Monthly Archives: June 2020

Milan’s Dispositivo aiuto alimentare (c)Milan Food Policy

Cities have shown how agile they can be in addressing increased needs of their local population in terms of access to (healthy) food. As the economic crisis unfolds and hits the most vulnerable first, it is important to think about what cities can do to sustain and transfer such good practices and what support they need at national and European level.

The idea behind all initiatives is not to leave anybody behind during the Covid-19 crisis.” Josep Monras i Galindo, Mayor, Mollet de Vallès (Spain)

For many of the most vulnerable people, Covid-19 has not only meant immediate health risks and threats to their income, but a significant worsening of their access to good quality food. This has put them at increased risk of hunger and malnutrition.

At the same time, we have heard some positive impacts of the crisis on other aspects of the mainstream food system, for example with the development of healthier eating habits, more cooking at home and shorter food supply chains. Citizen solidarity has also been visible in many local areas to meet food needs of the most vulnerable.

In this article, I therefore ask: how have cities supported emerging citizen-led initiatives for food provision to those in need during the lockdown? How have they reorganised food aid systems, such as subsidised meals in canteens or charity-run food distribution schemes

And as the lockdown measures are lifted across Europe, what lessons can be learnt from the responses to the crisis for building resilient food systems and local food policies for everyone? How can such learning continue to ‘feed us’ and provide us with a roadmap for action post-Covid

New types of food aid distribution

Associations and charities have faced a number of challenges during the lockdown. On the one hand, they lost the critical support of their senior volunteer workforce at risk of catching the virus. On the other hand, they faced increased demand with more people than ever in need of assistance, beyond their usual list of ‘beneficiaries’. This required significant outreach efforts. Some structures readjusted their model by recruiting new volunteers, adapting to new health and safety measures, or even changing their food provision and distribution patterns, whilst others simply had to temporarily close down.

In some cases, the government assumed more responsibilities for distributing food aid, often leading to positive effects – for example, more cross-departmental cooperation and social innovation within city administration, more promotion of short food supply chains and organic food.

The Italian large city of Milan (1.3 million), which is an URBACT Good Practice for its Food Policy, set up a new food distribution system (“Dispositivo aiuto alimentare”) to offset the impact of the closures of several associations and charities and therefore centralised the entire supply chain until the end of the crisis. Food hubs were created at 10 locations across the city to prepare food aid packages for vulnerable families and fragile persons identified as being in need by Milan’s Social Services and non-profit operators.

Around 180 people and many stakeholders have been involved, including retailers, volunteers, municipality employees, drivers and others active in the food donation system. Capacity has increased rapidly from 1,000 beneficiaries in the first week to 15,000 by the third, and the service reached in the end 20.300 people in 15 weeks. The Municipality opened within the Municipal grocery market – Foody a specific food hub where fresh fruits and vegetables were collected and distributed to the food hubs and ultimately added to the food aid packages. Therefore, this action has not only improved access, but also quality of the food aid.

Milan’s Municipal grocery market – Foody (c)Milan Food Policy

Municipalities supporting citizen-led initiatives

Whilst the senior volunteer workforce has been impacted, many other groups have found themselves with more time on their hands and more reasons to engage in mutual aid. The result has been that many URBACT cities have seen a surge of volunteerism during Covid-19.

The small town of Athienou in Cyprus (6,500 inhabitants) has a long history of supporting volunteering. Recognised as an URBACT good practice, Athienou is now leading the URBACT network Volunteering Cities. As Kyriacos Kareklas, Mayor of Athienou, likes saying: “The spirit of help and volunteerism is something that gives extra power to people in charge, who want to help people in need.” The Municipality quickly reacted to the crisis by calling upon volunteers to help the elderly and people with disabilities with their grocery shopping. They also supported the engagement of various actors in the food supply chain through the Social Welfare Program and Volunteering Council.

The urgency and logistical challenges of providing access to food led in many cases to federated efforts at the neighbourdhood level. For some cities, this represented a unique opportunity to strengthen territorial cooperation. Authorities played a crucial role as facilitators – for example, by making connections, setting up platforms, making spaces and resources available, or helping with communication.

This was the case, for example, in the bigger and more densely populated city of Naples, the Lead Partner of the CivicEstate Network, which is exploring new forms of collective governance of shared urban spaces (unused building, parks, squares etc.) through an ‘urban common’ approach. This approach helped a wide network of associations, cooperatives, soup kitchens, community centres and other urban commons in Naples to rapidly organise food solidarity

As Gregorio Turolla wrote in this article: “The extraordinary situation faced by cities like Naples during the pandemic has highlighted the essential role of self-managed or co-managed spaces of aggregation and mutualism. This confirms the important role of urban commons as social infrastructures, producing public services of social impact through solidarity, creative, collaborative, digital and circular economy initiatives”.  

