DUT Conference session day 1

April 2024

Art and Human-Centred Approaches for Inclusive Urban Transformations

Three projects funded by the JPI Urban Europe programme shared and discussed the role of arts and human-cantered approaches for more inclusive cities at the DUT Conference.

New DUT projects and cooperation partners can take forward some of the lessons learned from The Art of Belonging, Conflicts in transformations (CONTRA) and COOLSCHOOLS projects. Most of the project outputs are now available for new projects to use and build upon. Delve into the key insights from three JPI projects:


The Art of Belonging: Exploring the potential of cultural place-making for social inclusion of young refugees and asylum seekers in Europe

Young people with a refugee status are likely to stay where they settle and become future citizens. Thus, how can we help them to build a sense of connection to a new city? And how could we help residents to feel a sense of connection with the newly arrived?

Using art as a place-making activity, the The Art of Belonging project focused on improving the inclusiveness of young, forced migrants, in Nottingham and Lund. Just like other migrants, they may sense they would gain control over their lives as they arrive and resettle in a city, yet they often have limited control over where they can live or go and tend to stay at home.

Schools working closely with cultural and artistic organizations can play an important role in making young people grow up feeling connected to and valued in a city.

Thus, the project extended school cultural programmes to include 15–19-year-old refugees and asylum seekers in Nottingham. Participants would visit and experience cultural activities, where teenagers create and make things. Thus, they would not only visit key places within the city but also learn to be artistic, a skill young people could take back and use at home.


“Recreating these cultural programmes can be an effective way of introducing new arrivals, bringing long-term benefits to the city.”

Joanna McIntyre, Professor of Education at University of Nottingham


Extending cultural activities proved to be effective to reduce social isolation, breaking down barriers between new arrivals and communities, improving mental health and making young people feel safer.


Lisa De Roeck and Tobias Arnoldussen presenting results from the project CONTRA

Drama labs: Investigating potential conflicts between administrations and citizens over the use of scarce land.  

Providing a stage to people involved in urban transitions can make potential conflicts appear, be observed and better understood. Specifically, Drama Labs have the purpose of exploring conflicts through experimentation. Participants working together on experiments can experience complexity, inequality and distance.


“We did not try to solve the conflicts but rather uncover them, discover the hidden anxiety, mistrust, perceptions of people, imaginary hopes of the future that fueled these conflicts”

Tobias Arnoldussen, Assistant Professor at Tilburg University


The Conflict in transformations (CONTRA) project team joined forces with municipal partners, lawyers, and theatre makers to create spaces where people interact through role play and embodied storytelling. As an example, the project used a climate-focused experiment where two people shovelled sand to build something. However, both have different amounts of sand and a simulated flood with water cans can show the consequences of inequalities when climate impacts hit.

In another experiment, a wooden box offers residents, policy makers and other visitors a space to talk with someone without knowing who they are speaking to.


“It gives room to conversations that otherwise would not happen.”

Lisa De Roeck, Researcher at University of Antwerp


In addition, as theatre and arts could be perceived as elitist, one method they used was to ask those present “Who would be the guest that should be here?” to include groups and people the project has not reached out yet.


Francesc Bardo, Assistant Professor at Vrije Universiteit, taking part of the panel discussion on project challenges

COOLSCHOOLS: Implementing nature-based solutions (NbS) for climate adaptation in school environments.

Many schools are facing heatwaves and lessons are suspended. Heatwave effects can be mitigated with greener spaces in cities and schools. However, study results show schoolyards and primary school environments are mostly grey with little or no vegetation cover, especially in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, in Rotterdam, Brussels, Paris and Barcelona.

The COOLSCHOOLS project facilitated and explored schoolyard transformation processes where parents, teachers, landscape architects and other stakeholders were involved.


“In schools, one needs to find the right time in the year for engagement. For instance, it was hard to get consent from parents to distribute questionnaires on well-being and cognitive development at schools. Making a video in different languages about the project and what it tried to achieve was very successful.”

Francesc Baró, Assistant Professor at Vrije Universiteit


Among the findings was how using schoolyards as outdoor learning spaces other than physical education or recess time appears to be more common in greener schoolyards than in grey ones. In addition, results from Barcelona and Paris showed higher species richness in schoolyards compared to nearby parks.

Learn more

» Read University of Nottingham’s  Policy Brief on Migrant Inclusion

» Read the Drama Lab Toolbox

» MOOC for teachers who want to transform the schoolyards  “Nature-Based Climate Shelters in Schools: Empowering Teachers for Sustainable Education

» Urban Lunch Talk: New perspectives and approaches on urban transitions,  27 May, 12:00 – 13:00 CEST