Tag Archives: URBACT

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.

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. The SIC Declaration presents a European framework to facilitate experimentations and exchanges across EU on existing practices. The Manifesto for Transformative Social Innovation provides a set of key principles enabling such practices. At a city level it does not necessarily need to be strategised: Amsterdam does have a Social innovation Strategy, Gdansk does not. And in both cities, the movement is on: conceptually and concretely.

Yet, preconditions need to be adopted. In Gdansk, for example, the late Pawel Adamowicz, had a strong vision of it: social innovation was the approach he took for governing the city, with incremental changes being embedded in the city’ policies.  As a starting point, he supported another way of addressing what appeared to be problems in the cities, for example moving from “social issues” to “social development”. Words and concepts are indeed key when dealing with everyday life in a city. And the same applies for social innovation: concepts are part of innovation and transition processes and as such, once they become mainstream, they are overused and lose their initial meaning. From social innovation to grassroots initiatives via social and solidarity economy or commons, the responsible stakeholders need to be up to date with the concepts they use in the adequate way.

Increasing the collaboration between stakeholders is another prerequisite via the adoption of integrated approaches and methodologies (e.g. triple, quadruple, quintuple helixes or the URBACT method). A key triggering factor for such collaboration appears to be the grouping of interest around a common goal, such as the application for the iCapital award 2016 in Amsterdam (won) or the European Capital of Culture 2016 in Gdansk (lost). This can then be embedded and formalized as a form of collaboration, such as the Amsterdam Social Agreement.

The city of Ixelles listens to its inhabitants on 6 march 2018

The city of Ixelles listens to its inhabitants on 6 march 2018

Getting to know each other is crucial as well, to learn each other’s realities, languages, ways of working, etc… It can start from open hearings as in Ixelles. Visits to one another (“visites croisées) and “live my life” (“vis ma vie”) were also tested in Brussels via the VILCO project. In Amsterdam, the Climate Neutral initiative, made it possible to collaborate with a fragmentation of the city geographics and split responsibilities.

Social innovation is a transversal way of addressing not only “problems” but our daily lives by trying out new ways and approaches. It is about on-going experimentation as a prerequisite to ensure a societal transition for a more resilient society. More resilient socially, economically, environmentally, culturally, … and this both at the individual and collective levels. As such, those promoting social innovation should also apply it for themselves. Within the administration, in addition to individual empowerment and accountability, as in the case of the calls for project for civil servants in Turin, it also means being open to innovative civil servants’ profiles (e.g. psychologists, NGOs, journalists in Gdansk) and experimenting with new forms of governance (e.g. Citizens’ Panels in Gdansk, plethora of participatory budgets). We need to identify our own individual roles in this. And these need to be adapted to each given cultural and economic contexts.

This is an approach that can be developed and strengthened by empowerment, capacity-building, inspiring, while shifting paradigm. More difficultly, it requires new ways of evaluating actions and policies. And even to question the rationale for such an evaluation.

2019-02-25 14.44.31

These reflexions emerged from the workshop the last event of the SIC project in Amsterdam on 25 February 2019, where we discussed the way(s) the SIC Declaration could be implemented in Amsterdam.

 

Plan your own temporary use journey!

Visiting the City of Temporary Use

Who can still remember vacant spaces and buildings, which someday were spaces free of rules, a ground for fertile experimentation, individual empowerment and creativity development? We could grow and empower ourselves as we can remember from the 50s’ film “Le chantier des gosses (link is external)”, where children were spending their leisure time in an yet-to-be-built abandoned lot in the very centre of the city of Brussels, and where the nephew of Tati’s “My Uncle” was eating doughnuts and whistling at pedestrians so that they would bump into a lamppost.

