New urban planning: long-lasting innovation or just a temporary illusion? [PART 2]

Ivan Tosics

By Ivan Tosics, on January 24th, 2019

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Iván Tosics, URBACT Programme Expert from the Metropolitan Research Institut in Budapest asks whether new urban planning methods will stand the test of time. In the first part of this article, Ivan introduced the process of development of new public policies accross Europe and  gave concrete examples of new urban policies and planning.

The new public policies and planning: the role of URBACT

All of the city examples mentioned in this article come from URBACT cities. There are many signs that the active participation of these cities in URBACT networks contributed significantly to develop their innovation potential.

“Regarding the new tasks of municipalities, e.g. to train officials to new methods and approaches, the positive experiences from other cities are very important. The URBACT networks, meetings, the local peer-to-peer talks, experiencing the practices of innovative institutions, give a lot of help to cities.”
Attila Ughy, Mayor of district 18, Budapest (HU)

“The URBACT method, bringing together civil servants from different departments to tackle a given problem in an integrated approach, was of key importance in developing responsibility and strong motivation in delivering change.”
Ann Hyde, Glasgow (UK)

Many of the networks of the most recent period of Action Planning Networks have dealt with issues that are directly linked to the topic of new urban policies. Among the 20 APN-s, there were three that concentrated on the territorial aspects of new post-crisis policies, addressing in that way important aspects of the new urban planning approach.

  • Refill: temporary use as new and innovative tool to reformulate planning
  • Second Chance: reactivating empty buildings and urban commons
  • Sub-urban: indirect tools to dynamize already built-up areas

In each of these networks some 10 cities took part with very different concrete projects.

The following examples, one from each of the networks, aim to illustrate the innovative approaches.

Nantes: Creating temporary space for experimentation about future activities

This example comes from the Refill network (details can be read in Tosics, 2018b). A crucial element of the Nantes (FR) approach of urban development is the strategic role given to temporary use agreements. The city recognized that empty buildings in public ownership are essential to keep the momentum for creativity. The publicly owned development company, Samoa recently bought up derelict property on the Island of Nantes, not for demolition but to be able to offer empty spaces for new innovative companies. The Nantes approach is based on stable political leadership and institutional background, created for the purpose. This gives enough time to understand the ‘feeling’ of the post-industrial Island of Nantes, developing strategic ideas, avoiding ‘tabula rasa’ developments according to the demand of the given moment.

Fig 1. Ile de Nantes (photos by Iván Tosics, 2017)

The large halls of the post-industrial island are kept, the former Karting now hosts around 40 companies in the cultural and creative industries sector, which represents around 150 jobs. Wooden structures are installed allowing offices, small workshops to function in the hall as temporary use form.

Naples: new regulation aiming for the democratic use of public assets

This example comes from the Second Chance network (details can be read in Tosics, 2018a). With the “Urban Civic Use Regulation” Naples (IT) has recognised the common goods in the city itself. If a property is approved to be subject of this regulation, the public administration assumes the burden of ensuring the usability of the place, while the right to make use of it is free and guaranteed to all on the basis of a participatory model that is founded on open assemblies and thematic roundtable talks. An ad-hoc municipal department, the “social enhancement of municipally owned spaces and common goods” has been created. This department (technical level), with a political coordination in charge of the Urban Planning councillor (political level) are in charge of promoting the collaboration with other departments and councillors of the municipality, or other institutions. The results of this open and inclusive management model can be proved by data registered since March 2012. In the first building in the last years more than 250 projects came to life, substantially decreasing the production costs of events by using free and shared spaces, resources, knowledge and skills.

Fig 2. L’Asilo Ugo Filangieri, Naples (photos by Iván Tosics, 2018)

Built in 1572 as a factory to exercise arts and crafts, the huge building was abandoned after the 1980 earthquake. In 2012, the building was occupied by a collective of artists in protest against the restoration and plans to use the premises as the headquarters of the Forum of Cultures 2014. Today the building is one of the urban commons of Naples, handed over to an open community with undefined borders that is entrusted with the building within which non-profit cultural and social activities are carried out.

