Mind the gap: coordinating urban development in Europe
JPI Urban Europe will bring together urban development research and social innovation projects under a single transnational call for projects, ENSUF, in a bid to foster growth, job creation, innovation and sustainability across European cities. Nearly 50 proposals have been received.
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Over 70 % of European citizens live in urban areas, which vary greatly in character between countries and cities, and even within a city. Besides being centres for economic development and public services, European cities and urban areas can also be areas of social polarisation, poverty concentration and unemployment. Although addressing these concerns is a priority for EU funding, in the past there has been a gap between research outcomes and result implementation in urban development on the ground, leading to the disappointing delivery of initially promising results.
With this in mind, JPI Urban Europe has set up a joint EU-funded transnational call for projects, ENSUF, to try to overcome the ‘implementation gap’. Funded projects in urban development will involve stakeholders from the very beginning of the process.
The call addresses three key areas that all come under the Horizon 2020 societal challenge of fostering inclusive and innovative societies in a changing world: 1) Concepts and strategies for smart urban transformation, growth and shrinkage; 2) New dynamics of urban public services; and 3) Inclusive, vibrant and accessible urban communities. These crucial issues are all key to Europe’s future sustainable development.
As Europe and the world transform at an ever-increasing speed, both people and environments can be left behind. The coordinator of the transnational call, Wieske Bressers, uses cities as an example: “In certain countries in Eastern Europe, some cities have been completely abandoned while others are growing very quickly, which means they are all undergoing forms of transformation.”
In response, Bressers wants the projects answering the call to ask: “What problems does a city face in the process of transformation? And what kind of strategy should they have to cope with it?”
Social polarisation is often found accompanying the transformation of cities, with clear divisions appearing between rich and poor. Work on fostering social cohesion between and among communities is essential for a promising future for European populations, as well as for improved public services and access to them.
Bridging the implementation gap
An international panel of researchers and experts is currently assessing 43 project applications on behalf of JPI Urban Europe. They will select the best 15 to 20 proposals, for which a total budget of €25 million is available – €5 million of which comes from the EU.
Bressers explains the importance of co-creation in these projects, which is mandatory for many activities: “In a city, or a specific neighbourhood, a project could launch a pilot on a certain topic where researchers, innovators, policy-makers and citizens are all working together in an Urban Living Lab.” This approach is an attempt to encourage researchers, cities and other interested parties to work together from the outset, so as to make sure that the projects are challenge-driven. Stakeholders will also help to inform the research and innovation process, in terms of the feasibility and accessibility of applying the results effectively.
Throughout the projects, the co-developers will share ongoing results and problem-solving discussions. Partners from previous JPI Urban Europe projects will also attend certain meetings to share their own experiences and challenges. JPI Urban Europe will coordinate the programme management side of the projects.
JPI Urban Europe will also coordinate the projects’ communication and dissemination activities, ensuring that the results are widely disseminated to the benefit of both future research and potential beneficiaries, i.e. EU urban-dwelling citizens.
Bressers underlines that better coordination on several levels means the ENSUF “would hopefully help to overcome current urgent and long-term economic, social and environmental challenges in cities and urban areas”.
The coordinator hopes that with these new methods the successful ENSUF projects will bridge the gaps between research disciplines as well as among important urban players – citizens, decision-makers, cities and consumers across the European Union.