Tag Archives: URBACT

From URBACT to ASToN: how cities can ensure sustainability of their work beyond the network

This article follows an in-depth talk we had in December with the ASToN cities sharing lessons from the URBACT programme. URBACT has funded 162 EU networks and over 1000 cities since 2002 and inspired the creation of the ASToN network.

This article shares case studies and key takeaways from the URBACT programme about how cities should approach sustainability of their projects, and begin planning life after the ASToN funding.

Data has shown that 21% of 190 surveyed cities funded by URBACT between 2012 and 2019 have approved their Integrated Action Plan (known as the Local Action Plan in the ASToN network), whereas 27% are currently in the process of getting approval. 18% explain they are about to approve it, whereas 34% are not clear about it.

At the closing of the Action Planning Networks, has the IAP been adopted© Study on integrated action plans

In addition, 48% of the surveyed cities have secured funds for the implementation of the Action PlanP: more than half from the city’s own or other local resources. Yet, it is unclear whether it was secured before or after the planning of the specific actions. Beyond this generic data, limited quantitative data actually exists on what has happened to the networks after their URBACT life.

Here are two examples providing more insight into the varied experiences of URBACT cities in approving and implementing their action plans.

Case 1: the Region of Brussels Capital’ Good Food Strategy

Sustainable Food in Urban Communities ©Brussels

Whereas the Region of Brussels Capital, in Belgium, had been working in an unstructured way around the questions of sustainable food, since 2008, it became the Lead Partner of the Sustainable Food in Urban Communities network in 2012 (until 2015). Together with 9 other cities, it sought to transition towards low-carbon and resource-efficient urban food systems, while focusing on the whole food chain: production, distribution and consumption.

Its Action Plan designed 6 actions, all of which were completed and led to the co-design of the Good Food Strategy, the Sustainable food and Urban Agriculture Strategy. Since then, the methodology used for the co-design has been improved and a new Good Food Strategy (v. 2.0) is under way.

Case 2: The City of Schaerbeek’s work on Public Procurement

Making Spend Matter © Preston

The City of Schaerbeek, Belgium, was part of a network focusing on Public Procurement, led by Preston (in the UK), with 5 other cities, Making Spend Matter. Between 2018 and 2021, Schaerbeek learnt from Preston on the ways to use spend analysis as an evidence tool: to enhance the impact of procurement by public and anchor institutions and to bring additional economic, social and environmental benefits to the local economy and its citizens.

Because of a lack of resources, Schaerbeek has not implemented the 20 actions of its Action Plan yet. Yet, it has carried out its spend analysis and designed a strategy for improving its Public Procurement. It has also become a member of an International network of cities working on Public Procurement, Procura +.

Based on these two cases in particular, and many other experiences observed and analysed throughout the years we have identified the following takeaways:

1) The key legacy is the methodology

The URBACT methodology, focusing on integration, participation and transnational exchange and learning has been a key gamechanger in the way the cities work. This includes:

● Learning to co-create with a variety of stakeholders, starting from the identified needs rather than administrative or political push (e.g. in Brussels’ case, for the first time all stakeholders gathered to discuss local food policies and remain the core of the Food Council) ;

● Developing transversality of administrations and the ability to work beyond silos (e.g. in Schaerbeek, the Local group was composed of civil servants from different departments who keep on working together);

● Nurturing learning and exchange amongst peers, if not transnationally, at least regionally and/or nationally (see below the roles of networks);

▪ Promoting and supporting (social) innovation within their constituencies and within the administrations themselves (transparency being a key challenging learning for Brussels and Schaerbeek: Brussels is evaluating and improving the process and content of its Good Food Strategy every 2.5 years); and,

▪ Keeping an integrated approach to local policies’ design and delivery, while developing adequate capacities and skills (e.g. Schaerbeek is investing in trainings for the Funding unit, then available transversally to all civil servants)

Schaerbeek’s Local Group composed of members of different municipality department © Schaerbeek

2) Creating an action plan provides a strategic push

Another key outcome of the participation in such networks has been development of the action plan: both as a process and as an output. Indeed, it has served in many instances as a driver for integrated sustainable development in cities. It has helped them become more systematic in approaching an issue (e.g. the Brussels’ Good Food strategy). More importantly, these are seen as living documents, adjusted iteratively on an on-going basis in parallel with the evolving needs, priorities and resources.