Antwerp: initiating cooperation between private real estate owners

This example comes from the Sub-urban network (details can be read in Tosics, 2017). Antwerp (BE) experiences a strong population growth outside the inner city. It has selected 7 action planning areas from the large territory of the urban fringe, with very different challenges and identities. Lageweg, a formal industrial site, is one of them. The area is characterised by a high number of owners with small plot sizes. There, the municipality applies specific pilot measures to speed up the development process (van Tuilj, 2016). It organises activities such as mind opening dialogues and kick-off discussions to explore collective ambitions for the area, co-creative design tables involving an interactive scale model of different scenarios, in order to build collective trust, guided walks with all stakeholders with a brochure showing possible future scenarios, adaptable spatial and financial calculation models to test the feasibility of several options. Thanks to these tools most of the land-owners were gradually convinced and decided to sign a declaration of engagement to work and invest together in the project. The success of the initiative was that it allows to work across property borders and to make an effective plan for the whole area, for a step-by-step development.

Fig 3. Lageweg, Antwerp (Sources: left photo, right photo)

Lageweg, a formal industrial site, outside the city-ring of Antwerp, in the transitory belt. The area is dominated by private ownership. The municipality creates talks between owners to initiate a densification process.

URBACT capitalization project Re-making the city

On the basis of the experiences of the three networks, URBACT decided to launch a capitalization project with the aim to systematize the different types of innovations achieved in tackling territorial challenges with new types of planning tools. In the course of the “Re-making the city” project an online web-tool has been developed, as a new type of further expandable inventory of good practices and methods. The work was a joint effort of the three Lead Experts of these networks, Francois Jegou, Nils Shaeffler and Maarten von Tuilj, with the coordination and participation of Iván Tosics.

The webtool can be considered as a guide to inspirational cases in place-based urban development issues. The aim is to show systematically innovation elements, along two main axes.

X axis) Challenges and planning approaches

The webtool deals with the following challenges of compact and balanced urban development:

  • underused assets: empty/underused buildings or areas
  • badly functioning assets: rundown segregated areas, monofunctional areas, environmentally unsustainable areas/buildings

Y axis) Methods and intervention approaches

The other main dimension of the webtool includes the stages in the planning cycle, under the following headings: mapping, activating, envisioning, experimenting, decision-making, financing, mainstreaming, evaluating.

The tool includes descriptions of concrete cases based on innovative approaches from cities of the three URBACT networks (Refill, 2nd Chance and Sub-urban) and from the URBACT Good Practices collection. Users of the tool will be able to find good practice solutions according to the type of challenge their city is facing and the stage in the planning cycle they are interested in.

Although nowadays urban policies are changing again, the remnants of the open and innovative decade from 2008 are still with us. The efforts of this decade to renew policies and planning have reached the Urban Agenda for the EU, in which two partnerships (the Sustainable Use of Land and the Circular Economy partnerships) suggest concrete steps to make the innovative elements better known and change some regulations which hinder the spread of new thinking. The experiences of URBACT cities and the new online tool might contribute to the success to keep the new approaches to planning alive before they disappear forever.

With thanks for the cooperation of Peter Ramsden and Francois Jegou, Nils Schaeffler and Maarten van Tuilj.



Ramsden, P – Tosics, I, 2017: Urban regeneration before and after the crisis. A capitalisation report for the URBACT programme. (Unpublished.)

Tosics, I, 2018a: Creating temporary space for experimentation about future activities. 27 March 2018

Tosics, I. 2018b: Lessons To Be Learnt From The Economic Crisis. In: Second Chance Thematic Paper No 3: Involving Urban Actors in the Reactivation of Vacant Buildings. 29 July 2018

Tosics, I. 2017: Densification beyond the city centre: urban transformation against sprawl. 19 January 2017.

URBACT Re-making the city webtool, developed by Francois Jegou, Nils Schaeffler, Maarten van Tuilj and Iván Tosics, 2018

van Tuilj, M, 2016: Transforming planning in the urban fringe – expert-opinion. URBACT

List of interviews taken at the URBACT City Festival in Riga, in May 2015:

  • Serena Foracchia – deputy mayor of Reggio Emilia
  • Germana di Falco – Italy
  • Attlia Ughy – mayor of district 18, Budapest
  • Aldo Vargas-Tetmajer – Poznan
  • Poznan Anne de Feijter – Amersfoort
  • Ann Hyde – Glasgow
  • Jim Sims – Buckinghamshire, UK
  • Nicholas Karachalis – Vollos, Greece
  • Owain Jones – Lambeth Borough of London Council
  • Stephan Westermann – Berlin, Magdeburg
  • Valérie van der Velde and Isabel Verhaen – Antwerp
  • Conor Moloney – London

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