Making cities in the age of uncertainty: Insights from the European Commission.

Cities across Europe are increasingly driving ‘meanwhile spaces’ at scale and scope, making the most of co-creative collaboration and wide engagement to shape more sustainable and inclusive futures. Moreover, vis-à-vis the disruptive impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, many cities are looking at ‘meanwhile space reuse’ as a means for flexible place prototyping, which can help reboot the social, economic and cultural city fabric at the time of great uncertainty and long emergencies.

How can we drive ‘meanwhile spaces’ so that they become strategic to sustainable urban regeneration and city ‘rewiring’? What are the key challenges that we need to address? How can we turn participatory meanwhile into a lever for enhancing the ‘investment readiness’ of regenerations aimed at social value?

On november 5th, we celebrated our first public meeting with stakeholders and experts to explore some innovative meanwhile stories and experiences across European cities, discussing the role of meanwhile spaces to unlock new ways for investing in sustainable and thriving urban regeneration.

Our guests from the European Commission were Emanuela De Menna from DG EASME and Maciej Hofman from DG Education and Culture, who helped our audience learn more about EU initiatives and policies in the field of culture and urban regeneration.

Emanuela De Menna and Maciej Hofman.

‘Life is what happens while you are busy with other plans’, recalled Emanuela De Menna, T-Factor’s project officer, recalling the importance of finding ways to use the meanwhile time between masterplan design and its actual implementation to create new tools and knowledge that face uncertainty and rising challenges in urban regeneration.

Maciej Hofman provided an overview of EU initiatives and policies that embrace culture and urban transformations. The EU’s view of culture is broad, he explained, encompassing both the intrinsic value of culture, as well as its key role in contributing to broader objectives of development across Europe such as economic growth, social cohesion and inclusion, well-being, gender equality, but also how cultural heritage can drive resilience, sustainability and innovation.

Key strategic and policy documents are, for example, the European Agenda for Culture, the EU Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022, and the European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage. The EU has been increasingly mainstreaming culture across different policies and programmes—regional development, R&I, entrepreneurship, in the first instance—since 2018 also thanks to the positive legacy of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018.

The EU supports culture through different funding mechanisms, he added. Creative Europe is designed to support cultural and creative sectors specifically, but culture can also benefit from programs such as ERDF, Horizon 2020, Erasmus+. The EU also provides active support via a number of labels and prizes, including the European Capitals of Culture which supports cities to think strategically about their cultural resources. Examples of ongoing projects that link cultural heritage and cities are Cultural Heritage in Action, Art and Well-being, Cultural Creative Spaces and Cities, Rock, Clic, Open Heritage. The EU also actively seeks political collaboration. Together with the OECD, the EU is looking at how culture can enhance local development strategies in cities and regions across Europe and beyond.

Since March 2020, with the spread of coronavirus, the Commission has been actively following the evolution of the pandemic, including through specific attention to the impacts over culture sectors. Actions currently in place are many, including revision of programs such as Creative Europe to make them more flexible; support to Member States, regions and cities in the use of horizontal EU measures put in place; exchange of information and close policy collaboration. Exchange of information about different local initiatives in response to Covid-19 is also pursued via the Creatives Unite platform.

Maciej Hofman concluded his intervention explaining how, in the context of the future EU budget, cultural and creative sectors will be further enhanced, first via Creative Europe, but also via Horizon Europe, the future Cohesion Policy, Digital Europe and REACT.

You can watch the complete session in our Youtube Channel.

Laura Lee: Breaking silos for better futures

Prof. Laura Lee, our keynote speaker for the first T-Factor public event, highlighted four main EU-contextual elements: First, President Ursula von der Leyen’s recent declaration introducing a new Bauhaus as a key pillar for Europe. Second, the new Green Deal and the meaning this has for a new economy rooted in social value. Third, the new form of mission-oriented research in the EU which introduces a new, practice-based research paradigm. Fourth, the ongoing work across cities with a new concern for citizens’ health and well-being vis-à-vis the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Defining missions requires deep collaborations across private and public sectors’, she explained, ‘and meanwhile spaces are spaces of opportunity through which we can drive change in a quick and prototyping way, in order to form new relationships that can lead to shared benefits and outcomes.’

‘Meanwhile spaces are not only about crafting culture and creativity; what is at stake here is the possibility to look at design pathways that engage entire populations and that in turn changes our current reality into a preferred future. The power of design as a way of working together is through exploration. And this is what meanwhile spaces do’, she said.

‘We often work from the perspective of our own disciplines and silos, but our potential is realised when we begin to combine knowledge and expertise in a continuous learning process, combining not only cultures, languages and locations, but also going from the local to the global as  communities of practice. Meanwhile spaces can be a fundamental source of learning by doing and through participation. Citizens engaged in grand challenges takes us from missions to movements. We need to interrogate what a particular city context means for culture and build momentum from this deep understanding’, she concluded.

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