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  • Diventa una Buona Pratica URBACT!

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    16/04/2024
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    La call per le Buone Pratiche URBACT, in corso dal 15 aprile al 30 giugno 2024, è alla ricerca di pratiche locali esistenti che siano impattanti, partecipative, integrate, rilevanti per l'Unione Europea e trasferibili ad altre città europee.
     

    Il bando URBACT per le Buone Pratiche è aperto alle città dei 27 Stati membri dell'Unione Europea, agli Stati partner (Norvegia, Svizzera), alle città dei paesi che beneficiano dello Strumento per la Pre-adesione all'UE (Albania, Bosnia ed Erzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia del Nord e Serbia), così come all'Ucraina e alla Moldavia. L'obiettivo di questo bando è fornire visibilità a livello europeo alle pratiche locali di sviluppo urbano sostenibile di impatto e offrire ispirazione e opportunità di trasferimento ad altre città europee.

    Le città premiate come Buone Pratiche URBACT beneficeranno di una varietà di azioni di visibilità e promozione, con il Festival delle Città URBACT dall'8 al 10 aprile 2025 a Wroclaw (Polonia) che sarà uno dei momenti salienti. Le città selezionate avranno anche la possibilità di guidare una Rete di Trasferimento URBACT con fondi del programma e risorse a partire dal 2025.

    I termini di riferimento del bando per le Buone Pratiche forniscono informazioni dettagliate su chi è ammissibile a presentare domanda e sul processo di candidatura. Il Segretariato URBACT e i Punti Nazionali URBACT stanno organizzando una serie di sessioni informative online e in presenza in tutta Europa per condividere informazioni sul bando e rispondere alle domande delle città europee.

    Scopri di più sul bando qui sul sito web di URBACT e scopri il riassunto qui sotto!

     

  • 5 bite-size morsels for cities to transform local food systems

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    Group of people visiting the urban garden in Mouans-Sartoux (FR). Photo by European Urban Initiative.
    04/04/2024

    Cities have a strategic role to play when transforming food habits for a more sustainable system. Here are five ways to help kickstart the change.

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    Group of EU City Lab participants visiting a collective urban garden in Mouans-Sartoux (FR).
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    Food systems are a primary cause of environmental degradation and contribute to climate change, health inequalities and waste. With half the global population living in urban areas, cities are tuning in to the role they play in building more sustainable food systems and helping their residents eat a healthier diet. 

    On 21 and 22 March 2024, around 50 city practitioners from 9 European countries gathered in Mouans-Sartoux (France) for the EU City Lab on Changing Food Habits for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System.  

    This article condenses the rich exchanges that took place there into 5 ways cities can get onto – or further explore – the food transformation path.  

    If you like what you read here, have a look at the EU City Lab #2 programme on using public procurement for more local, seasonal and sustainable food on 29-30 May in Liège (BE).  

     

    1. Take a Food Systems Approach 

     

    Roxana Maria Triboi, lead author of the ex-ante assessment of the “Food” thematic area under the Urban Agenda of the EU (UAEU), emphasised citizens’ “disassociation with food production”, i.e. a general lack of awareness of  food production processes and their social, economic and environmental impacts. For instance, many ignore that food production is responsible for around 26% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By taking a more proactive approach to food consumption, citizens can work towards reintegrating food as a focus of political engagement and help build more sustainable local food systems.  

    On their end, policymakers need to stop looking at food policies in a silo, and instead start associating them with broader economic and social goals, such as re-dynamising the local territory or building food security through shorter and fairer supply chains. Thanks to their flexibility, smaller cities are especially relevant to develop synergies and integrated approaches. 

    The ex-ante assessment of the Urban Agenda’s “Food” thematic area conducted in 2023 embraced this holistic perspective, building on a conceptual framework developed by IPES-Food. The same conceptual framework also inspires the approach of the three EU City Labs on Local Food Systems. 

     

    2. Navigate the EU landscape on food 

     

    In recent years, EU food policies also witnessed a progressive shift towards a more systemic and sustainability-oriented approach. The 2020 Farm to Fork Strategy, for instance, attempted to introduce an holistic perspective to the food production chain, from the producers to the consumers (and beyond, in the context of a circular economy) and to put sustainability at the core of food systems transformation.  

    Yet, there is still a long way to go to transform these ambitious goals into reality, as many critical voices are being raised. “Europe is witnessing a growing push to shift the perspective “from fork to farm”: that is, emphasizing the political legitimacy of the citizens-consumers to decide what they wish to eat” recalled Gilles Perole, Deputy-Mayor of Mouans-Sartoux. As EU legislators work to fill the gap, cities keep playing a key role as drivers of change.  

    Initiatives such as the UAEU Partnership on Food, launched in January 2024, put cities at the heart of local food policy transformation. As explained by Elisa Porreca, Food Policy Officer of the City of Milan and coordinator of the partnership, it gathers 21 stakeholders from all sectors of the urban food chain, to build both a shared vision and the necessary tools for its sustainable implementation. For the coming years, the goal is to improve the funding, regulation and knowledge in relation to local food systems.   

     

    3. Get inspired by cities across Europe… 

     

    Organic food in school canteens in Mouans-Sartoux 

     

    Over the years, the city of Mouans-Sartoux has turned into a key source of inspiration for urban food policy practitioners across Europe. Why?  

    Because of its three primary school canteens serving 100% organic food since 2012 – all cooked on-site by the canteens’ chefs, with 85% of self-produced vegetables all-year round and diversification of proteins through 50% of vegetarian meals for all. 1,100 meals are served every day by the school canteens to 97% of the total number of pupils in Mouans-Sartoux. The local supply of vegetables is ensured by the municipal farm – a 6-hectare plot pre-empted by the municipality in 2010, with a yield of 25 tons per year. Three full-time farmers work there as civil servants – a first in France.  

    Mouans-Sartoux’s practice and know-how has been customised and transferred to 9 European cities through two URBACT Transfer Networks called Biocanteens and Biocanteens#2 from 2018 to 2022. Many other French cities have followed Mouans-Sartoux’s example. 

    A key strength of the city’s practice is the progressive buildup on projects, leading to a systemic approach. EU City Lab’s participants got to discover the different building blocks of this approach through city visits and dedicated discussion sessions.   

    “The Municipality played a key role in initiating this policy, yet it has focused since the beginning on fostering citizens’ implication,” recalled Gilles Perole, Deputy-Mayor of Mouans-Sartoux. Since 2016, the MEAD (Centre for Sustainable Food Alimentation) supports this ambition through training and education initiatives. Most recently, the city’s participatory efforts led to ‘The Citizen Feeds the City’ initiative, which saw the creation of seven community gardens – initiated by citizens and managed in autonomy by a group of them. 

    To tackle the inclusiveness challenge, since 2011 low-income or unemployed citizens may benefit for a few months access to a social grocery store, where they can get healthy and sustainable food at a very low cost. A step further? Scaling up to more categories of citizens who don’t have the chance to properly consider the food they consume. As explained by Caroline Monjardet, Project Manager at MEAD, the city currently works with local companies and restaurants to propose healthier and locally-sourced meals to their employees or customers. 

     

    Visiting school canteens

    Group visit to one of the 100% organic school canteens in Mouans-Sartoux (FR) -- with Gilles Perole, Deputy-Mayor of the city. 

