Towards an Urban Agenda in the European Union

Venice, Italy

7-9 May 1998

Forty six participants from fourteen countries took part in the second EURA workshop in Venice in May.  The theme of the workshop, which was financially supported both by the European Commission and our EURA host, the Dipartimento di Analisi Economica e Sociale del Territorio (DAEST)  was the EU consultation document ‘Towards an Urban Agenda in the European Union’   The event was designed both to identify the contribution research is making to the setting of an urban agenda, and to discuss how future research could support and influence evolving EU policies.

Four topic groups pursued issues in more depth. These workshops reflected varying perspectives and produced varying conclusions but some major themes of common concern emerged:

  • The European urban system is essentially a diverse one with cities of differing heritage, economic circumstances, cultural heritage, political leadership co-existing within a European Union of increasingly common interests.  How then could the identity of the city in general and of individual cities in particular be preserved so as to sustain both competitiveness and cohesion?
  • Processes of urbanisation at both the centres of cities (arising from regeneration) and on the edge (reflecting both migration to and movement outward from existing centres), pose difficult problems for the balanced management of the urban region (transportation, land allocation, urban services etc.).  These difficulties were exacerbated by the failure (in many cases) of administrative boundaries to reflect economic and social reality with consequent implications for urban fiscal policy and the financing of urban infrastructure and provision.
  • Sustainable development – an increasingly overused and misused word some thought – required the better definition of existing urban resources (human, physical, social, economic) before serious attempts to conserve, manage, or replace resources could be effectively planned.  Once more inter-territorial, political issues can confound the attempt to develop sustainable policies which cross boundaries (e.g. transportation, waste management).
  • Social cohesion and inclusion need to respect the cultural diversity of differing groups within the city, and the potential for developing empowering and inclusive practices – often experimented with at neighbourhood or small area level – depend on city wide and regional policies as much as on local initiative

At an evening dinner Robert D’Agostino, Assessore all’Urbanistica, Comune di Venezia, described to participants the nature of the challenges – historic and contemporary – faced by Venice in its urban planning.  In a final plenary session there was discussion of urban performance measurement and the role and function of indicators.  Lindsay McFarlane based a presentation on the OECD’s urban indicators work, whilst Harald Baldersheim talked of the ways in which municipalities could be assessed on a range of indicators relating to political system, production system, work place and place of residence.