#URBACTFest : What We’re Taking Home from the City Festival

Tom Becker

By Tom Becker, on May 11th, 2015

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We were promised to get inspired – and certainly did not get disappointed! Three days filled with numerous ‘aha moments’, insightful on-site visits, good practices and experiences as well as plenty of face-to-face and group exchanges left us rather tired but with a lot of stimuli, food for thought and exciting ideas to take back home and to share with our peers.

The format of the first URBACT City Festival required an active engagement from the participants but proved to be a very fruitful experience. Instead of traditional speeches and presentations, interactive visits and workshops showcasing examples of sustainable urban development projects both from Latvia and the rest of Europe have led to lively exchanges and challenging discussions. At the same time, it became clear that there are no easy solutions. On the contrary, the path to sustainable and integrated urban transformations remains a difficult one, mainly because it involves a large array of stakeholders with rather diverse and often conflicting interests, intangible objectives and a high risk of failure.

Moreover, the interactive sessions ‘Unpacking knowledge’ and ‘Idea factory’, a novelty during this event, further enhanced our learning experience. During the ‘Unpacking knowledge’ session on Thursday afternoon we were divided into small groups and had to formulate thought-provoking, sometimes even irritating questions about major challenges that our cities are currently facing. As it turned out, most of the propositions focused on the added value, the aims and the definitions of sustainable urban development. Others questioned the skills and tools that may be used to empower and engage stakeholders or to change governance structures. The ‘Idea factory’ workshop on Friday afternoon allowed us to reflect in a structured way upon these questions and to develop ideas for actions necessary to improving the way citizens live and work in their urban communities. In this way we all had the possibility to experience the benefits of transnational and cross-sectoral cooperation as well as co-creative knowledge transfer processes, the very essence of the URBACT programme.

These are the key messages that we drew from the URBACT City Festival:

Be innovative and open-minded.

Dare to become active and try out new ideas.

Embrace the risk of failure.

Ultimately, city transformations are all about people. Everyone should have a say in the future of their city. This requires flexible, open and unbiased processes. We certainly felt inspired by the experiences of the last three days and are now ready to get actively engaged in URBACT III.

By Heike Mages and Tom Becker, National Dissemination Points for Germany and Luxemburg

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