     

    Food Study with Irish Traveller women in Cork, Ireland 

     

    Around 2015, a network of traveller women approached Denise Cahill, Healthy Cities Co-ordinator in Cork, concerned about the rate of obesity in their community. Rather than spreading once more food recommendations, as they had multiple times without success, they built together the framework for a food study exploring the social determinants of traveller’s women health. Driven by their experiences, especially facing structural racism and hostility, this research was built with and owned by those traveller women. “Nothing about us without us” is the new motto in Cork.. 

    “Cork is now trying to become a trauma-informed city.” As Denise explained, this study did not have such an impact on the obesity rate, but that was never the main goal. Going beyond the scope of food, the study became an advocacy tool for social services to understand the struggles and trauma that vulnerable communities battle with, and ultimately build more positive exchanges with them.  

     “The thinkers and the doers must find a common space.” Denise explained how creating this dialogue is a motor for the city’s action, to give room for everyone’s voices, from the farmers to the elected representatives, including the planners, and the grassroot movements. 

     

    UIA TAST’in FIVES in Lille, France 

     

    Perrine Dubois, project manager at the City of Lille, shared a story of transformation. A former industrial city throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Lille witnessed in 2001 the closure of one of its last industrial factories, “Five Cail” (straddling the neighbouring commune of Hellemmes). What to do with this 15hectare brownfield site located in the heart of the Lille metropolis? In the context of a broader project to turn this zone into an eco-district, the city applied in 2016 to an Urban Innovative Action (UIA) call for the financing of Tast'in Fives, a space dedicated to sustainable food. 

    At the heart of the brownfield, a central food hall of over 2,000m2 was therefore renovated to host an innovative combination of activities: a “community kitchen”, a professional kitchen hosting an incubator, an urban farm, and a food court. The first three structures opened in 2021, while the food court, delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, opened in March 2024.   

    The project – today called “Chaud Bouillon!” – involved many actors, including residents, neighbourhood associations, universities and private companies. Although its main focus is on strengthening social linkages, attention is also paid to food sustainability aspects – i.e. encouraging shifts towards more sustainable food habits. For example, the incubator’s projects must adhere to sustainability criteria, like the recovery of unsold goods from supermarkets.  

     

    School canteens solutions in Milan 

     

    In Milan, the municipal food provider Milano Ristorazione supplies about 80 000 meals per day, mainly served at schools. Milano Ristorazione is one of the main public stakeholders in the implementation of the Milan’s Food Policy and is a place to experiment with good practices, including menu changes and other enabling measures. 

    “The city started monitoring the impact of school catering services more closely in 2015 and has since then managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42%, mainly by cutting down on red meat and serving more fruits and vegetables” explained Chiara Mandelli, from the Food Policy Area of the Municipality of Milan. The city also achieved significant waste reduction through several measures, from shifting the times when fruits are served at schools, to offering “doggy bags” for children’s leftovers. To challenge the taste of children – often used to processed food and lower vegetable consumption – an educational campaign was launched, featuring booklets and games.  

    As Chiara also explained, Milan recently participated in the European Food Trails project to renovate school canteens; and in the EU project “School Food for Change” to create educational programmes for children on local food heritage. Finally, a recent partnership with the University of Pavia seeks to bridge the scientific assessment gap and learn how to best use existing data to inform future policy choices.  

     

    The Circular Food Hub in Roeselare 

     

    The Circular Food Hub in Roeselare (Belgium) extends beyond just providing affordable food. It includes a social grocery store; an eco-café serving low-price meals made with local products; a shared kitchen for workshops on cooking cheap, healthy and sustainable meals; and other amenities.  

    Designed as a space for inclusion and for strengthening social linkages among different groups, the place opened in 2020. It quickly succeeded in attracting a variety of users – from the beneficiaries of the social grocery store to participants in food workshops and other training initiatives.  

    The Circular Hub is in a former post office owned by the city. “The building features large meeting spaces available to residents and the city administration for future projects, including around food” explained Bo Vanbesien, expert in subsidies and external relations from the City of Roeselare. 

     

    Sharing city experiences in Mouans-Sartoux (FR).

    Sharing cities' experiences in Mouans-Sartoux (FR). 

     

    4. Show the impact of your actions 

     

    For Thibaud Lalanne, MEAD Coordinator, impact assessment forms the foundation of the practice of sharing that Mouans-Sartoux has championed. Evaluation is important in two regards: first for internal legitimacy, as public spending is involved; then to advocate and spread good practices to other cities. 

    In 2022-23, Mouans-Sartoux’s good practice underwent three assessment exercises: first, the 2022 survey conducted by the Municipal Observatory of School Canteens, focusing on changes in families’ food habits; second, a comprehensive study (in French) based on the a specially-developed evaluation framework for sustainable food projects (Syalinnov method), touching upon a variety of dimensions; and third, a study on environmental impacts conducted by PhD researchers from Nice University. Thanks to these efforts, Mouans-Sartoux is able to quantify the impact of its food policies: a 92% reduction of its carbon footprint according to the Nice study. 

    What is main challenge when it comes to evaluation? “The lack of resources” says Thibaud. “There is a contradiction between the necessity of evaluating the policies and the reality of carrying out the surveys.” Evaluation exercises take time, involve many people, and cities can lack the technical competences. To cope with these challenges, “get support to conduct assessments, narrow down the scope of research, and allow yourselves some flexibility, as there is no ‘one size fits all’”. 

     

    5. Check out the next URBACT / EUI networking & funding opportunities 

     

    As Gilles Perole recalled: “the transformation that took place in Mouans-Sartoux can happen in other European cities, whatever their size.” The experience of the URBACT network Biocanteens #2 clearly demonstrated this, by enabling the transfer of Mouans-Sartoux’s good practice to cities like Liège, Wroclaw and more. Cities that vary in size and features of course, but with some key characteristics in common that made the transformation possible: awareness about the stakes related to local food systems; political ambition to change things; and willingness to promote healthier food to the citizens. 

    - Download the presentation made at EU City Lab on Local Food Systems #1

    - Interested in learning more on the sustainability transition of local food systems? Join us in Liège on 29-30 May 2024 for the next EU City Lab on Public Procurement for More Local, Seasonal and Sustainable food. Register now! 

    - Does your city administration have a good practice on this or other topics? Then tell us about it from 15 April to 30 June 2024, during the URBACT Call for Good Practices which seeks good practices that bring positive local impact, that are participatory, integrated and transferable to other cities. More information about this Call will be available on urbact.eu/get-involved 

     

    Eu City Lab on Local Food Systems #2

    Additional resources:

    Portico knowledge resources

    - Lab speakers/cities or any other urban pratictioner with an interest on food in cities can be contacted via the Portico community 

     

     

    This article was authored by:

    Chiara Petroli, Events Officer at URBACT.

    Eva Timsit, Ben Eibl and Nicola Candoni, Students at Science Po Paris.

     

  • Call for Innovation Transfer Networks: first updates are here!

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    URBACT Innovation Transfer Networks 2024
    28/03/2024

    The URBACT IV programme has received 19 proposals for Innovation Transfer Networks from 109 partners across 25 European countries.

