Written by Mihalis Kritikos
Urban stakeholders, urban policy-makers and representatives from the European institutions and beyond joined the STOA workshop ‘Transition towards Sustainable and Liveable Urban Futures’ on 29 September in Brussels. The event was chaired by Paul Rübig MEP, STOA Chair, and moderated by Jan Olbrycht MEP, President of the European Parliament’s URBAN Intergroup.
The workshop, which marked the launch of the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) for European urban areas and cities, took place at the European Parliament (EP) and was jointly organised by the EP’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel and the URBAN Intergroup, together with the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) of the European Commission (EC). The aim of the workshop was to discuss the role of research and science in transforming cities into smart and sustainable thriving areas. One important feature of the programme was a panel discussion with mayors from four European cities (Bristol, Udine, Trikala and Delft) sharing their thoughts about the future and experiences of implementing new technology-based solutions in their cities.
In his opening statement, Ingolf Schädler, Chair of the JPI Urban Europe Governing Board, said on the Urban Europe initiative: ”We are the missing link that can make a difference, bridging silos with an integrated approach, linking national and European funding and linking science and policy”. Paul Rübig MEP elaborated and emphasised the work of STOA in tackling urban-related challenges and made a special reference, along with Jan Olbrycht MEP, to the ”need to involve cities as partners in inter- and transdisciplinary research and innovation with the cities’ challenges in focus.”
All speakers praised the timely character of this interdisciplinary approach in relation to other important urban initiatives on a European and global level, for example the EU Urban Agenda, and the UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Agenda. The role of cities as key actors and partners of research and innovation was repeatedly mentioned. Lambert van Nistelrooij MEP, Vice-President of the URBAN Intergroup, suggested that cities should let go of the controlling government approach and instead apply an invitational approach opening up to more research and closer cooperation with citizens, NGOs and activists to implement action-driven policies at the local level.
The notion that cities can be used as laboratories for jointly developing and testing new solutions is supported by European policy-makers and by decision-makers in cities. The four mayors – George Ferguson (Bristol, UK), Furio Honsell (Udine, Italy), Dimitris Papastergiou, (Trikala, Greece) and Bas Verkerk (Delft, the Netherlands) – all showcased examples of how they use their cities as laboratories for technological experiments that could improve the quality of urban life. Kurt Vandenberghe, from DG RTD, EC, announced a call within Horizon 2020 for financing urban living labs to test new concepts and nature-based solutions in real-life urban settings, in order to create a global market for cost-efficient answers to combat local heat island effects, extreme weather events etc.
To conclude, speakers emphasised that innovation, social equality and inclusion in cities should go hand in hand. However, proving how innovation leads to social benefits and cohesion in cities remains a challenge. According to George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol: ”Research can provide data and help evaluate the social benefits of innovation so that city leaders are armed with the arguments for change, since citizens do not see these benefits before they happen.”
Further concerns were expressed about how smart city concepts can increase the divide among citizens, and the challenges posed by the escalating refugee crisis.
If you missed the event, check it out here.