Meeting the needs of vulnerable children

Lola Gallego, manager of health and social services at Mollet de Vallès, stressed that “the health issue is a priority, but now the social crisis is beginning, and the basic social services provided by the municipalities must be the cornerstone of the forthcoming policies, plans and actions. To provide money it is not enough. What is crucial is to accompany people in need.”

As one important example of this potential social crisis, a major risk factor for many vulnerable children, up to 320 million children worldwide, has been the disappearance of their only daily meal from school.

As part of a wider regional programme between the Catalan Government and La Caixa Bank, the Spanish medium-size city of Mollet de Vallès (52,000), partner of the URBACT Agri-Urban network, has contributed to a scheme providing credit cards for each child eligible for publicly funded school lunches (1,087 cards in Mollet). This scheme is supported jointly by the government and the city. Families were asked only to use the cards to buy food in the city where they live.

Picture: Mollet de Vallès’s Benefit card Mollet de Vallès

Food policies and food sovereignty for al

Andrea Magarini, Milan Food Policy Coordinator, is adamant that having “an effective local food policy has helped overcoming situations of crisis like the one we all are facing since the end of February”. In the case of Milan, their existing work “on issues such as food waste and school canteens has helped in the identification of successful actions to ensure access to food for many vulnerable groups during the lockdown,” points out Andrea Magarini.

In the small French city of Mouans-Sartoux (10,000), partner of Agri-Urban and Lead Partner of the BioCanteens network, their URBACT-awarded ‘good practice’ is rooted into a territorial eco-system with strong food sovereignty. In that context, the crisis has only further entrenched their long-lasting efforts to guarantee food sovereignty on their territory.

Picture: Mouans-Sartoux’s Food sovereignty project by 2045 BIOCANTEENS

Mouans-Sartoux plans to continue the activities initiated during the lockdown, such as the a newly set-up NGO helping homeless people. They will also launch new initiatives to support self-production and redistribution to those most in needs, education on sustainable food for everyone, improvement of the quality of the food being delivered at home, and strengthening citizen participation in the food policy.

Mouans-Sartoux’s municipal farmMouans-Sartoux

The ‘food lever’ – how to scale up action from the bottom up?

So, what cities can do to sustain such good practices and what support do they need at national and European level?

As Gilles Pérole, Vice Mayor for education in Mouans-Sartoux said, “it is at local level that we need to act now. State centralism does not provide us with the quick and efficient answers we need. Within these first two months of crisis, the administrative burden has disappeared as we had to quickly react and adjust ourselves. The Covid-19 crisis has showed us what could happen as a result of the climate crisis and there won’t be any vaccines to save us from it…”

As part of the Farm to fork strategy which was published in the midst of the crisis, the European Commission is focusing, amongst others, on “Making sure Europeans get healthy, affordable and sustainable food”. Yet, it puts little emphasis on the role of cities except in the conclusion stating that “the transition to sustainable food systems (also) requires a collective approach involving public authorities at all levels of governance (including cities, rural and coastal communities), private-sector actors across the food value chain, non-governmental organisations, social partners, academics and citizens”.

As such, URBACT (and its partners) have a strong role to play in providing grounded evidences and cases from cities, offering additional and counterbalanced views to that of mainstream lobbies, further continuing to facilitate exchange of learning and accelerating change towards more food solidarity at local, national and European level.

Reposted from the URBACT website.

Testing a future Food Court by prototyping it in real-life: lessons from the experience of UIA TAST’in FIVES’ L’Avant-goût

Refugee Food Festival at L’Avant-goût ©Charles Mangin

Examples of temporary experimentations in cities worldwide have boomed in the last decade: whether they take the form of disruptive usage of public space for artistic purposes or to look at urban space differently, whether they become the trendiest spot to go out or do shopping, whether they incubate the city of tomorrow, whether they are led by citizens, private companies, universities, public authorities or all of these together, they all play a crucial role in today’s cities .

The value of temporary or transitional use has now long been proven for its social, economic, cultural and environmental values . A new movement is now emerging seeking to integrate such an activity in city governance , social inclusion and in the development of a social value for temporary use (e.g. STUN Camp ) as well as using a commons paradigm and governance .

It is in light of these parallel experiences taking place throughout Europe and beyond that we can observe the temporary activities which have taken place in Lille at L’Avant-goût for the past 2 years, and the value they have brought to the prefiguration of the eventual emblematic place dedicated to food as a vector of social improvement to be built in Summer 2020.

The need to anticipate the construction of TAST’in FIVES’ building

In 2016, the City of Lille won a 5 million-euro budget from the Urban Innovative Actions to develop an integrated project on food-based social inclusion, TAST’in FIVES. This project aims at reversing negative trends of urban poverty in the deprived neighbourhood of Fives, by (re)introducing productive activities centred on food in an urban brownfield regeneration development (Former Fives Cail Babcock Factory). In Summer 2020, a building of 2050 m2 will be renovated to host an innovative combination of activities in the fields of social integration, urban agriculture, production, food processing and catering, the so-called “Chaud bouillon!”. In particular, a « Community Kitchen » will give the possibility to citizens and NGOs to cook together, learn and exchange, with the aim sharing and empowering.

Visualisation of the future TAST’in FIVES building ©Amandine Dazin – Ville de Lille

Bearing in mind the timing of the building works and of the UIA funding, it soon became clear that the building of TAST’in FIVES would be built only at the end of the three-year funding. TAST’in FIVES’ partners therefore decided to start rolling out a prototype of the project on a temporary location, L’Avant-goût, conceptualised in January-March 2017 and launched in September 2017.

What was this experimentation for?

The initial and immediate objectives of L’Avant-goût were defined to: allow residents and stakeholders to get to know the future project; provide local NGOs and residents with facilities and material to cook, produce and process food; provide all inhabitants with an open space for social activities several days a week; develop a regulatory framework adapted to the objectives of the project (user manual, hygiene and safety rules, etc.); develop consensus among inhabitants and stakeholders when it comes to make decisions about the functioning and use of the Avant-goût . More than a focus on the Community Kitchen, L’Avant-goût became a test bed for the whole project, experimenting its location, co-creation model, governance, activities, emergence of an integrated ecosystem and visibility to its audiences.

The importance of the location

The whole surface (1180 sqm) was big enough to accommodate several if not all the components of the future project: a bungalow hosting the community kitchen, a dining room and on an outdoor terrace (110 sqm); a container hosting a forerunner of the urban farming demonstrator (45 sqm); a bungalow hosting the UIA partners who will play a key role in running the site (30 sqm); and green spaces.

L’Avant-Goût December 2019 ©Marcelline Bonneau

Bottom-up co-creation of the future …

The rationale for the experimentation was “not to tell the project but to live it”, as Antoine Plane, coordinator of the project put it, making possible the overall testing and prototyping of the infrastructure, activities and governance model. In addition, using this temporary site and buildings supported the co-creation from the very bottom, from the needs and wishes of users.

Residents have been put at the heart of the co-creation of the site. Their initial comments on the fact that location appeared to be difficult to access and not enough visible, not welcoming and with some overall cleaning and hygiene issues, led to reflections and improvements upon those. At the same time, their feedback on what they liked about the site (its looks), complementarity of aspects, vector of dynamism in the neighbourhood, diversity of activities, etc; confirmed the need and interest for developing further such a project. Immediate feedback has been directly input in the revised designed of the project.

… while triggering the local ecosystem for an integrated governance

L’Avant-goût has also supported the reinforcement of complementarity and synergies between the different existing local activities, driving social integration in the neighbourhood. Although organisations and stakeholders existed in the neighbourhood of Fives, in relation to social poverty and in relation to food, no such an “integrated ecosystem” existed previously.
Complementarities and synergies are also embedded in the governance model, at the heart of the UIA project for the current and future management of the building. Such governance design takes times not only for drafting but also and especially for: getting to know each other and each other expectations, as well as ways of working, for testing the proposal, for readjusting it, …

Learning by doing

Since the launch of L’Avant-goût, more than 1,300 activities have been organised on the site ranging from cooking workshops with the neighbourhood, with children or homeless people or job-seekers, to activities around the greenhouse, as well as co-design of the future Community Kitchen and video-making, with more than 20,000 participants. Readjustments were made as to the types of activities to be carried out and when, for example:
• Allocation of timeslots by types of organisers/beneficiaries: NGOs and local stakeholders during the day, private entities (entrepreneurs) in the evening;
• Modification about the renting procedures have been implemented (free vs compensation, private vs NGO stakeholders);
• Adjustments were also made to the participants’ contribution to the workshops.
In terms of infrastructure, L’Avant-goût for example also made a research, test and proposal with children to obtain the best suitable material (at the right height, right comfort etc.).

Workshop brunch and Brexit on 5 March 2020, ©L’Avant-goût

In the meantime, L’Avant-goût has earned the unexpected opportunity to host an actual food court: an opportunity aroused while to young entrepreneurs were seduced by the Avant-goût and offered to recreate and ephemerous street food market, “La Friche Gourmande”. The risk was high for this audacious idea, but the City of Lille and Soreli helped and encouraged the initiative, as an opportunity to try and test the popularity of such concept in a deprived neighbourhood.

