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Discover 4 keys to make cities caring:

#Solidarity - Solidarity is fairness in action

A sustainable and just city is built on solidarity. It fosters the sharing of abundance in time and resources through equitable redistributive mechanisms and sharing programs. Bottom-up social and affordable housing programs are supported and strengthened through robust regulation. Shared forms of housing and care-oriented ways of living and working are encouraged and supported. Sustainable and affordable food networks are woven together to support local farmers and offer high-quality sustenance for residents.

Related keys: #Participation #CivilSociety #Economy


What approaches can activate this key?

Solidarity can be fostered by funding schemes such as financial practices and instruments, participatory budgeting, and also by enhancing governance and participation processes. Policies and practices for inclusion of disadvantaged groups can lead to increased multi-stakeholder partnership, as local impact is seen and felt. Central is the role of sharing and cooperatives for urban commons, which, in the spirit of care and solidarity, work for and with vulnerable and marginalised groups.

What governance arrangements enable this key?

A sustainable and just city based on solidarity seeks to involve the most vulnerable and marginalised people in multiple processes that shape their territories. Tapping into existing community networks is a vital first step to maximising the inclusion of the greatest diversity of voices and perspectives. This must be followed up by city authorities committing to a meaningful participation process that recognizes traditional power imbalances against such groups and by the bridging of different stakeholder groups to implement co-created community visions. If vulnerable groups and communities feel tricked, exposed or duped, their participation can be quickly turned against existing systems.

What drivers of injustice does this key address?

Solidarity is often needed for communities fighting against physical injustices due to uneven environmental health and pollution patterns. Furthermore, solidarity is key for addressing forms of racialized or ethnically exclusionary urbanisation, as well as urban communities impacted by evictions and gentrification processes caused by unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism. Solidarity is fairness in action, with key battles consisting of simply seeking balance in uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration, strengthening of weak(ened) civil society, remediation or replacement of unfit institutional structures and solutions to limited citizen participation in urban planning. Solidarity can be manifested at the local level, but also translocally.

Extra insights from UrbanA Community

  • “Once mechanisms are put in place for people to be able to support others in their community, it's incredible to see how many people want to be involved, how committed they get and what a difference people can make.” (Emma Erwin of Transition Stirling)
  • “Solidarity describes very well the components of a city. It contains the basic needs that should be accessible for everyone (housing and nutrition) but also sheds light on the fact that living goes beyond those needs: caring for each other, sharing, sustainability.” (Nina Rosstalnyj, Central European University (CEU))

Inspirational example: Fighting hunger while reducing retail food waste, Vantaa (Finland)

Instead of throwing away food, factories, wholesalers and supermarkets can donate their food to the Shared Table network where centralized collection then leads to distribution of the surplus through communal meals and bags of food to take home.

The model was developed by the City of Vantaa and Vantaa Parish Union in 2015, and it has been adopted by other cities across Finland. In addition to helping people in need of food, the model has also successfully reduced food waste, provided jobs for long-term unemployed people and reduced loneliness with its community- and welfare-based approach to food aid. According to Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, Vantaa has managed to reduce retail food waste by 1 kg per inhabitant with this model.

Avenues for action

Start and support solidarity-based community groups

  1. Start community groups which are focused on helping and sharing in the neighbourhood.
  2. Provide subsidised and self-managed spaces, "community living rooms", for locals to meet and use the space for their own activities as they wish (e.g. community spaces, urban gardens).
  3. Build these communities based on existing networks and initiatives. Inspire more actions for solidarity by showcasing, celebrating and rewarding these groups.

See "Zusammen Leben" (Living Together) garden in Freiburg, Germany, as an example of a low-barrier, inclusive community initiative. Read more about examples of such community groups, and advice for supporting them, on the UrbanA Wiki.

Come together through mutually enjoyable activities

  1. Use food as a connector and incentive for people to meet.
  2. Organise communal dinner for people from different (cultural) backgrounds to meet and interact in a positive environment.
  3. Collaborate with local communities and NGOs in organising communal meals and food sharing initiatives.
  4. Explore and harness other common denominators which could bring people from different backgrounds together (hobbies etc.)

Read about the Edible Cities Network - Integrating Edible City Solutions for social resilient and sustainably productive cities, on the UrbanA Wiki. Learn more about SHARECITY, a research project that explores food sharing initiatives in cities aroudn the world, culminating in the [SHARECITY100 database], aimed at increasing visibility and accessibility of these initiaitves.

#Accessibility - Green is for everyone

Sustainable and just cities respond to the ecological crisis by developing greener infrastructure and services that are accessible to all urban dwellers. In these cities, a person’s disability, gender, class, race, age, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, to name just a few, are not barriers. Everyone has equal access to urban amenities, green infrastructure, mobility, job opportunities, housing, food and energy. Accessibility is not only a physical issue, such as access to public space, it is also an economic issue (e.g. affordability), a knowledge one (e.g. language used), a social one (e.g. homelessness) and a political one (e.g. transparency in decision-making).

Related keys: #Economy #Power #Nature


What approaches can activate this key?

Here, the application of Nature-based Solutions for health and equality is crucial, as the approach focuses on how residents in all urban areas can benefit from greening interventions, as opposed to just a privileged few. Yet making urban sustainability accessible also means cultivating community and providing opportunities for residents to live dignified and healthy lives, especially those who have been targeted by systematic exclusion and discrimination. This type of community focused and driven work towards accessibility is evidenced by the right to housing movement and the expansion of community gardens. Often, exclusion from sustainability initiatives and benefits is a combined result of underlying inequalities and exclusions. In this sense, other helpful inclusion-oriented approaches can be used, like participative budgeting schemes, alternative financial practices and instruments (e.g., public ownership of services such as water and energy-services) and policies and practices for inclusion of disadvantaged groups.

What governance arrangements enable this key?

Increasing accessibility to green space requires more (and more meaningful) opportunities for public participation. Only by including the voices of socio-economically vulnerable groups in the process of shaping sustainability initiatives, can procedural justice be pursued. Thus, problems of accessibility otherwise invisible or unknown to planners and politicians can be paid due attention. This inclusion also needs to be complemented by policies that build bridges between separate, and even potentially opposed social groups. Finally, developing resilient and self-sufficient financing arrangements is fundamental for the creation of new tools and pathways that facilitate accessibility to urban environments.

What drivers of injustice does this key address?

Urban green spaces are unevenly distributed and accessed. This is related to the presence of historical inequities in the ways these spaces have been created and regulated. Examples are the racialized disinvestment in low-income, Indigenous, and communities of colour versus heavy investment in wealthy, white neighbourhoods. As cities put more money into sustainability without addressing the pre-existing landscape of inequity, gentrification and exclusion often follow, reproducing the very issues that city administrations are seeking to reverse. Increasing accessibility can address trends of racially or ethnically exclusionary urbanization and uneven access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure through more equitable distribution of interventions and better representation of minorities and vulnerable groups in decision-making processes.

Extra insights from UrbanA Community

  • “Accessibility is by law, a need in our society. It is clear that our society is changing (i.e. older, more nationalities and cultures sharing spaces) and cities have to make sure everyone can enjoy and live there.” (Pau Pamplona)
  • “I think accessibility should also be beyond physical spaces. How to access information. How to communicate through e-platforms. How to access education. How to access democratic online participation tools.” (Pilar Orero)
  • “Accessibility is essential for cities to ensure that its inhabitants, who are more often than not migrants, do not feel alienated. Keeping in mind the nature of employment in cities, this become doubly important to ensure the psychological wellbeing of inhabitants.” (Rohit Sarma)

Inspirational example: Policies for accessibility to green spaces, Lyon & Nantes

In the City of Lyon (France) a new policy was introduced in 2019 that establishes a minimum of green space in new development, seeking to encourage urban renovations, protect natural areas and enhance heritage and urban functions, while improving housing affordability.

This policy aimed to ensure greater accessibility to urban green spaces for residents, who (at the time) only had access (in terms of walkable distances, or convenient public transport) to 10% of the city’s relatively abundant available green space. While this policy recognizes the ample recreational, health, and biodiversity benefits of green, a lack of attention to accessibility could mean that these efforts focus on the development of higher (multi-storey) buildings, something that could make natural areas less accessible, enjoyable or welcoming than originally desired.

Another example is the greening strategy of Nantes (France), implemented since the 1980s and dedicating 6% of the city’s total budget to green space. The strategy favours an equality-driven approach that seeks to guarantee access to green space throughout the entire municipality: The plan aims for green spaces within 300 meters of the homes of Nantes’ residents. From 1984 to 2015, green spaces doubled, reaching 57 m2 of green space per capita for a total of 100 municipal parks. The city’s green space strategy combines small neighborhood parks, green corridors and large city-wide historic parks.

Avenues for action

Improve the accessibility of public engagement processes

  1. Make planning and public engagement processes accessible by providing tailored and targeted facilitation in consultation events (e.g. interpreters for sign language, audiovisual interpretations, accessibility of spaces and platforms).
  2. Design the engagement process together with the target group, social workers, and civil society organizations representing the groups.

See this example of the co-creation of a sustainable neighbourhood in Freiburg, Germany.