TechRevolution Transnational Meeting in Piraeus ©Marcelline Bonneau

3) Seek out other network and funding opportunities

As a follow-up from taking part in such networks, cities have also participated in other European projects and networks. At the individual level, civil servants are increasingly interested in being part of such approaches and see the added value of further learning and exchanges (e.g. a recently carried out study with the municipality of Schaerbeek showed an unexpected high level of satisfaction from participating in Making Spend Matter and the wish to continue investing such working experiences). At the institutional level, some cities have designed specific strategies to further work with other European cities. For example, the URBACT experience has comforted Schaerbeek in drafting a Strategic note on European projects (including a SWOT and some concrete solutions) as well as an opportunity study.

Cities are also developing competences for looking for EU funds, putting together proposals, applying for these funds and implementing successful projects. This also includes having a clear vision of the timing for calls (notifications and deadline) and necessary human and financial resources.

4) Individuals play a key role in ensuring continuity

Following-up on such networks has also been possible only through the commitment and involvement of key people. Civil servants are at the forefront, they can act both as a leverage for their elected representatives and other stakeholders, and to ensure the continuity, e.g. in the implementation of strategic plans.

Elected representatives from different levels of governances are also crucial to support the follow-ups, to promote them more widely. Importantly as well, they can use follow-ups as self-praising, which is then a win-win for the implementation (e.g. in the case of Brussels, the Ministry of the environment made the Good Food Strategy one of her greatest achievements even though she was nominated only after the URBACT network).

Last but not least, stakeholders need to be engaged in the follow-up the same way, even if not more than in the Action Plandesign: they are crucial to co-design the actions, co-implement them and also be their ambassadors and take-up while supporting and promoting.

URBACT Boostinno meeting in Paris © Marcelline Bonneau

5) The power of keeping in touch

After networks like URBACT or ASToN, it is of utmost importance for cities to remain in contact with each other. This is quite successful in an informal way, at the level of individuals, via Facebook, Whatsapp, Linkedin and emails. At a more institutional level, Twitter is also efficient. Communities of practice (e.g. via Slack — see the TechPlace community and via LinkedIn groups — see the Walk’n roll cities and Gender Equal City groups) are also successful.

Beyond this direct networking, cities can keep on meeting and exchanging while taking part in various events — both as participants and speakers. National and international networks, either generic (e.g. ICLEI, Metropolis …) or thematic (e.g. Cities Coalition for Digital Rights , Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, …) ensure cities keep on exchanging amongst each other, in an enriched way, beyond their initial network.

URBACT City Lab in Brussels © URBACT

Some final considerations

Life after a network such as URBACT or ASToN can be very smooth or complex, depending on the city context. Political support might ensure the follow-up of the activities but evolving local priorities and/or available human and financial resources can be barriers for continuation.

Continuing the work requires changing the way the administration works, which is a long and never-ending process. It requires transparency, honesty, and humility. It requires frontrunners. Individuals who will keep using the methodology, keep driving to implement the action plan, will seek out other funding, will ensure continuity, and will continue to build a wider community of sustainable and inclusive cities.

Article reposted from ASToN’s blog (French version here)

Let’s talk about food!

Bringing EU and local policies closer to each other.

URBACT has been a strong supporter of local and sustainable food production in cities. The programme backed-up the 2021 Glasgow Food Declaration, reinforcing the COP26 commitments of local authorities. This is merely an example of how URBACT cities are using international and European frameworks as enablers for local actions, to promote sustainable food systems.

At the same time, legislative frameworks can also be perceived as barriers by city-practitioners. European towns and cities need to learn to navigate initiatives such as the Farm to Fork Strategy, not to mention complex regulations related to public procurement. So how can they make the most of these rules and commitments, ensuring a positive transition towards more sustainable food systems? This was the issue explored by city representatives and experts at the recent 2022 URBACT City Festival session ‘Let’s talk about food: bringing EU and local policies closer to each other’. Read on for their answers…

From the international to the local context

We need to act locally to reduce climate change through local food systems – as shown in a previous article  ‘Cities nurturing local food systems to fight climate change’. The effects of the whole food supply chain on the environment, society and economy have implications for every aspect of our lives, might as be the climate, our health, the socio economics of our cities, city autonomy or rural areas’ survival. The Glasgow Food Declaration(link is external) stresses the obviousness of the food-climate nexus for urgently transforming the “traditional” and most current way we produce, transport, eat and dispose of food worldwide. These effects have been very exposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, the current war in Ukraine has exacerbated tensions on intensive production and energy prices(link is external).

