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Discover 4 keys to make cities regenerative:

#Regional - Regional integration makes cities stronger

Sustainable and just cities have strong, circular and equitable links with one another in the context of a wider region, supporting both urban and rural areas. They support decentralized and collaborative economic and planning approaches, in which individual responsibility is balanced with the well-being of the region as a whole. These cities are attuned to the interconnected natural and human systems in their region: infrastructure, resource and waste flows, as well as cultural and social behaviours. With growing translocal challenges, cities can reorient goods and services to their nearby surroundings, decreasing environmental impacts and increasing resilience to crises.

Related keys: #Participation #Knowledge #Nature


What approaches can activate this key?

Enhancing the mutually beneficial development of cities and their regions for the broader purposes of sustainability and justice can be activated by three groups of approaches and goals. The first is to enable dialogue and mutual learning between civil society, the scientific community and policy makers, paying close attention to the inclusion of diverse voices and of knowledge coming from experience. This can take place via Co-learning and knowledge brokerage, Multi-stakeholder partnership - policy, Data Collection, Pathways and scenarios. The second is to support and strengthen innovative governance processes that allow for effective and empowered participation by all stakeholders, for instance via Democratic innovation through recognition, Governance and participation processes or Participatory budgeting. Finally, the third is to ensure that the initiatives and policies that are shaping the territory and people’s mindsets and behaviours can engender learning in a systemic and integral way from interventions, namely in terms of their design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and adaptation. Some concrete approaches are Community gardens and food, Social food movements, Sustainable food supply chains, Nature-based solutions, Governance for urban climate mitigation and adaptation, and Regeneration of disused urban land.

What governance arrangements enable this key?

Developing a comprehensive vision of change that can include and integrate aspirations from the regional level down to the local and community level is crucial for achieving greater sustainability and justice. Such a vision needs to go beyond words and actually shape policies, urban planning and small-scale interventions. As such, its implementation needs to come along with capacity- and relationship-building processes to empower it. [[Build bridges between separate stakeholder groups|Building bridges between separate stakeholder groups] and Committing to a meaningful participation process are two such governance arrangements. They enable communication and broker information between different stakeholders and within institutions (effectively breaking silos), building up trust, as well as furthering inclusive and decentralised democratic participation.

What drivers of injustice does this key address?

Seeing cities as interdependent and integrated members of a region addresses the lack of coordinated policy and effective decision-making by urban governance institutions at different scales (Unfit institutional structures). It also addresses the insufficient, ineffective and limited participation in urban development: Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities and Limited citizen participation in urban planning). Regional thinking can bring a deeper capacity to listening, planning, intervening and learning in a way that breaks the status quo in terms of both sustainability and justice, especially in regard to decision making for investments and the distribution of resource flows (Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration).

Extra insights from UrbanA Community

  • "Cities have a role to put inhabitants in direct contact with natural processes to foster care for nature and for each other (e.g. river, agroforestry, food production)"
  • "Cities translate broad strategies (global, European, regional) into reality, yet these strategies are frequently decoupled from local realities and capacities."
  • "Local voices are frequently excluded when it comes to making decisions on regional structures (such as managing natural resources or infrastructure) that influence life in their neighbourhoods."
  • "Most people living in cities have a daily life that is somewhat separated from a direct and conscious experience of big issues like climate change, loss of biodiversity or hunger."

Inspirational example: Access to natural landscapes, Cascais, Portugal

The municipality of Cascais, Portugal, took the lead to enable a regional governance scheme for a national park and erode the usual separation of urban and natural areas when it comes to having access to high-value natural and cultural landscapes.

One-third of Cascais’ territory is classified as the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. It is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site for its outstanding natural and cultural landscape value and is managed by national authorities. With more than 14.500 hectares, the reality is that there are many stakeholders for the park -- public and private -- affecting its use and conditions. This complex governance situation usually results in untapped potential in terms of the social fulfilment and well-being of the population in the region, as well as for enhancement of ecosystem services.

Cascais had the political vision and will to initiate a collaborative and proactive governance scheme for the park’s management. It facilitated partnerships between stakeholders to restore its biodiversity and landscapes and to promote responsible and sustainable uses, like recreation. One such example is the Pisão Farm, owned by a social NGO, in which 360 hectares have been restored to merge the natural and cultural values of sustainable forest and agriculture management with landscape and ecosystem restoration. The farm is now a valuable tourism and leisure centre visited by thousands each year.

