Tooling up for transition: a guide for cities.

Six challenges, six visions, six stories. Which tools can cities use to tackle the challenges of our times? Explore our urban experiments and the tools developed by the Trans-Urban-EU-China project to help cities become more affordable, inclusive, harmonious and balanced while also fostering decarbonisation and circular economy.

Click on each story to learn more.

Tackling the challenge: Unequal income and unequal housingSolution: Affordable
Fighting Inequality

To create fairer opportunities for people to live and work, cities need make comprehensive plans to reverse current trends of worsening inequality. Warsaw, for example, is cutting off such trends by intervening in early childhood to try and ensure that poverty is not passed on through the generations.

Of the many methods for this, the foundational one is mapping: Using an anonymous parents’ survey, and a competition format, the city gets feedback on childcare facilities, from quality of care to healthiness of meals. This incentivises better performance at the same time as giving the city a clearer picture of the situation on the ground.

The city also provides ‘family assistants’ who can help families access social services, lessening the likelihood of social exclusion. Direct subsidies to families for education and other items are also part of Warsaw’s approach.

Learn more about Warsaw’s approach here.

The Trans-Urban-EU-China Compendium includes information about effective mapping techniques so that cities can get abreast of the facts as they stand; it also explains mechanisms like sectoral housing plans, a framework to ensure that housing of a sufficient quality is available to people of all socio-economic groups. A partial list of the project’s tools that are useful in combatting inequality:

Tackling the challenge: Rise of lonelinessSolution: Inclusivity
Towards Inclusivity

Physically speaking, more people around the world are closer than ever before in urban environments, but cities have to work hard to make sure that this physical proximity funnels into a feeling of a close-knit community. In Beijing, the Da-Shi-Lar Revitalisation Project used community mapping to ensure greater local cohesion, as wells as to preserve and share local culture and cultural heritage and improve the vibrancy of the area.

An open working platform was set up to bridge the gap between the government, market and social resources, and to engage community members, community-based organisations, and local business, as well as designers, planners, architects, artists, and entrepreneurs from outside through a series of initiatives and activities.

Through community mapping, residents and businesspeople were engaged in collecting oral history, creating a community museum, and events such as workshops with artists. People were also able to come together to collect ‘field data’, such as a geographical inventory of shops, restaurants, pedestrian infrastructure, utilities, and historical buildings. This information can be used as raw data for statistical analysis. They were also asked to evaluate the condition of the area, information that was then used for improving the local environment, pedestrian safety, and architectural style.

Much of the material gathered in this way can be used for marketing and branding, stimulating business and tourism.

A mobile app was created to host some of the gathered information, which allows people to point their phone at buildings or sites and, through Augmented Reality (AR) see cultural, historical and other information.

Learn more about the Da Shi Lar revitalisation project here.

Community mapping is just one approach to greater citizen participation, which can be managed in an even more bottom-up way through participatory budgeting, and can happen in spaces made available through adaptive reuse. A partial list of the project’s tools that are useful in combatting loneliness:

Tackling the challenge: Migration and fear of strangersSolution: Harmonious
Integrating Integration

As our societies become more diverse, it is important to ensure that integration keeps pace with migration, and that negative narratives around migration that can stoke prejudice are tackled. In Sofia, one of the main methods pursued for tackling such narratives is creating moments of engagement between local and migrant communities.

One locus of engagement is participatory urban gardening. Sofia offers financial support to the non-profit organisation Multikulti, which transforms urban space into a garden environment where people of all backgrounds can come and tend to the vegetables while also enjoying social events. Working with NGOs to deliver this service creates a further advantage for Sofia, in that it is an opportunity for knowledge exchange, where the city can present its overall picture to the NGO, and the NGO can get information about what is happening closer to the ground back to the city.

A participatory urban garden is just one example of common space co-building, a strategy to bring the community together around the development and maintenance of an asset, which could be as complicated as a children’s playground, or as simple as an outdoor chess-table.
What can be challenging is ensuring that your engagement strategy manages to reach out to and include diverse groups, and especially vulnerable members of the community who may be harder to reach. This is another example of working with non-profits, which may be able to rely on pre-existing networks. In essence, all forms of citizen participation that manage to reach and include migrants will be able to improve local integration.

Sofia employs additional strategies, such as helping to set up internships for migrants in media organisations, and keeping an open dialogue with the media to encourage them to report around migration issues in an even-handed way. The city also uses direct communication campaigns, including videos of migrants explaining what they love about Sofia and what has made them decide to stay there.

Tackling the challenge: Urban sprawlSolution: Balanced
Balancing out

One way that cities can combat urban sprawl and encourage a balanced approach to the growth of urban environments is by making the best possible use of existing urban spaces.

