First Urbact Local Support Group Summer University in Krakow
Urbact is a European Community Program that brings together a large number of stakeholders of European urban policy making. I have been involved in Urbact Networks between 2005 and 2007 with the Hous-es project (about Regeneration of large housing estates in old and new member States) and since the beginning of 2011 in the Links project (about Future Proof Historical City Centers). My point of view is not the one of an external evaluator, but that of an independent researcher on urban policies and projects actively involved in the Program itself. Attending the first Urbact Local Support Group Summer University that took place in Krakow in September 29th to 31st was an opportunity for a renewed reflection about the Program and how it works.
For those who are not familiar with it, URBACT is an exchange and learning Program, part of european European Cohesion policy, born out of the wish to capitalise the experiences collected by the cities that implemented Urban and Urban II projects. Recognising the fact that the Urban approach established a “European way” to regeneration of deprived areas and urban development policies – a way that is necessarily different from the national and local urban policies – the first Urbact Program gave the opportunity to the cities who benefit from ERDF and ESF to reflect, exchange, capitalise and disseminate their experiences. The re-financing of the URBACT in 2007-2013 was preceded by an evaluation of the response by the cities and a survey of the result that had been achieved. On the basis of this analysis it was decided to continue the program as URBACT II providing it with more resources and increasing the percentage of EU funding for every partner city. On the other hand it was also decided to select the projects and the partner cities with severe criteria, to enlarge the scope of work of the networks and strengthen the monitoring of their activities.
Under URBACT II reflection and capitalisation are the basis for the production (and ideally implementation) of LOCAL ACTION PLANS (LAP) according to demands and analysis of the state of play made by the LOCAL SUPPORT GROUPS (ULSG). All URBACT II partners in Thematic Networks are required to elaborate a LAP as a consequence of the knowledge sharing process that takes place within the network and to respond to the demand and the suggestions that arises from the ULSG. The LAP should provide the city with a concrete roadmap and a range of solutions to tackle the issues identified at the beginning of the project. Furthermore, at Program level, the LAP shall represent a concrete output in the process of knowledge sharing and capitalisation.
The First ULSG Summer University organised by URBACT II took place in Krakow and brought together more than 300 representatives of networks and Local Support Groups from all over Europe. The program of the event included short key-note speeches, lectures and interactive workshops about Local Support Group management, the so-called Urbact Cafè, allowing people from the same country or language to exchange in their native language and very few spare time to visit Krakow or meet with your Urbact friends. The work was supported by a fine tuned organisational management, extremely kind and competent polish language assistants and even a video team producing daily reports which are posted on the urbact dailymotion website. To watch some of these very nice videos you can click here, here, here and here. Wonderful!
This is all true, and there are many other interesting and exciting aspects of this undertaking that made worthwhile the significant effort required (2 and 1/2 days + travel). On the other side the main reason for this post is to focus on some issues that should be targeted in the next future to make a step forward towards URBACT III.
First of all the “Old Members States Supremacy”. I have no statistics about it, but it is evident that most activities at the Summer University were led and managed by representatives of the old member States. It reflects the fact that also most Networks and Experts are from these countries where eventually the largest Urbact knowledge and experience lies. It is clearly a situation that has developed this way in the years and I am sure that there is no discriminatory thinking behind it, but just some more work to be done at programme level in order to include more contributions by the ‘new’ Member States.
The second remark is related to the first one and I would call it the “English Supremacy”. Working, learning and exchanging with ideas means playing with words and this gives and conspicuous advantage to those who speaks in their mother language. Apparently a language is not only a way of expressing, but also a way of thinking and a channel for a specific cultural approach. This might become a problem for a program like URBACT which aims at putting in value the diversity of European cities (and cultures). Needless to say I love English language and culture and I have English for this blog in order to be able to communicate with colleagues at European and global level. Nevertheless we should always be aware of the language issue which becomes evident in occasions like the Summer University in Krakow.
The third and last issue I like to point out is also somehow linked to the previous ones and is about the fragmentation of these kind of learning events where you find yourself hustled from one room to another to listen, learn and experience things at a considerable speed. For smart professionals familiar with those kind of methodologies (and with their jargon) this might have been a refreshing and exciting exercise. But for some other average practitioner like myself that was sometimes frustrating. In other words I was missing some space to reflect and concentrate on the many issues raised. Of course you can download everything from the Urbact website, but this is not the same thing…
Finally there will be a lot of reporting on those intense days, a lot of homework to be done to become a better stakeholder, facilitator, public officer, planner etc. For the moment I just want to conclude this post with the pictures I took in the beautiful host city, from the airport to the University Guest-house in Florianska street and from there to the premises of the Summer University. That was on the day before the University began and we started our way on the path towards the Dragon’s Den!