Good urban planning creates inclusive spaces for everyone in a city. But COVID-19 has revealed how European cities are plagued by poorly designed neighbourhoods and buildings, thus perpetuating socio-economic inequalities. In Friends of Europe’s Policy Insight debate ‘Designing for inclusion: how urban planning can make or break a city’, held online on 10 November 2020 and co-sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Madrid Office, four experts and an audience discussed how to make urban areas more sustainable, healthy and inclusive.
A painful pandemic
05:40 – “COVID-19 was initially seen as a societal leveller, but this virus has only widened the inequalities that already exist in cities,” said Dharmendra Kanani, Director of Insights at Friends of Europe, and moderator of the event. In lockdown, poorer people may be confined to tower blocks and take public transport to their essential jobs; the middle classes work remotely from comfortable homes and enjoy more green spaces. Kanani was keen to explore ways of designing cities for inclusion, including positive new initiatives across Europe.
06:18 – “This pandemic is a major challenge for the inclusiveness of our cities, but also an opportunity, said Hannah Abdullah, Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB). She called for more effective strategies to address the inequalities laid bare by COVID-19, otherwise the virus will result in “more fragmented cities”. CIDOB has produced a report on how cities worldwide are managing the pandemic and its impacts.
12:36 – “COVID has upended our illusions about the functioning of cities,” added Tau Tavengwa, Co-Founder, Curator and Editor of Cityscapes Magazine. He advocated:
- examining why city systems have failed;
- reflecting on ways to enhance inclusivity in urban areas; and
- adopting a “multidimensional approach” before the design starts.
In search of social justice
16:45 – “In Syria’s reconstruction, we don’t talk about social justice and people are not involved in the process. The focus is on the private sector and government partnership, and making profits,” remarked Nour Harastani, Architect, Urban Researcher and Co-Founder of Syrbanism. To ensure local people are more engaged in city development, Syrbanism works with citizens to help them understand complex technical issues and legal policy; this is done on a continual basis. 22:36 – “Our new role as urban planners and architects is to act as mediators between civil society and decision-makers.”
Harastani acknowledged that it is harder for women architects to influence Syria’s new development projects, as men in the profession wield all the power. She contrasted that situation with Berlin, her other business base, a city featuring a better gender balance in employment and “more focus on finding new solutions and more cooperation among all stakeholders” – including women and minorities – during the process of design, decision and construction.
29:08 – “Our philosophy is inclusion based on social security, especially through social housing, which is a human right,” said Kurt Puchinger, Political Advisor to the City of Vienna’s Administrative Group for Housing, Housing Construction, Urban Renewal and Women’s Issues. He noted how ‘social clauses’ have been developed over a century, whereby a minimum of 60% of housing potential is used for social housing, backed by cost and quality requirements.
Thanks to ‘unlimited contracts’ for social housing, which cover almost two-thirds of Vienna’s inhabitants, nobody has been kicked out of their homes because they could not pay rent during this pandemic. For Puchinger, “It’s key to show poorer people that we care for them and not to separate them from richer parts of society.”
The fight for funding
“Public banks are bust, so how can we build back better and achieve more inclusivity, if cities focus on saving jobs and skills?” asked the moderator. An audience participant, Normunds Popens, from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, highlighted how the EU is stepping up Cohesion Policy funding for European cities. To get these funds, a city must have an integrated development strategy and involve all stakeholders in the design process. He added that social inclusion and accessibility (helping marginalised groups in a city) are mandatory. Other targeted EU aid includes the Urban Innovative Actions instrument (86 projects funded) and the Union for the Mediterranean.
Popens said the EU wants to “capitalise” on innovative city initiatives. This goal echoed calls from others in the debate for cities to share best practices, such as through the competence centre for social innovation (collaboration on city design solutions), or the Mediterranean Dialogue Project, embracing over 10 regional cities.
Other participants worried that cities may lack the capacity to absorb all this funding from the EU and elsewhere. “Cities must also look at other opportunities to implement the required measures for city development, such as collaboration with other cities or partnering with other stakeholders,” noted Abdullah. She cited the C40 climate network as a leading example of private sector funding for innovative solutions, i.e. “co-producing” with civil society.
Other virtuous city planning projects, all with inclusion at their heart, are in Barcelona (cars directed to the perimeters) and the ‘15-minute city’ concept trialled in Paris and Milan. “Cities have been remarkably shock-absorbent during this pandemic, and many networks and platforms quickly set up structures and are sharing good practices,” explained Abdullah.
Does digital help or hinder urban planning practice? To this question, audience member Charles-Pierre Astolfi, Secretary-General of the French Digital Council, responded that digital is chiefly useful: it can help democracy and build new forms of civic engagement, whilst offering improved data analysis.