Use planning, regulations and funding as tools for sustainable and affordable housing

  1. Make sustainable housing affordable and accessible using planning measures, regulations and funding to guide the direction of housing development.
  2. Possible actions include retrofitting social housing, incorporating social dimensions (e.g. affordability and accessibility) in funding criteria, and using regulations to prevent the privatisation of green spaces and the gentrification of neighbourhoods.
  3. Integrate social responsibility (e.g. affordable housing) into future property and real-estate development contracts.
  4. Prioritise and enable creative housing arrangements (e.g. multigenerational houses, shared housing, cooperatives).

Get inspired by a community-led affordable housing intervention in Brussels, Belgium.

#Diversity - Inclusion starts by embracing diversity

Sustainable and just cities recognize and acknowledge diversity, analysing the real and diverse needs of all residents through an intersectional approach. Intersectionality helps city-makers understand combined inequalities based on the different identities and characteristics of a person or group. In a sustainable and just city, for example, a policy working to make greener areas safer for women examines not only gender-based inequalities, but also the influences of race and class. Such analysis is the basis for local policy solutions that lead to inclusive, people-centred and carbon-neutral cities.

Related keys: #Participation #Solidarity #Power


What approaches can activate this key?

Several approaches can activate this key to make cities more sustainable and just. To unlock the true power of diversity, we need to build policies and practices for inclusion of disadvantaged groups, foster democratic innovation through recognition, nurture a culture of empowerment and reconceptualize urban justice and sustainability. Each of these approaches provides pathways for invigorating, expanding and appreciating diversity as a necessary building block in creating resilient, just and sustainable cities.

What governance arrangements enable this key?

To justly recognize diversity, a true commitment to meaningful participation is needed. This means that inclusion is not only supported as a ‘head nod’ or in a ‘check-box’ mode, but rather that sufficient efforts go into the meaningful involvement and leadership of diverse people and collectives. It is also crucial that this applies to power structures, and is present in each step of the planning and decision-making process. This can be achieved by tapping into existing community networks and making space for adaptation and experimentation. Another important way to facilitate diversity is by building bridges between different stakeholder groups. This means that not only is diversity acknowledged and encouraged, but that these diverse actors are brought together for meaningful collaboration, which ultimately underpins the design of holistic and intersectional solutions.

What drivers of injustice does this key address?

Unacknowledged #Diversity drives many forms of urban injustice and leads to unfit institutional structures and weak(ened) civil society. Not recognizing the diversity of citizens and their needs can lead to racialized or ethnically exclusionary urbanization, uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration, exclusive access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure and uneven environmental health and pollution patterns. Only a city that acknowledges and addresses the diversity of its citizens and their needs at the level of local politics and praxis, can be truly just and sustainable.

Extra insights from UrbanA Community

  • “I think this key is useful as long as the protagonists participate in the process of policy-making. Creating policies for marginalised people without marginalised people has been shown to be inefficient.” (Begoña Pérez Pérez)

Inspirational example: Celebrating diversity via food, Ljubljana, Slovenia and Graz, Austria

In 2020 in Upper Austria, a number of participants came together for two cooking classes. However, these were not classes to teach how to make Wiener Schnitzel or apple strudel; instead, participants learned about the secrets and histories of Bosnian and Arabic foods, and co-created wonderful meals.

This is the activity that took place as part of the Urban Diversity project, which aims to stir the creativity and improve the economic performance of small- and medium-sized companies and enterprises led by migrant entrepreneurs in Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Graz (Austria). The project highlights the presence and creativity of migrant entrepreneurs while also promoting intercultural understanding, openness and tolerance, facilitating their integration into the local community. Projects such as Diverse Cities not only promote the work of ethnically diverse individuals and enterprises, but contribute to the meaningful empowerment of individuals from varied origins, deepening and enriching the everyday representation of their cultures and histories.

Avenues for action

Invest in proactive inclusion measures

  1. Ensure that environmental planning and decision-making is accessible to all urban residents through concrete measures, e.g. accessible language and awareness-raising campaigns.
  2. Participate in the work of the people you are working with (e.g. citizen- and community-led initiatives), and approach them, instead of expecting them to approach you first.
  3. Involve mediators who can understand conflicts and diverging perspectives. Ensure that civil servants receive the right training.

Learn more about university-community partnerships that embrace participatory action research as a planning strategy.

Identify and learn from marginalised groups

  1. Identify marginalised and excluded groups, and learn from them about their needs and wishes. Attend their events in their spaces and discuss directly with them about their needs, goals and motives. Using this information, and the direct relationships, to plan together on how they can engage in the decision-making process and activities.
  2. Cooperate with civil society organisations run by or representing marginalised groups when planning actions and activities.

Learn more about Policies and practices for the inclusion of disadvantaged groups, and about Democratic innovation through recognition. Also learn about projects like CITISPYCE which seek to engage disadvantaged and marginalised youth in European cities, and afford them greater inclusion in policy making processes.

#Nature - Nature creates living and breathing cities

In sustainable and just cities, nature-based planning is central. Rewilding initiatives, permaculture, biodiversity and continuously productive urban landscapes intersect with social and economic initiatives. They are designed with and around blue and green infrastructure, and aim for enhanced resilience. Urban nature provides shelter to flora and fauna, which, in turn, people use and enjoy. Natural infrastructure helps reduce hazards like urban heat islands, and this infrastructure is implemented and maintained in a way that supports the most vulnerable neighbourhoods. Harmful and polluting industries are scaled down and the use of cars is significantly reduced in order to allow human and non-human life to thrive.

Related keys: #Adaptation #Accessibility #Regional


What approaches can activate this key?

Several approaches activate this key to opening possibilities for more sustainable and just cities. To unlock the true power of nature we need to reconceptualize urban justice and sustainability, rethink governance for urban climate mitigation and adaptation, rely on nature-based solutions and nurture a culture of empowerment. Each of these approaches provides orientations, pathways and tools for invigorating, expanding and appreciating nature. They also help to conceptualise nature as inseparable from culture, environmental governance, problem-solving and comprehensive understandings of urban sustainability and justice.

What governance arrangements enable this key?

Nature’s vitality and potential in urban settings are stimulated through various means: comprehensive visions of change that are broad, integrated, and work from the bottom up; commitment to a meaningful participation process that can assure that the visioning process is well informed by community aspirations and localized placemaking potential; and building bridges between separate stakeholder groups to understand what is possible and makes the most sense in a given socio-ecological context. Developing resilient and self-sufficient financing arrangements is also needed to assure the capacity to implement the vision.

What drivers of injustice does this key address?

If integrated in an inclusive way, #Nature can help cities to overcome differentiations in access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure and uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration. Urban #Nature is also crucial in dealing with uneven environmental health and pollution patterns, particularly in the context of unquestioned neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism.

Extra insights from UrbanA Community


Inspirational example: Preventing floods with a stormwater park, Malmö, Sweden

Inaugurated in 2020, the [Dagvattenparken] (Stormwater Park) in the Hyllie district of Southern Malmö combines green and blue infrastructure in a rapidly growing city.

The park provides a stormwater reservoir for more than 6,600 m3 of water, which is much needed due to heavier rainfalls in the last few years. The scenic park, with its pedestrian and bicycle paths, a bridge to look over the treetops and meadow also serve as an oasis for the local habitants. The surrounding city is characterized by its young, diverse, multicultural and growing population, but also by its increasing densification. The rainwater park is an effort to simultaneously incorporate more nature into an urban area, manage the impacts of climate change and address equal access to nature in a dense city.

Avenues for action

Support projects which help us think differently about our relationship with nature

  1. Redefine conceptions of who and what has rights, including sentient animals and even natural features inside and outside cities to better protect and regenerate nature.
  2. Be inspired by successful legal battles to award personhood and legal rights to national parks, rivers and other natural bodies.
  3. Reflecting on what is indigeneous, create stories from and around natural features in the city so it belongs as an explicit part of the neighbourhoods and help the inhabitants relate to them and help them become guardians of nature.
  4. Adopt different ways of defining, understanding and experiencing nature, with up-stream salutogenic design and attention to different and civic-based worldviews, value systems, organising ideas and mental models overcoming techno-science approaches.

Read more about Wuppertal's Urban Gardening Peace Project. Read about debates over the meaning of indigeneity in the modern world. Listen to the Designers of Paradise podcast on initiatives experimenting with agricultural approaches to natural restoration.

Harness the potential of nature-based solutions for justice

  1. Foster nature-based solutions (NBS) which can, in addition to technical innovations, strengthen access to nature and ecosystem services. Reflect and invest in the social benefits of NBS.
  2. Limit heat stress, Improve water quality and reduce flooding by using green roofs,city parks and natural stormwater management systems .
  3. Ensure that nature-based solutions and the unique cultural characteristics of neighbourhoods go hand-in-hand while preventing green gentrification.
  4. Provide multi-functional green spaces which support both the adaptation to climate change and sports and recreation. These spaces are also important for local community-building and increase the attractiveness of the neighbourhood.
  5. Protect against so-called “Green gentrification” by ensuring that the benefits of NBS are distributed across society.

Learn more about nature-based solutions. Read about projects like GreenLULUs on the distribution of urban greening benefits.

Foster urban biodiversity using mapping tools

  1. Gather high-quality data by mapping and analysing the accessibility and quality of green spaces using GIS tools and participatory crowdsourcing and mapping.
  2. Commit to address biodiversity imbalances, use funding and regulations as tools for fostering urban and biodiverse nature.

Get inspired by Mapping access to green spaces in Cape Town, South Africa.