In parallel, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy is at the heart of the European Green Deal and it aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. As a strategy from the European Commission, this initiative will propose a legislative framework for sustainable food. While learning from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Commission will also develop a contingency plan for improving food supply and food security in the future. At the moment, the transition of the food system can be achieved using EU trade policies and international cooperation instruments.

Moreover, the EU Food 2030 research and innovation policy supports the transition of urban food systems. The FoodTrails project, for example, received strong support to roll out the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact’s across Europe. This pact stands for a collective commitment to integrated urban food policies, bringing measurable and long-term progress towards positive change. Last but not least, cities’ use of public procurement is bound by a Procurement Directive, controlled by DG GROW, which aims to support free market and competition, fairness and transparency.

‘Let’s talk about food’ panel during the 2022 URBACT City Festival.

We need to take the leap towards sustainable food systems

“There is a missing word in the name of the Farm to Fork Strategy. That is ‘sustainability’”, said Gilles Pérole, Deputy Mayor of Education for the city of Mouans-Sartoux (FR), father of Mouans-Sartoux’s sustainable food project and godfather of the URBACT Networks BIOCANTEENS #1 and #2, during the URBACT City Festival debate. Indeed, the panelists stressed the crucial importance of not reinforcing the food supply chain in itself based on mere economic and competitiveness values, but to rethink the meaningfulness of the whole system.

We need to adopt a holistic approach to make sense out of it, to actually improve it for the benefit of the entire society. In one single word, we need to make it sustainable. For this, cities need a clear vision and local commitment. Signing the Glasgow Food Declaration and joining the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact is a good place to start. They are both a symbolic and practical engagement to this cause.

Horizontal (across silos) and vertical (multi-level) integration

Yet somehow, “food policies are a way for cities to reach their climate and social ambition” said in the same occasion Anja de Cunto(link is external), Eurocities’ Project Coordinator and Policy Advisor for the topics of food and procurement[1]. “It is not something new but it requires coordination across many areas of work and across all levels of governance”, she added. As analysed in a previous article, an integrated ecosystems is paramount.

Landscape planning and rural-urban connection

Jorge Brito, Lead Partner of the URBACT Food Corridors network, is also the Intermunicipal Executive Secretary of the Region of Coimbra (Portugal), working with 19 municipalities. His region has a global vision that takes into account each city’s goals, local context and realities.

These realities change very quickly across the Region of Coimbra: from mountains to the seaside, through forest and countryside. As Jorge Brito explained at the URBACT City Festival, this is where a key challenge lies: “We need to reconnect ourselves, to get a broad sense of the landscapes in which we evolve: cities are totally disconnected from rural life and forgot the curial role of forest”. As such, the Region of Coimbra is addressing a wider framework for climate change, making the link between different functions of landscapes such as forestry and the food system.

For Andrea Patrucco, representing the Urban Innovative Actions OpenAgri project, the URBACT NextAgri network, FoodTrails, the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and the Milan Rural Metropolis,we need to increase the links with local farmers. He pointed out the distance of the Farm To Fork Strategy in this regard, “the reality of farmers does not correspond to what the Strategy seeks to promote. Indeed, as often, it seems both too vague but also too limiting”. As such, he adopts a bottom-up approach to make most out the strategy at local level, to ensure addressing to the best the needs of local farmers, for example in the Milano Metropoli Rurale Agreement (AQST).

Canteen’s staff in BioCanteen’s project partner, Wroclaw (Poland).

The importance of canteens and healthy diets

When talking about sustainable food system, Gilles Pérole, Andrea Patrucco, Jorge Brito and Anja de Cunto have always referred to the key roles of canteens to address a plurality of objectives. For of all of them, the canteens s are enablers.

First of all, they can provide better quality food, and healthier diets, but only when there is political will and support to move in this direction. The canteens also reflect and respect the local conditions, as in the case of the Region of Coimbra, where the meals and recipes are adjusted, depending on the local cultural context (e.g. seaside vs. mountains).

Secondly, they are a safe space for the change of behaviour, with wider impacts on society like changing diets towards more plant-based meals. The city of Milan was able to push for more veggie options while changing its procurement procedures. At last, canteens promote the reduction of food waste – with direct consequences in terms of economic and environmental impacts, but also when it comes to changing the mindset of local people. The city of Mouans-Sartoux has developed a whole range of micro good practices in this regard.

