Cooperative City in Quarantine #14: Manifesto – Planning post-Covid cities

During the first weeks of the lockdown we noticed that there was little or no exchange across nations about how to respond to the emerging crisis. This is why we launched Cooperative City in Quarantine, bridging this gap and brought together lots of people from different backgrounds and countries to contribute to the discussion.

We focused on topics like food, culture, tourism, mobility, labour, urban commons, education, refugees, public spaces, community venues, reaching more than 65,000 viewers. The discussions resonated with a lot of people and two main converging themes emerged from the discussions: 

  • We saw a lot of profit-driven activities such as tourism evaporating in a matter of a few days, while a lot of socially more anchored projects which had a strong engagement and value-driven mission locally were more resilient and were maintained to help their local initiatives. 
  • There is an increased need for social inclusion, as we realised that the lockdown amplified divisions and inequality. 

Based on these two themes we co-developed a Manifesto that advocates Europe to support social and solidarity economy as an opportunity to ensure economic sustainability to all those people who are already in a condition or at high risk of poverty.

For our last episode, we have invited guests from organizations that are directly or indirectly working in the EU, to understand how social economy policy in Europe can be shaped and to share our manifesto with them. 

Guests

Andor Urmos – Policy Analyst at Directorate General for Regional Policy of the European Commission  

Peter Takács – Policy Officer, Director General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission 

Nuala Morgan – Head of Unit – Capitalisation and Communication – URBACT

Johannes Riegler – Stakeholder Involvement Officer – JPI Urban Europe

Martin Grisel – Director at European Urban Knowledge Network

Nicolas Stuehlinger – Senior Advisor – Innovation in Politics Institute

Marianne Doyen – Policy Assistant – European Social Fund

Video contributions by 

Andreas Schieder – vice-President of the URBAN Intergroup of the European Parliament

Raffaele Barbato, Program manager at Urban Innovative Actions program 

Marjolein Cremer – Senior Advocacy Officer at The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) 

The event was moderated by Daniela Patti, Levente Polyák and Bahanur Nasya, from Eutropian

Cooperative City Manifesto

In the face of the upcoming economic and social crisis, we advocate for Europe to support the social and solidarity economy as an opportunity to ensure economic sustainability to all those people who are already in a condition or at high risk of poverty. 

  • We need to ensure policy support to solidarity practices, as a means to strengthen our democracy.
  • We need capacity building for enterprises and public authorities, to be competitive
  • We need solidarity funds, grants or revolving funds to support social and solidarity economic initiatives. But funding is not only expressed in terms of financial liquidity, it also means: 
  • Access to space, to pursue socially relevant services 
  • And Investing in human capital through better labour conditions

These are not new ideas for the EU, which has greatly invested towards better knowledge, better policy and better funding, but it’s time to put in place those ideas rapidly and back them up with the necessary financial resources. 

Innovation is necessary to push society forward, and finding new ways to strengthen democracy is paramount, especially during an emergency. What can be done internationally to bring positive change at local level?

Nicolas Stuehlinger– Innovation in Politics Institute is an internationally active organisation that identifies, develops and applies innovation in politics with the aim of strengthening democracy in Europe. What we saw in the first days of the crisis is that the situation itself brought a lot of confusion in the broad spectrum of policy areas, so we felt the need to contribute and launched a project called coping with the crisis, where we collect, document and provide innovative best practices in dealing with the crisis across Europe and at all political levels. What we do to support cities during the crisis is to provide them with best practices in many areas, from innovative ways to organise and support homeschooling efforts to caring for the elderly and the most vulnerable layers of society. Our platform shared hundreds of examples. We also set up a survey to anticipate the challenges of governments and cities in the next months of 2020 and it also extends to 2021. We focused on three policy areas cities are currently struggling with: 

  • budget and finance;
  • creation of new jobs;
  • health care system management. 

But when we asked politicians in cities where they needed support, we found out that they mostly needed advice and best practices exchange in the fields of mobility, digitalisation of services and democracy and civic participation. We believe that social entrepreneurship and social economy play a crucial role in solving these problems, so we will focus on those aspects more than we already did in the past. 

Innovation needs competence, knowledge and tools. What efforts could be done at EU level in terms of capacity building?

Johannes RieglerJPI Urban Europe is a research and innovation funding program aiming at supporting capacity building for public administrations and other actors to develop pathways to sustain a more livable future. When we talk about how to support the post-Covid phase, one of our priority areas is urban robustness. What we mean by robustness is anticipating the challenges and how urban societies handle increased turbulences in crises. In this respect, resilience is a good thing, but we decided to focus on robustness because resilience might be just a way to save what we have and it might go against transformation. In this context, robustness is a driver to make cities livable and sustainable. We also saw that all of a sudden there are opportunities popping up to have a hard look at our urban societal practices and this momentum might ease the process through which city administrations decide which practices should be kept and which ones should be gotten rid of. As a result of this reflection, we are currently preparing a joint call in partnership with the European Commission named Urban Transformation Capacity to support experimental approaches in terms of urban design. 

