Rivers smashing through motorways, food farmed in your garden feeding the hungry, armies of cyclists taking over transportation from trucks, and tonnes of trash turned into treasure – these are some of the fantastic ideas that have come to life in our cities and are now nominees for the Eurocities Awards 2021.
Ghent‘s one-stop-shop for energy renovation, ‘De Energiecentrale‘ means the door is always open for locals trying to keep the heat in. From this hub, energy experts visit inhabitant’s homes to give free advice advice and assistance on energy efficiency, from drawing up long-term plans to filling in forms and finding providers.
With a ‘customer-friendly’ approach, De Energiecentrale supports home owners’ choices with a range of services tailored to the state of their home, the available budget and time. The practice uses the insights of behavioural science to encourage an energy-saving way of life.
Since beginning in 2014, this practice has saved the people of Ghent €1,220,000 on energy bills and the equivalent of 5,800 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
Iedereen kan gratis beroep doen op de Energiecentrale voor advies en hulp bij het aanvragen van premies. Dat zorgt voor betere woningen, lagere rekeningen en is goed voor het milieu! #fieropgent https://t.co/KJ74csQELW
— Groen Gent (@Groen_Gent) November 12, 2019
In Nice Cote d’Azur, Recyclerie Les Moulins, is a space where pre-loved objects find new life while boosting the local economy. Recyclable or reusable waste is brought to the space by volunteers, where it is sorted repurposed and repaired.
Located in a socio-economically deprived area, the Recyclerie uses circular economy to drive employment, social integration, local cooperation, environmental education and urban regeneration. NGOs, local people and organisations collaborate to bring the area to life with an average of about 11 events per month.
Visitors can learn about composting, urban gardening and recycling, and they can also buy recycled or upcycled goods. Around 16 tons of items are upgraded and resold annually, and of the 41 employees temporarily hired at the centre, 60% go on to find a job or enter professional training.
We’ve all been ordering a lot more online since the outbreak of the pandemic, and that means more delivery trucks and other logistics vehicles clogging up our streets. Prague‘s entry for the Eurocities Awards, the Depot.Bike is a consolidation centre where delivery vehicles can bring their cargo to be transferred to bicycles before entering the city.
Eight logistics companies have joined the pilot, and more than 6,000 parcels are being delivered by bike each month, with a planned second depot expected to double this number soon.
Since it began in November 2020, cargo bike couriers have travelled over 17,000 kilometres that would otherwise have been covered by fossil fuel emitting vehicles.
Planning public spaces
We have all watched with great sadness as recent floods overwhelmed parts of Europe. In Copenhagen, the nominated best practice, ‘Cloudburst‘, is a city-wide design initiative comprising 300 sites that will sequester excess rainwater while enhancing public space.
The practice, which has already been featured in our EU-funded ROCK project’s European Journal of Creative Practices in Cities and Landscapes, sees green and biodiverse spaces springing up all over the city in declivities where water can collect and be gradually absorbed, rather than flooding the city or overwhelming the sewage system.
Co-design with locals ensures that these new spaces meet their needs and preferences.
In Ljubljana, a central thoroughfare has become a new living room for the city. After a trial run that was designed in collaboration with local organisations and people, the city survey found that the new Slovenska cesta had 90% support to become permanent, and so it was done.
The revamped street has something for everyone: there are trees to provide greenery and shade, public seating for those that need or want to take a break on their journey, tactile paths so the visually-impaired can get around more safely, bicycle paths and bus stops.
An exhibition platform facilitates public interventions of all kinds, and an air quality display lets people see the difference that losing cars has made. On-street seating for bars and restaurants also helps stimulate the local economy.
All over Europe, beautiful waterways big and small have been relegated to pipes hidden under the city. In that respect, Utrecht was no different until they put the question to residents: do you want the canal back? The people of Utrecht voted overwhelmingly in this ‘wet-erendum’ to demolish the 12 lane motorway that had been built over the canal, bringing the water and surrounding greenery back to the city.
It’s twenty years since that vote, and the last section of the canal has finally been unveiled. As well as plenty of infrastructure and activities for local people and visitors, the canal also boasts a gizmo for another kind of visitor; the ‘fish doorbell’ is a screen that lets passersby see if there are many fish waiting at the canal gate to swim on to their mating spot. If there are, you can press a button that alerts the lock keeper that it’s time to come and let them through.
From farm to fork
One clear sign of the disastrous effects of the ongoing pandemic has been the enormous growth of the lines at food banks all over Europe. Individuals and families have been forced to make hard financial choices, but Brighton and Hove is working hard through its Local Food Partnership’s Affordable Food Projects to ensure that enduring hunger won’t have to be one of the options on the table.
The Affordable Food Projects are membership models where members pay a small fee for which they receive a relatively large quantity of food. The projects put the subscription fees together to buy surplus food and bulk food through the Brighton Food Factory, which predominantly sources its food from local farms.
This practice, therefore, fights hunger, supports local food economies and protects the environment by shortening the food supply chain.
Ghent‘s approach to food follows the ‘Ghent en Garde‘ food strategy, a push to provide a shorter, more visible food chain, more sustainable food, more social value for food initiatives, reduced food waste, and optimum reuse of food waste as raw material.
Projects developed with local people and organisations, work together to make these changes: ‘De Goedinge’ provides agricultural land for free for local and sustainable food production, and ‘Vanier’ shortens the food supply chain by bringing professional food purchasers from restaurants into contact with local producers.
The city supports schools and neighbourhoods that want to start vegetable gardens (42 schools and 25 neighbourhoods so far) and runs an online vegetable garden helpdesk for gardens big and small. The technological and the organic meet in a tool that has combined fruit trees and digital mapping to guide people to 40 pick-your-own fruit spots. With the campaign ‘Thursday veggie day’ all Ghentians are encouraged to go vegetarian on Thursdays, and schools and public services get veggie meals only. And these are just a few of the measures in place.
In Turin, the Porta Palazzo Organic Project (RePoPP) is about raising awareness around and reducing food waste. In Europe’s largest open-air market the project recovers unsold foods to distribute for free and organic waste for composting. Over four years it has redistributed over 450 tonnes of food and increased the recycling rate from 45% to 89%.
At the same time, the project empowers local asylum seekers who volunteer to run the daily operations of the market with valuable internship and civic engagement opportunities. Already a great success, the project has expanded to include six more markets and now even has a kitchen to prepare fresh meals free of charge with excess food.
The free food distribution attracts people and popularises the city’s message that we can and must avoid food waste. They can sit in to enjoy their food and experience live events, or take the food away in a free container (one that is 100% biodegradable, of course).
Are you inspired by this array of awesome practices in Europe’s cities? Do you already have a clear winner in mind? Find out the winners at this year’s Eurocities Annual Conference, hosted by Leipzig from 3-5 November 2021.