In response to a host of complex challenges faced by cities today, people and organizations in Europe and beyond are hard at work innovating urban planning, infrastructure, and governance processes. These city-makers develop interventions that address issues ranging from the prospect of unmitigated climate change and its associated hazards to spiraling socio-economic inequalities and the related erosion of social cohesion and general well-being. The context in which these interventions operate changes rapidly as new issues like digitalization (e.g. automatization, robotization, internet of things) and increasing migration (e.g. from rural to urban areas, or from unstable to safer zones) emerge. Because these interventions interact within and among complex social and ecological systems, it is essential that city-makers have the capacity to implement transdisciplinary, dynamic, and co-creative approaches inspired by systems thinking that map, assess, and distill urban solutions in a holistic fashion. Without such approaches, there is a high risk of unintended consequences especially with regard to increasing social inequality and the exclusion of socially vulnerable groups.
European and global institutions have recently highlighted the importance of such holistic city-level interventions. Global accords, such as the UN 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement emphasize the role of cities in devising transformative strategies and actions that meet the needs of society. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular SDG 11, also refer to cities as important players in addressing systemic challenges ranging from poverty and gender inequality, to climate change and energy impacts. At the EU level, Member States have formulated the Urban Agenda, which highlights interacting functional themes (urban mobility, housing, energy transition), environmental themes (air quality, climate adaptation), justice themes (urban poverty, inclusion of migrants and refugees), economic themes (circular economy, jobs and skills in the urban economy) and boundary conditions (sustainable land use, strong institutions and public procurement).
Responding to conditions highlighted by these policy frameworks, a number of recent EU-funded research projects (e.g. SEISMIC, GREEN SURGE, PRIMUS, PATHWAYS, TRANSFORM) have been carried out to identify urban solutions for grand societal challenges. As a result, drivers of urban inequities and social exclusion have been identified in different contexts, pointing toward new possibilities to adapt to fast-paced developments while mitigating the adverse effects of urbanization. In retrospect, though, there is an urgent need to synthesize and broker the knowledge and experience generated by these projects. By linking specific aspects of otherwise disconnected projects, we create new and integrated approaches to increasing quality of life in cities and informing the ways in which cities are governed and planned to be environmentally and ecologically sustainable, while becoming more equitable and inclusive at the same time.
In UrbanA, we aim at achieving this synthesis by setting-up an Arena of city-makers, including practitioners, policymakers, and researchers. This Arena is based on (transition) governance principles and is centered on four iterative rounds of exchange, in which the consortium partners and Arena participants will co-creatively map, assess and distill the findings of relevant EU-funded projects, as well as other interventions identified by participating city-makers. The Arena is designed to generate convincing, actor- and context-specific, and actionable solutions – including in the form of policy recommendations – related to urban sustainability, regeneration and resilience, and that achieve interactional equity, the inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups and deep forms of democracy and citizens’ emancipation.
Our vision is to promote shared economic wealth creation, green amenities, and environmentally-centered interventions, together with urban equity and inclusion.