If you think that only big cities can substantially contribute to sustainability efforts, you couldn’t be further from the truth. A network of small- and medium-sized European cities shows you exactly what can be done and how they are big enough to cope and small enough to care. Keep reading to find out what actions Girona, Jyväskylä, Schiedam, and Varberg are taking – and learn what you can do to get started in your city as well.
From (re-)developing whole neighbourhoods to making school routes safer for children, the possibilities to change your city for the better are seemingly endless. But it is not only the big lighthouse metropoles that are leading the way: there are a lot of advantages when it comes to small- and medium-sized cities taking action. Let us take you on an inspirational ride through Europe, starting in the Northeast of Spain:
Girona: Friendly Shoppers (Comerç Amic)
Did you ever wonder how to make your city safer and healthier for children on their way to school (and back home)? Girona might have an applicable solution for you. Comerç Amic, or “Friendly Shoppers”, is one of the projects the city is implementing to make their overall urban mobility safer and more sustainable. Together with the project School Chance (funded by Interreg Europe and lead by Girona), “Friendly Shoppers” focuses on sustainable and safe school mobility.
Children identify local stores and shops displaying a specific label as points of trust. These shops welcome children on their daily way from home to school and back again, meaning that they can find help or support if they have any needs or problems on their journey. By having different city agents collaborate, Friendly Shoppers” aims to create a social network of support to watch over kids who use roads on their school route. The numbers show that it actually works: 88.7% of pupils asked say that it makes them feel safer on trips to school they make unaccompanied, and 96.2% of survey participants would like the initiative to spread across the neighbourhood.
Children are, without a doubt, a citizen group that is often overlooked or rarely actively included in city-making. How do children perceive the city? What are they missing when it comes to creating a sustainable city for all residents? And how can we give kids a voice? Follow us to Finland to find out.
Jyväskylä: Children as City Planners
If you’re designing spaces for children, why not give them a say in the process? The Finnish city Jyväskylä is convinced that even though children don’t have that many official channels to influence how cities are built, they do have the right to participate, and that they need to be heard in their own way. The better you include children, and by allowing them to participate early on, the more they will identify with the city; they become active residents that are interested in how the neighbourhoods and the city around them are evolving.
Although grown-ups mostly just want the best for their children, they don’t remember or know how to look at things from the eyes of a child. It makes sense to ask children instead of making decisions over their heads – so this is what Jyväskylä did:
Within the framework of the Suburban programme 2020-2022 – Wellbeing and Vitality for Huhtasuo, children in local day-care centres and schools were included in the planning process and were asked to design a park specifically to their wants and needs. By investing in services and activities that are directed at children, the city wants to prevent inequality inherited from one generation to the next, as well as gently integrate a new culture.
From designing a park to redesigning a whole neighbourhood: our next example takes us to Sweden, where another mid-sized city is working on a different scope – the district level.
Varberg: Citizen Participation in Creating a New District
A very exciting, long-term development lies ahead for Varberg, Sweden: for more than 100 years, the port and railway have been a barrier between sea and city. With the industrial port moving to Farehamnen, a previously closed area will open up. The city will reclaim the waterfront and create an open, inclusive, and sustainable city district, which the citizens have named Västerport. It’s the biggest development since the building of the famous local mediaeval fortress, politicians and officials jokingly say.
So how does the city meet the challenges of climate change within this development? How do they deal with rising sea levels, extreme rainfall, heatwaves, and drought? “For the first time, city planners must incorporate and adjust to new scientific-based facts about the climate, while planning simultaneously”, says Jenny Rydén, head of sustainability of Västerport. Besides climate-related facts, planners must also incorporate input from citizen dialogues and include citizens into the overall planning process.
“Our goal is to create a new living room, both for the citizens of Varberg and international visitors”, says Maria Hagelberg, Västerport’s project manager. They’re planning lots of public spaces, including a children’s boulevard. The 650-meter-long quay, where the cargo ships are today, will be transformed into the Quay Promenade: an extension of the Strandpromenaden and a place for walks, meeting people, cafés, and other leisure activities.
From holding continuous citizen dialogues and creating new meeting places to naming all the streets, blocks and public areas after famous women in Varberg – there’s a lot to learn and watch out for in the coming years for Varberg.
Now for something familiar but different for the final stop on our tour around mid-sized European cities: like Varberg, Schiedam in the Netherlands is working on district level renewal and revitalization.
Schiedam: Liveability through proximity
Schiedam cares about making outdoor spaces in urban areas suitable for meeting places. Everyone in Schiedam should be able to work, develop, and live well, and thus be given the opportunity to grow socially and economically.
But how will the city achieve that? The solution is the concept of proximity. After all, “building is not just about piling up bricks, it is also about creating a living environment for all generations”, says Lydia Buist, director of SchieDistrict, the district that is currently being renewed.
Breaking this down into concrete actions, it means:
- Transforming the business parks Spaans Polder and ‘s-Gravelandsepolder into innovative, future-proof work areas by combating criminal subversion and replacing outdated real estate.
- Building approximately 3,000 to 3,500 high-quality homes.
- Renewing the Schiedam Centrum public transport node and improving the quality of public transport.
- Creating a leisure centre so that people enjoy staying and spending time in the area.
- Developing a better cooperation between education and the labour market.
If you want to learn more about the actions Schiedam is taking in SchieDistrict, head over here.
With such a variety of actions to take, what do all these cities have in common? They share a passion to create more liveable places for their citizens, they strive for sustainable development – and they’re all part of Eurotowns, a network that gives a stronger voice to medium-sized European cities, fostering collaboration and knowledge transfer both through speaking up and listening closely. Could this be something for your city, too? Here’s an introduction telling you more: