Yearly Archives: 2019

Digital Transition in cities – how can it benefit citizens?

Digitalisation is omnipresent in today’s social and urban life and URBACT cities are seizing the opportunity.

Alison Partridge, Lead Expert of the TechRevolution transfer network, has been an advocate for cities to ‘adapt or die’ for many years: “cities of all sizes need to better understand the opportunities offered by digital and tech and jump on them to grow higher value jobs and start-ups for local people”. Indeed, at all levels of society and of governance, services and products are going digital: online availability, digital tools for access, compiling and using data to proceed to meta-analysis.

The transition to a society based on “virtual”, intangible, vectors, using computing techniques and algorithms – a digital transition – is on the up in European cities, meaning more intrusions in our daily lives.

The use of new technologies to communicate and access information is changing the way society works”, states the Action Plan of the Digital Transition Urban Agenda Partnership because “citizens live an increasingly digital life both in the public and private sphere”.

Beyond the digital divide issue, private data protection and free choice, this trend follows new consumption and production patterns, as well as interaction between people.

Taking advantage of digital transition’s potential is an asset for cities, not only for business development and job creation, but also for city governance and getting closer to citizens, thus developing more integrated governance approaches at city level. That is the way URBACT cities have approached their Digital Transition over the last 15 years – as a means of driving change in cities.

This article presents a few cases from URBACT cities and Urban Agenda Partnerships, which can inspire other cities.

Digital transition as a goal: Transforming cities’ local economic development

Cities are taking advantage of digital transition as a goal in itself. Indeed, the digital sector has been and should be developed. Creating “smart cities” is now appearing in more and more cities’ strategy as a way to achieve competitive advantage. Focussing on local economic development, as a new way of addressing emerging societal issues such as environmental and social ones, requires strong leadership, commitment and investments.

For some URBACT networks, digitalisation of cities means the development of incubators, hubs and other platforms to support the development of jobs and skills. Featuring a wealth of examples about the ways in which cities support tech and digital economy, TechPlace showcases URBACT networks such as TechTown, GEN Y CITY and Interactive Cities. It shares content such as articles, videos, podcasts and presentations on the ways cities use social media, digital strategies, digital education, digital health, co-working environments, digital hubs, etc.

Developing digital strategies is the starting point of the DI4C network, one of the 23 new Action Planning Networks. It seeks to support the creation of global vision and improve technical and engineering capacities by incorporating digital innovation, with both hard and soft infrastructures.

Supporting digital growth and transformational economies is also the key focus of the TechRevolution network. Transferring the experience of Barnsley (UK) and its Digital Media Centre, a business support programme which nurtures an ‘ecosystem’ thanks to knowledge-based jobs and businesses across all sectors and industries.

As for the skills needed to move towards more digital cities, URBACT has also contributed to the Digital Skills Map platform, as an outcome of the Urban Agenda Partnership on Jobs and Skills, presenting local know-how on digitalisation in vocational education and training.

Digital transition as a methodology: A governance focus

Digitalisation can, on the other hand, be seen as a methodology. The process, supporting societal and urban transition, has a strong impact on governance, and on how our everyday life is organised – as well as on the way we make the city work.

Although the use of technology can lead to personalisation of services, “strengthening the barrier between the people and the services which their taxes fund”, as pointed out by Eddy Adams following URBACT City Lab 3, it is key to use adequate language which does not alienate people. Indeed, administrations and citizens need to get to know each other and adopt a language that is understandable by both sides. When used correctly, digitalisation and new technologies can be harnessed to transform cities into platforms of open innovation and develop digital urbanism. The ESPON working paper on the “Digital innovation in urban environments: Solutions for sustainable and fluently working cities” (draft Working Paper) backs the benefit for vertical and horizontal co-creation of cities.

Digital transition can be supported by specific tools to make governance more inclusive, participatory and more efficient. As identified by ESPON, larger cities and Northern European cities are more advanced than the rest of European cities.

Such a process, according to the Urban agenda Partnership on Digital Transition, can be supported by 4 frameworks: technological, organisational, institutional and by stakeholders (see figure). Indeed, what is of crucial importance to cities is not what technology is used but how it is used.

Creating a one-stop shop for citizens and ensuring the centralisation of citizens’ information is the core of the Card4all URBACT network transferring the experience Citizen Card System of Gijon (ES). The card enables using innovative services and technologies. Cities can thus gather information to improve their services and use it as part of a participative processes. This can be applied to promote social inclusion, local trade, urban mobility and sustainable living, creating a Smart City with Smart Citizens. Such a card can be used for access to citizens’ terminals (for public services), public transport, library, swimming pool, public toilets, car sharing, etc. The IoTxChange network also seeks to benefit from the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to improve the quality of life in small and medium sized EU cities.

At the same time, participation and citizens’ engagement is also increasingly relying on digital tools. The participatory budget of Paris URBACT Good Practice is an online process which combines offline and online promotion. The city of Agen (FR) has started a new network, ActiveCitizen, placing citizens at the heart of local democracy in small and medium-sized cities, developing new interactive platforms such as Agen’s Tell My City.

Many other URBACT cities have developed digital solutions on a wider scale. For example, Helsinki (FI), within the REFILL network, shared its experiment with an online service, Flexi Spaces, allowing people to find and book spaces by the hour in the neighbourhood of Kalasatama.

More insights into European cities’ digital transition this month!

URBACT brings a wealth of knowledge and practical cases into the European Urban Policy debate – helping develop and share new innovative solutions creating smart cities – and through its involvement with the Urban Agenda Partnership. URBACT cities are making the best out of the Digital Transition for their citizens.
Discover more on the topic this month, with an editorial highlight on Digital Transition in cities. All articles will be published on Thursdays!

Reposted from the URBACT website.

Drome Valley: a single territory with complimentary stakeholders implementing food innovations

The territory of Drome Valley/Val de Drôme, from the Alpes to Rhone’s valley, close to Valence and Montélimart, covers 2 200 sq. m. for 54,000 inhabitants and has long been known as a nest for innovative ways of living. Since the 60s, together with an exponential arrival of neorurals in the last decades, it has seen the emergence of ecological communities such as at Les Amanins, as well as laboratories for new forms of citizens-led democracy, such as in Saillans. Its geography, climate, economy, history at the crossroads of migrations and host to the first French Water Development and Management Scheme (Schéma d’Aménagement et de Gestion des Eaux – SAGE) is not without influence in this process (the report of LPTransition on these questions is particularly enlightening). In particular, alternatives have been prominent in the food sector, and this under the responsibility and leaderships of different groups of stakeholders, some of which are presented here.

Vegetable boxes' scheme at Piegros-La-Clastre ©Eric Escande
Vegetable boxes’ scheme at Piegros-La-Clastre ©Eric Escande

 “Mini marché”: a citizens-led CSA

In the 800-inhabitant city of Piegros-La Clastre, after the local farmer, Cécile Grigoryev Anciant decided to stop delivering her weekly vegetable boxes, a citizen, Eric Escande, decided to take over the lead to collect orders from citizens interested in her weekly products. From vegetables, the scheme started proposing fruits, dairy products, meat and bread, under a snowball effect and without any particular promotion, except for the weekly distributions on the main square of the village. The scheme has been a success since the beginning, with a weekly 500-euro turnover and 130 families signed up. The voluntary aspect of it (enrolling 30 people) makes it an alternative to other paying schemes predominant in cities such as La Ruche Qui Dit Oui.

Brins de Terroir ©Marcelline Bonneau
Brins de Terroir ©Marcelline Bonneau

Brins de terroir”: local producers’ grouped selling point

Since 2008, local producers sell their products under a cooperative, Brins de Terroir, labelled under Terre d’envies, promoting collective selling points. Today, around 40 producers of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products, preserves, drinks as well as local craftsart, occupy a former train station in Vaunaveys-la-Rochette to sell their products directly to consumers: half of them are associate producers. The contributing producers work in shift in the shop together with two employees. The strategic location and opening hours (on Sundays and bank holidays) have contributed to the success of the shop with an annual turnover of circa 850 000 euros.

“Innovative food systems”: co-created food policy

The two Communautés de communes (Local Federation of French municipalities) Val de Drôme and du Crestois et du Pays de Saillans, together with three NGOs CIVAM, AgribioDrome and Court Circuit, launched in 2015 a collaborative process to co-create the food policy of their area. A first phase (2015-2018) inaugurated the governance model of the five organisations together with initial definition of actions under three axes: awareness-raising and food outside home; transformation, distribution and logistics; networking between local stakeholders. In a second phase (2018-2019), workshops have brought together citizens and stakeholders to identify the issues that were of importance to them, seeking to move away from the initial agricultural focus to a food one. Grouping them by target groups (children, youth, elderly people, precarious groups), the work has then carried on by the types of activities that could be implemented while prioritising them. This work is also based on learnings from other experiences throughout France and Europe, with an objective to co-implement and co-monitor food actions with all stakeholders.

“BioVallee”: an NGO for the sustainability of the territory

BioVallee© is a project and trademark to make three Communautés de Communes (Val de Drôme and du Crestois et du Pays de Saillans, and Diois) a responsible, innovative and alternative rural metropole whereby sustainable development is at the heart of human, agricultural, economic and cultural activities. It seeks to conceive, identify, promote and upscale sustainable practices accessible to all via cooperation tools such as the Trademark BioVallée ©, a website, a sustainability self-assessment grid, networking of its members, thematic workshops, interviews, access to call for projects, a funding programme, an observatory and a charter. Initiated by Drome Valley ( and supported by the two others Communautés de Communes, the project has been delegated to an NGO, funded by them. Amongst its objectives, the project aims to reach 50% of organic producers and production by 2020 and 80% of organic and/or local products in collective catering by 2025, with a reduction by 50% of chemical products non organic agriculture. Even if the 230 members of the NGO who can use the Trademark are not all organic, they engage themselves to follow the principles of the charter and reach the objectives of BioVallée, in progressing towards better practices: divide by two energy consumption, using renewable energies, buying local, creating open-ended contract, using ethical funds…

Bringing (more) sustainability to cities: 5 golden rules

How are cities putting sustainable urban development into practice?


Here are 5 golden rules from URBACT’s City Lab.

The second URBACT City Lab took place in Brussels (BE) on 2nd and 3rd July 2019: “How are cities putting sustainable urban development into practice?” was the core question that drove us through general and specific considerations in the fields of Air Quality and Mobility, Energy Transition and Climate Adaptation and Sustainable Food Systems. When seeking to feed into the work of the updated Leipzig Charter, it appeared that on the one hand sustainability is still a complex paradigm to get into and embed for a city, but on the other, cities are leading the way in what can be done.

Here are 5 golden rules for cities to become sustainable.

1. Sustainability is polysemic

Angeliki Stogia, Councilor at the City of Manchester (UK) asked us: “what do you, what do we, actually mean by sustainability?”. Although its official definition from the 1992 Brundtland Report is unambiguous, but, what does it mean and how should cities approach it? The realm of participants showed a variety of understandings. For example, for Filipa Pimentel from the Transition network it is for society to become more resilient, which in turn would make our ecosystems more resilient. From a people-based approach, to a planning-based one, focusing on regeneration (or the inclusion of environment in local policies) can only bring in consensus and a chance for all stakeholders to adjust their visions and priorities.

2. Sustainability should be tackled at all levels

Our discussions started with Thomas Béthune from DG REGIO, European Commission, stating his needs to be in touch with cities themselves to feed sustainability into European policies. They were wrapped up by Filipa Pimental who expressed the leadership of citizens who become actors of change. In between the two, the Leipzig Charter is focusing on neighbourhoods and Alicja Pawlowska, Head of EU projects and mobility management at the City of Gydnia (PL) stressed the importance of this in their daily work. Cities are where changes take place and these considerations stress the need for territorial and contextual approaches. This would be impossible without the collaboration and inputs from member states, as Olli Maijala, Adviser at Finnish Ministry of the Environment suggested.

3. Sustainability requires a new mindset

Experimenting in cities is not new, yet they need to keep on being innovative, combining social and technological innovation (e.g. Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) Vilawatt project in Viladecans (ES), developing market-based instruments (e.g. Stockholm’s successful congestion charges), in addition to nature-based solutions (e.g. Chinese sponge cities, which mainstream urban water management into the urban planning policies and designs), and consumption-based approaches (e.g. URBACT BioCanteens network) and to focus on processes.