Food exception in public procurement

Public procurement can be perceived as both a real and phantasmagoric hurdle to develop more sustainable food systems, due to both the restrictions of the procurement directive and the lack of knowledge, capacity and flexibility of local administrations. Mouans-Sartoux has sought to increase the potential of public procurement via a pre-assessment and market research, as well as division of its procurement in lots – ensuring that smaller local producers could actually answer the calls. The city also worked on the criteria to give a higher weight to the freshness criterion. In Milan, support to shorter food supply chain has been achieved through the Minimum Environmental Criteria (Ministry of the Environment Decree of 10 March 2020) in for the Green Public Procurement: it introduced priorities for public purchases of schools, universities, prisons, hospitals and public offices’ canteens for short supply chains and local food – zero kilometer – if it is produced organically.

Yet, as Gilles Pérole, explains and claims regularly, “we need a food exception, equivalent of a cultural exception, but in the food area”. Creating such an exception would open the door to reduce inequalities that are widening between territories, while also providing unprecedented flexibility.  It would give a new chance to agricultural stakeholders who produce, process and develop foodstuffs that are in demand for inhabitants and decision-makers. As such, he is calling for a Food exception in Public Procurement, which all cities can sign. It is crucial to realise though, as Anja de Cunto stressed, that the current procurement framework does not enable such an exception.

Talking, sharing, demonstrating

In conclusion, to further work on the issue and public procurement, Anja de Cunto, highlighted that “it is the time to make the voice of cities heard to develop a future EU food system that is sustainable and guarantee quality food to everyone.” Cities should showcase and shout loud and clear what they are already doing – notably in terms of public procurement – and feed it into the EU policy making process. Exchanges and information sharing should be reinforced with the European Commission to show the opportunities and solutions that are already available. Groups of experts combining different governance levels should be set up. Reason why the work of the upcoming Urban Agenda Partnership on Food, in 2024, will be key.

It’s time to act!

You can…

☞ sign Un Plus Bio and Mouans Sartoux’ Opinion Column for a Food Exception in Public Procurement here
☞ learn more about the best ways to use Public Procurement via the URBACT Online Training on Public Procurement available for free here.
☞ sign the Glasgow Food Declaration.
☞ check out the learnings from all Food-related URBACT networks on the Food Knowledge Hub.

And last, but not least, you can join the movement of European cities engaged for food sovereignty and food democracy during the first edition of the…Mouans-Sartoux Food Forum A table! on 26-28 September 2022.

In addition to visits of Mouans-Sartoux’s food project, debates, exchanges and workshops will be organised around the following three key topics:

  • Building a European food sovereignty the protects people’s health and the planet
  • 100 % organic school canteens across the EU: it is achievable!
  • For a food exception in the EU’s Public Procurement framework


Reposted from the URBACT website

Urban Sustainable Food systems – join URBACT’s movement towards COP26!

2021 is a ‘food year’ for URBACT: promoting food democracy and food sovereignty at the initiative of URBACT good practice city Mouans-Sartoux (FR) and the URBACT Transfer Network BioCanteens that it has led (with partner cities in Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Romania).

URBACT will be supporting regular activities of networks around food topics and also creating a specific web page of the URBACT Knowledge Hub, dedicated to urban sustainable food systems – all with the aim to support cities in their transitions to more sustainable food systems!

These efforts also aim to build energy and commitment towards the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration – drafted by a coalition of subnational governments, UN agencies and NGOs in consultation with city and regional governments – which will be officially launched at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021. We will be encouraging as many cities as possible to sign the declaration!

So, we have quite a busy year ahead that we describe in more details here…

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Reinforcing local food ecosystems: a recipe for success?

Discover how URBACT cities are using sustainable food and urban agriculture to address an array of local challenges.

In this article, URBACT Programme Expert Marcelline Bonneau shines a light on several URBACT partner cities making the transition towards more sustainable local food ecosystems – and some of the practices they have developed in the process. She concludes with a reminder of the importance of integrated food policies at city level.

A multitude of local food solutions in URBACT cities

Since 2013, the URBACT programme has supported seven networks working on topics linked to sustainable food and urban agriculture engaging around 50 European cities in transnational learning and exchange. These are:  Food Corridors, BioCanteens, RU:rban, BeePathNet, Sustainable Food in Urban Communities, Agri-Urban and Diet for a Green Planet.

The diverse topics covered by these URBACT cities reflect the complexity of our food systems and the interlinkages between sectors and policy priorities, as presented in the overview below.

Themes covered by URBACT networks © Marcelline Bonneau
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