Its two iterations were the occasion for tests and readjustments: the first edition was organised in Summer 2018. It was a huge success with 60 000 visitors. It proved that with an adequate offer, visitors would come and enjoy the space. At the same time, the first iteration showed the limits of integration of local residents, communication of the wider project, as well as to a future realistic Business Model. The second iteration imposed criteria closer to the social and environmental objectives of the project.

Making the project visible – to the neighbourhood and beyond

A full dedicated communication was developed in 2017: creating a name for the site (“L’Avant-goût” – “foretaste”), graphic charter, flyers and other communication documents, goodies (aprons, potholders, kitchen clothes), friendly magazine open to the neighbourhood (not institutional), launch of a blog and Facebook page, signposting from the metro stop to the site, very large opening by the City Mayor with a feast and neighbourhood party. In 2019, communication on the site increased: large pictures printed on tarpaulin, stickers on the floor…Yet, communication efforts are still on for improvement as notwithstanding these efforts and the clear visibility of the site, some people continued to complain about the lack of visibility of the project.

L’Avant-goût December 2019, ©Marcelline Bonneau

An important learning was also the experience of La Friche Gourmande which showed in May 2018 the ability of a private actor to mobilise a large community (notably via social media), to attract high visibility, become known and THE reference point for going out in a very limited period of time: thousands of people getting on site, overcrowded parking lots, newspapers’ articles, local TV on site. Residents finally “discovered” the place. Without any budget, La Friche Gourmande overpassed the communication strategy of the project.

Yet, the communication of the message shared by Friche Gourmande was focusing solely on the temporary Food Court, leaving aside the whole social and integration dimension. It was therefore decided that the City of Lille would develop its own brand reflecting all the integrated components of the project (from the social to socialising activities) and would own it: Chaud Bouillon! as a common brand for the future building, was the result of this decision.

The specific leadership of this temporary use

Rare are still the examples where city administrations change their posture and ways of working to ensure a real co-creation of the city, stepping down from a top-down approach to a real user-centered integrated co-creation of a site, which will, as much as possible be regenerated based on the learnings from the experiment. The main innovative elements of the project (creating an integrated Business Model for the future TAST’in FIVES building, co-production of solutions, changing posture of local authority) were clearly described in the First Journal of the project . Yet, now reaching towards the end of the project, innovation becomes even more clearer in its success: the use of L’Avant-goût to test a governance model, activities, create an ecosystem, give visibility to the current and foreseen project. It has enabled finding a balance between different realities: the need to act fast on local issues vs. the long-lasting construction of the site (including delays); the strict and short timeframe of a UIA project vs. the need to anticipate the after-UIA phase; the need to ensure co-governance vs. strong coordination and leadership; various partners’ working pace vs. co-creation pace:
Leadership for implementation: The City of Lille has ensured a strong vision at the same time as a clear objective. Prototyping has been supported from the beginning as the only viable and relevant solution for the project, also strongly promoted during its official opening on 30 September 2017 by the Mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry.
Organisational arrangements within the urban authority: Within the project, the City of Lille has been an actor of temporary use, seizing such an opportunity for its development and for addressing wicked social issues. This has led to internal transformation as well, ensuring project-based activities and increased transversality.
Participative approach for co-implementation: L’Avant-goût was a living lab for experimenting the TAST’in FIVES future building, together with the methodology to co-create it, be it for its actual design and content or for its governance. The learnings can now be integrated in the future management of the site.
Communication with target beneficiaries: as described, local communication was tested, adjusted and improved. It has built on local ecosystems and will be transposed to the new site.
Upscaling: the whole experimentation and prototyping had upscaling at its heart. For future implementation of the TAST’in FIVES building, together with dissemination via the other activities of the City of Lille and of the partners

Prototyping for prefigurating the future?

It has not been possible to test all the different aspects of the project. For example, the idea of an economic retribution of the food court towards social activities has not really been tested at L’Avant-goût, which was mainly funded by the City of Lille. At the same time, L’Avant-goût has proven its social and societal added value while seeking to address the main objectives of the TAST’in FIVES project.

Chances are the partners will regret this playground where everything was still possible and when every failure was another opportunity to innovate. Chances are as well, that they will cherish the concrete implementation of their dreams, making their support to Fives neighbourhood more operational and efficient. Many journeys can support temporary use . Maybe more than anything else, prototyping is a state of mind that should be kept during the implementation of any project.

Reposted from the UIA website.