Adaptive reuse is the process of taking existing spaces that no longer serve a purpose, such as old industrial sites in post-industrial cities, and, instead of knocking them down, finding a new purpose and new inhabitants for them.

A good example of this is, Shougang Park, a former steel manufacturing site in the Shijingshan District of Beijing. This 8.63 km2  space is being converted into a new kind of urban area. The latest City Master Plan of Beijing (2016-2035) redefines it as the ‘High-end Industrial Comprehensive Service Area of New Shougang,’ and plans to preserve and renovate the industrial heritage.

The overall plan of renovation includes five sections: Winter Olympics Square, Industrial Heritage Park, Associated Public Service, Urban Weaving Innovation Works, and Landscape Park of Shijingshan. The renovation mainly targets some typical buildings, including Xishi Silo, Powder-processing Workshop, Gas Workshop, Coal Workshop, Coal Station, No.3 Star Furnace and Xiuchi Pond, Frit Workshop, and the Coking Workshop.

The previous ‘steel base’ is transforming into a new green ecological area, and the traditional industrial park is becoming a new ‘magnetic field’ meant to attract high-end industries, as a new landmark of the urban renewal of Beijing. The repurposing of such spaces need not be permanent, temporary use is also a great way to remove some pressure from the housing system while giving much-needed opportunities to groups like artists and entrepreneurs.

The adaptive reuse compliments other policies for limiting urban sprawl, such as the Chinese land quota system, and the dynamic balance of farmland occupation and reclamation, which ensure that as cities in China grow, enough farm land remains available to provide food security to the growing population.

Read more about Shijingshan’s regeneration here.

Tackling the challenge: Emissions and climate changeSolution: Low Carbon
Tackling climate change

One of the reasons that our climate has been able to get out of control is that our economic models did not include the major negative externalities of environmental degradation and CO2 production that have accompanied our mode of growth. Therefore, an important tool in tackling climate change is finding a way to make these environmental downsides legible to the economic system.

Such a reading can be provided by cost-benefit analysis, for example in the calculation tool for multifunctional sustainable roofs. As the benefits of green roofs become more widely appreciated, their inclusion in building codes becomes more widespread. As early as 1997, Guangzhou released an urban greening regulation stipulating the construction of green roofs on suitable large-scale public buildings, which is also the first time green roofs were required by law in China.

This commitment to green roofs has been further strengthened in the city of Shenzhen in the same province, which gave out subsidies to organisations, enterprises and individuals for green roofs, to annually increase the area of green roofs by 200,000 m2 between 2014 to 2020.

Cost-benefit analysis involves selecting important factors and allocating a cost to them, neither of which are necessarily easy or self-evident. The key is to be transparent about the metrics that are being used, an approach which can lend your findings credibility.

A natural complement to this analysis is a proper understanding of the costs of intervention to improve the environment, such as guidelines for detecting the impacting factors for air pollution and estimating costs for air pollution control. Through Trans-Urban-EU-China, these guidelines have been employed in four urban living labs, Tianjin, Wuhan, Jingdezhen, and Xiong’an, where they provide support for decision making.

Tackling the challenge: Natural resourcesSolution: Circular Economy
Rethinking Resources

To move from a system of exploiting our natural resources into a circular economy, a major shift in the way people think and act regarding their own consumption patterns is necessary. One tool that can help occasion such a shift is awareness raising.

Through a major communication campaign, the city of Ljubljana has brought about a huge change in attitude, but this was a battle that had to be fought on many fronts: Public installations organised by the city where bins held protest placards asking not to be party to food waste; the use of rap, blues and pop songs with clever or amusing lyrics encouraging people to reuse things where possible rather than throwing them away; and a poster campaign that took advantage of festive moments such as Halloween to boost the circular-economy message.

Awareness raising cannot be all surface-level, however. It also requires the city to provide real alternatives.

Dividing up public bins into waste hubs for separate types of waste, allowing upcycling entrepreneurs to take advantage of adaptive reuse of vacant spaces, and placing a bring-your-own-bottle liquid vending machine prominently in a public square were all concrete steps Ljubljana took to raise awareness while providing feasible alternatives. It can be difficult to know how effective such campaigns and other measures put in place to preserve resources are if the proper steps are not taken to carry out monitoring and evaluation. This is essential to provide evidence of success, or to understand how best to readjust policies that fail to deliver adequately. Monitoring and evaluation are also essential for gathering the data on resource use and environmental issues that can be used to fuel awareness raising.

Read more about Ljubljana’s approach here.

A partial list of the project’s tools that are useful in preserving natural resources and promoting circular economy: