#URBACTfest, Walking from Experience Towards Insight

Jorge Toledo

By Jorge Toledo, on May 7th, 2015

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After a very inspiring starting day and a merry cocktail party at the municipality in the evening (we had to sing in Latvian!), we met on thursday morning at the Conference Centre for the second day of the Festival. And it started well…

After a networking coffee that provided a place to meet, to chat and to find opportunities, Dionne F. Abdoelhafiezkhan from ‘IZI Solutions’ (based in the Netherlands) shook us up with a lively and enlighting presentation of her work, dedicated to empowering yougsters of mixed cultural background to find a way to professional life. One of the main challenges, she explained, was to process racism issues, which often happen to be at the root of their non-alignment with the larger society and later professional life.

“Putting labels on people is an easy way to market something that you dont understand”.

— Dionne F. Abdoelhafiezkhan

Cultural background is a complex thing, but an equally difficult one is the ‘generation differences’ between the Boomers, the X’ers and the Y’ers. The significant generation gaps generate a lot of misunderstanding on all sides when it comes to job seeking or the use of digital tools.

Walking Chefs for an Urban Kitchen

 Walkshops are a way of diving deeper into the experiences of URBACT II networks and at the same time discover the host city of Riga through some of their respective topics. A transnational and “glocal” mix of experiences!

All the participants were split into 10 groups, each dedicated to very specific issues like innovative city branding, the improvement of urban pathways, the creation of urban value from the unused potentials of the vacant buildings, or the way to “cook up” resilient city economies.

All of them combined inspiring presentations of URBACT results and enjoyable walks around the city, but the last one was especially funny to see, as ‘chefs’ dressed-up in smocks led a group of people in the streets of Riga.

Unpacking knowledge and raising questions

Making sense of what we have been thinking about and experiencing these days, and pushing the participants to communicate their thoughts to the others, was the task of Maurizio Travaglini and his team from Idea Factory. This company leads social experiments and collaboration dynamics, building trust among actors and creating spaces or contexts for purposeful conversations.

And so they did again at #URBACTfest! They brought to the event some methodologies for conversation and teamwork that helped us to reflect on our experience with the walkshops and generate, not only answers, but also relevant questions.

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question”

— Eugene Ionesco, as quoted by Maurizio Travaglini

Idea Factory set up a very clear, step-by-step process which participants could use (or not!) as a guide for the conversation, using powerful concepts like “socio-cultural shift” and the “resonance” with each attendee’s experience.

The resulting questions were written down to be addressed the next day during a second Idea Factory session, for which Travaglini asked us to deliver “undivided attention”.

Back to the national context

A format inherited from previous events, the URBACT Café was again the opportunity to “go back home” and discuss the most relevant issues around national tables. The first part of the conversation evolved around urban trending topics that cities need to address, and the second part gathered feedback on how URBACT could improve for the bennefit of cities.

This gave us a clear idea of the expectations for URBACT III in each country, and was especially useful for URBACT National Authorities and National Dissemination Points, who can now better adapt to the specific needs.

An agile elephant

The URBACT team proved, once again, its capacity for organizing very big events without losing on freshness or creativity. So different from the talking-heads/powerpoint presentations we no longer want to attend!

It was very interesting to take part in very different formats and watch the spaces of the venue evolve according to changing needs and working topics. There was a clever use of audiovisual information combined with foldable, light and recyclable furniture. Even while dealing with several hundred attendees, with the complex logistics this implies, #URBACTfest managed to remain engaging, agile and fun.

By Aldo Vargas-Tetmajer and Jorge Toledo, from the National Dissemination Points of Poland and Spain.

Header image by Lita Atmentika, participant, on Twitter

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