Urbact Conference, Berlin, 5-6 Nov 2007

“Cities are vital for Europe’s future, but this means that they are also responsible for Europe’s future”, said EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Danuta Hübner at the Urbact conference in Berlin on November 6, 2007, underlining the importance of the local level for the coming years. .
The Berlin conference drew conclusions on the lessons learnt from the first Urbact programme (2003-2006) . The following day, the new Urbact-II programme was launched (2007-2013) and the coming call for proposals was presented to the larger public (see Urbact Website for details on the new Urbact programme including funding options).
EFUS participated in this conference with the interest to shape this future and to add to the conclusions and lessons learned from Urbact-I as well as to prepare for the next round of funding. To do so, the Forum gathered a number of interested partners on a “speed session” round-table to discuss urban safety issues and to develop a new proposal on mediation, neighbourhood management and citizen’s participaton in safety policies.
NEW FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: The new call for proposals for the Urbact-II programme (2007-2013) has been published at the end of November on the Urbact Website. Read the outline of this new opportunity in a powerpoint presention which was prepared by the secretariat for the Berlin conference.

Background: The EU programmes in urban development Urban-I (1994-1999) and Urban-II (2000-2006) have successfully ended and allowed for some 200 cities to exchange experience and practice in urban policy (on a total of 1.4 bn EUR). Unfortunately, there will be no Urban-III, instead urban policy is mainstreamed into general regional policy and must be financed through structural and regional development funds as well as the new Urbact-II programme in the period from 2007-2013. However, urban policy is included in most of the National Strategic References Frameworks (NSRF) and Operational Programs (OP) – all of which should be adopted by the end of 2007. Urbact I (2003-2007) will be continued as Urbact-II (see seperate note on new call for proposals).

Participants: More than 400 participants gathered for the two-day conference, mostly heads of units, project leaders and project partners from Urbact-I’s twenty-something networks.

Contents: The first day of the conference was dedicated to drawing conclusions from Urbact-I and to present the results and lessons learned in three panels (Integrated Approach in Urban Policy; Sustainability and Competitiveness; Strategies for Cohesion and Sustainable Urban Development), citing examples from successful Urbact projects (see the examples given on the website).
The second day was fully addressing the future, and particularly focused on the presentation of coming calls for proposals within the new Urbact-II programme (2007-2013).

EFUS Participation: EFUS participated in the conference to follow up on the Forum’s implication in several thematic networks and working groups of the old Urbact-I programme (SUDC, EuroMediation) and to fathom possibilities for future networks and projects. To do so, the Forum also presented a speed session on project proposals with a link to urban safety issues, which was attended by a large number of city representatives interested in mediation, youth, prevention of alcoholism and public nuisances and other topics.
Member cities of the Forum that are interested in developing their own Urbact-II project proposal or to participate as a partner are invited to contact us as soon as possible.  
Several contacts were also made outside the urban safety , notably on migration, integration, and Roma&Sinti issues.

Keynote Speeches: In her opening speech, Deputy Director General in DG Regional Policy, Mrs. Katarina Mathernová addressed the “urban paradox” which consists of cities being engines of growth and at the same time areas of deprivation. The resulting challenges are thus an urgend need to redevelop inner cities, refurbish 60s-70s social housing projects, to prevent urban sprawl, and to address environmental issues and new challenges of climate change. To support this, the European Commission is committed to continue an integrated approach in urban policy which is nowadays widely accepted, and stressed that this is also due to the successful work of cities within URBAN and Urbact.  Building on this work, Mrs. Mathernová stressed that in the future, urban polic will be mainstreamed into regional policy, which means not only important investments but also bigger challenge to access funds (more competition, larger programmes, stronger implication in strategies and action plans on local and regional development within structural funds).

In the following speech, EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Danuta Hübner saw current challenges particularly in demographic change, globalisation, continuing regional and social imbalances in Europe, as well as in climate change. She recognised that cities and town represent the primary level for cohesion policy, and thus encouraged the audience to make use of the potential of European cities, to address the need to diversify economic structure in urban areas, and to attract investments for development of infrastructure, education, transport etc. That the urban focus is included in most regional development strategies now can be seen as a good sign, and the Leipzig Charter on sustainable urban development which was adopted by the Council of Ministers under the German Presidency points to the same direction. Urbact-I lessons show that strong local partnerships are important, and that a bottom-up approach can be highly successful when it is met by top-down support. In this sense Urbact-II can be an effective instrument for future networking between European cities.

Lessons learnt from Urbact-I (as presented in panels and workshops):
–    integrated approach has proved to be a success
–    importance to have one strategy which is supported by all actors
–    be clear about what your project is and what you want from the very beginning
–    projects need dedicated organisation (with focus to do only this programme)
–    involve citizens and give them a high level of responsibility
–    develop cross-cutting relationships (across groups, knowledge barriers, institutional boundaries etc.)
–    think of resources as much more than just financing
–    apply long-term focus and maintain over end of project
–    work results-oriented
–    give “risky” projects a chance
–    decentralise decison making
–    co-financing and long-term financing is often tedious
–    use leverage effects from private investment, private-public partnerships, and other actors to booster public investment in your policy field and projects
–    integrate your work in a long-term strategy
–    improve dissemination and publicity of results
–    necessity of top-down support for bottom-up projects
–    language barriers much more difficult than just comprehension (cultural translation)
–    better use of experts: think well about how to use them, where and when
–    Urbact not so well suited or exchange of politicans or NGOs (thus stick to technicians)

Urbact-II novelties in short:

–    widened scope & enlarged coverage: all cities can participate (no limitation to URBAN-cities, all EU countries can participate plus Norway and Switzerland
–    themes must be linked to competitiveness and/or cohesion
–    mainstreaming of programmes for increased added value on EU regional policy
–    all projects must include a Local Support Group (LSG) and develop a Local Action Plan (LAP)
–    2-phase application procedure: first deadline February 2008
For full details of the coming call for proposals which will be published around the end of November, please refer to the Urbact website or study the Powerpoint presentation which was prepared by the Urbact secretariat for the conference.