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European Week of Regions and Cities

How to engage local communities to drive urban regeneration and social innovation

Learn more about how local communities and neighbourhoods engage citizens in sustainable urban transitions through social innovation and affordable housing. ARV, syn.ikia, oPEN Lab and FinEst Centre for Smart Cities will present innovative pilot projects where citizens were put in the driving seat for the urban transition. Several pilot projects demonstrating social innovation across Europe will be showcased and discussed, including social housing neighbourhoods and city-level projects.

  • Urban | International | Energy | Climate and environment | Sustainable | Housing | Education and culture | Circular economy | Research and Innovation
  • Code: 10WS23616
  • SQUARE Brussels Meeting Centre, Room 211-212


Niki Gaitani

  • Professor, Norwegian University of Science and Technology


Practical information

Tue 10/10/2023, 16:30 - 17:30 CET
SQUARE Brussels Meeting Centre, Room 211-212
Promoting social innovation
Social media
Green Deal ARV
oPEN Lab
oPEN Lab
oPEN Lab
FinEst Centre for Smart Cities
FinEst Centre for Smart Cities
FinEst Centre for Smart Cities
FinEst Centre for Smart Cities


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Session summary

Niki Gaitani (NTNU, Norway) presented sustainable practices of integrated energy design at the neighbourhood/community level inspired by two HORIZON projects: ARV Green Deal and syn.ikia.

The two EU-funded Innovation Actions – syn.ikia and green deal ARV, aim to support the green fair transition to a Climate-Neutral Society. This transition is at the heart of the European Green Deal and in line with the EU’s commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement. More specifically syn.ikia innovation project aims to enable the development of sustainable plus energy neighbourhoods in different climates, contexts, cultures and markets. ARV is aiming at creating climate-positive circular communities in Europe and increasing the building renovation rate in the continent. Both projects deal with urban regeneration & the social context

The engagement of the communities is significantly challenged. In most cases, we are working with social housing innovation projects. So, what plus means in everyday life for communities is essential. Not just how the buildings perform but giving entrance to social activities at the community level and cooperation with different stakeholders, users, and developers. How to be part of the design and renovation process are to be learnt from the ARV project’s pilot cases of large-scale retrofitting projects in Palma de Mallorca, Oslo, Utrecht, Trento, Sønderborg and Karvina.

Külle Tärnov (FinEst Centre for Smart Cities, Estonia) presented projects implemented by FinEst Centre for Smart Cities, driven by a passion for enhancing the quality of life in urban areas. The FinEst Centre was established at the end of 2019 by the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), Aalto University, Forum Virium Helsinki and the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.
FinEst Centre for Smart Cities intends to implement ten new smart solutions in at least 30 cities by 2030. These solutions aim to increase the well-being of their residents and decrease the CO2 emission by the cities!

The example of Green Twins has been presented. GreenTwins developed a 3D library of urban greenery and planning tools to allow the handling of the dynamics of plants in time and engage needed stakeholders, including citizens, in the process. These tools are now in use in the public hub of the city of Tallinn, Estonia,
Having an objective and evidence-based understanding of how people feel in certain places in your city is important. Through the 'Citizen Well-being Diagnostics', valuable additional input has been generated for general planning to create a city for its citizens. This tool has been tested in the living regions from the '70s in the town of Narva in Estonia to understand people's feelings about the usual space quality assigned with the stress level, which was tested via innovative physiological measurement methodology, psychological questionnaires and space quality analysis in six different living districts in Narva with 40 citizens from 4 different age groups.

The 3rd round of the Smart City Challenge was launched in August, where FinEst Center for Smart Cities wanted to find four new ideas to pilot and implement, each in at least one Estonian city and one city from some other country. In the pilot projects, interdisciplinary scalable solutions for complex urban challenges will be developed to improve cities' living environments. The solutions that are most likely to contribute to the long-term sustainability of the FinEst Centre will be implemented, combining the knowledge from different fields.

Maarten De Groote, Activity Leader Smart Energy & Built Environment (Coordinator oPEN Lab, VITO, Belgium), presented three Living Labs pilot projects.

The transition of underprivileged neighbourhoods is vital for local governments, and small to medium-sized cities struggle to transition their urban environment, making them future-proof.
Energy cities' organisation calculated that 12 to 25 per 100,000 inhabitants are required to conduct the different actions planned for the buildings’ decarbonization within the city organisation, but this is not the reality. It is very far away from the need.
To make underprivileged neighbourhoods future-proof, the oPEN Lab project is built up according to three main foundations: positive energy neighbourhoods (PEN) within the existing urban context, living lab as an innovation process in a real-life test environment co-creating PEN solutions and Open Innovation to enable commercially viable solution packages.

This concept is being tested in three different Living Labs in Tartu (EE), Genk (BE) and Pamplona (ES).
Technological and traditional energy transition towards PEN could result in social inequality, energy injustice and passive involvement. It is crucial to create environments that prioritise the people's needs, health, and comfort while developing the PEN. In that sense, social innovation is seen as an enabler to implement human-centric urban regeneration.

Three main questions have been discussed.
- How can cities/housing providers reconcile the search for (technical) innovation with the necessity to include residents in the decision-making?
- How do project promoters consider affordability?
- How important are the co-benefits of the fair energy transition, and how can they be better valued?

Julien Dijon (Housing Europe, Belgium) moderated the discussion, emphasising affordability and co-benefits of the fair energy transition and how they can be better valued. Also, it was concluded that cities need help deciding the strategies that lead to healthier and better open public spaces in terms of data organisation, greening, and biodiversity. Technology can help in these processes. For a long time, smart cities have yet to be something meaningful for people. Technology allows a more participatory approach in urban regeneration projects, but at the same time, it must maintain the men's power and citizens' ability to take decisions. People need to be at the centre of all these processes!


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