June 2024

Key Takeaways from DUT’s Second City Panel

Cities facing similar challenges connected over initiatives for driving urban transitions at the second City Panel and the Swedish Cities Mission Forum, celebrated on 28-30 May, in Umeå.                                    

City representatives present common challenges and share solutions after the workshop

The second DUT City panel focused on social sustainability and gender aspects

In an interactive workshop, where participants could bring up an issue in their city, share advice and propose solutions, city representatives identified common challenges.

One of the issues brought up by representatives from city authorities was how to make politicians keep plans on track with projects despite economic downturns. Some suggested to translate the social sustainable gains into an economic figure, showing what benefits making the city safer and attractive can bring to the city in terms of business. In addition, others proposed to include stakeholders and civil society to anchor the project with more actors than just decision-makers.

Another common challenge was for projects focused on social sustainability to continue when there is a political change in local government. Some pointed out the political culture in a country as an important factor influencing how respected decisions from previous administrations were as well as the ownership of the project’s financial risk. Among the possible solutions proposed were building alliances with actors who are engaged in the question and creating legally binding structures

When considering large and small urban development projects, such as building a bus station, parks or new apartments, some rose the negative effects of gentrification. To avoid some areas becoming unaffordable or reinforcing inequalities, some proposed setting clear expectations with developers from the start. For instance, guiding investments towards neighbourhoods located away from the centre or already attractive areas, as well as setting a limit to how much the rent could increase.

Connecting with national platforms at the Swedish Cities Mission Forum

The first Forum of Swedish Mission Cities took place back-to-back with the DUT City Panel in Umeå. Participants visited three sites to learn from Umeå municipality’s practical experience working with soocial sustainability and gender aspects, such as spaces designed for teenage girls, a circular market hub for construction material and positive energy district at the Umeå University Area.

During the Swedish Cities Mission Forum, national platforms from Sweden  (Viable Cities) and Spain (CitiE2030) shared insights into their progress towards climate-neutral cities, presenting a joint statement with twelve proposals aimed at supporting, accelerating, and strengthening implementation of the Cities Mission. In addtion, city representatives shared some of the challenges trying to “scale out” through replication and mechanisms to engage more cities, “scale up” through policy change, and “scale deep” through change of mindset. Reflecting on examples presented from cities like Linz, Venice and Umeå, Orsolya Kuettel highlighted how DUT enables knowledge exchange of good practices that can be replicated in other cities.

“Many of the solutions proposed at the City Panel had to do with scaling up, which implies a need for changes in policies and funding to create an ecosystem where problems can be solved.”

— Orsolya Kuettel, Strategic Coordinator at DUT

Reflections from panellists Orsolya Kuettel, Thomas Osdoba, Elena Simion and Anders Wijkman. Photo credit: Malin Grönborg and Viable Cities.

Progressing towards climate-neutral cities

It appears that countries such as Sweden and Spain are role models and have established national networks for cities to collaborate on the cities’ mission goals. Yet, in countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where national support is not very strong, cities from the two countries work together to put together messages that can lead to policy change.

“In Romania, three cities are partnering with other cities in Norway and Iceland to work on urban living labs, engaging the youth in climate neutrality and exchange priorities selected in their climate city contracts.”

— Elena Simion,  Coordinator at CapaCITIES

Reaching changes in the policy level is key for the Cities Mission

When it comes to reducing greenhouse emissions, Thomas Osdoba, Managing Director at NetZeroCities, highlighted the importance of the private sector to finance new solutions and shared two examples where cities need to reach changes in the policy level to advance in their climate neutrality goal.

A relatively new EU regulation about building energy performance appears to create conflicting signals when it comes to implementation. It could potentially undermine the ability of thermal networks and to solve problems collectively for communities. Thus, there is a need to push up to the EU and advocate for a policy lab where cities, experts and EU can solve this issue together.

In addition, another example is around packaging regulation. Cities cannot reduce green house gas emissions without removing plastic packaging from the waste system. This is something that neither cities nor governments can probably achieve on their own. Yet, at the European level, plastic packaging has not been connected to a policy objective such as climate-neutral cities.

Edited 10 June 2024