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    The URBACT IV call for Innovation Transfer Networks ran from 10 January to 20 March 2024, accepting proposals from partnerships led by cities who had formerly implemented Urban Innovative Actions projects. Cities from across the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia were eligible to express their interest and join the proposals as Project Partners. 

    While the selection process is ongoing, let's take a look at who applied, and in which thematic areas.

     

    Innovation Transfer Networks in a nutshell

     

    The URBACT Innovation Transfer Networks will officially kick off in September 2024. Partners will work together for over two years to understand, adapt and re-use the innovative practices previously funded under Urban Innovative Actions.  They will engage in exchange and learning activities, work with URBACT Local Groups on developing Investment Plans for their cities (‘Continuity Plans’, in the case of Lead Partners) and benefit from URBACT capacity-building and knowledge opportunities. 

     

    Top subjects and interests per country

     

    The leading thematic areas of the project proposals are ‘Jobs and skills in the local economy’ and ‘Urban poverty’, with three applications each, followed by ‘Culture and cultural heritage’, ‘Digital Transition’ and ‘Urban security’, with two proposals per topic. The diversity of subjects does not end there, with further applications varying from climate change adaptation and environment to housing and integration of migrants and refugees.

    In terms of geographical coverage across the 19 submitted applications, Portugal is represented by 15 partners, closely followed by Spain and Italy with 14 partners each. Greece comes in fourth, with 11 applicant cities. It is relevant to mention that for this call, a single partnership could not have more than one Project Partner from the same country. See the detailed breakdown per country.

     

    Call for Innovation Transfer Networks - Submitted applications

     

     

    What’s next?

     

    Now that the call for Innovation Transfer Networks has closed, the selection process has begun. The URBACT Secretariat has already performed the eligibility checks, and soon the External Assessment Panel begins its work to evaluate the applications. 

    Assessed proposals will be shared for the consideration of the URBACT IV Monitoring Committee who will ultimately select at least 10 Innovation Transfer Networks on 28 June 2024. 

    Cities from Ukraine and Moldova will be able to join the approved Innovation Transfer Networks, following a distinctive call for applications open for cities from these countries to be published in June 2024. 

    Keep an eye on the URBACT website for the official call results. In the meantime, stay tuned for other URBACT opportunities and sign up for our newsletter here!

     


     

  • European cities driving change through URBACT Action Planning Networks

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    Illustration of several people in a city with the slogan "Read the latest updates on the Action Planning Networks" in the sky and the hashtag #URBACTacts.
    19/03/2024

    Get to know the areas of action and the latest updates of these 30 URBACT networks. 

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    Networks in numbers

     

    From 1 June 2023 to 31 December 2025, 252 individual partners from 28 European countries have embarked on 30 Action Planning Networks (APN), under the URBACT IV programme. Within their URBACT journey, they aim to build their knowledge and skills to co-design and develop long-term Integrated Action Plans (IAP) to tackle their local challenges. These plans will define the actions to be implemented, covering timings, responsibilities, costings, funding sources, monitoring indicators and risk assessments. 

    Each network is composed of a Lead Partner and another 8-10 project partners. Among the 252 partners, half are newcomers to the programme while the other half already has experience with URBACT III (2014-2020).  

    Networks approved by the URBACT IV Monitoring Committee. Source: URBACT 

    Networks approved by the URBACT IV Monitoring Committee. Source: URBACT 

    All the approved URBACT Action Planning Networks (2023-2025) are aligned with the EU Cohesion Policy and will contribute to its five specific Policy Objectives (POs): PO1 A more competitive and smarter Europe; PO2 A greener Europe; PO3 A more connected Europe; PO4 A more social and inclusive Europe; and PO5 A Europe closer to citizens. 

    Beyond their geographic diversity, the 30 networks also stand out for their wide variety of topics. The URBACT method, which all networks follow, ensures that an integrated approach is applied; stated simply, regardless of the topic, the social, economic, environmental and territorial aspects are considered.  

    To help you navigate the list, we have clustered them here by their main thematic areas: Participative governance; Urban planning; Local development; Climate action; and Social cohesion. 

     

     

    Participative governance 

     

    Networks under the participative governance thematic focus on a wide variety of topics, including citizen engagement, health, localising the Sustainable Development Goals and much more. 

    Led by Genk (BE), Agents of Co-Existence fosters innovative approaches to societal challenges and strives for inclusive local policies with active community involvement by strengthening the skills and competences of civil servants and creating new organisational structures and cultures

    Developing locally-adapted governance processes is the main objective of Cities for Sustainability Governance, with Espoo (FI) as the Lead Partner, but specifically by using UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a strategic vehicle. 

    From the heart of Paris (FR), the European cities involved in CITIES@HEART work towards a balanced and inclusive city centre for all users, reversing the loss of attractiveness for cities of different sizes and backgrounds. 

    The One Health 4 Cities network, guided by Lyon (FR), aims to promote the integration of the One Health approach into urban strategies and projects, developing tools that empower decision-makers and operational teams to increase the positive impact of urban projects on the well-being and health of people, animals and the environment

     

    Urban planning 

     

    Urban planning networks address a range of hot topics such as mobility, accessibility, sustainability, public spaces, spatial linkages and territorial cohesion.  

    PUMA (Planning Urban Mobility Actions) helps cities such as Liepaja (LV), its Lead Partner, develop integrated mobility action plans in order to achieve climate-neutral and sustainable mobility in small and medium-sized cities. It is people-centric, prioritising the needs and well-being of individuals

    The S.M.ALL network is all about “Sharing urban solutions towards accessible, sustainable mobility for all.” Led by Ferrara (IT), they navigate the complexity of two URBACT mobility paradigms: inclusivity and sustainability. 

    Romagna Faentina (IT) is at the forefront of ECONNECTING - Greener & closer communities, a network that focuses on sustainable urban-rural mobility solutions within the 30-minute territory, designing and implementing proximity strategies for rural-urban functional areas. 

    SCHOOLHOODS puts children’s health and safety on the menu of a safe, green and happy way to school. Led by Rethymno (EL), the cities belonging to this URBACT network work hand-in-hand with pupils, parents and teachers to co-create solutions allowing pupils to actively go to school on their own.  

    From Balbriggan (IE) to the borders of Europe, the main goal of the EcoCore network is to accelerate the green transition especially in the work environments of the industrial areas of the partner cities, which are transitioning to low-carbon energy sources for transportation, heating and electricity. 

    In a mission to connect urban-rural communities, Creacció Agència d'Emprenedoria of Vic (ES) is currently leading the Beyond the Urban network, which promotes urban-rural mobility through the testing and implementation of sustainable, accessible and integrated mobility solutions, with a focus on intermodality, multi-level governance, inclusion, gender equality, and digital tools. 

     

    Local development 

     

    Local economy, territorial marketing and digital transformation are a few of the topics covered by the local development networks. 

    C4TALENT, whose Lead Partner is Nyíregyháza City with County Rights (HU), pursues the objective of building business & startup friendly environments in cities to lessen the effects of brain drain, attracting and retaining talented young professionals. 

    After the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the transformation around how work is organised, Dubrovnik Development Agency (HR) initiated Remote-IT, a network that tackles the new challenges cities are experiencing connected to the future of work by facilitating the remote and hybrid work for thriving cities. 