Increasingly, cities need to change their vision, and to think out of the box and take risks. The inner change needs to look beyond traditional city-makers, including other profiles such as psychologists (as strongly supported by the Transition network and already tested in Gdansk (PL).

4. Sustainability applies to all

Sustainability applies to jobs and skills creation such as a Food Innovation Hub in Milan (IT) within the UIA OpenAgri project, as well as to the city of Gdynia seeking to make freight transport more effective in cities within URBACT FreightTails. Not to mention the H2020 Ruggedised where Rotterdam (NL) experiments smart city developments.

Mobility. Energy. Food. Air quality. Digitalisation. Health and well-being. Urban planning. Sustainability should be a transversal approach, and “business as usual” as Angeliki Stogia phrased it. In order to support this process, city governance should be rethought to be bold and to be participatory, with citizen scrutiny.

New forms of involvement and partnerships should be promoted as with the engagement of citizens in air quality control within Helsinki’s (FI) UIA Hope project; the public-private-citizen partnership for energy production in Viladecans’ UIA Vilawatt project; or the use of culture and arts to mobilise citizens to address climate change in the URBACT C-Change network.

Sustainability also requires cross-departmental collaboration such as in the City of Schaerbeek (BE) cross-cutting solutions which tackle social environmental and neighborhood issues within an action-research project on organic waste transformation, Phosphore.

5. Sustainability requires strong leadership

Leadership for sustainability can happen at all levels of cities. Angeliki Stogia from Manchester, Gilles Perole from Mouans-Sartoux (FR) (lead partner of BioCanteens) and Laura Rodrigues from Torres Verdas (ES) (2015 Green Leaf Capital City) are the elected representatives who took part in this second URBACT City Lab, confirming their city’s commitment to this challenge. This is just the beginning of a global movement of awareness and action towards more sustainability in cities.

Reposted from the URBACT website.

Who hasn’t tried to get rid of old habits, whether in relation to the way we eat, sleep, interact with each other, work, travel, or do sports? Who hasn’t ever faced the difficulty of moving away from anchored routines to newly adopted ones? Who has ever struggled to unravel the complexity of the psychological but also social, technological and infrastructure-related mechanisms that make it difficult to transition?

Changing is, indeed, difficult. Adopting new consumption practices in order to support transition towards a low-carbon society is even more difficult in this “Consumer Society”. As Zygmunt Baumann detailed in the 2007 “Consuming Life”, our space is an entangled web where social life politics and democracy, social divisions and stratification, communities and partnerships, identity building, the production and use of knowledge, and value preferences are entangled. Yet, it is crucial that we now, as citizens, change the way we consume according to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 and as recently emphasised in the IPCC Special report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC.

Supporting citizens in their consumption transition has been at the core of public policies for decades and is a constant challenge – as well as a realm for experimentation. 3 European initiatives: URBACT, UIA and the Urban Agenda Partnership on Circular Economy give an insight into key approaches in the way European cities are frontrunners, supporting citizens in their transition towards more sustainable consumption practices.

Mouans Sartoux, BioCanteens URBACT network. Photo by Marcelline Bonneau

Identifying a key topical entry: a food story

Mouans-Sartoux (FR) is the lead partner of the BioCanteens URBACT network, transferring its practice of a 100% organic canteen. One key element for this shift is behavioural change and the education of children, as well as of their parents. This is done thanks to food education which includes making choices between portion sizes at the canteen (to empower them in identifying the right amount of food they require), tasting and cooking classes, gardening activities and visits to the municipal farm, as well as a special food and health program aimed at shifting families’ habits to eating local and organic food. With the support of a survey of consumers’ habits, it is part of a more integrated method.

By focusing on school canteens, we are trying to develop a comprehensive approach to support new food habits of the children of Mouans-Sartoux, as well as for their parents: combining fighting foodwaste, training of kitchen staff, reducing costs, developing local economy, supporting sustainable urban planning and agricultural land use, and with a complete governance system composed of a food territorial management – as well as the creation of the Centre for Sustainable Food and Education (MEAD)”, says Gilles Pérole, elected representative of Mouans-Sartoux.

