Cluj-Napoca – Getting ready for Eurocities Annual Conference 2024

16 May 2024

May is the most important month in Cluj-Napoca. Each year, the Cluj Days light up the streets of the Romanian city to show traditional dances, host concerts or organise sports competitions.

But this year, the city council will also host Eurocities Annual Conference 2024, welcoming hundreds of city representatives from across Europe a few days before the European Parliament elections.

As the event draws near, the city council is involved in the last phase of arrangements, ensuring every detail is finely tuned. So, what does Cluj-Napoca plan to show to other cities?

Green, resilience, innovation

The theme ‘green, resilience, innovation’ shapes the city’s efforts to create a sustainable and resilient urban environment. How do they do that? Through the implementation of forward-thinking initiatives and projects that prioritise environmental conservation, social equity, and economic prosperity.

“It is all intertwined,” says Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj-Napoca. “We cannot talk about climate change without thinking of social challenges and how to use innovative technologies to achieve a just transition. So, more or less, everything is a priority. We need to keep a good balance on how we use the resources in the most inclusive and socially ethical manner.”

In line with its commitment to sustainability and quality of life, Cluj-Napoca has been exploring innovative solutions to improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact. The city has initiated projects to retrofit public buildings with energy-efficient technologies, install renewable energy systems, and promote green building practices.

View of downtown Cluj Napoca, Romania

Sustainability is part of a holistic vision in the city, transportation modes have been diversified by promoting eco-friendly modes such as bike-sharing programmes and investing in bike lines and citizens’ behaviour change campaigns.

“At the same time, these concepts mean alignment with the European Union in terms of ambitions, objectives and drive,” adds Boc. “Ultimately, our goal is to have the best Cluj that we can have, increasing the quality of life of our citizens while having these concepts in the back of our minds.”

The power of teaming up

Cluj partners with other local governments, NGOs, academia, and technology partners to develop and implement innovative solutions tailored to the needs of urban youth. These solutions may include digital health technologies, urban planning interventions, community programmes, and policy advocacy efforts.

The Our City initiative is a global effort aimed at leveraging technology and innovation to improve the health and well-being of young people in urban environments. Coordinated by Fondation Botnar, with legacy roots in Romania, the initiative has the potential to catalyse positive change in Cluj-Napoca and other urban areas by harnessing the power of technology, innovation, and collaboration to create healthier, more equitable cities for young people.

“The reason why we as a city prioritised this partnership is the values of the model – that not only empowers young people to get closer to the decision-making and become active actors of their city, but it also tests and designs participatory approaches and new ways to address collective knowledge, such as the quadruple helix perspective and the potential of maximising access to all types of resources in a community once the trust base is ensured,” says Boc.

Another example of local partnership in Cluj-Napoca is the collaboration with rural areas. The European Startup Village Forum facilitates the exchange of knowledge and expertise on how to promote startup-driven innovation in rural areas.

This practice exemplifies how bottom-up processes can involve communities in finding local solutions, develop learning opportunities and address rising divides. “While the European Missions are working to identify solutions and innovations that will help us collectively achieve the twin green and digital transition, it is also important to promote societal mindset change – especially in communities that are very divided and deprived of access to learning opportunities,” adds Boc.

Ahead of the Eurocities Annual Conference 2024 Eurocities took more time to dive into the city’s latest innovative projects in a discussion with Mayor Emil Boc.

Eurocities has launched its manifesto ahead of the EU elections 2024, calling for an EU alliance to tackle climate, digital and social challenges. What are the top priorities for Cluj?

Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj-Napoca

In 2022, the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca was selected as one of the European Commission’s 100 smart and climate-neutral cities by 2030, giving a clear direction to accelerating climate neutrality. Following the review process, the European Commission validated our 2030 Climate Action Plan, and Cluj-Napoca Municipality received the Mission Label, which is a recognition of the city’s efforts to manage a complex plan for the green transition and validation of the actions and projects that the Cluj municipality is running.

At the same time, Cluj-Napoca has approved a Digital Transformation strategy tailored by the Universities to ensure a just digital transition within the city. The innovation ecosystem collaborates to propel the city forward in terms of processes and capacities. The general goal is to make the transition from ‘made in Cluj’ to ‘invented in Cluj’ due to the exceptionally well-prepared human resources available at the local level.

Social challenges are tackled in the same collaborative manner by local stakeholders. Through public policies, processes driven either by the city hall or local stakeholders, and investments into the social dimensions, we strive to follow the principle ‘no one is left behind in Cluj-Napoca’.

What is your vision for the ideal European city in 2050? What essential steps must be made at the European level for us to get there?

There are, of course, multiple aspects to achieve an ideal European city by 2050, and let’s be fair and square, it is quite hard to do so. First of all, it is important to create resilient communities, because the essence of a city is how a community connects with it.

Then it is important to make sure appropriate funding is available for investments, and those investments are aimed at increasing the quality of life of the citizens. Here, the European Union together with local, regional and national authorities should have a huge impact on how our cities can be developed as sustainable and resilient as we want to. Take for example the Cohesion Policy – which is the glue that keeps our Europe together – an instrument that used properly can streamline how cities from different regions might cooperate and obtain funding to develop.

The direction is right, but we must make sure that we keep a close track of the objectives put in place by the European Union and act accordingly.

How does the city engage with its residents to promote sustainability and environmental awareness?

The city is involved in multiple international projects with an environmental component and citizens are being involved both horizontally – in workshops, surveys, contests, temporary activations – and vertically – in the decision-making process.

One local mechanism is the Civic Innovation and Imagination Center, a living lab that brings people together to generate ideas and good outcomes for projects. At the same time, this instrument is used to generate awareness concerning themes such as climate change, sustainability, or environmental challenges. Moreover, the centre provides opportunities for civic engagement and participatory decision-making, allowing people to voice their opinions, contribute to community initiatives, and shape the future of their city.

Overall, the Cluj Innovation and Civic Imagination Center serves as a dynamic platform for people to come together, collaborate, and innovate for positive social change. Whether it’s launching a startup, developing a community project, or simply attending an event, individuals can leverage the center’s resources and networks to make a difference in their community.

Are there any community-driven initiatives or creative local projects that have significantly made the city more innovative?

One initiative that I want to highlight is the Fund for Innovation and Experiment (FIX), which is a programme funded by our city hall that offers mentorship for youth to transform ideas into successful businesses.

Photo by FIX

FIX is a 10-month hybrid programme that helps young innovators tackle some of the most pressing social challenges and create digital solutions with a positive impact on their communities. This social innovation model uses the local ecosystem as a driver that helps young entrepreneurs develop their skills.

At the same time, there are several innovative programmes and projects organised by local stakeholders that boost innovation within the city. We have two digital innovation hubs that constantly develop projects and programmes that create added value within the community. During the annual Innovation Camp, international experts come to Cluj-Napoca to find innovative solutions to current problems and challenges in the city.

The Innovation Camp, created by the Junior Research Centre, is a dynamic tool designed to foster creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills among people. We use it in Cluj once each year – tackling 4-5 main challenges that the local ecosystem identifies. This year we will have a special focus on the Rural Urban dynamic and the challenge of a city like Cluj to tackle divides. Participants engage in ideation sessions to generate ideas and form teams, then work collaboratively to develop their projects with guidance from mentors and facilitators.

Innovation within our community comes from everyone involved: academia, the private sector, NGOs, citizens and public institutions. The most innovative aspect of Cluj-Napoca is how the ecosystem collaborates to generate progress.

Eurocities Annual Conference

The Eurocities Annual Conference will host focus sessions on, for example, how to ensure stakeholders contribute to the city’s climate targets, how to use European funding to scale up local innovation, boost SMEs and retain talent for the green and digital transformation, as well as how to develop partnerships between cities and their local rural areas to provide, for example, sustainable food and renewable energies.

“We are sure that the Eurocities Annual Conference 2024 will be a knowledge-sharing platform for everyone involved and we are looking forward to creating bonds and possibly generating working partnerships. We really believe in the power of collaboration so this is a tremendous opportunity for us to share, learn and grow,” concludes Boc.

Read more about Eurocities 2024 Cluj – Cities for a green, innovative and resilient Europe for all. Discover the shortlisted cities for the Eurocities Awards 2024: Talent, sustainable food and mobilising voters. Visit the official website of the event, and check out the programme.

Follow the event online via our hashtags: #Eurocities2024 and #GetClujedIn


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer