“I believe that this experience has given me a new insight on the European idea”

By Lazaros Agapides, on December 28th, 2017

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The URBACT City Festival was an experience that I will never forget. I guess many articles begin with such a common phrase, but allow me to explain my reasoning more thoroughly and maybe, just maybe, you may find something unique in my experiences.

I attended the URBACT City Festival with no prior experience with the URBACT programme, other than the responsibility I took on in organising my city’s good practice application. I have partnered with the Municipality of Heraklion on the island of Crete in Greece for a decade now and have been involved with its efforts in realising its good practice: the Smart City Strategic Plan. Attending the Festival was an opportunity for me to communicate all of the activities, the actions and even the struggles that my city has faced over the past decade in developing this plan. However, equally, and probably even more valuable, was the experience I gained from the interactions I had with all of the representatives of cities across Europe.

36837457653_f81e2408de_zThe URBACT City Festival provided the ultimate backdrop to instigate, motivate and inspire inter-city interaction. The well-thought-out interactive sessions were vital to this goal. I found that I had the opportunity to interact with a multitude of representatives, and, as a city that aspires to become a leader in an URBACT transfer network, it was an excellent opportunity to meet, evaluate and appraise those cities that are interested in joining such a partnership. It was the ideal starting point for such an endeavour.

The choice of venue was excellent and complemented the whole atmosphere of innovative cooperation and advancement. It was not only practical, but it invoked an emotional response to the goings-on of the Festival. The truth is that everyone who participated had invested a lot of time, sweat and effort in order to be there and to successfully represent their region. This could only be a result of the fervour that each person possessed for the regions that they represent. The ambiance that the venue helped to create facilitated the expression of the passion that each representative carried along with them. Towards the end of the Festival, as emotions ran high in the charged atmosphere, it wasn’t only the organisers that shed a tear or two.

36837437133_713fe4bd6f_zWhat struck me as phenomenal was the fact that I, as the representative of Heraklion, a relatively small city on an island near the south-eastern edge of the European Union, was treated as more than equal to other attending city representatives of much larger and more influential cities including Bristol, Lisbon and Rome to name a few. Not only that, but being from Greece, a country that has been struggling over the past few years, I perceived only goodwill and amity and an authentic eagerness to participate and learn from us from all those I came in contact with.

I left the URBACT City Festival with a different way of thinking than when I arrived. Not only did I learn a lot and make invaluable connections with colleagues from across the continent, but I believe that this experience has given me a new insight on the European idea. It has given me a new confidence in the ideals that have brought the countries of Europe together, the solidarity and camaraderie that can stem from a common continental culture. May all of Europe’s endeavours be as constructive, benevolent and productive.

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