    Another Croatian city is leading a local development action planning network. Sibenik (HR) is at the head of Residents of the future, which addresses the issue of urban depopulation within small and medium-sized cities.  

    With Fundão (PT) as a Lead Partner, METACITY’s main goal is to increase competitiveness of small and medium tech-aware cities, benefiting from the opportunity to enhance service efficiency and citizen satisfaction provided by the metaverse.  

    NextGen YouthWork, headed by Eindhoven (NL), is also contributing to the digital transformation, by going one step further and improving online youth work through innovative digital solutions at the city level.  

    Boosting no-tech and digital local communities, facing specific challenges in terms of diversity, gender equality and inclusion, is the objective of TechDiversity, a network composed of small and medium-sized European cities and guided by Trikala (EL). 

    Led by Mollet del Vallès (ES), DIGI-INCLUSION also promotes inclusion through digital tools, tackling social exclusion and boosting digital inclusion not only by granting access to technology but by enabling people to develop the necessary skills and to become sufficiently empowered to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital world. 

    Life in cities continues even after dark. This is the main statement of the network Cities After Dark. Led by Braga (PT), this network promotes the 'Night Economy', through activities that are essential for a city to function 24 hours a day and play a significant role in the global economy.  

     

    Climate action 

     

    Climate action networks tackle several concerns; green transition, circular economy, green funding and reconversion of spaces, among other subjects. 

    The COPE (Coherent Place-based Climate Action) network, driven by Copenhagen (DK), unlocks the green potentials of citizen action through a place-based approach, recognising citizens and local action groups as fundamental stakeholders working to accelerate the green transition. 

    Led by Munich (DE), LET'S GO CIRCULAR! cities focus on the circular transition of cities. This network addresses all issues relevant to a holistic strategy of circular city ecosystems, fostering innovative solutions. 

    The BiodiverCity partners, with the support of Dunaújváros (HU) as Lead Partner, support and enable communities to plan powerful, nature-based solutions, foster pro-environmental citizen behaviours and draft Urban Greening Plans, contributing to the achievement of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. 

    In4Green is a collaborative network of industrial cities, headed by Avilés (ES), with a shared commitment: to implement the green transition in industrial areas/cities while remaining competitive and inclusive. 

    Restoring “forgotten” urban areas into valuable places for and with residents is the mission of GreenPlace. This Wroclaw-led (PL) network aims to restore urban spaces and make them friendly to both the residents and the environment, by optimising the use of existing resources in the context of ecological crisis, the financial and geopolitical situation. 

     

    Social cohesion 

     

    A variety of topics are addressed by the social cohesion thematic networks, from urban regeneration and place-making to gender, equality, diversity and inclusion. 

    Under the leadership of Clermont Auvergne Métropole (FR), the objective of FEMACT-Cities is to support the drafting of eight “Local Action Plans on Gender Equality” about the main challenges regarding women's liberty and empowerment, through protection, education, emancipation and economic autonomy

    GenProcure also addresses gender equality, focusing on Gender-Responsive Public Procurement, and it is headed by Vila Nova de Famalicão (PT). This network promotes gender equality through working purchases, supplies and services in the public sector.  

    Re-Gen is a European network of cities led by Verona (IT) that aims to support sustainable urban development and social inclusion thanks to the protagonism of secondary school students, aged between 10 and 18, from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

    The Cinisello Balsamo-led (IT) U.R. Impact prioritises social impact in urban regeneration, ensuring social inclusion and community development during urban renewal. They place citizens and their social, economic and environmental well-being at the centre of the processes. 

    The main goal of Breaking Isolation, a network driven by Agen (FR) that fights against isolation by creating social bonds and links between young and elderly and promoting social diversity. 

    In order to build more inclusive and resilient societies, WELDI empowers local authorities for a dignified integration of newly arrived migrants. In achieving this objective, cities of this network, led by Utrecht (NL), collaborate with migrants and other residents, as well as with local, national and international partners. 

    ARCHETHICS network brings together European cities that share the presence of heritage linked to a complex and controversial historical past (totalitarian regimes, contentious borders, etc), such as its Lead Partner Cesena (IT). Their goal is to transform the heritage into places for locals and visitors to share knowledge and come to multi-perspective understandings of the past and new visions for the future

     

    Follow the network journey

     

    This is just a snapshot of the URBACT Action Planning Networks, but stay tuned for more insights from the Lead Experts and partner cities, themselves! You can also follow the journey of these networks on their project pages and social media, benefit from the lessons learned and try them in your own city. 

     

     

     

     

     

  • Why are we still talking about gender equality?

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    Why are we still talking about gender equality? The FEMACT-Cities Action Planning Network: Addressing the implementation gap in gender equality policy
    12/03/2024

    According to the EIGE’s Gender Equality Index, progress has been very mixed across the EU-27, and true gender equality still remains out of reach. Source: EIGE(2023).

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    It’s been over 25 years since the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the legal document that made gender equality compulsory in the European Union. The work on the topic however has a longer history, as even before that, a handful of Member States were already enacting their own gender equality policies. 

    A wide range of laws and measures that have been put in place to combat inequality in the last quarter century, and yet it continues to be a main policy topic. So, why are we still talking about gender equality? Haven’t we moved beyond this topic?

    Unfortunately, the reality is that not only haven’t we closed the gap between men and women in terms of wages, pensions, school achievement, participation in STEM fields, number of political representatives, and many other topics; in fact, recent data from the European Institute on Gender Equality (EIGE) shows that, on the whole, the EU-27 are still far from achieving gender equality. These statistics, which come from the Gender Equality Index 2022, attributed the stalling or fluctuations in progress predominantly to the gendered effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

     

    Figure 3. Gender Equality Index

    While all 27 Member States have enacted federal laws to translate the principle of gender equality into the national legal framework, implementation at local level remains uneven and tends to favour certain topics, despite the fact that women continue to experience urban spaces, public services, the labour market, education and training and even healthcare in Europe differently than men. Despite nearly a quarter-century of policy, the role of gender equality as a cross-cutting topic that is vital to all policy areas remains poorly understood. 

    This does not mean that there haven’t been some positive trends. Disparities between Member States have decreased between 2010-2022. Furthermore, there has been an increase of women in decision-making roles across 19 Member States since 2020. According to the Gender Equality Index 2023, this is a key driver of gender equality, more generally. 

    A handful of cities and regions, for example Vienna (AT), Barcelona (ES), Umeå (SE) and the Basque Country (ES), have made a concerted point of focusing on the role of gender in urban and regional development and have worked to push policy innovation and new approaches, including in sectors which were previously not considered relevant. Some of these cities are documented in URBACT’s Gender Equal Cities - Inspirations and Knowledge series, which is filled with testimonials and interviews from URBACT experts, partners and workshop coordinators.

    However, the reality for many more municipalities, intermunicipal areas and regional authorities in Europe is that their work on gender equality implementation is hampered by knowledge and data gaps, lack of dedicated personnel, lack of awareness, lack of political support and both active and passive resistance. 
    For gender equality to become a reality in European cities and regions, it is critical not only to work across sectors and with a variety of stakeholders but also to work on awareness, acceptance and training at the municipal or organisational level, identifying and actively combatting stereotypes and raising awareness and allyship among men, who are all too frequently missing from the conversation. Networking and peer learning between municipalities can help transfer knowledge and effective practices as well as increase the effectiveness of those working on this topic and the policies they develop.

