UrbanMeta, Eutropian and an Advice from the Research

UrbanMeta, Eutropian and an Advice from the Research

logo-urbanmeta-500x200UrbanMeta represents a large part of the Venetian civil society and stakeholders of the building sector. This network includes economic groups, professionals, universities, trade unions, builders and environmentalists. These actors have decided to be a part of a worktable to face the issues of the government of the area and the land consumption in a multi-disciplinary approach that allows achieving a sustainable growth through urban regeneration processes.

UrbanMeta’s vision is explained by the manifesto “Un Patto per un programma regionale di strategie politiche di Rigenerazione Urbana Sostenibile – Obiettivi e valori per le città venete del futuro” in which it is said that the launch of urban regeneration innovative policies is fundamental and urgent for the cultural, economic, politic and social growth of the Region. In the report, urban regeneration projects aim to:

  • Stop the expansion of new building;
  • Connect urban areas with rural ones;
  • Encourage the use of urban planning and rethinking administrative practices;
  • Promote mixité, equity and social inclusion;
  • Stimulate citizen participation;
  • Innovate building practices;
  • Simplify legislation and procedures.

According to this plan, UrbanMeta undertakes to build an integrated system of communication among stakeholders, became the local pivot in this sector, examine the possibilities given by the EU financing programmes and train experts in urban regeneration system. Then, stakeholders ask the Veneto Region to target EU funds at regeneration programmes, to work in Conferenza Stato-Regioni to promote a national legislation and to adopt a regional law on this matter.

UrbanMeta is not the only project in this field, another one is Eutropian. According to the website, it is “alogo eutropianplanning, policy and research organisation helping urban regeneration processes”. They offer assistance to municipalities, NGOs and community groups, policy development and fundraising, cooperation and communication activities. Their specialization concerns “urban regeneration, cultural development, community participation, local economic development and social innovation”. Eutropian offer, also, a multi-disciplinary approach (such as UrbanMeta) that allows activating urban unused resources with the help of experts and citizen knowledge. The main difference with UrbanMeta is about the dimension: Eutropian operates at world level whereas UrbanMeta at local one. This international know-how follows different tiers:

  • Environmental Planning: open spaces in urban areas are more than just recreational purposes: they can lead economic local growth in a natural environment. It is possible to bring together offer and demand to a balanced solution for both sides;
  • Urban Regeneration: it relates to the involvement of human and financial capital to reuse abandoned industrials sites, cinemas or schools. Regeneration might be the way to discover the potential of the city;
  • Cultural Development: the identity and the meaning of a city is done by a “permanent yet constantly changing culture”.
  • Smart City: ICT is a tool that can improve our lives, on the condition that it is used wisely. A multi-disciplinary approach is fundamental to reach energy efficiency in buildings, smart grids, digital platform, etc.

To develop local cohesion, Eutropian offers different services: fundraising, international cooperation, project management, participatory planning, policy development and communication.

UrbanMeta and Eutropian’s community-led approach is surely an innovative perspective to face the problem of urban regeneration but there could be some issues.

“Capacity building for community-led regeneration. Facilitating or frustrating public engagement?” by Paul O’Hare is a study of community organization, operating within a UK neighbourhood, supported by an “infrastructure organization”, namely Community Empowerment Network (CEN), a local authority and community and voluntary sector.

According to the author of the paper, the engagement of communities is a revered and integral aspect of governance processes. On the other hand, statutory initiatives raise serious issues although they provide opportunities and support for engagement with the inhabitants of local communities. Moreover, “there was a lack of clarity regarding the definition of “capacity building” but, in broad terms, it refers to the practical support provided to communities to contribute to governance as equal partner, or to enable the wider community to engage in the opportunities provided by economic and social regeneration” (Diamond and Liddle, 2005).

Theoretically, capacity building holds the potential to help communities understand decision-making processes, to communicate more effectively at differing tiers of governance, to take decision, and to eventually “manage their own destinies” (Schuftan, 1996, p. 261). In this case, the focus is turned toward organizational and managerial capacity of local communities to assume responsibility leading regeneration programmes. In practice, capacity building takes a variety of forms, namely, the provision of practical support and the development of skills and structures (Diamond and Liddle, 2005, p.148). A range of agencies, i.d. CENs, may build this capacity: here, CENs, primarily established to help local communities pursue the UK Government’s Neighbourhood, play a supporting, coordinating, representative, policymaking and developmental role for other voluntary and community organization.

This research shows many problems such as:

  • Groups can become preoccupied with top-down forms of fiscal and operational accountability rather than bottom-up forms of accountability;
  • Partnership established may in fact be manipulated in a variety of manners and to a range of ends (Rowe, 2006):;
  • Dilemma of institutionalization;
  • Restrictions upon activity of actors are enacted through regulation, incentivisation and surveillance (Richards and Smith, 2002);
  • Governance becomes more complex;
  • Groups engaged in activities for which they receive payment from the state may neglect the important function of campaigning (result of coercion, self-censorship, lack of time, etc.);
  • Funders can be more interested in how money is spent than in the merits of projects;
  • Given that the group was spending public money, there were a set of “absolutely legitimate formalities they have to cover” and local government becomes a manifestation of centralised control;
  • The group is entirely formed by volunteers that lack the capacity to address problems as and when they arise, so they depend upon the CEN to take care of such issues.

In conclusion, according to this article, we discover that community organisations may develop a significant degree of dependency upon facilitators such as CENs. Thus, there is the risk that capacity becomes something developed rather than built in a linear style. Furthermore, the external initiatives can restrict the autonomy of the community-based groups. These outcomes are very important because they give us the opportunity to understand community-led approach vulnerabilities and a try to improve this policy.

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L’approccio community-led alle pratiche di riqualificazione urbana riscuote un grande successo nelle odierne esperienze di settore. Riprova di questo, sono il network UrbanMeta e l’associazione Eutropian, che seppur in modo diverso, lavorano nel campo della riqualificazione urbana mantenendo salto il riferimento al coinvolgimento della comunità. Il community-led approach, però, mostra però alcune problematicità che si sostanziano principalmente nella dipendenza degli attori locali nei confronti dei facilitatori pubblici.