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(Self-)promotion supporting change in our cities: feedback from the URBACT Lisbon City Festival

2018-09-12 20.25.55The URBACT City Festival in Lisbon, Portugal, on 12-14 September 2018, was the third URBACT City Festival that had taken place and that I had attended. Back in 2015, the first City Festival in Riga promoted the launch for the new URBACT III Action Planning Networks and we facilitated a workshop on our capitalization work on Social Innovation in cities, together with François Jégou. The second City Festival, in 2017 in Tallinn, promoted the 97 labelled Good Practices and I facilitated two workshops including one citizens’ and stakeholders’ participation for environmental projects. This years’ festival was going back to the Riga one by celebrating the URBACT III APNs, where François Jégou and I diffused the outcomes of the REFILL network on Temporary Use.

URBACT is good at capitalising: at extracting what takes place in cities in order to make it visible to other but also at gratifying those making a positive change, and acting as drivers, at home and beyond, for a more sustainable society. My fanaticism for URBACT is not new. Continue reading

How can cities set-up an adequate governance model for all stakeholders to jointly implement their local policies?

The case of Integrated Actions Plans of the URBACT MAPs network, output from the Transnational Meeting of 12-13 December 2017 in Szombathely, Hungary.

WHERE DID WE START FROM?

The cities of the MAPs network who took part in the meeting in Szombathely were quite stressed about the design of the governance model to ensure an adequate implementation of their Integrated Action Plans (IAP)[1]. How can we ensure that everybody will take part in it? How can we ensure that responsibilities are well allocated? The City administration should let go! (vs. the City administration should be in strong control of the process) We are engaging the ULG members but they do not want to co-create, merely to react on proposals! We want to be sure that our governance model is relevant and effective! Continue reading

“Social innovation is a systemic change in the way we do things

… yet, we need to go beyond labelling: the wider the definition of social innovation the wider we can experiment”, stated by Fabio Sgaragli during the BoostInno network’s Summit in Paris on the 6-7-8 November 2017. Three days of intense visits and work showed a wide range of concrete projects of what social innovation is and can be. Fair enough, the network started by going through dozens of definitions before identifying that the concrete projects are more than a definition. As Piotr Wolkowinski, Lead Expert of the project, stated “what is important is the story telling. But the story needs to be interesting”. And indeed, over these three days, we went through very varied socially innovative projects from Paris and other cities of the network rich in learning and exemplification.

La Louve

La Louve FoodCoop in Paris

“Classical economy does not bring us the answers to what we need” (Antoinette Guhl, Deputy Mayor of Paris). Such answers are found in responsible consumption (La Louve food cooperative) or reduction of food waste Continue reading

How do URBACT Good Practices strive towards more sustainability together with citizens and other stakeholders?

Striving towards sustainability together

The occurrences and types of events and catastrophes related to climate change (environmental , biodiversity, human, social or societal concerns) have been constantly increasing for more than a century and especially in the last decades. Although these are mostly observed at meta level, it is a local level that both public authorities and citizens should act to implement and undertake concrete actions for a wide societal change. Some URBACT Good Practices understood it quite well and are developing not only sustainable strategies that are local and concrete, but also participatory ones: this is what Manchester (UK), Santiago de Compostela (ES), Milan (IT) and Tallinn (EE) addressed during the “Together for sustainability panel” of the URBACT City Festival held in Tallinn, Estonia on 5 October 2017.

The incremental integration of citizens in sustainable policies

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Social innovation is also a ‘process’ worth researching

On the 8 July, we were at the out centered French Business School ESSEC talking about Social innovation and civic engagement. More precisely, the aim of the Mid-Term Conference of the FP7-funded project ITSSOIN , which we attended, was to present intermediary results on the way it was seeking to investigating the impact of the Third Sector and civic engagement on society (going beyond their economic benefits or the natural virtue of caring for others).

ITSSOIN_WP-Sustainable-cities_V21 Continue reading

Cities using their purchasing power to facilitate social innovation

Gdańsk 2030 Plus Strategy© Żaneta Kucharska and Jacek Zabłotny, UMG

Some cities are developing new approaches to ensure that resources are available to experiment with new solutions to their problems. They are using their buying power to orientate, speed up, amplify and sometimes systematise the development of these social innovations. The experiments show that social innovation is not only for wealthy communities, which can free up the necessary time, financial resources, human resources and interest, but is accessible to all cities that want to take risks and experiment.

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