it had become isolated and abandoned. The city decided to adopt a participatory approach to activate its underused areas, involving the local citizens in the design process. Together they have started with a clean-up of the beach and seabed. Currently, they are in the process of site-development and landscape works. Even with these small improvements, citizens have started to use the beach again, reclaiming the public space.

    For this site, nearby industrial companies and the County were persuaded to provide funding as a sponsorship of the public space.


    Many parts of the fringe have been neglected for too long.
    The buildings and public space in the fringe need to be upgraded.
    Increase the sustainability of existing buildings.
    Stimulate more sustainable, less car-based, mobility.
    Improve conditions for existing communities.
    Make better use of underused areas and buildings.
    Diversify mono-functional areas.
    Open up fenced-off areas.
    Find new, interesting typologies for housing.
    Integrate social infrastructure, jobs and production.
    Turn this unloved outcast into a loved part of the city.


    The Lageweg area is locked in a status quo. It is a hybrid building block, where different zoning areas (indus¬try and housing) are touching each other. Almost all the land is privately owned, there is almost no public land position. There is no real social connection between inhabitants and users of the place. It is in need of transformation lest it continue to deteriorate or be developed plot-wise without added public value. It was paramount that the city should break through this local status quo. The aim for the city is to create an integrated development. Therefore, the city planned 5 discussion moments around a table with the landowners:
    - Mind Opening Dialogues & Ambition Levels - A kick-off based on possibilities
    - Design Table & Interactive Scale Model - To create trust in the collectivity 
    - Safari on Site & Brochure with future prospect - Linking imagination to the experience of the group
    - Declaration of Engagement & Personal Assistance - From best content to best possible content. - From receptive involvement to active involvement
    - Spatial & Financial Calculation Model - From a linear to an iterative process

    Starting with mind-opening dialogues and an exploratory kick-off discussion, collective ambitions for the area were defined. The first idea of a multi-plot development was born. Each owner started looking beyond his/her own plot, enlarging the spatial opportunities. Another instrument was a safari tour of the site in the form of a guided walk with all the stakeholders. The brochure made for the walk showed the soil contamination and possible future development scenarios in one, five and twenty years’ time. On the one hand, this information made the owners aware that the current land use plan needed to be changed in order to realize the long-term plan. On the other hand, it became clear that soil decontamination was an issue for more than one owner. One of the owners demanded that the land use plan (RUP) be altered or he would withdraw from the co-creation project on this site. At this point, the role of the

    city evolved from facilitating to regulating, denying the owner’s demand in order to stress the importance of a joint plan and a common urban vision.

    A second step was co-creating a design plan for the area and making it more visual by using an interactive scale model. This prompted one of the private partners to ask: “What is my financial gain?” In a classic process, providing the answer to that question would delay the entire process. In the Lageweg process, however, we started to work simultaneously on the financial aspect of the multi-plot development. Working on parallel tracks speeds up the process instead of blocking and delaying it. The financial question demonstrated the benefits of the collective process used in Lageweg.

    The Lageweg pilot project is a learning process, both for the city and for the owners concerned. The government has to assume the role of facilitator to get all stakeholders to support a co-creative vision and ensure that the owners make it happen. At the same time, it is necessary to guard the common interest. This balance is a continuous challenge.


    The fringe is the manifestation of individualism and consumerism.
    To have any impact here it is necessary to create incentives that make it appealing to go beyond individual interests.
    Link people and projects to one another.
    Deploy temporary use and place-making as tools to create stronger communities.
    Stimulate private owners to work together in their own interest.
    Make collective spaces more attractive. Encourage multifunctional use of spaces and interaction.


    The Viennese municipality boundaries are very tight around the historical city, leaving Vienna no choice but to work together with neighbouring communities to provide houses, amenities and jobs for its growing population. Vösendorf, a small neighbouring community of 7,000 habitants in the south-west, built large retail and shopping centres on the boundary with Vienna during the 1960s and ’80s, which proved to be very profitable but has put strain on its relationship with Vienna. Today, however, both municipalities need each other. A large part of the retail area in Vösendorf is decaying and in need of transformation while Vienna is actively looking for new neighbourhoods to absorb their growth in a connected and sustainable way. The two municipalities decided to work together in the URBACT network to imagine a future for a part of Vösendorf and Liesing, bordering the 23rd district of Vienna.