     

    FEMACT-Cities & gender equality policy: taking on the implementation gap

     

    Against this backdrop, the URBACT FEMACT-Cities Action Planning Network seeks to improve the implementation of gender equality on a local level and to increase innovation and knowledge sharing in gender equality in topics shared by the partners. Following on the success of other cities, the network’s work plan will focus on both internal and structural gender mainstreaming in the partner organisations and three thematic clusters shared by the partners: urban development, labour market and training, and health and safety. The goal of the network is to create cities and regions in which all residents, irrespective of gender, can experience freedom of movement, freedom from violence, freedom from fear, freedom to pursue their dreams, and freedom to reach their full potential.

    FEMACT-Cities is composed of eight partners (Länsstyrelsen Skåne (SE), Comunidade Intermunicipal da Região de Coimbra (PT), Clermont-Auvergne Métropole (FR), Kraków (PL), Turin (IT), Municipality of Postojna (SI), Cluj Metropolitan Area Intercommunity Development Association (RO), and Szabolcs 05 Regional Development Association of Municipalities (HU)) who have embarked on a two-year journey of learning, sharing and testing in order to create integrated action plans for their local policy challenges. This network will tackle a host of topics, including gender-based violence, women’s health issues and gendered approaches to mobility planning. It will build on and complement the work of the URBACT Action Planning Network GenderedLandscape (2019-2022).

     

    Doing the work: more from URBACT

     

    To learn more about URBACT’s work on gender equality and how it affects your sector, check out the Gender Equal Cities report (2022), which is packed with case studies, helpful tools and methods. 

    Watch this video for an introduction to gender-responsive public procurement.

    You can also get a refresher on 10 times URBACT has driven change for gender equal cities in recent years.

     


    Photo by Christian Lue.

    Submitted by Mary Dellenbaugh on 28/11/2023.
     

     

     

     

     

  • Anna Prat

    I have more than 25 years of professional experience in Italy and the UK on urban regeneration and development projects, in major consulting firms, as freelance and public manager. My approach is focused on strategic integrated urban planning, with a view to sustainable local economic development, social inclusion and innovation, cultural development. I am a skilled programme manager, communicator and facilitator. I enjoy supporting challenging projects that require effective exchange, learning e innovative cooperation between different stakeholders, locally and internationally.

    I was the Director of Associazione Torino Internazionale. I developed two major strategic plans: one for the metropolitan area of Turin and one for the peri-urban area of Eporediese, in Piedmont. I designed, facilitated and implemented the whole process of involving hundreds of local stakeholders and experts through many commissions and working groups.

    I was Director of Development of the Urban Regeneration Plan at the City of Milan. I sistematically involved several City Departments, neighbourhood authorities, public institutions, community organisations, foundations and private companies. I designed the Urbact CITIES4CSR project and set up the professional start up Valore Urbano Condiviso, aimed at growing the active role of companies and anchor institutions in community projects.

    I am very active in Torino Città per le Donne, NGO dedicated to promoting gender equality at the local level. I have led the production of a research paper on international strategies in this field. I currently coordinate the networking collaboration of approximately 70 community-based organisations.

    Recently, I was senior researcher for an Italian government major study on Spazi di Comunità, the new hybrid community hubs up in unused buildings, that are spreading across Europe.

    I am currently also part time Head of Business Development at Kalatà, a company dedicated to the promotion of cultural heritage through innovative visits.

    I am an architect and urban planner by training, with a degree from the Politecnico of Turin. I have integrated my design and placemaking skills with economic, financial, and public policy expertise through an MSc at the London School of Economics and various professional assignments on social and technological innovation, real estate development, tourism, and retail.

    I look forward to supporting Urbact change-makers across the EU, by applying the innovative Urbact method. Please feel free to get in touch!

    Available for Lead Expert role and Ad-hoc expertise missions
    annaprat9869@gmail.com

    Expert can perform the Lead expert role and Ad hoc expertise missions at network and programme level in relation to:

     

    1. The design and delivery of (transnational) exchange and learning activities

     

    2. Thematic expertise:
    [Strategic urban planning, Equality-Diversity-Inclusion]

     

    3. Methods and tools for integrated and participatory approaches:
    > Integrated and participatory design of strategies
    > Sustaining stakeholder engagement and translating strategies into actions

     

  • Concluso Infoday #2 Call ITN

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    29/02/2024
    29/02/2024
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    Si è tenuto oggi a Milano il secondo Infoday Urbact dedicato alla nuova call ITN per le Reti di Trasferimento dell'Innovazione. Fino al 20 marzo sarà possibile candidarsi come partner delle costituende reti continentali. La call è aperta alla partecipazione di tutti i Comuni dei 27 Stati Membri, di qualsiasi dimensione demografica, anche alla prima esperienza di europrogettazione, e l'Anci in quanto National Urbact Point, rinnova il proprio impegno di ente facilitatore nei confronti dei new comers.

     

    Hanno portato il loro saluto Mattia Abdu Ismahil, Presidente del I Municipio di Milano che ospitava l'evento nella suggestiva sede affacciata su piazza del Duomo, Matteo Bianchi, membro del Comitato delle Regioni e  coordinatore dell'Ufficio Europa dell Anci Lombardia, Marco Mazziotti, direttore Unità Fondi UE Diretti del Comune di Milano.

     

    Hanno illustrato i vari aspetti della call Viviana Russo, in rappresentanza del Dipartimento delle Politiche della Coesione e del Sud Servizio XVIII, “Coordinamento e Monitoraggio Programmi CTE”, Moira Rotondo, Capo Dipartimento Politiche europee, Coordinamento CDR, rapporti con Associazioni UE e extra UE, cooperazione territoriale ANCI  e Nicole Verzaro, Esperta comunicazione NUP ANCI. 

     

    Importanti contributi sono venuti da Alberto Rudellat del Comune di Torino e da Giulia Tosoni e Chiara Minotti del Comune di Milano, che hanno confermato il loro impegno a presentare una nuova proposta progettuale in risposta al bando ITN tesa a trasferire la loro consolidata esperienza nei temi, rispettivamente, del welfare e inclusione sociale, soprattutto verso i minori e della sicurezza urbana. Infine l'esempio di un Comune medio/piccolo come Cinisello Balsamo, che grazie all'impegno del suo Ufficio Europa, spesso non contemplato all' interno delle piante organiche comunali, e del suo responsabile Massimo Capano, è stato selezionato quale partner all' interno delle reti APN dello scorso anno e conferma il proprio interesse anche per questa seconda call. 

    Ancora una volta i Comuni italiani, supportati da Anci, si stanno confermando grandi fan del programma Urbact, che dal 2002 ha finanziato oltre 1000 città e circa 150 partenariati.
     

     

    NUP ANCI: Moira Rotondo & Nicole Verzaro

     

  • Feeding change: Cities empowering healthier and more sustainable food choices

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    Common solidarity kitchen (photo credit UIA project Tast'in Fives).
    29/02/2024

    Over the last five years, the French town of Mouans-Sartoux has reduced the carbon impact of its inhabitants by more than 20%.

