Cities are to be the forums where solutions to major current and future challenges are born, as they are living labs for policy, innovation, creativity and progress – this was the main conclusion of the CITIES Forum in Jan 2020, organised by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy and the City of Porto. Reflection on future directions of urban development included topics such as smart specialisation, green investment, mobility, social investment and citizen engagement – flagships when talking about sustainable urban future. On top of the 53 EU-funded good urban practices exhibited at the Forum, numerous exciting and fruitful projects are out there, operating in the above fields.

Using the advantages of smart technology and big data is key for cities to address old challenges in new, more effective ways. Even traditional sectors such as the food industry can become hotspots for innovation and growth, attracting and giving birth to new companies. A possible way forward is to stimulate cross-sectoral cooperation between agrofood, high-tech & health. The STRING Interreg project does just that using a combination of novel methods and approaches including living labs and testing grounds, and social innovation and design to enable an open innovation process.

Green and blue economy approaches are in the process of being integrated in urban policies: SECAPs and the implementation of relevant regulations are in progress – but how are cities supposed to carry out green and blue investments when new frameworks enabling those are still yet to be created as well? The challenge is explored in the CityWaterCircles Interreg project, where cities work on optimizing rainwater and greywater use by creating rooftop and ground-level raingardens; test greywater reuse in public buildings & in the construction industry; and introducing smart metering in public spaces to raise consciousness on water usage. The results will feed into policy recommendations in order to help build those new frameworks.

Delivering good social services is a permanent and constantly growing issue as on top of having less and less resources, the public sector also struggles with social challenges such as ageing, unemployment and migration. A possible direction cities have just started experimenting with is the creation of Social Impact Bonds, which is also the key topic of the SIBdev URBACT project. This concept invites the private sector to enter the public sphere, being offered with result-based contracting by the municipalities, tackling shortcomings of social service delivery – to the benefit of all.

The very institution of democracy itself is at stake in Europe: citizens feel alienated from politics and politicians, and excluded from decision making. Representative democracy needs to be smartly combined with participative democracy – an idea which more and more politicians and cities share. Tools of bottom-up and collaborative approaches do exist: co-operatives instead of companies; participative instead of central budgeting; establishment of community spaces; funding of innovation labs. These tools have all been tested in the CHANGE! URBACT project and are being used by participating cities ever since.

What is common in the solutions proposed above? You might guess: BURST has its hand in them! Our experts have contributed to all these projects in one way or another, from creating project ideas to managing implementation and delivering action plans. We believe that the solutions our team proposes to urban challenges are bright indeed, and we are dedicated to make them visible and accessible – that is why this Future Proof Cities blog was brought to life: to share our experiences and learnings from the most exciting projects our team members are involved in.

Stay tuned and vision up; our monthly contents will be coming!