    According to Austrian constitutional law, the municipality – the lowest administrative entity – is responsible for land use planning. Each of the nine Austrian provinces has its own planning law, and the municipalities are obliged to apply it in their own spatial plans. Vienna is a province and a municipality at the same time. While our neighbouring municipality Vösendorf applies the Lower Austrian Planning law, Vienna uses its own. Thus, there is no formal authority that coordinates and regulates planning across provincial borders in a formally binding way.

    As there is not much likelihood of any change in the near future, Vienna is trying to work together in a more ‘informal’ way. The Stadt-Umland-Management acts as an intermediary to help us manage such processes. Generally, institutions act within their own competences and hierarchies. When elaborating the Integrated Action Plan, Vienna tried to overcome this hurdle and asked all relevant stakeholders to contribute to the discussion by thinking very freely about ideas for the cross-border project area.

    The stakeholders were invited to a series of workshops, walks and bilateral talks and followed the principle that any event should take place on the spot, for example in a local discotheque. The various participants drafted a vision, which led to four scenarios: the so-called Stories from the fringe. They act as the basis for implementation projects we want to initiate. The structure provided by the URBACT sub>urban network allowed us to establish a more sustainable working routine. At the beginning of the project, we reached a formal agreement between Lower Austria, Vösendorf and Vienna on personnel and financial contributions. We got to know our neighbours, their perception and visions. We contributed to a better climate of trustfully working together. The project acted as a broker for cross-administrative relationships. We reached the most relevant institutions and players on an administrative and political level, and some of the landowners. As one outcome of the Integrated Action Plan we are going to tackle five implementation projects. As a second step – in line with the topic of each project – we would like to involve the people who work or live in the respective area. We are starting to notice an increase in awareness. Cooperation between all administrative bodies in a metropolitan region seems to be essential for prosperity and a sound settlement development.


    Planning for the fringe can’t be done from a fixed and single perspective.
    Work on the level of the city´s urban strategy and test this strategy in one or more pilot projects at the same time.
    Complement concrete findings on the local level with the ambitions of the strategic plan, and vice versa.
    Integrate interaction and reflection on both levels.


    Today, the formerly booming industrial town Casoria, next to Naples, is in crisis. Several industries have relocated their factories, many shopping centres are struggling, and there are a lot of vacant office spaces while services have been cut back. In addition, the population is in decline, unemployment stands at 30%, and citizens are generally distrustful of public policies. The urban settlements were built in a dense and illogical way and there is a lack of public space. Too many challenges to tackle all at once, therefore Casoria has launched the step by step lab as its new urban plan, addressing short term, midterm and long term goals in an intelligent and interconnected way.

    The first Operational Program focuses on the abandoned, underutilized and degraded areas – the so-called ‘wastescapes’ – flanking the major infrastructures that cross the territory. The strategy uses wastescapes to push the urban transformation. In this case a large open park (forest, playground, additional facilities) – whose extension in 2025 will amount to a quarter of the entire municipal territory – will change the urban structure of Casoria, especially the perception of inhabitants and stakeholders. The current brown-grey settlement will be progressively converted into a living green city.

    Real and executed transformation projects are essential for the success of the planned activities. That is why the strategy starts with small-scale actions: temporary public uses of abandoned lands, massive planting of trees and hedges, and steady redesign of pedestrian, cycling and ecological paths. This first steps show direct results which builds the trust of citizens in the local government. At the same time it is a learning experience for the city offices, the politicians and the participating citizens. Gradually the step-by-step strategy moves forward to more complex transformations: the redevelopment of brownfields,

    the renewal of high-density urban areas and the restoration of historical settlements.

    As a first step Casoria has transformed and opened a formerly fenced off Military base as a public park in this dense city lacking public space. During its first URBACT local Group meeting the stakeholders present were asked why public space in the city was taking care of so badly. This has lead to awareness that each citizen has a responsibility towards the public space and its maintenance and eventually to citizens the co-management of the park. ). A wide participation process has been facilitated by a massive information campaign, conducted on social media. Thus, many citizens and local stakeholders are now involved in the co-creation and co-construction of the public Michelangelo Park (about 3.5 ha, the largest in Casoria).


    Work with a flexible plan and integrate learning moments.
    Work today on short, intermediate and long term plans.
    Plan for the fringe based on the full life cycle of an area.
    Work with the current context, learn from it and anticipate the new operational phase by organizing management.
    Each step can feed the learning process and can help the strategic plan grow to achieve a more sustainable and inclusive fringe.

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  • Gender Equal Cities: Inspiration from Vienna

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    Vienna (AU) is famous for many things: classical music, exquisite architecture and good cakes too. Less well known is its reputation as an exemplar city for gender-sensitive urban planning: The city has over 25 years’ experience of gender mainstreaming; the Women’s Office opened in 1992 and, the city has developed a network of gender experts and champions across its departments. So, where better to host an URBACT expert exchange event than in the Austrian capital?