Avenues for action

Adopt and promote regional product labels

  1. Create and democratise regional platforms for e.g. information-sharing, participation processes and citizen-led initiatives. Use these platforms to engage citizens in regional policies.
  2. Collaborate with municipalities across administrative borders.

Read more about projects like GRTA from Geneva, which promote direct sales and local food production and consumption. The Monnaie Leman case from Geneva also promotes regional integration. Further examples of Sustainable food supply chains are available too.

Think and act beyond municipal and regional borders

  1. Adopt a flexible and cross-border (“bioregion”) lens in policy-making. Instead of being bounded by administrative and political borders, reconsider the spatial scale based on human and ecosystemic communities.

Get inspired by Agrocite in Colombes, Paris, which supports the emergence of alternative models of living, producing and consuming between the urban and rural.

Facilitate regional exchange with shared online platforms

  1. Create and democratise regional platforms for e.g. information-sharing, participation processes and citizen-led initiatives. Use these platforms to engage citizens in regional policies.
  2. Collaborate with municipalities across administrative borders.

Explore this civic innovation map, developed by citizens as a means of learning about and engaging with civic innovations from across Ibero-American communities.

#Art - Art creates a sense of belonging, and has the power to transform places

Sustainable and just cities promote cultural, artistic and creative activities. Artistic practices help overcome verbal and emotional barriers, and can build shared values such as justice and belonging. The arts play a crucial role in political expression and education, in that they enable much needed social dialogue within and between communities. From there, people can make use of this exchange of local knowledge to promote visions for sustainable and just cities. Moreover, a sense of belonging and togetherness created in urban cultural and historic areas helps empower communities for a just transition.

Related keys: #Accessibility #Diversity #Knowledge


What approaches can activate this key?

Art and culture have an important role in supporting a sustainable and just transition in cities. One potential pathway is to achieve a tangible or physical urban transformation by performing an inclusive and environmentally-friendly process of urban development through cultural solutions. Moreover, art can also be a tool to connect with traditionally excluded communities in a more creative manner, promoting collective thinking and raising awareness about justice and sustainability issues via approaches such as Culture for empowerment.

What governance arrangements enable this key?

Art boosts creativity, and as such, it can be a powerful tool for visualizing an innovative desired shared future, enabling the governance arrangement of “Creating a common vision for change”. Similarly, culture is often called the “glue” that holds people together, and therefore, intercultural dialogue can contribute to the governance arrangement of “Building bridges between separate stakeholder groups”.

What drivers of injustice does this key address?

Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration refers to the ways in which new urban developments might force trade-offs between the social and environmental goals of urban sustainability projects. These processes have been very widespread in the historic city centres. Undertaking regeneration projects that protect cultural and artistic values in their core, such as adaptive reuse of cultural heritage, not only reduces environmental impact (by saving energy and waste) but it also enhances a sense of belonging and social inclusion, respecting the heritage communities around it.

Extra insights from UrbanA Community

  • Art and creativity play an important role in bringing people together and envisioning a more sustainable and just future.
  • Though music, drawing, sculpture, theatre and more, artists can influence and help people understand and engage with issues around sustainability and justice.
  • Art should not be used only through its creative potential and emotional aspects, but also as a pedagogical tool to bridge the gap between expert and non-expert citizens. Art can help conceptualise ideas that might otherwise be hard to communicate.

Inspirational example: Greening city heritage, Bologna, Italy

The City of Bologna has transformed Piazza Rossini, one of the squares in the historic city centre, into a permanent pedestrian area, leaving behind its former use as a parking lot.

This initiative was powered by the Municipality of Bologna, the University of Bologna and Fondazione Innovazione Urbana. The initial idea of greening Piazza Rossini in an effort to restore social and cultural values of the square emerged during the participatory laboratory “U-Lab,” attended by more than 250 participants in 2018. Based on this lab, a group of university students designed the project and a green carpet was temporarily installed during the summer of 2020. With an average daily presence of 27.000 visitors, the area serves as a gathering space. In view of the positive environmental and social impact, the municipality decided to grant a pedestrian use for Piazza Rossini.

More information available here and here.

Avenues for action

Use art as a tool for participation and system change

  1. Make your communication more inclusive, accessible and fun by using art-based methods. Provide these methods as an alternative or addition to verbal consultations.
  2. Hold vision sessions on the desired change and prototype alternative futures together with the public using creative approaches such as painting, music, and sculpture, temporary installations etc. Explore powerful, art-based methods such as theatre of the oppressed, dragon dreaming etc.
  3. Use art to make your visions more tangible for both the public and decision-makers (e.g. in artivism), and help them to imagine the change. Enable and encourage citizens to use art to express their ideas for future neighbourhoods, Art can be used to provoke discussion and to inspire action.
  4. Hire artists as imagination facilitators and dream-catchers.