While cities may be hubs of prosperity and opportunity for some, a lack of representation can mean that others suffer from design which perpetuates socio-economic disparities and inequalities. But as designers and city planners become increasingly innovative, they are seeking out new ways to overcome these challenges and to create spaces which are more inclusive for all.
With urban landscapes already coming under reassessment due to COVID-19 and the climate emergency, this online Policy Insight debate will ask experts to reflect on the factors necessary to ensure that the cities of the future are not only sustainable and healthy – but also inclusive.
This debate is part of Friends of Europe’s Migration Action programme, which aims to examine the imperative of migration in the context of economic sustainability and demographics, as well as its impact on public services, communities and security. The Migration Action programme is supported by the United States European Command.
Our events include photos, audio and video recording that we might use for promotional purposes. By registering, you give your permission to use your image. Should you have any questions, please contact us.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kaspars Upmanis/Unsplash
For too long, the people responsible for designing urban spaces have lacked the diversity of those making use of the infrastructure. While cities may be hubs of prosperity and opportunity for some, a lack of representation can mean that others suffer from design which perpetuates socio-economic disparities and inequalities. But many cities are moving on from the status quo. From Brussels to Barcelona, inclusion-based thinking is gaining traction in the field of urban planning. Designers and city planners are increasingly innovative, aiming to create spaces which are more inclusive for all of a city’s inhabitants – men and women; newcomers and long-time residents; young and old. As the realities of COVID-19 and the climate emergency lead to a reassessment of the urban landscape, this online Policy Insight debate will look at the factors necessary to ensure that the cities of the future are not only sustainable and healthy – but also inclusive.
- What are the essential elements of an inclusive city?
- What unconscious biases must local administrators tackle to build better urban areas?
- How will the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis change cities, and is this an opportunity to make them more inclusive?
Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB)
Architect, Urban Researcher and Co-Founder of Syrbanism
Political Advisor to the City of Vienna’s Administrative Group for Housing, Housing Construction, Urban Renewal and Women`s Issues
Co-founder, Curator and Editor of Cityscapes Magazine
Director, Asia, Peace, Security & Defense, Digital & Chief spokesperson
Engaged in CIDOB’s Global Cities Programme, Hannah Abdullah researches city diplomacy in the areas of climate change and culture, with a focus on the Euro-Mediterranean region. Her recent publications include work on the role of cities in global and European governance and the transition towards sustainable development. Before joining CIDOB she worked as Programme Curator at the Goethe-Institut in New York, where she developed and managed programmes on themes such as architecture and urban issues. She is an affiliated researcher at the Centre for the Study of Culture, Politics and Society (CECUPS) at the University of Barcelona.
Nour Harastani is an architect and urban researcher with a background in social housing, informality and environmental design. In 2017 she co-founded the Syria-focused urban activism platform Syrbanism, where she focuses on issues including spatial justice, informality, urban laws and housing, land and property rights. Harastani also works as a senior architect and project manager at Carpaneto.Schoeningh Architekten in Berlin, focusing on inclusive urban development and creating new approaches to sustainable housing typologies and experimental shelter design. She previously worked at Damascus University as a research and teaching assistant.
Kurt Puchinger headed the Planning Group in the Executive Group for Construction and Technology of the City of Vienna, Austria as Director of Planning until 2012. In this role he was responsible for the overall coordination of urban planning in Vienna, in particular for outlining strategies and coordinating projects in the fields of urban development and cross-border regional planning, urban research, land use, architecture, urban design and surveying. Today he continues to advise the city on housing and urban planning.
Tau Tavengwa leads Cityscapes Magazine, a biannual print publication focused on presenting different ideas, narratives and perspectives on cities across Africa, Latin America and South Asia. Since 2010, the publication offers an alternative, Southern perspective on cities and urbanisation globally. Tavengwa is a 2018 Harvard University Loeb Fellow and is currently a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics’ LSE Cities, as well as a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Religious and Diversity Studies. With a background in architecture and museum design, he has curated several exhibitions on art, architecture and design, including City Desired which explored the depths and effects of inequality in Cape Town and South African cities in general.
Prior to joining Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani was director of policy at the European Foundation Centre (EFC). He was the England director at the Big Lottery Fund, the largest independent funder in the UK and fourth largest in the world. Dharmendra has held senior positions in the public and voluntary sector and advisor to numerous ministerial policy initiatives across the UK.
- By Jamie Shea
- Area of Expertise
- Area of Expertise
- Area of Expertise
Next event online
- Area of Expertise