The Challenge of Urban Agenda for Europe: another view from Amsterdam

Laura Colini

By Laura Colini, on June 28th, 2016

> Read Laura Colini's articles

Something promising or unsurprising, according to your opinion, has happened at the end of last month for urban policies in Europe. The 30th of May, the EU Ministers Responsible for Urban Matters held an Informal Meeting in Amsterdam to sign a shared document known as the  Pact of Amsterdam. This  document launches a common agenda for the future of European cities, which -through the creation of thematic partnerships- should provide better coordination, better funding and better knowledge on key urban challenges.

About 20 years ago, there has been a debate, whether the EU should have a common roadmap for its cities, but the lack of a clear mandate  for urban policies and political will,  prevented the creation of an urban agenda until now.

The EU still does not have an official mandate but the knowledge gained since the Urban pilot projects, URBAN I and II, Urban Aquis and the mainstreaming of urban policies in the last Cohesion Policies 2007-2013 made possible the passage towards the realization of the current Agenda.

The document of the pact is the result of a process that included a consultation inaugurated  by the CITIES forum 2014, paralleled by the starting of the new Cohesion Policy period 2014-2020 .  But it is through the political engagement of the Dutch presidency in the first half of the semester of 2016 that the Urban agenda is now a reality.

URBACT is and has been engaged in the process of the Urban agenda by participating to the official meeting of the UDG (Urban Development Group- an informal advisory body ), by being an active member of the four active partnerships (see articles featured by URBACT), and in promoting a numbers of official events related to the actual signature of the pact, including the meeting with City makers at Pakhuis de Zwijger.

The city of Amsterdam itself has been the scenery of this parade of events that created areas of enclosure within the city, branded with EU urban flags. One could try to walk into the police controlled area of the ministerial meeting, enter freely in the Fabcity Lab on the artificially created Java-eiland, take part in a workshop at Citymakers in the Pakhuis de Zwijger, or enter -previous long list registration- the Cor Forum at the far west side of town, and still hear the same focus on Eu urban agenda. Indeed, an amazing series of events, unique compare to past presidencies. All  events had a common focus on the future development of European cities, but also had many facets which occasionally intercrossed each others.

Along these  EU official summits publicly covered by mainstream media, other citizens-based initiatives reclaimed a voice in the debate.  A large platform called Faircity, based in Amsterdam, gathering independent organisations,  such as tenants groups, community initiatives, refugee organisations, academics, right to the city networks, cyclist union and social movements got together the 27-29 June to demonstrate against the risk of driving the EU urban agenda towards market driven policies affecting citizens rights.  Particular attention is dedicated to the housing problems in the Netherlands and beyond.

Platform called Faircity

Movements from the Netherlands are organising a protest that denounces this politics and links it with the problems faced since the privatisation of Dutch housing corporations in 1993.  For twenty years these corporations are increasingly forced to operate as profit-motivated companies; then in 2010 the EU demanded that the Dutch government restrict access to social housing to households with incomes below 33,000 euros, in order to stimulate the creation of an investors market. As a result, from the early 90’s until now, public housing and security of tenure have both decreased. Housing corporations and private landlords are mainstreaming the use of temporary 2 and 5 year contracts, which allow landlords to evict people with short notice, and without any obligation to relocate hemWebsite of Housing not profit 

In Amsterdam, during the events of the Urban agenda, a critical mass took place to raise awareness against neo-liberal urban policies. A subsequent meeting was held with representatives of the Radical Housing Network denouncing the critical situation of social housing in UK and the Podemos movement in Spain and their work on the impacts on airb&b in the staggering housing prices.

What this has to do with the Eu Urban Agenda? Nothing or a lot, according to your opinion.

In Chapter X of the Pact of Amsterdam point 52 the Ministers agree “ To recognise the potential of civil society to co-create innovative solutions to urban challenges, which can contribute to public policy making at all levels of government and strengthen democracy in the EU”.  How to deepen the democratic demands will be possibly the biggest challenge of the Urban Agenda for Europe.


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