As every year the URBACT programme held its annual Conference last December. This event took place in Copenhagen under the motto “Cities of Tomorrow, Action Today“. For those who normally attend the annual meetings of the different networks of cities to which we belong, going to the URBACT Conference represents a change, as attendees are much more varied, as well as representatives of cities, we find ourselves with city planners, psychologists, consultants, experts in mobility, etc. A diversity not at all usual in cities’ meetings. A very positive development for the unique urban programme of the European Commission.
This year’s Conference successfully combined plenary sessions with workshops. In the first we had the possibility to listen to various opinions, from the official positions of the European Commission (headed by Commissioner for Regional policy, Johannes Hahn and his traditional support for the urban dimension of European regional policy) to other less official speeches.
The presentation of the report of the European Commission on cities by Corrinne Hermant and Christian Svanfeldt was extremely interesting. Covered by figures, they put in value the enormous potential of cities with an emphasis on specific cases. The plenary session on European cities in an urban world was very interesting for the quality of the speakers, although some of the statements that were made were very far removed from the reality of the European cities and, on the other hand, were not addressing pressing problems in some mainland cities.
The second day opened with a round table titled “Responses from the European Union to urban challenges”, with a remarkable intervention of the representative of the European Parliament (Urban Intergroup), Jan Olbrycht. Once again we had the opportunity to check that the European Parliament is the institution closest to citizens, also in the approach to urban issues. The impetus with which he intervened and the subpoena to the use of the structural funds in favor of the urban dimension contributed to a discourse that fully picked up the mood of those attending the annual Conference.
As for the benefit of the workshops, it should be pointed out that topics were perfectly selected by the organizers of the Conference: employment, urban mobility, energy efficiency, young people, the development of cities… are the materials faced everyday by urban managers. A different aspect is their development, so I personally had the opportunity to check that the workshops were not always sufficiently dynamic. In any case, the format always contributes to the exchange of experiences and opinions. In this sense, a greater presence in the workshops of experiences of own projects being developed within the URBACT programme were somewhat missing.
Finally, I would like to spend a few lines on the so-called URBACT Coffee, a possibility of discussion in national language and small groups backboned this year around the future of the URBACT programme. While it is true that here I am not totally objective, because I had the possibility of moderating one of the tables in Spanish, both the format and the theme proved most successful.
The creation of a good climate for debate, for the exchange of experiences, for the proposal of suggestions for the future, was the dominant feature of this section of the Conference. Then, in the closing session, URBACT Secretariat representatives presented a synthesis of all the conclusions, uploaded by each of the moderators to a computer platform. We trust that the Secretariat would be sensitive to the suggestions made.
The URBACT programme Conference is an annual gathering of great interest for all those who live and feel the cities. This year in Copenhagen we had the opportunity to reflect on the current situation of European cities and how we want them to continue to evolve. We are already waiting for the next call.
Enrique Rodriguez Martín
Head of International Initiatives
Gijón City Council