    Urban design

    The meeting took place in the context of URBACT’s Gender Equal Cities Knowledge Hub initiative that aims to highlight ways in which cities are driving change through gender sensitive policy making. At the heart of this work is knowledge sharing, so in October the team travelled to Vienna for a 3-day workshop. We were joined by gender equality experts and practitioners from cities across Europe including Athens (GR), Umea (SE), Venice (IT), Paris (FR), London (UK), Villiers le Bel and Poznan (PO) as well as networks such as CEMR, ALDA, Genre et Ville, all willing to share a wealth of knowledge about driving this agenda at local level.

    Learning from the best

    We were fortunate to be hosted by the City and shown around by Eva Kail, Gender Planning Expert and Ursula Bauer, Head of Gender Mainstreaming.  Their detailed explanations enabled a deep understanding of the gendered nature of urban space and governance, within the concept of a fair-shared city.  We also heard about the structures and processes that Vienna has put in place, and adapted over time, to address the challenges.

    During site visits we looked at:

    1. Parks that have been redesigned to provide better lighting and access for women and girls, as well as more democratic seating arrangements to provide shared space for different park users including women, children, migrants, the elderly and the homeless;
    2. Sidewalks that had been widened and street crossings that had been re-timed to allow for parents with buggies, the elderly and the mobility impaired to move around more comfortably.
    3. New pedestrian paths that allow for the most direct routes between home/schools/ shops/ transportation.
    4. Residential areas with improved safety features such as mirrors to see around bends on alleyways and planting to increase attractiveness
    5. Housing designed by woman architects that provides personal space for single mothers and encourages community support networks.

    This study visit around Vienna emphasised how gender-sensitive planning has many overlaps with other policy areas. For instance, more walk-able, greener cities that respect sustainable mobility principles benefit everyone.

    In designing these measures to improve safety and mobility for parents, the city of Vienna is careful not to reinforce the idea that women can only be either mothers or victims. They are combining these hard measures that stay true to the everyday experiences of women, with soft measures that challenge stereotypes. Their gender equality actions are not just about women but about changing damaging notions that impact us all: by encouraging fresh thinking about men and women’s places in the city Vienna is combating gender-based exclusion at every level.

    What do we mean by gender mainstreaming? Gender refers, not to our biological sex as male or female, but to socialisation as either woman or man. Gender-sensitivity is therefore evaluating the impact of policy on different genders and acting to ensure the equality of this impact. Mainstreaming refers to evaluating the impact of all policy, not just so-called ‘women’s issues.’ Mainstreaming gender is increasingly common practice internationally and means thinking about how stereotypes of femininity and masculinity operate as a social structures in all areas, sectors and levels of city policy.


    The intense thematic exchange covered many areas of opportunity for cities to make a change.

    Follow the money

    Vienna, like many European cities, faces distinct challenges from diminishing public spending.  The role of the Women’s Office is to advocate for gender sensitive policy even with limited resources, and also to make sure each neighbourhood and department publishes gender budgets, so that if services are cut there is a proper impact assessment of what that means for women and men.  The significance of EU funding was flagged here. When funders include assessment criteria on gender and diversity, it provides a helpful stimulus to embed equality measures. The answer from Vienna? Do more with less. Although there are no quick fixes to gender inequality, there are small inexpensive measures the city can put in place to improve representation, safety and access in public spaces: better street lighting, quotas for elected representatives and participatory processes that involve women is all examples of this work in action.

    Engaging civil society

    Gender sensitive participatory approaches mean recognising the particular expertise on equality that women’s networks and experts can bring to the table across policy areas. NGOs and associations in cities across the EU work closely with women from all backgrounds, socio economic groups and ages.  They are uniquely positioned to articulate their needs and feed into policy making that is more impactful. Likewise, there are many universities and research agencies that have gender departments or expertise that can contribute with supporting knowledge. The Vienna team acknowledged that often these partnership dynamics are not without tension, as agencies will rightly push for better services, for change and hold the city to account.

    Calls to action: data, equal pay and representation

    As in Lisbon earlier this year, gender disaggregated data and the significance of representation were high on the list of our experts’ priorities. We need data broken down by gender (amongst other indices) to best understand how women and men experience the city differently. In Vienna we learnt how both quantitative data and qualitative approaches such as social space analysis had underpinned their plans. Without this knowledge, attempts to solve the problem can be misguided. For example, qualitative data collected in London suggests that women and particularly women of colour do not feel represented by the advertising in their city. So, London’s mayor is featuring all women artists on the underground for 2018 and hosting a competition for representative advertising campaigns. The winner will receive free advertising on the underground for a year!

