Dreams come true when acting together

9 June 2022

“What an amazing time to change the world,” said Antti Vasara, President and CEO of the Technological Research Center of Finland and Chair of the European Association of Research & Technology Organisations. He said those words at Eurocities Annual Conference this morning.

“The challenges we are facing as individuals, cities, companies or countries are bigger than ever but so are the opportunities for those who want to make a change,” Vasara added.

Indeed, cities act at the forefront of various social transformations, such as the pandemic recovery and the green transition, as well as crises. But local governments are willing to transform urban environments into sustainable and healthy places to ensure a better future for all.

“Dreams do not come true unless we take action,” said Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence and President of Eurocities. “Acting for solutions is in our DNA as cities. As we say: nations talk, cities act,” Nardella adds.

It is a fact that an era of new beginnings requires transforming dreams into action. And the action is more likely to become a success if we do it together.

A better collaborative future

With the particularly arduous-to-solve climate crisis high on the agenda, solutions must be found through crosscutting cooperation and partnership. All political and societal levels should participate in the design, investment and implementation of solutions.

“In Espoo, we believe we succeed in everything we do together,” said the Mayor of the Finnish city, Jukka Mäkelä. “We invite universities, companies, NGOs, and residents to get involved in innovating and co-creating the sustainable future.”

All those actors contribute to developing next-generation solutions. Cities host stakeholders and play a key role within their local innovation ecosystem, encouraging a co-creation mindset and a shared vision in targets and pathways.

A sustainable future in Europe can be created thanks to private-public partnerships, simply because the challenges are too many and too arduous to face separately. However, cities need new ways of collaborating with the whole ecosystem.

“According to the International Energy Agency, most of the emissions reductions by 2030 will require technologies that are already on the market,” explains Vasara, “but when we expand the time horizon to 2050, almost half of the reductions will come from technologies that are not yet on the market.”

This means that research and innovation are essential to developing the technology that will guarantee a genuine carbon neutrality transition. “And co-creation is needed to turn this into scalable real live solutions,” Vasara adds.

Cities implement future solutions

Leading a complex ecosystem towards common goals requires making the most of the diversity, the capacities, and the networks. It also requires an ability to co-create a culture of trust.

“Pioneering cities are turning these large infrastructure investments and city district projects into new private-public partnerships through innovate public procure,” said Vasara.

An example is Oslo’s collaboration on smart city logistics, which the Mayor Raymond Johansen defined as “the car revolution.”

Raymond Johansen, Mayor of Oslo

90% of new cars in the Norwegian capital are electric thanks to a cooperation between the state, which makes it cheaper to buy electric alternatives; the municipality, which makes them easier to use, and private companies that produce a higher number of this type of vehicles.

Additionally, the council noticed the rise of e-commerce triggered more cars for delivery and pick up purchases. To buffer the rise, public transport can be now used for package delivery after peak hours, whereas from 2025, fossil fuel cars won’t be allowed in the centre of Oslo.

Johansen is convinced cities can use their purchase power to change the market. “My ambition as the mayor is that Oslo is small enough to be a testbed and then export it to other cities,” the mayor concludes.

Deputy Mayor Diana Pretzel explains that in Mannheim, the city work required reorganisation “for a more cross-sectoral work.” The eight sectors of the green deal, such as climate, food and traffic, are to be filled with people working closely with the inhabitants and local industries.

Eindhoven also underwent a reorganisation in the municipality due to a radical, innovative transformation 20 years ago that focused on sustainable growth, jobs and wellbeing. The Dutch city revamped from a manufactury based economy to a knowledge-based one. They focused on education institutions and private and public partners.

The Mayor John Jorritsma recognises the transformation as an “enormous economic success, but also full of challenges for the coming decades.” He adds that success and prosperity come with long-term challenges in building a community where everybody counts – such as lack of houses and infrastructure rebuilding or dealing with investment in sport, culture, or health.

John Jorritsma, Mayor of Eindhoven

Together with companies, research organisations and other partners, cities can use the urban space and their capacity for investment to build labs where citizens actively participate in finding solutions to protect the environment, support the economy and promote the wellbeing of society.

Jacek Jaśkowiak, Mayor of Poznan, shared the example of the private-public cooperation between the municipality and Volkswagen, the biggest employer in the Polish city. Volkswagen collaborates with an energy company to provide 4,500 houses heat by transforming aluminon production into energy.

This means a reduction of 202.040 tones of CO2 emissions, saving 406.000 trees per year. A similar project is developed by Microsoft and the city of Espoo.

Having witnessed the initiative’s success, the mayor of Poznan agrees with the potential of the cooperation between cities, businesses and research institutions. However, Jaśkowiak considers the local public investment risky for “a young democracy like Poland” since losing public money can be controversial and used for political purposes.

On the contrary, for the Chair of the Aalto University Board, Mikko Kosonen, “successful innovation partnership requires that all partners are willing to share the investment risks.” However, he admits it’s a complex task.

The EU local co-creation projects

“For health and environmental reasons, it’s now time to turn our cities into green smart ones,” said Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. “The cities of tomorrow will be the knowledge cities stimulating the development of deep tech innovation and environmental sustainability for the benefit of citizens.”

According to the Commissioner, cities are highly relevant for research innovation. They are places to demonstrate, test, deploy and adopt new solutions.

Research and other co-design approaches are well-established and have been widely adopted by the European Commission. The New European Bauhaus is an initiative that started by proposing a series of conversations on the places people inhabit and their relationship with the natural environment.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

The New European Bauhaus is an example of dialogue between different actors, but it’s not the only one. The new EU mission (including the 100 climate-neutral cities by 2030) is also an innovation initiative that can harness city transition.

Co-creation is the base of the 100 climate neutral cities contract. “Each selected city will include an overall plan towards climate neutrality across sectors such as energy, building, waste management and transport, and this will go hand in hand with tailor-made investment plans considering the local specificities.”

This process will involve all levels of government, researchers, innovators, citizens, and businesses to improve air quality, create jobs, support healthier lifestyles and stimulate the positive effects of new sustainable mobility concepts.

Another example at the EU level with local impact is the new co-funded partnership Driving Urban Transitions, which creates synergies to mobilise urban actors to actively engage in designing their transition pathways to sustainability and climate neutrality.

“We need your ideas to, along with co-creation, transform them into something tangible, operational and concrete,” the Commissioner told the city’s representatives at the conference. “Only through cooperation and collaboration, we’ll be able to deliver.”

Indeed, ideas are needed to initiate the process of transformation and cooperation that will lead to future cities. After dreaming, actions are required. Because dreaming without acting transforms into hopelessness, and acting without listening triggers an unjust future.

You can watch the entire session about Co-creation & Public-private partnerships here.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer