#SeenInRiga: The URBACT City Festival Has Started!

Bertil Nilsson

By Bertil Nilsson, on May 6th, 2015

> Read Bertil Nilsson's articles

Today, the URBACT City Festival finally started in Riga, Latvia. This is a crucially important event, highlighting the experience from URBACT II and linking it to the new URBACT III programme. In the upcoming three days, over 450 participants will share, get inspired and discover innovative solutions to transform cities over a wide range of exciting activities, such as Deep-dive workshops , Masterclasses, Idea factory , Meet the cities  and Walkshops.

The URBACT festival started with a very tasty and enjoyable welcoming lunch, in the Congress Centre, located just outside the Old Town of Riga. This was a networking opportunity for members of the URBACT community and newcomers alike. Encouraged by a rain of glittery confettis, many contacts were made between participants in URBACT networks, as well as between urban practitioners and other delegates interested in urban development.

Nils Ušakovs, the Mayor of Riga welcomed the participants to the Latvian capital and wished everyone an unforgettable Riga and festival experience.

Sally Kneeshaw , operating as the mistress of ceremony, introduced us to the outline of activities programmed to take place over the next three days and a clear picture of this unique event on sustainable urban development started to take form. All sessions, from the Deep-Dive Workshops and Masterclasses to the innovative Walkshops or Urbact Cafe, are oriented towards the capitalization of all URBACT knowledge drawn from its numerous city networks all around Europe. But with the Unpacking Knowledge and Idea Factory sessions, participants are encouraged to stirr into existence the ideas that they’ll go home with: collect, connect, co-create!

Deep-Dive Workshops and Masterclasses

The first of the many activities lined up for the festival participants was a set of parallel workshops and masterclasses. These will all repeat again on Friday, in order to give every participant the possibility to attend one workshop and one masterclass.

To just give you a flavour of what happened during these sessions, the workshop “Job Generation for a Jobless Generation” tackled the youth employment challenge in cities and the question on how to engage employers and young people in finding a solution to this problem of concern for European cities. We liked hearing the point of view of young people from Thessaloniki who searched for a solution by developing creative approaches.

Another workshop focused on the New Urban Economies, such as the digital economy, the green economy and the collaborative economy. These are all seen as a game changer, transforming our cities. We heard actual examples of European cities which seized these new emerging trends and provided support to initiatives from citizens or local business in order to help them to develop and at the same time to promote the economy.

Meanwhile, Adolf Sotoca gave a masterclass on ‘The compact City’, going over the strategies to reduice urban sprawls, from setting urban bounderies to redensification via brownfields management and how they need to and can be combined, crossing mostly examples from Catalynia and from the City of Portland, OR, in the USA and producing GIS visualisation of the issues and the impact of the different stategies.

Last, but not least, Emma Clarence brought in most needed critical insights into the buzzing concept of the Sharing Economy – insights of which one can get a first impression of in the article she produced for the URBACT website last week: Cohesive or Corrosive? Why the sharing economy is dividing cities.

 Meeting the cities

We walked around and listened to the ongoing lively discussions during the “Meet the cities” session and it was really a good opportunity to meet city representatives working in URBACT networks and being able to ask questions about an issue of your own interest. Many delegates in search for potential partners also took the opportunity to visit the corner dedicated to URBACT III and put their project ideas on a board.

An Icebreaking cocktail

A short walk took us to from the Congress Center to the very beautiful Small Guilde venue (Maza Guild), where the Icebreaking cocktail took place. Interesting speeches of European Commission and Latvian government representatives were followed by more… artistic moments of sudden singing of young Latvian choir members spread among the crowd, who joined in for popular latvian songs! Ice was broken for sure.

Tomorrow we will be out and about in Riga to discover the city and at the same time take part in interactive working sessions called “Walkshops”  organized by on-going URBACT networks. For which we will be following the advice of Mayor Nils Ušakovs, and put on our walking shoes.

A final tips: a lot of additionnal impressions of the day, including the pop-up furniture at our colourful venue, are gathered under our two hashtags: #URBACTFest and #SeenInRiga.


By Jianca Stefan, URBACT NDP, Romania and Bertil Nilsson, URBACT NDP, Sweden

Header image by David Vieira, participant, via Twitter


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