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    Common solidarity kitchen shared within the “Gourmet Hall”, UIA project Tast'in Fives Cail (Photo credit: UIA project Tast'in Fives).
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    Over the last five years, the French town of Mouans-Sartoux has reduced the carbon impact of its inhabitants by more than 20%! How? Simply by changing the way they eat! On 21-22 March, Mouans-Sartoux will welcome hungry participants to the URBACT and European Urban Initiative EU City Lab on Changing Habits for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System. 

    This article will review the main points of the local food ecosystem and their role in the transformation of eating behaviours. It will draw on the case of several cities to illustrate the multiple entry points into this ecosystem.

     

    The jewel of the cote d'azur

     

    Mouans-Sartoux has considerably reduced the consumption of processed industrial foods, meat and doubled the consumption of organic and local products compared to the French average!

    During an interview conducted as part of the Transfer Study of the URBACT BioCanteens in 2018: “In Mouans-Sartoux, we don’t ask ourselves if there is something happening today regarding food, but what is happening? …because the city organises something every day!”. The enthusiasm of Delphine Boissin, from the Parents' Committee of one of the city's three primary schools, is indicative of what we could call a “local ecosystem of healthy and sustainable food”. Mouans-Sartoux, leader of the URBACT BioCanteens Transfer Network (BioCanteens #1 and #2) is best known for these three canteens which serve 1,000 self-produced local and organic meals every day, thanks mainly to its municipal farm. But these jewels make the international reputation of this small town of around 10,000 inhabitants, located on the French Côte d’Azur between Cannes, Grasse and Antibes. What Delphine emphasises is that her little boy lives in an environment where quality food is a permanent and widespread concern, and this is what will lead him to adopt healthier and sustainable eating habits throughout his life!

    Local and organic canteen is the school of healthy and sustainable food in Mouans-Sartoux (photo credit Mouans-Sartoux)

    Local and organic canteen is the school of healthy and sustainable food in Mouans-Sartoux (photo credit Mouans-Sartoux)

     

    A local healthy and sustainable food ecosystem

     

    Changing our eating habits is a profound questioning of who we are. Tackling it represents a major challenge for the sustainable transition that European cities face today. Whether because of daily routines, persistence of habits, addiction to comfort, etc., the transition of consumption practices faces significant resistance from citizens. As sociologist Claude Fischler points out in his  book, L'Homnivore, this resistance is particularly strong for our diet. This is the phenomenon of “incorporation”: beyond marking a lifestyle, conferring a cultural and religious identity, food constitutes the body of the eater. 

    Behavioural scientists, who study the factors of resistance to change, emphasise that to transform consumption practices, a systemic approach is needed. Different models resulting from this research can be used by public authorities to define a range of balanced actions. We can use the following simple framework: to adopt a healthier and more sustainable diet, citizens must be aware of its importance both for their health and for reducing the impact on the environment (the motivational dimension). They must be able to access a healthy and balanced diet nearby (the capacity dimension) and finally they must encounter occasions in their life, their neighbourhood to change their practices (the opportunity dimension).

     

    (Re)engage the population with food

     

    Daily meal preparation time for a family of four was, in the 1960s, averaging at 4 hours. Today it has fallen to just over 15 minutes. This apparent gain in efficiency and practicality actually masks a progressive loss of domestic culinary capabilities: frozen foods, ready meals, take-away, etc., as already highlighted within the URBACT network Sustainable Food in Urban Communities in 2012-2014 by cities like Bristol, Brussels and Lyon, a growing part of the population is profoundly disengaged with food.

    Common solidarity kitchen shared within the “Gourmet Hall”, UIA project Tast'in Fives Cail (photo credit UIA project Tast'in Fives)

    Common solidarity kitchen shared within the “Gourmet Hall”, UIA project Tast'in Fives Cail (photo credit UIA project Tast'in Fives) 

    Faced with this disengagement, cities are seeking to set up educational programmes in schools, social centres and public places to educate residents about the benefits of a healthy and sustainable diet.

    In Lille, the Urban Innovative Action project Tast'in Fives Cail included the establishment of an ecosystem of food activities organised around a “Gourmet Hall”, a shared common “solidarity kitchen”, an incubator around cooking professions, among other things.

    Simple education and awareness-raising actions on nutrition, prevention of junk food or the impact of conventional agricultural sectors on health or the environment are necessary to motivate but not sufficient to sustainably transform eating habits. The challenge for cities is to build citizens' capacities by organising cooking workshops, visits to urban farms and culinary events highlighting local products, etc. 

    Each city is looking for local assets to promote to better engage its population with food. Lyon (FR) for example leveraged in its Territorial food plan its rich gastronomic heritage, involving its renowned chefs and culinary institutions to educate children from a young age about quality food, organising cooking events at street food markets with chefs demonstrating what can be done with ingredients from the surrounding stalls, revisiting traditional recipes to reinvent a more plant-based, light and sustainable gastronomy.

    Conversely, in a context less centred on a strong food culture in Helsinki (FI), the Ministry of the Environment carries out actions on the revitalisation of traditional food culture and the promotion of local products “because people must first be interested in food before they can change their consumption habits for a healthier and more sustainable diet.”   

    Facilitating access to healthy and sustainable food

     

    Here most of the families who come to see us have never bought a fresh vegetable in their life. They don’t know how to cook it and in any case if they do not have means of transport, they will not find fresh vegetables in the neighbourhood…” for the Hartcliffe Health & Environment Action Group (Hheag) which runs cooking classes in the social centre in the Hartcliffe district of Bristol, changing eating habits also involves ensuring access to quality food in all neighbourhoods of a city. To do this, cities can encourage the establishment of local farmers' markets, organic food stores and food cooperatives in different neighbourhoods. These initiatives provide residents with easier access to fresh, seasonal and locally produced foods, thereby promoting healthier diets and reducing dependence on processed and imported foods. Support for social and solidarity grocery stores, direct sales networks, participatory stores or more ambitious projects, such as experimenting with local social food security systems, make beneficial changes to diet more accessible, regardless of socioeconomic status.

    In line with Carolyn Steel's theses in her work Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Live cities like Montpellier, Lyon or Lille are integrating the food dimension into their urban planning by promoting accessibility to food markets, the installation of local food shops, the creation of restaurants offering local and sustainable cuisine, the development of green spaces conducive to food production and the preservation of agricultural land on the outskirts of the city. Milan (IT) has implemented "Food Districts" in different neighbourhoods of the city, areas dedicated to the promotion of local gastronomy, urban agriculture and quality food products. All of these approaches aim to make food more accessible and more visible in urban spaces.

    Changing eating habits also requires cities to take into account the diversity of urban populations. For each cultural community, the preservation of culinary traditions, respect for food prohibitions, the organisation of supply chains for traditional products and specific distribution stores, etc. are strong identity vectors to take into account and activate so that the evolution towards a healthier and more sustainable diet is a reality for everyone. Within its Good Food food strategy, the Brussels-Capital Region places emphasis on promoting culinary diversity by supporting a multitude of initiatives such as the Green Canteen project of “social catering” associated with “cooking workshops” and “solidarity meals” or training for professionals in the health and social sector by focusing on food adapted to the social and cultural diversity of their audiences. 

    Green Canteen Project (Photo credit Green Cantine van Brussels)

    Green Canteen Project provides a catering service at free prices, for citizens and institutions working for social projects, “workshops” places to meet, share and learn healthy, environmentally-friendly cuisine and enriched with various cultural references and “solidarity meals” table d’hôtes organised in support of projects and events for a fairer society (Photo credit Green Cantine van Brussels)

     

    Participative food governance

     

    Cities are involving their citizens in the elaboration of their local food governance in order to motivate their involvement and concerns on key challenges such as food precariousness, impacts of junk food on health conditions or maintenance of the city food sovereignty. These participative food governance result in adopting policies and regulations that promote the production, distribution and consumption of healthy and sustainable foods. Such policy measures can involve, among others, strict standards for public canteens and mass catering, restrictions on advertising of unhealthy foods and tax incentives for businesses engaged in delivering sustainable food products. 

    In Liège (BE), more than 400 stakeholders in healthy and sustainable food such as urban farms, community gardens, peri-urban farms, food cooperatives, etc. created the Liège Food-Land Belt. The city draws on the strength of civil society to promote small-scale food production in urban and peri-urban areas, thereby reducing dependence on food imports and supporting local producers. In 2022, Liège founded the Conseil Politique de l’Alimentation (Food Policy Council) . The initial impetus was to build their food governance, cities equip themselves with participatory bodies made up of experts, civil society actors and citizen representatives, which have the effect of strengthening the involvement of populations in the management of their food.

    Launch of the Food Policy Council on December 8, 2022. Initiated by the Liège Food-Terre Belt, the 24 municipalities of the district brought together within Liège-Métropole, and the University of Liège, the CPA aims to coordinate various initiatives which aim towards the development of the sustainable food sector in the territory (photo credit Liège-Métropole Food Policy Council)

    Launch of the Food Policy Council on 8 December, 2022. Initiated by the Liège Food-Terre Belt, the 24 municipalities of the district brought together within Liège-Métropole, and the University of Liège, the CPA aims to coordinate various initiatives which aim at the development of the sustainable food sector in the territory. (Photo credit Liège-Métropole Food Policy Council)

    School canteens and municipal administration restaurants have a very important role to play in activating good eating practices. Jumping from Liège back to Mouans-Sartoux, the canteens of the three primary schools are for pupils a real school of healthy and sustainable food: involvement of children with cooks to achieve “0-waste”, demonstration that the savings made in reducing food waste makes it possible to finance quality organic food, tangible experience for the children of the city's food sovereignty project when they pick the fruits and vegetables at the municipal farm that they will eat in the canteen, etc. The children's experience extends to all families who, for example, go so far as to reproduce good recipes from the canteen to cook dishes at home that are healthy, sustainable and appreciated by children.

     

    Systemic approach: To what effect?

     

    But does all this work and what are the effects produced in terms of transforming eating habits? Cities are starting to share the results of evaluating their food transition strategies. For example, the Brussels Capital Region carries out surveys on the evolution of the behaviour of Brussels residents in terms of sustainable food. At the start, mid-term and at the time of renewal of its Good Food #1 strategy reporting progress on multiple dimensions of the local food ecosystem affecting the change in eating habits such as the success of citizen self-production, the labeling of canteens and restaurants, the promotion of short circuits and the dissemination of a quality offer in food businesses. One-third of the 1,000 Brussels residents surveyed in 2016, 2018 and 2020 say they have changed their eating habits over this period of time to consume a lot of sustainable food, but this development is struggling to reach more vulnerable groups, the price of healthy and sustainable food remains the major obstacle for nearly three-quarters of the population.

    In Mouans-Sartoux, the study cited at the beginning of the article which covers the period 2017-2022 shows the systemic advantages linked to the development of more sustainable practices within territorialised systems: food represents on average 2t of carbon per person per year in France, it is only around 1.17t in Mouans-Sartoux. The average diet of residents has an impact of 43% compared to the national average and the number of residents eating less meat has increased by 85%.

    Children from Mouans-Sartoux primary schools who participate in the town's municipal farm in harvesting vegetables that they will soon eat in the school canteen (photo credit town of Mouans-Sartoux)

    Children from Mouans-Sartoux primary schools who participate in the town's municipal farm in harvesting vegetables that they will soon eat in the school canteen (photo credit town of Mouans-Sartoux)

    Cities are leveraging their food assets and capital to activate all these dimensions of their food ecosystem at once. This article shows the variety of possible entry points: organic and local canteens like in Mouans-Sartoux, the gastronomic tradition as in Lyon, the revitalisation of neighborhood food culture as in Lille, citizen participation and awareness of food issues as in Liège, the promotion of culinary diversity as in Brussels, a coordinated commitment of stakeholders and civil society as in Bristol. Other systemic entry points are also possible: food markets as a hub for quality food in neighborhoods like in Lisbon and in Cagliari, the development of urban and peri-urban agriculture as in Montpellier, differentiating approaches for sustainable and inclusive food as in Milan, the promotion of urban beekeeping as inLjubljana, the development of community vegetable gardens such as in Rome, and so on. 

     

    EU City Labs: What’s next on the menu?

     

    The examples covered in this article represent entry points that are important to trigger the transition of populations' dietary practices and are intended to remain dominant provided that all these dimensions emerge at once, i.e., a complete ecosystem balancing motivations, capacities and opportunities to change one's food habits.

    Later this month, from 21-22 March, Mouans-Sartoux will host the EU City Lab on Changing Habits for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System. The EU City Labs are knowledge-sharing events co-hosted by URBACT and the European Urban Initiative. The Mouans-Sartoux edition is the first of three events taking place in different cities, focused on procurement, agri-food and land use, and other elements for cultivating thriving local food systems in urban areas.

    Interested in meeting with other cities, representatives and organisations working on this issue? Consult the full programme and register here

    Want to read more from URBACT experts on food and related topics? Visit the URBACT Knowledge Hub.
     

     

     

  • Secondo Infoday per la call: Reti di Trasferimento dell'Innovazione (ITN)

    Dal 10 gennaio 2024 è possibile partecipare alla nuova call Urbact dedicata alle ITN.

     

    Chi può partecipare ad una rete? Come sono strutturate le partnership? Quanto dura un progetto e quale budget è disponibile? 

    Scopritelo durante la seconda giornata informativa del 29 febbraio 2024 che avrà luogo a Milano dalle 10:30 alle 13:30.

     

     

    Registratevi qui.


    Italy

    SAVE-THE-DATE: Seconda giornata informativa sul bando di trasferimento dell’innovazione (ITN)

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  • Sipping coffee in Sligo: How a commitment to community and attention to detail turned things around for downtown—one cup at a time

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    Members of the Cities@Heart network
    06/12/2023
    07/12/2023


    The year is 2013 and few residents of Sligo, Ireland have heard of a BID, or Business Improvement District. Stakeholders in the local commerce sector operated independently and seldomly in cooperation with the County Council. Fast forward to December 6, 2023 when a group of 26 individuals from ten different countries all over Europe touched down in Sligo to glean best practices for city centre management. Sligo’s remarkable success story provided a fitting backdrop for the first transnational meeting of the Cities@Heart URBACT Action Planning Network.

