From smart data to infrastructure, participatory design to migration, the Lab shared a multidisciplinary focus and a forward-looking vision of how our urban future can be shaped to achieve better outcomes for communities, businesses and local authorities. Participants engaged in analysing urban politics and governance from political and institutional perspectives, i.e. exploring the relation between the capacity of cities to address policy problems and evidence based policy making. Current trends in urban governance were explored, such as managerial reforms, participatory innovations and approaches to integrated urban governance.
Urban politics and policymaking is of increasing importance in today’s world of governance. Cities are not only the sites where contemporary ‘wicked policy issues’, such as migration, inequality and sustainability crystallise in a bundled way. They are also considered an engine of social and political change – and governance innovation. Cities are the arena of encounter and materialization of the economic (production), political (redistributive), and community (relational) spheres of social integration, and the debate on public policies and the city is thus a key topic in public administration. Debates on urbanization were widely reverberated in 2008, when according to the United Nations the population in towns and cities surpassed for the first time that in rural areas, and was projected to reach 70 per cent of the world population by 2050. Growing levels of immigration, socio-economic inequalities, spatial segregation, and a diversity of identities, activities, mobilities and lifestyles pose significant challenges and present opportunities for urban policy-makers and institutions.
Towards changing the culture of data hording in Local authorities and Public Utility organizations, objectives included the exchange promising practices relating to the local authorities’ communication with their citizens through information and data sharing. The profile of the city as a focus of public debate, an object of study and a subject for policy intervention has risen significantly in recent years. There are many reasons for this, including:
The city, urban life and demographic concentration: The fact that the majority of the global population now live in cities has become a cliché of our time. But the dominant narratives of urban growth have also evolved. The changing geographies of urban studies reflect the reordering of the global economy: the sheer scale of urbanisation, undermines a conventional urban studies narrative that focuses on the metropolitan experiences of the north. The scale of urban change demands massive investment in the built environment and new infrastructures. Simultaneously, the movement of refugees and migrants to Europe challenge urban researchers to think about the nature of arrival and migration in the contemporary metropolis.
The city, governance and the nation state: As patterns of global connectivity intensify and economic restructuring accelerates, scales of governance pluralise. The limited capacity of the nation state to manage discrepant patterns of urban growth and decline lead to political demands to decentralise power. Local governments foreground the importance of cities being in charge of their own economic destiny. From neighbourhood participation to city regional logics, this focus on the metropolitan also generates a multi-scalar focus of urban scholarship.
The city as crucible of socio-cultural change: Since the industrial era the city has been a source of innovation and novelty. Churning demographics generate spaces and places of political, ethical and artistic invention. As culture becomes a driver of urban economic change, as well as a medium of inclusion and exclusion, the creative city reflects a propensity for city economies to reinvent. Meanwhile, in the global north as much as the global south, the metropolis is both the container and the facilitator of dissent and protest, signaling major social change.
The city as complex combination: The push for growth sits alongside the economic, social and ecological drivers of the long-term future of the flexible city. The focus on all three of these pillars of sustainability foregrounds the complex dynamics of the city. New forms of collecting, sensing and measuring big data promise innovative tools for analysing and then intervening in the urban fabric. The mixing of human nature with the material urban environment reinvents conventional divisions of the sciences and the arts. Infrastructure shapes culture and technological change is culturally mediated. The art of place making becomes central to the dilemma of how old cities reinvent themselves and the new metropolis develops in a fashion that recognises the end of conventional models of zoning and land use planning, but still demands the rational accommodation of demographic changes of both growth and decline.
Spatial contradictions trigger a dispute for the organization of the city and are challenged by social struggles that demand the right to the city for every citizen. ‘Voice’ as a mechanism to deliver public services can be translated into citizen participation and customer focus policies, namely customer-oriented policies in the public sector which are also labelled as quality management schemes.
- The democratization of the local power, revamping the city with citizens in the exercise of active democracy through participation, social networks and struggles for inclusion.
- Urban social innovation responding to the need of new management technologies, which include inter alia participatory budgeting, counsels, and conferences, either on a local level of implementation or at the national level of integration.
- The new urban agenda generated by the dynamic socio-spatial context of cities – demographic changes, mobility, sustainability, elderly and childcare.
- Intergovernmental relations, which are institutionalized through the decentralization and devolution of power, inter-city consortium for shared management of conurbation issues, and shared accountability for policies.
- Collaboration and public-private partnerships as new forms of management and provision of services that involve matters of accountability, sustainability, and responsiveness in the policy networks that link government’s sections and other societal actors.
In contemporary society, a time marked by globalisation, social and economic instability, a weakening of administrative “capacities” and increasingly complex social dynamics, new actors are emerging to support the development of community initiatives.
At time in smart city and smart specialistion strategy policy discourses, governance implementations have been proposed in European cities and regions without considering appropriately the negotiations between stakeholders, multiple expectations, and possible or desirable urban futures jointly built by them. As such, ‘smart’ technological solutions have not sufficiently focused on needs and usability by citizens and at times generate a governance misalignment between the ‘experimental city’ and publics, citizens and stakeholders.
The Urban Policy Lab has been an opportunity to discuss participation in urban policy and its role in defining common practices, policy measures and urban management strategies, in order to respond to issues of urban governance and the social needs of inhabitants.
In this context, to understand inter-dependent challenges and opportunities for different stakeholders the Lab has focused on the dynamics of urban complexity, experimental research, and alternative policy approaches to cities and regions. This Urban Policy Lab has been also an invitation to rethink ‘urban cities’ around what might be seen as an experimental laboratory ‘turn’ research and policy intervention that present active user involvement, real-life settings, multi-stakeholder participation, multi-method approaches and co-creation.
The Lab discussed that, in contrast, the ‘smartness’ of some European urban strategies is dominated by a technological discourse centred on knowledge flows and data aggregation that allows the city-region to be managed by a given and fixed private and public partnership governance model. Nonetheless, the contemporary city cannot be just reduced to its economic value generated by partnerships involving powerful public and private actors, such as multinational corporations and the state. As Habermas pointed out, “smartness in our city cannot be more technocratic than democratic”.