While the European Union works towards the implementation of the EU Urban Agenda, which aims at increasing cooperation at European, national and local level for the creation of “a more sustainable, socially inclusive, innovative and economically powerful Europe”, cities and citizens have already began to move in the same direction.
The magazine Build the city, how people are changing their cities (pdf available here), published by the European Cultural Foundation, proposes a thought-provoking collection of good practices from all over Europe that allows us to see how cities are changing to face the new urban challenges, and how these changes are possible thanks to new forms of collaboration. From Portugal to Poland, from Sweden to Greece, this publication shows us how different actors have been able to come together and create civic-public partnerships based on the principles of the commons. These practices constitute further evidence of the importance of citizens and communities participation in the process of shaping a more equitable and sustainable future for our cities.
We are deeply satisfied to acknowledge that the Bologna Regulation and the collaborative processes that are taking place under the framework of the public policy “Collaborare è Bologna” have been included in this collection. The Bologna process, which has seen a deep involvement of LabGov from its very beginning, has been selected alongside with numerous important experiences coming from different countries as an example of the fundamental role played by civic collaboration in the creation of a new institutional and economic system. We see this also in the case of Madrid, where Medialab Prado, a citizen laboratory for the production, research and dissemination of cultural projects, was built to explore collaborative forms of experimentation and learning which emerged from digital networks, and of Athens, where SynAthina was created by the city to help reaching out to engaged citizens generating small scale solutions for the city. We see it also in the city of Ghent in Belgium, characterized by a long tradition of participation, consultation and facilitating bottom-up experiments through the Policy Participation Unit and in Dortmund in Germany, that shows us how a local government can encourage and coordinate action within a socially and culturally diverse stakeholder environment. The experiences of these cities remind us that civic collaboration and horizontal subsidiarity are necessary, and good governance must become a synonym of co- created cities where urban planning does not follow a top down oriented perspective.
While going through the stories portrayed in the magazine, it is impossible not to notice one recurring element which appears to be as fundamental as the involvement of civil society; namely, the importance of culture as a driving force for innovation and sustainable urban development. If we want our cities to become more inclusive and participative we need to bring about a cultural change. This cultural change takes numerous forms: it can come as an effort to promote co-creation of art between artists and residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods through participative processes, as in the case of the French association Les Têtes de l’Art, or it can be found in the creation of a central hub where creators, entrepreneurs and civil society can develop ideas together in the context of a strongly ethnically diverse context, as it happens in Sweden with the action of Subtopia.
But it does not end here: the practices highlighted provide an answer to the different challenges characterizing contemporary cities. They focus on housing (La Borda Mutual Housing Cooperative, Mehr Als Wohnen), sustainability (Pick your (city) Fruit, Inurdeco), climate challenges (Transition Towns, The Liverpool Air Project ), urban regeneration (People’s Park, L’ex-Asilo Filangeri, New Life for Marketplaces) and many other issues. We cannot analyze all the practices in this post for a matter of space, but it definitely is worth going through them one by one, as they all provide a unique example of how cities can be changed through citizens’ participation.
Having these examples of good local practices in our minds, when we now return to the European level we easily notice the deep commonalities existing between the goals which are being pursued both at local and at European level. All the practices highlighted in the magazine are targeting some of the themes that the EU Urban Agenda has selected as its priorities, such as housing, energy transition, climate, air quality, urban poverty, inclusion of migrants and refugees, sustainable use of land and so on.
The material collected in Build the City offers us further evidence of the need for coordination between actions developed at all levels, be it European, national or local, and makes us understand that only by bringing all the different actors and stakeholders to participate and cooperate a better future for our cities and for their citizens can be imagined.
Note: the good practices presented in the magazine were extracted from a broader work conducted by the European Cultural Foundation together with Krytyka Politykzna, which lead to the publication in 2015 of the book Build the City: perspectives on commons and culture. A pdf version of the book is available here.
La European Cultural Foundation ha pubblicato nel mese di giugno la rivista Build the City, how people are changing their cities, una raccolta di buone prassi provenienti da tutta l’Europa che ci mostra come collaborazione civica e partecipazione di tutte le componenti della società civile siano fondamentali nel costruire una risposta alle nuove sfide che ci troviamo ad affrontare in ambito urbano. Il Regolamento di Bologna è stato incluso in questa raccolta in quanto esempio di riuscita collaborazione civica, che ci insegna come il futuro delle città non possa più essere disegnato e imposto dall’alto ma debba invece essere co-creato.
Le buone prassi proposte dalla rivista (qui il testo in inglese) sono un estratto del libro Build the City:perspectives on commons and culture, pubblicato nel 2015 da European Cultural Fundation e Krytyka Politykzna ( il pdf del libro in lingua inglese).