Looking back at the ‘Bridging European Urban Transformations’ series

Dr Igor Calzada introduces the latest edition of UT Connect, summarising the activities of a collaborative workshop series that took place between 2016 and 2018 in Brussels, ‘Bridging European Urban Transformations‘. Spanning a range of issues including smart citiesurban living labs (ULLs)migration and mobility, and the ‘urban commons’, the discussions showcased the perspectives of a variety of leading thinkers and practitioners on some of the most pressing challenges facing European cities today. 

While there were considerable uncertainties in the research landscape with regards to future connections within the EU, even before the results of the Brexit referendum became known, in the spirit of building bridges a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on 15 June 2016 – just a week before the vote took place – between the University of Oxford, Urban Transformations ESRC Programme and Brussels Centre for Urban Studies (BCUS) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). The MoU, besides pledging close collaboration between the two institutions, also launched a series of workshops, ‘Bridging European Urban Transformations’, lasting from June 2016 to February 2018.

During this time, a wide range of debates and inspiring conversations took place in different locations within Brussels by bringing together a variety of speakers, projects and initiatives. This functioned as an active approach to research, by building a roadmap of some of the key issues and priorities – outlined in more detail below.

The first workshop [1], entitled ‘Unplugging Data in Smart City-Regions’ (#UnpluggingData), was held in the Brussels Centre for Media Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. In overcoming the ‘smart city’ buzzword, the event focused on the implications of smart urbanism and the use of big data for citizens by presenting leading initiatives in Europe (Future Cities Catapult, HackAIR, Flamenco, and City of Things, among others).

The second workshop [2], entitled ‘Experimenting Urban Living Labs (ULLs) Beyond Smart City-Regions’ (#ExperimentingULLs), explored in-depth the potential opportunities of ‘living labs’ and urban laboratories as means for more democratic and transparent city-making. The turnout of this event in the European Delegation of the Basque Country in Brussels was impressive, including government representatives and members of the European Regions Research and Innovation Network (ERRIN), drawing significant attention and bringing together a large number of regional governmental delegations from the EU.

The third workshop [3], entitled ‘Scaling Migration through the European City-Regions’ (#ScalingMigration), blended very diverse perspectives and techniques. The macro scale examined the nation-state’s role in this global crisis of migration and the emergence of city-networks. Moving towards the meso scale, newcomers and refugees’ integration programmes were examined before arriving at the micro level, analysing grounded projects set up in neighbourhoods and districts. The event took place in the neighbourhood of Molenbeek.

Finally, the fourth workshop [4], ‘Rethinking the Urban Commons in European City-Regions’ (#RethinkingCommons) revolved in practical terms around the core idea of the ‘commons’, which was developed by Ostrom and Hardin, among many others. The event, which took place in Visit Brussels, piqued the interest of a wide range of stakeholders.

As a general final reflection, the ‘Bridging European Urban Transformations’ has contributed to enhance and focus the European Urban Agenda regarding (i) the awareness of the technopolitics of data in the post-GDPR realm, (ii) the increasingly experimental approach toward the smart city evolving policy agenda, (iii) the challenge in addressing the complex multi-scalar migration European scheme, and ultimately, (iv) the vital role of the ‘urban commons’ in regenerating the political economy of cities and regions in Europe.

Related references:

1. Keith, M. & Calzada, I. (2016), European Smart Citizens as Decision Makers Rather Than Data Providers, Urban Transformations ESRC report on 14th November 2016 Workshop entitled ‘(Un)Plugging Data in Smart City-Regions‘. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.11175.14240/1.

2. Keith, M. & Calzada, I. (2017), European Urban Living Labs As Experimental City-to-City Learning Platforms, Urban Transformations ESRC report on 13th February 2017 Workshop entitled ‘Experimenting with Urban Living Labs (ULLs) Beyond Smart City-Regions’. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.20968.47361.

3. Keith, M. & Calzada, I. (2018), Citizenship in a Changing Multi-Scalar Post-Brexit European Context, Urban Transformations ESRC report on 11th September 2017 Workshop entitled ‘Scaling Migration through the European City-Regions’. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.21119.71842/1.

4. Keith, M. & Calzada, I. (2018), Back to the “Urban Commons”? Social Innovation through New Co-operative Forms in Europe, Urban Transformations ESRC report on 12th February 2018 Workshop entitled ‘Rethinking the Urban Commons in European City-Regions’. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.22227.27688/1