    Representation and equal pay also continue to be problems in a Europe where just 15% of mayors are women and women earn on average 17% less than men. We need 50/50 representation at all levels of local governance: this isn’t just a democratic imperative and a human right, it also makes for better urban policy when all experiences of the city are factored in to decision-making. Participants in Vienna suggested quotas as a temporary solution to the problem, but only when combined with mentoring, training and incentives to get women into local office and high paying roles, and keep them there. Quotas alone won’t change traditional, male dominated cultures that haunt politics across Europe, so it is not just about getting women through the door but empowering them to be true to themselves, to feel confident in introducing new styles of leadership.

    Plurality of voices

    It is clear that women and men do not all experience the city in the same way based on their gender, and experts discussed how to better incorporate plural voices. Other identities including race, class, religion, sexuality and abilities also impact citizens’ everyday lives. As Linda Gustafsson, Gender Equality Officer for Umea put it “we have to always think about gender in the city, but we cannot only think about gender in the city.” Gender affects all citizens in one way or another but reacting to data while not reinforcing stereotypes is one of the hardest challenges faced by policy makers and planners working on equality.

    URBACT networks: a unique opportunity

    One thing was clear from the workshop in Vienna: when it comes to gender equality, supportive spaces to network, co-create and share are crucial. Ultimately, gender equality is about changing centuries of discrimination that in 2018 simply hold back cities and all their citizens.  It is complex and multi-faceted and transformation requires a long term, strategic approach. A key part of this process is capacity building about how gender impacts the city and the unique opportunity it has to change this. Our experts from across Europe testified to the success of structured learning programmes, unconscious bias training, webinars, role play and theatre to help the city lead by example in its approach to gender equality. Communication across European networks is also important to connect gender equality to different urban issues. URBACT has a unique platform for change thanks to its reach into 500 cities.

    Finally, everyone can support change-makers in everyday life: lift women up, call out inappropriate behaviour and advocate for change. If you’re a man and offered an opportunity to speak on an all male panel, how about recommending your female colleague? The same for white women asked to speak on all white panels. These are small acts that can make a big difference.

    What’s next for Gender Equal Cities?

    URBACT is very grateful to the city of Vienna for hosting the exchange as well as to all the experts for contributing with passion and honesty. The URBACT Programme is now reviewing how it can improve its own performance on gender equality in networks, capacity building and knowledge hubs. If you are interested in learning more about gender equality in the city please join the Gender Equal Cities LinkedIn group and keep your eyes peeled for our report to be published in early 2019 in partnership with Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR).

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  • Bologna innovates to help its most fragile communities

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    Three of the cities selected in the first call of Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) are working, or have worked, within URBACT on topics similar to their UIA bids: Turin, Bologna and Rotterdam.

    We investigated what made these cities successful at being involved in the two European programmes, and asked whether there is – for these cities – something like a trajectory between URBACT and UIA.

    This article is the third and last of our series of articles on this topic.

    It is based on an interview with Manuela Marsano, from the Economic development and city promotion Department, and Inti Bertocchi, from the social inclusion unit at the City of Bologna.

    Learning with other European Cities to help the most fragile population


    In its involvement with URBACT, Bologna has demonstrated a strong interest in helping its most fragile communities to get housing and jobs, and to feel fully part of the city.

    Bologna has for instance been working hard, in partnership with its Roma communities, to improve their situation in the city. The Municipality of Bologna was a partner of the URBACT network Roma Net, which aimed at overcoming negative attitudes towards Roma, developing the City Local Action Plan as framework for policies and activities targeting the Roma community and improving consultation and engagement with them. Later, Bologna also took part in Roma Net II, which focused on improving access to education, health, housing and services and stimulating employment opportunities for working age Roma.

    In addition, the Metropolitan City of Bologna is involved in Job Town 2 showing commitment to helping another fragile group, that of unemployed youth.

    A continuous search for social innovation

    Bologna is also seriously dedicated to social innovation. With the URBACT network Creative Spin it set tools and methods to trigger creativity and innovation in businesses and other kinds of public and private organisations, by encouraging artists, creative professionals (in advertising, design, architecture), cultural institutions and industries to engage with other sectors to share their competencies and skills.

    This commitment to work with young creatives and to involve and retain them in the city continues today with the URBACT network Gen_Y City.