Learn more about Dragon Dreaming in project design, Culture for empowerment, and Urban development through cultural solutions.

#Participation - Meaningful participation is empowering

Sustainable and just cities offer all people the opportunity to deliberate on and co-create plans and policies. The historic lack of platform and unequal power given to some groups in decision making are actively addressed. Participation is not just a buzzword with a standard set of expected steps or outcomes. Rather, it is an evolving process that empowers people to shape their cities in ways that respond to their needs and aspirations. By governing through meaningful participation, outcomes are more inclusive and effective, and are genuinely supported by the public.

Related keys: #Power #Diversity #CivilSociety


What approaches can activate this key?

Involving people in shaping their neighbourhoods and cities comes in many forms. Community gardens allow locals to physically engage in sustainable food practices together. Transition towns and Experimentation labs centre on the idea that the capacities held in communities are a powerful source of innovation and change. Citizen science allows non-scientists to take part in scientific research, and the concept of Co-learning and knowledge brokerage entails congregating different groups to exchange knowledge on complex urban challenges. Finally, re-distributing decision-making power through approaches like Participatory budgeting is one example of a Governance and participation process that considers individuals’ priorities in a serious, structured way.

What governance arrangements enable this key?

This key is supported by the governance arrangement, "Commit to a meaningful participation process". Based on input from the UrbanA Community and the study of many urban initiatives, this governance arrangement describes how participation can be an integral part of collective action towards just and sustainable cities. It outlines important considerations for both municipality-led and community-led initiatives. For example, working continuously towards building trust on both sides -- on the side of community groups, and on the side of local administrations -- is a key element for meaningful (and sustained) engagement and dialogue. Municipalities partnering with trusted community organizations or local “social connectors” can build a foundation for future engagement, especially for those who speak different languages, those with little or no educational background and even young children. Check out a short explanatory video, here.

What drivers of injustice does this key address?

This key is crucial to addressing limited citizen participation in urban planning. This driver of injustice refers to the limited involvement of citizens in decision making around the design, implementation and/or evaluation of urban sustainability-oriented interventions. Giving increased consideration of citizens’ needs and providing opportunities to actively shape initiatives can improve procedural and representational justice in urban sustainability governance.

This key is also a remedy to a lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities. This refers to useful information and know-how around sustainable urban interventions not being shared effectively or equally among social groups, sectors or disciplines. Ensuring access to this information in inclusive knowledge-sharing formats could give marginalised groups in particular more opportunities to take part in and benefit from urban sustainability initiatives.

Extra insights from UrbanA Community

  • “To develop shared visions, purpose, and strategies that enable projects and policy, we need to bring the whole city system into ‘the room’: including voices of residents, managers, business, and civil society”(M.Hamilton).
  • “By being included in decisions that affect them, participants own them and consequently solutions are more meaningful and more effectively implemented” (A. Esen).

Inspirational example: Participative governance mechanism, Istanbul, Turkey

The Istanbul Municipality has established the Istanbul Planning Agency in 2020 in order to facilitate participative governance mechanisms towards the city's vision of a “green, just and creative city."

The platform allows locals to join working groups on various themes such as social life, environment, etc. The agency also acts as a facilitating body for several workshops around specific themes and interest groups, such as children-friendly cities and gender-based challenges in the context of Istanbul’s social fabric

See more here and here.

Avenues for action

Use Citizen Assemblies in decision making

  1. Citizen assemblies and panels are great tools to share power, discuss different topics and put forward citizen-led initiatives in decision-making.
  2. Make sure that the Assembly is representative of the population concerned (e.g. whole population, marginalised groups) and that it has a genuine impact on the decisions.
  3. Ensure commitment from decision-makers to implement outcomes.

Learn more about the Conference on the Future of Europe. Get inspired by the Glasgow Citizens' Assembly on the Climate Emergency. See guides on how to start a local-level climate assembly, here.

Improve the settings for participation

  1. Ensure the safety, accessibility, and openness of the setting. The space for participation should be free of judgement, and sensitive to different opinions, cultures, and social assets.
  2. Make participation attractive by providing funding and rewards for participation.
  3. Create and support existing enabling community spaces and forums (e.g. sports, clubs, community centres, religious institutions.)
  4. Organise events in accessible times and consider evenings and weekends, depending on the target group.

Find ideas and theories on the OECD webpage on Innovative Citizen Participation. Learn about the Transformative Cities People's Choice award.

#Adaptation - Change is inevitable, and adaptation essential

Sustainable and just cities go beyond being open to change, they have a spirit of continuous adaptation. Disruptive changes, such as climate change and global pandemics, aggravate systemic inequalities. City-makers stay alert to these, as well as unintended consequences from their actions and are prepared to learn from potential failures. They embrace just transformation through a flexible and reflexive approach. They adapt along the way, based on emerging opportunities, needs and ongoing experience.

Related keys: #Knowledge #Translocal #Technology


What approaches can activate this key?

In adaptive, experimental initiatives, extra resources are given to learning how to create more sustainable and just cities. Experimentation labs are places for testing ideas, methods and technologies to address urban challenges. Transition towns represent a community-oriented approach to experimentation where residents can build resilience and pioneer environmental, economic and social solutions. Smart Cities demonstrate a more technical approach to urban development based on data collection and analysis -- but if made accessible to all, data generated by Smart Cities initiatives can unlock creativity and experimentation in efforts of making cities more responsive to change. Many organizations may not have the willingness or capacity to undertake such experimental approaches: Nonetheless, adaptation is increasingly a part of urban societies. Harnessing nature’s intelligence through Nature-based solutions is also a smart and effective way for cities to adapt to change.

What governance arrangements enable this key?

Urban adaptation can be supported by the governance arrangement, "Make space for adaptation and experimentation". Based on input from the UrbanA Community and the study of many urban initiatives, this arrangement describes how adaptation and experimentation are both essential and beneficial for initiatives working towards sustainable and just cities. It outlines, for example, how consistent reflection, learning from mistakes and allowing space for detours allows initiatives to remain resilient to and even benefit from change.

What drivers of injustice does this key address?

Embracing adaptation and experimentation may help overcome a driver of injustice that UrbanA has categorised as Unfit institutional structures (see video here). This concept refers to structures that can be found in public or private organizations that are characterized by strict, top-down governance and rigid bureaucracies. These limit knowledge generation and exchange, and often result in sustainability policies that fail to address the realities of vulnerable residents. Increased openness to adaptability allows for responsiveness to changing social and economic conditions and better positions initiatives to meet the shifting needs of those they serve. It is a counter-model to organisational rigidity, in which institutions are not willing to change their methods, metrics or objectives.

Extra insights from UrbanA Community

  • “Adaptation is developed through a pathway approach, a continuously inclusive decision-making process respecting local communities’ vision for a changing future, considering scenario variations and adjusting its premises.” (J. Dinis)
  • “Failure is a natural part of experimentation, yet many vulnerable groups cannot afford this risk” (Arena Participant)
  • “Experimentation in social justice initiatives can also be a sensitive topic, since those involved already face discrimination and should not feel like they are being “experimented on.” Instead projects should create arrangements where people can adapt, learn and grow.” (Arena Participant)

Inspirational example: Adaptive affordable housing initiative, Brussels, Belgium

To address a housing affordability crisis in Brussels, Belgium, an innovative initiative called Community Land Trust Brussels has taken on the role of social real estate developer.

While they work to develop standardised procedures for their housing developments and lead participatory engagement when possible, the Land Trust team claims that it is essential to reflect upon and adapt to internal learning and external change: “We are constantly reflecting on things... For every part of the operation we regularly rethink how to do it. This happens at the level of the team, and also on the level of our working groups, partner associations, experts and other stakeholders, and the level of our board" (Interview with DePauw, 01.21). Importantly, from the beginning, the Brussels Capital Region, a major financial supporter of the Land Trust, has been responsive to the initiative’s interests, allowing it space to develop its innovative ideas.

Read more about this inspiration example here and here.

Avenues for action

Experiment for sustainable and just cities

  1. Experiment with innovative solutions when possible and review their success along the way. Don’t be afraid to abandon or adjust the experiment if necessary.
  2. Ensure the feedback process between the project and the experiment. For example, in events, discuss processes, challenges and failures instead of outcomes.
  3. In co-creation processes, find a balance between structure and flexibility. Impactful participation implies a possibility for change emerging from the participation process.

Learn more about the UrbanA Enabling Governance Arrangement, "Make space for adaptation and experimentation".

Facilitate the emergence of sites of change

  1. Recognise the value in vacant and obsolete spaces as sites of change. Facilitate the transformation by identifying these spaces, organising open calls, and providing support for the local communities to take over the spaces (e.g. permits, resources).

Get inspired by the OpenHeritage project on adaptive heritage re-use best practices, and the CLIC project for circular reuse of cultural heritage.