Marjolein Cremer – Senior Advocacy Officer at The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) 

Marjolein Cremer – To us, the Corona crisis is not only a sanitary and economic challenge, it is also a social and cultural challenge that has profound implications on the way we live the Europe of today and tomorrow. As a response to this, ECF has created the Culture of Solidarity Fund. We are committed to promoting a European sentiment through culture, by developing and supporting initiatives that let us share, imagine and experience a new ecological and democratic sensitivity across Europe.

We do this by providing grants, building communities, offering incubator programs and online platforms, giving awards, organizing events and challenges, publishing books and building alliances, all supported by advocacy and communications. Inspired by the model of the European Parliament, this project is a commitment to connect citizens, organisations and informal groups through a shared platform that will serve as a tool to gather proposals throughout Europe.

In just a couple of weeks we gathered thousands of organisations and stakeholders, and we are now ready for our next call. 

Andreas Schieder, Member of EU Parliament and Vice President of URBAN intergroup

“It is extremely important to underline the social function of cities. For example, we need to act on affordable housing, communal planning of public transport and management of common resources such as water.”

What emerged from Mr Schieder’s message, is there is a great potential in connecting the environmental dimension, also connected to the New Green Deal, to the social and economic dimension. 

The European Urban Knowledge Network is a network of member states involving ministries working on urban development issues, acting as an interface between policy enforcement and research. How is it responding to the current situation, and what’s the plan for the coming months?

Martin Grisel – We want to provide a policy framework for the 2020-2029 decade. When the Covid crisis started, we came to the conclusion that the document that we previously prepared was quite fitting with the current situation. As a matter of fact, our main focuses include the green agenda, programmes for alternative ways of making our cities more just and productive, and these are exactly the aspects we need to take into consideration now. When crises hit, there is the tendency to go back to how things were in the past, the old normal. As we saw that social inequalities were magnified across the whole continent, and as we could also see how the environment greatly benefitted from less traffic and other emissions, we want to build new models that can be applied throughout Europe. We will work even more closely with policy makers in order to find new ways to make cities more robust rather than just resilient, so that they can handle the destructive impact of the Covid pandemic, as much as any new possible crisis. 

Slowing down and breathing fresher air are part of the experiences that made many of us reflect on what is really important in life, such as physical and mental health. Can we use these experiences to change our lifestyle in terms of how we work and live in our cities?

Nicolas Stuehlinger – There are many crises that are currently happening besides the pandemic. There is economical instability, social inequality and a huge climate change issue. We should not focus on creating new policies, we should rather observe the ones we have, select the ones that work, and finally apply and improve them. 

Johannes Riegler – We need to look at things from a broader perspective and include more actors in both the discussion, the planning and the implementation of these new policies. Yet, we cannot expect that all actors will have the means and capacity to immediately work on the design and implementation of new practices and policies. So we need to build a framework that allows all the stakeholders involved to favour the process. Driving Urban Transition is a programme dedicated to building this framework, synthesising the knowledge and adapting it to local contexts. 

Martin Grisel– I think that the main point is to draw lessons from the period we are going through and use them as a catalyst for change. We can start from little things: for example, we should start considering teleworking as a tool to reduce traveling, thus helping our countries cut emissions. Of course, we shouldn’t be too naive, it’s not something simple and immediate to do, as we need to flip our thinking first, work more effectively to fill the digital gap and most of all we need to involve everyone in the process. It will take a long time, but this is the way to go. 

What discussions are currently taking place in terms of employment, and what is the space that social economy can have in fostering a positive change?

Marianne Doyen– The EU is often known for reacting rather slowly to immediate needs, due to its huge and complex structure. However, during the past months we have been working relentlessly to come up with CRI, Coronavirus Response Initiative. This helps member states reallocate funds towards other priorities or actions, quickly. For instance, we have seen examples of funding measures to ensure social security benefits and fast-tracked training for new hires in the medical field. Moreover, single cities can access funding, but this needs more interaction between municipalities and the fund managing authorities, that is, governments. According to our partnership principle, cities, local authorities, stakeholders, civil society and all relevant partners should be invited to participate in designing, evaluating and implementing the funds. This is the perfect moment for all of us to make this work better, a new lesson to learn for making the allocation of funds much more simple and effective. 

We are extremely aware of the fact that this is one of the sectors that have been most heavily hit by the pandemic, so we are also preparing a social economy action plan with a proposed duration of 5 years (2021-2026), it will be a key tool to systematically incorporate the social economy into the different socio-economic policies of the European Union, as well as into its actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Our plan can be summarised in three main points: 

  • Recognise the social economy as a transversal actor in the main socio-economic policies of the European Union;
  • Promote the convergence and coordination of the different public authorities involved in the promotion of the social economy by defining strategic objectives and benchmarks at EU level;
  • Foster a conducive ecosystem for the growth of the social economy in Europe, improving its contribution to key EU objectives and allowing social economy enterprises to take full advantage of the single market and of EU funds and financial instruments.
DG Regio, The Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy is responsible for EU policy on regions and cities. What has been the discussion within DG Regio in relation to what is happening now and to the measures you have taken, and how is this impacting the long-term discussion?

Péter Takács – The new revised multi annual financial framework proposal came out in May, and we shifted the focus from “quick response” to “repair and recover” to better address the medium and long-term consequences of this crisis. Yet, we are facing some important limitations: the long-term impacts are difficult to assess, considering the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in. The only thing that seems to be certain is that the effects will be asymmetrical, and this fact made the cohesion policy one of the key instruments for dealing with the situation. One of the most asymmetrical aspects of this crisis is that more densely populated urban areas are more disadvantaged in terms of the spread of the disease, as well as in terms of social exclusion due to physical – and social – distancing. But the long-term effects also rely on the capacity to respond: for instance, cities usually are in a more advantageous position rather than rural areas that are mainly relying on non-digitalised sectors or more marginalised positions, in addition to a larger portion of their population commuting towards the nearest cities. In this case, rural areas and small urban centres might be facing bigger challenges on the long run. However, the crisis can also bring about positive change for our societies and cities. A green, digital and just transition can also represent an opportunity to reconsider the urban planning and governance. We are very happy to see the collection of good practices from the various stakeholders as it provides a good basis to discuss these responses. Luckily, the 2021-2027 plan had already taken these aspects into consideration, so we didn’t have to thoroughly change its structure. We are rather fine tuning and reconsidering priorities, hopefully managing to involve more citizens and their initiatives. CLLD (Community-Led Local Development) is a co-decision-making tool on EU funds at sub-regional level that directly involves local action groups and takes into consideration local needs and potential. We have been using it during the past years, and we will continue to use it. I hope it will give new impetus to a more participatory urban development.    

Andor Urmos – We are facing two main issues now: how social and health services should be reformulated and how to boost the economic recovery. The 2021-2027 plan contains some new elements exactly designed to react to these issues. One important question we don’t yet know how to handle at this moment is the multilevel governance. We know very well that some of the issues (e.g: the management of health services) are in the hands of both local and national authorities at the same time. We need to find ways that allow the best level of cooperation between these two entities, in addition to the way they in turn relate to the European Union. We want to find balance and avoid such situations where we don’t have a clear picture of how resources are being used while facing an emergency. 

Raffaele Barbato, Project Coordinator at Urban Innovative Actions

URBACT brings cities together to share knowledge, to build capacity, to foster innovation and activate participation processes. What has URBACT been doing during these past months, and where should future efforts and attention be put to support social inclusion and solidarity economy? And what about rural areas and smaller cities?

Nuala Morgan – First and foremost, we have a broader understanding of cities, therefore our program includes capital and larger cities as well as small towns and rural areas. During these months, we have mapped city responses to the Covid crisis in order to understand how URBACT cities were using the participatory approaches and practices they developed through the program. Descriptions of all initiatives are available online through our website as a public resource, and in addition to this we also organised webinars to share experiences and make room for questions. 

On a more economy-oriented level, Making Spend Matter is an URBACT network program seeking to transfer a methodology through which cities can understand the impact of their procurement spending and subsequently influence the way in which procurement decisions are made. During this period, we have been collecting data on how URBACT cities have been responding to the Covid-19 crisis in terms of procurement processes and practices. As soon as we had an overall image of the situation, we launched an online training course on social and environmental clauses in public procurement. Through this course we hope to give answers and inspiration to municipalities on how they can embed more socially aware practices into all aspects of their administration. We also published a long series of articles related to how Covid affects other topics in our cities, such as poverty, gender equality, migration issues, climate change and food production. This was done not much to predict the World after Covid, it was rather a way to outline some of the policy challenges that need more attention. 

Last but not least, we have been working on redefining the role of European cooperation. We had to take into consideration that a lot of cities had to suddenly redirect their resources and efforts towards more front line activities in order to tackle the virus outbreak, so cooperation took a secondary priority. However, we were quite impressed with the level of solidarity and exchange we saw between the cities in our network, so that’s definitely something we want to keep and foster. Building trust is paramount, but it’s also very difficult, especially online. Until the moment when we will be able to meet again, we are now focusing on making our online services as user-friendly and as preparatory as possible. 

Any final remarks?

Martin Grisel– Public authorities have a big say in defining the transformation of society now. All the subsidy programs and the funds that are invested in society should guide the economy in a different way, looking towards equal, just, green and productive cities and societies. At the same time, citizens need to take the floor, ensuring that the transformation agenda doesn’t stop and finally I would say we, as organisations coming from different areas, should work more together. 

Johannes  Riegler  – We need more people to work on setting up alternative programs, finding the right frameworks to engage with more and more stakeholders. 

Peter Takács – I think it is evident that we need to change how our society is operating, and I personally hope we will be able to rethink and rediscover more participatory and integrated ways of urban planning and governance. 

What are the next steps?

Despite the need we all have to take a break during the summer time, we cannot stop the advocacy work towards creating enabling conditions towards social and solidarity practices around Europe, as most decisions at EU level will be taken over the next months. If you should be interested in subscribing to the Manifesto please contact us

It is time to push forward together towards post-COVID-19 collaborative cities, leaving nobody behind. 

Watch the full video