Let’s play! Using gamification as an incentive for new ways of consuming

Making recycling and re-use fun but also rewarding is the approach Santiago de Compostela (ES) is developing in its Tropa Verde URBACT transfer network. Citizens recycle and receive tokens (green points, civic and social centres, recovery points, etc.), they can exchange for sustainable – non production intensive – gifts, such as public transport tickets, haircuts, or meals. Partner shops are integrated in the daily lives of citizens, making participation easy, interactive and fun. A multimedia platform enables them to identify local shops in which the exchange can take place: it is the central point for interaction, easily accessible, but also transferrable to other cities to adapt to their local circumstances. Finally, this practice is making citizens responsible in their recycling habits, but also in a move towards more circular attitudes in other areas of their lives.

Combining online and offline activities

In Antwerp (BE), the City Administration took the opportunity of the development of a newly created district, the New South district, to position circularity as a community challenge. The plan? To engage its new residents in co-creating both online and offline initiatives to change their behaviours, in relation to energy and water consumption as well as to waste management. The UIA Antwerp Circular South project has enabled developing technical solutions such as photovoltaics, storage batteries, smart grids, smart meters and individual dashboards too. Local inhabitants experiment behavioural nudging, while receiving cues to adapt their consumption behaviour of energy, water and waste in the most ideal circular way. Circular behaviours will be automatically rewarded by an alternative online currency, the “circular coin”, through a blockchain – based reward and exchange system. Some of the most engaged Circular South participants will form a local energy community co-owning an innovative collective energy system. In addition, a Circular South community centre – the so-called CIRCUIT, has been set up to host a number of initiatives related to sharing, repairing and reusing activities. As Gabriëlle Van Zoeren, former project coordinator, said “nothing of what we do is new: our innovation is to bring it together and especially to combine the online and offline activities!”.

One resource Centre, the Mini Recycling Centre, Oslo. Photo by Marcelline Bonneau

Developing new ecosystems

The city of Oslo (NO) has led the work on the Urban Agenda Partnership on Circular Economy including a series of meetings and projects within the frame of the multi-level governance, as well as a catalogue mapping existing Urban Resource Centres: the “local approaches to waste prevention, re-use, repair and recycling in a circular economy” (to be published and shared before the Summer 2019).

The catalogue presents and reviews critical success factors and transferrable qualities, of the resource centres. Their functions can be social (job creation, engaging the community in responsible consumption and disposal, or improved quality of life), economic (transformation of industrial sectors, entrepreneurship and new business models or co-creation in a circular economy) or environmental (waste prevention, waste management or boosting the market for secondary raw materials). They can be public, private or public-private. Creating such resource centres entails developing new ecosystems that can be useful for citizens. Yet, they are facing barriers such as access to space, legislation, waste quality, communication, reporting or funding. At the same time, they benefit from technology, stakeholder engagement, co-location, political support and strong links to the social economy. The city of Oslo is currently seeking to take this work forward with a follow-up network of peer-learning and exchange.

Is a circular economy approach the way forward?

Grassroots initiatives, market-based solutions and research are the bases for the above-mentioned cases. Yet, public authorities are steering these processes by experimenting new approaches, bringing them together, and supporting learning across the EU. As such, local public authorities have a key role to play in ensuring that an increasing number of projects are developed and evaluated for the concrete and operational change of consumer practices.

All 3 cases also show the need to adopt integrated approaches: in terms of topics, methodology, governance, stakeholders and territories. Circular economy is more than a buzzword. It is an overall encompassing approach. It could help cities develop projects, which support citizens to adopt new consumption habits and which encourage transition towards a new economic ecosystem, with the potential to offer long-lasting economic, environmental and social benefits.

Reposted from the URBACT website.

Implementing social innovation at city level: learnings from Amsterdam, Gdansk and others

Getting to know Gdansk and its inhabitans and vice-versa. Source: Maciej Moskwa/TESTIGO.pl

Getting to know Gdansk and its inhabitans and vice-versa. Source: Maciej Moskwa/TESTIGO.pl

In these times of democratic crisis, Social Innovation as a baseline paradigm for city governance is more than even needed. Its power and potential for change is strong as reminds us the recent murder of the Mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz.

The question which appears then relates to the ways we can concretely implement and operationalise social innovation: as a paradigm and as individual and collective projects. Continue reading