    Bologna’s continuous search for innovative governance methods is also clear in the Procure Network, which explores how to bring about economic, social and environmental benefits through a better use of public spending.

    Salus Space: An ambitious project to create a new type of space for housing, employment and culture, connecting local communities and newcomers

    All the principles and methods explored by Bologna within URBACT are to be found its Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) project ‘S.A.L.U.S. ‘W’ SPACE – sustainable, accessible, livable, usable social space for intercultural wellbeing, welfare and welcoming’.

    The project is to rehabilitate a big abandoned building - Salus Space - check also the website for pictures, which is just outside the city, but pretty close (500 meters from the first building of the city and 10 minutes walk from the closest bus stop). Salus Space will provide temporary housing for up to two years (and an average of 18 months) for about 40 refugees and other people who have a fragile housing situation. The building will include a restaurant and several cultural activities. By involving residents in the management of the building and its activities, the space will also act as a bridge with the city, with learning space to access new opportunities for culture and jobs.

    Salus Space is a risky, challenging and difficult project, but one with a strong appeal, that of creating a new centre in the city, where people can come to live, learn, eat and have fun together.

    Co-design: A strong principle developed in URBACT

    Salus Space is based on two levels of participation: one horizontal, involving citizens and local stakeholders in “co-creation”; and one vertical, with main institutions (Region, Metropolitan City, Prefecture, Municipality and District authorities) providing provide feedback and ensuring links to urban policies.

    In this way, the project has been co-designed from the beginning, using approaches Bologna picked up from URBACT. There are 17 partners at local level who are really working together and, from the beginning, the City has involved citizens as well as several other stakeholders. It has also developed a cross-departmental method of working within the municipality.

    Right from the application stage the project was co-designed, and this is set to continue throughout the life of the project. At the start, the Municipality made a public call for suggestions on the regeneration and strategy for the building. Currently, in the first phase of the project’s implementation, stakeholders are involved in co-creating a shared vision of the building. An ongoing evaluation of the project realised by citizens and refugees has already started and will last until the end of the project. 

    The University of Bologna, one of the project partners, is in charge of implementing the participatory process of co-creation. It gets feedback from the city and stakeholders and ensures their continuous involvement, for instance to design some parts of the project, which have not been pre-defined at the application stage. Currently, one of the topics being investigated is how exactly the space can be used by the city (education and social activity) to make sure the space is lived in by the citizens and not only by the residents of the building.

    There are several ways for citizens to take part in the project. For example, a training scheme allows citizens to become online journalists for the blog and website of the space (

    Manuela insists that her ways of thinking about participatory processes at all stages of the project comes from the experience developed within URBACT. “The municipality has learnt that there is nothing that can be done without the involvement of the target community” and that “we, as a municipality, can facilitate the process and not just drive it”.

    Governance: a key learning from URBACT

    Manuela also says that she learnt from URBACT how difficult it is to ensure the well functioning governance of a project, involving several – as many as possible – stakeholders.

    In order to build good governance of the Salus Space project from the start, Manuela directly took the principles of the URBACT Local Stakeholders Group and applied them to create a new governance board, involving the right stakeholders.

    She even applied those principles to the application process and to structuring the project. Notably Manuela mentions how the strong devolution of ‘work packages’ (i.e. the different aspects) of the project to partners results from her experience with URBACT. That is how she developed trust and learnt to work jointly with several partners.

    Taking and giving back to other European cities

    To build such innovative projects, Bologna takes inspiration from other European cities. In the case of Salus Space, one of the inspirations was the Madga Hotel in Vienna, in which hosts are welcomed by trained refugees. However, Bologna knows it has to adapt good ideas to its local situation. It is attempting – with Salus Space – a mix of activities it has never seen anywhere else, with modes of operations that are specific to this project. A real challenge!

    Exchanging is at the core of Bologna’s approach, and on that point again Bologna applied principles learnt in URBACT to its UIA project.

    To ensure the sustainability of the project, a think-tank has been created to bring in examples from abroad and to help in the final process of capitalising on learnings.

    The project also plans to invest strongly in communicating locally and further afield, sharing what they have learnt, so that others can benefit from Bologna’s Salus Space experiences.

    For Bologna, there are strong thematic and methodological connections between URBACT and UIA.

    Manuela simply and beautifully explains how one of the main lessons she learnt from URBACT is now applied to thinking and creating innovation in the city, as in the case of the UIA Salus Space project: “Innovation is not about huge changes in one go, but in many small changes and steps that make a big difference”.

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