    Ongoing

    Members of the Cities@Heart network and meeting attendees

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    Formed in 2023 and piloted by the Greater Paris Metropolis as Lead Partner, the network Cities@Heart brings together 10 different local governments working to create tools for the improvement of city centres. The first network-wide gathering since the URBACT IV launch in 2023, this transnational meeting was a new step in the network journey, an opportunity to exchange and to observe the policies of host partner Sligo County Council and Sligo Business Improvement District. Following 10 different Baseline Study Visits conducted by Lead Expert Mar Santamaria Varas, this meeting also represents the network’s shift from the preparatory to activation phase.

    Network Map

    Meeting in the Land of Heart's Desire

    The first transnational meeting provided project partners the opportunity to obtain feedback on their baseline study visit in the form of the presentation of an overarching methodology to ground the study and set the course for the following two years of inter-european collaboration.

    To kick off the first morning of workshops, participants shared their experiences in the realm of public-private partnership. In Krakow (PL), the city approached the Wesoła District’s revitalization with workshops on prototyping solutions for shared spaces to build a sense of community and responsibility for its development among citizens. In Celje (SI), a vacant storefront was left to the use of local stakeholders, providing a successful brick-and-mortar testing ground for new ideas or projects. Back in Sligo, the public-private partnership has proved to be fruitful: the business perspective encourages an objective data-driven approach and the public sector can intervene to implement holistic policy improvements.

    Project partners participating in a morning workshop

    If we can make it in the city centre, we can make it anywhere

    A city centre is a microcosm of social functions and represents the most intricate iteration of urban complexity. While each project partner experiences their city centre in a different way, the network Baseline Study represents the structure of all city centers using a matrix contrasting 7 challenges with 5 indicators.

    From metropolises like Greater Paris (FR) or Krakow (PL)  to smaller cities like Fleurus (BE), for each partner, the diverse challenges may be more or less acute depending on the local context and the means available. Indeed, an imbalance in one of these topics or challenges can greatly aggravate the local context in the city centre, as evinced by the diagrams below.

    Network tool

    To showcase Sligo’s strengths and best practices, the meeting focused on the management of data and local commerce in the city centre. Sligo is a lovely town nestled in a blustery corner of northwest Ireland, minutes from the Atlantic Coast and known for being a literary “land of heart’s desire” with poet W.B. Yeats as a native son. Yet, none of these attributes bring to mind words like “innovation” or “world renowned”. Public policy in Ireland is centralised in Dublin and towns “west of the Shannon” are considered out of the purview of the national stage. In fact, Sligo had historically been “left behind” by urban development schemes deployed elsewhere in the Republic of Ireland.

    Urban solutions with a human approach

    This brings us back to the coffee anecdote… After living and working abroad in the U.S.A. and Australia, Sligo native Gail McGibbon decided to return home. In order to start what would become Ireland’s fourth BID, Gail McGibbon went to work in a seemingly slow way: meeting for a cup of coffee with likely every single business owner in the town, having no other overt objective than sharing a chat. In her seminal work, The Death and LIfe of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs posits, “there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street." While this declaration has taken on a “big brother” connotation since the book’s publication in 1961, the principle rings just as true today. In every city centre, there is a need to be aware of what is happening in the street and with our neighbors or shopkeepers to make sure all are safe and provided for. Indeed, neighborliness proved to be the perfect ingredient to kick-starting the town’s transformation.

    As Chief Executive Officer Martin Lydon explained, in a post-pandemic society, Sligo is leveraging cultural shifts to become a destination for young professionals, students and families seeking proximity to nature and a high level of services. Looking to attract a pool of potential inhabitants keen on finding property in the more affordable western coast of the country, Sligo has invested in a place branding campaign, infrastructure to increase connectivity and the tourism sector, inaugurating their National Surf Centre and a network of cycle paths.

    Turning the local economy around

    Now in 2023, the Sligo BID is healthy and counts 758 members. The BID and Sligo County have worked together tirelessly to introduce innovative measures for data collection, property management, tourism policy and event nightlife. Sligo has developed a Welcome Ambassador Programme, won the Purple Flag Award for night time economy, the label of Coach Friendly Destination and continues to attract international visitors curious about the town’s policies. In the end, Sligo’s shortcomings would eventually become strengths. The lack of urban sprawl meant that the town and county could promote closeness to nature and life at a human scale. The local counter-culture turned out to be a good thing for the health of the town’s high street district.

    Project partners visit the city centre


    The human-ness at the origins of Sligo’s strategy is well reflected in the national Irish Town Centre First strategy which is based at the LGMA and places pragmatism and open dialogue at the forefront. One of the measuring tools of the programme, the Town Centre Health Check Programme, is a public document that serves as an objective evaluation of the town’s progress in implementing best practices. National Coordinator Mairead Hunt presented the country’s policy at the transnational meeting in Sligo and highlighted three core principles: understanding the place, defining the place and enabling the place. The national meeting of Town Regeneration Officers shies away from speeches by elected officials and focuses on peer-to-peer learning.

    Soft approach, hard data

    And yet, Sligo’s strategy didn’t stop at a friendly chat. The county and BID got to work monitoring, measuring and adapting their strategies. Brían Flynn, Town Regeneration Officer, presented the town’s creative use of data in developing their policies. In 2023 the Irish business platform GeoDirectory released data on commercial vacancy in the country. At 25.4%, the rate in Sligo was listed as the highest in the country. In order to curb the negative press and further investigate the truth behind this report which seemed incomplete to local officials, the town decided to collect its own data in the form of a comprehensive land-use policy survey. The study is still being carried out but the town has already gained valuable knowledge on the vacancy profile of downtown property and 16 landowners have discovered the national Croí Conaithe scheme for refurbishment of vacant buildings.

    Brían Flynn presents Sligo’s data policies

    In turn, after witnessing Sligo policies first-hand through a series of site-specific visits and presentations, the network conducted a workshop on the subject of information gathering to address issues all along the chain of data management: identifying data sources, collecting data and data governance. While obtaining data can be simpler than expected, data-driven policy requires vision and advanced planning in order to identify independent sources of information and a successful, manageable tool for translating data into actionable proposals for city improvement.

    Network partners enjoy a performance of traditional Irish music at the Tourism Bureau

    An inaugural meeting for the network and for new URBACT participant Sligo, the event was opened by Cllr. Gerard Mullaney, Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council and attended by Irish National URBACT Point Karl Murphy and Kristijan Radojčić of the URBACT Secretariat. The meeting was drawn to a close with a hike to glimpse the breathtaking vistas at the summit of the Knocknarea rock formation, providing a bird’s eye view of the Atlantic coast and the Sligo town centre.

    Network partners hike the Knocknarea rock formation

    With one meeting completed and the new year well on its way, the URBACT Cities@Heart network has three transnational meetings planned in Granada (ES), with the Quadrilatero Urbano Association (PT) and in Cesena (IT). Ensuing transnational meetings and those of Urban Local Groups (ULGs) will allow the network to share learnings and experiment small-scale actions over the next year.

    Network members :

    • The Greater Paris Metropolis, France
    • The City of Cesena, Italy
    • The City of Granada, Spain
    • The City of Osijek, Croatia
    • Amfiktyonies, a business development organization representing the City of Lamia, Greece
    • The City of Celje, Slovenia
    • The City of Fleurus, Belgium
    • The City of Sligo, Ireland
    • The Krakow Metropolis Association, Poland
    • The Quadrilátero Urbano Association, Portugal