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What Does City Innovation Look Like? Interview with Tim Caulfield Director at the UIA Secretariat

A few days ago, i had the honor to speak with Tim Caulfield, Director at the Urban Innovative Actions Secretariat, about the goals of the organization and the future of the European Union, based on innovation and creativity. We talked about the future plans of the organization, how does Greece implement innovation to the everyday life of its cities and many more.

1) What is “Urban Innovative Actions” in a few words for our readers? What is the main purpose of this initiative?

“Urban Innovative Actions was set up between the European Commission and the French Region Hauts-de-France, in 2015, to help cities innovative by funding, through the European Regional Development Fund, projects that are new and risky; projects that cities would not be able to do without the help that we provide. It’s a way to test new solutions for urban development, but also transfer the knowledge gained through these trials to help others in their own developments inside the European Union. Through an agenda of 14 topics, we try to tackle some of the most pressing urban challenges such as air quality, mobility, jobs & skills, housing, security etc.”

2) Your initiative is based on creativity and uniqueness. What does creativity mean to you and to “Urban Innovative Actions”?

“We call it innovation. We are searching for ideas that have never been experimented in real life urban environments. We are searching for something outside of the box. So that’s the meaning of creativity and uniqueness; it’s giving cities the space and means to come up and deliver something different”.

3) Why do you think that some people identify the word ‘creative’ with something strange and bad? How do you respond to this, and what would “Urban Innovative Actions” say to people that appear to be skeptical over the concept of ‘creativity’?

“I’m not sure that it is seen as strange and bad, but as something different. People tend to be apprehensive when faced with something new. People are sometimes fearful of change and what this may bring. The change process and its communication therefore requires continuous follow-up to ensure people are bought in and brought along with it, to accept it and feel part of its ownership. In Urban Innovative Actions, we are about change and to ensure the right organisations are involved and people are bought into the change, we require a strong partnership and engagement element to our projects”.

4) What are the sectors that need creativity in order to prosper and develop? In which sectors do you think that we should put focus on in the near future?

“As I previously said, there are currently 14 themes that we are supporting. It’s a wide variety and these are major challenges that cities are facing today whether that’s economically, environmentally or socially. For the future, other topics could include health and regeneration, particularly due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

5) The interesting thing about “Urban Innovative Actions” seems to be that it gives a chance to European cities to be creative and for them to propose their ideas rather than ideas being proposed to them by an organization. Based on that, do you see that European cities show interest in proposing innovative ideas for the urban development of the EU? Do you detect mobilization in this area?

“In terms of the UIA Initiative, it seems to be quite a success; there is a big appetite to test new things and we have had over a thousand projects submitted to us in the 5 years. We have supported 86. I think that you can see, that cities show great interest in creating projects and also we see that cities are very happy to share their results and the knowledge they have gained through the projects with other cities of the EU. There seems to be a big mobilization of ideas and projects throughout the European Union and through UIA.”

6) Regarding Greece, specifically now, have you seen proposals that have captured your interest in the past few years?

“In Greece we have supported 4 projects and Greece has also been one of the top applicants, one of the countries that have submitted the most projects and ideas. We have a project under the theme Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees in Athens called “Curing the Limbo — From apathy to active citizenship: Empowering refugees and migrants in limbo state to ignite housing affordability working for combined community housing”; there is one in Heraklion under circular economy called “A2UFood — Avoidable and Unavoidable Food Wastes: A Holistic Managing Approach for Urban Environments in order to reduce food wastage in Heraklion”; we also have one on the theme of Urban Security in Piraeus, “BeSecure-FeelSecure — Holistic Urban Security Governance Framework for Monitoring, Assessing and Forecasting the Efficiency, Sustainability and Resilience of Piraeus”; and finally one that has just been supported under the topic Culture and Cultural Heritage in Halandri, “CULTURAL H.ID.RA.N.T. — CULTURAL Hidden IDentities ReAppear through Networks of WaTer”. These are all interesting projects. The project desciptions and developments can all be found on the UIA website where each project has its own page”.

7) One of your recent proposals and a theme of your webinars is “community-led housing”. I found the concept really interesting. What is the definition of it and could you explain the benefits- both for the city and for the residents- that this form of housing could offer and how we can use innovation to form this type of housing?

“Community-led housing is about the engagement of the community in housing developments, in their management and organization that ensures that there is a benefit for the community and local area. It provides affordable housing to people who come together with the intention to live as a community and in this spirit. We have a number of interesting projects on this at the UIA Initiative, such as Curant in Antwerp that helps young adult refugees, providing them with a safe living environment but also integrating this with the appropriate guidance to ensure their integration into the local community”.

8) What are some of your goals, and the goals of the organization, for the near future? What would a ‘creative’ future for the EU look like, in your opinion?

“At the moment we are looking at the future, in terms of the future funding period, which starts in 2021 to 2027. It will still continue to support innovative actions and testing new ideas but it will also focus on helping to deliver a more coherent and synergistic offer of services across the board including cooperation and capacity building of urban actors, innovative actions, knowledge, policy development and communication in the area of sustainable urban development”.

9) Given the opportunity, if you were asked to share one message with the readers of this article about “Urban Innovative Actions” and about the importance of innovation, what would that be?

“Innovation is what allows us to move forward, to test and improve what we are doing presently. For me it’s about progression, to continuously enhance our understanding and the quality of the lives that we live. We can always strive for better”.

By the end of our interview, i had understood the importance of innovation in our lives. The European Union is based on innovation and it has created organizations like “Urban Innovative Actions” to promote creative projects, in order to help the development of our lives, the development and prosperity of each and every European Citizen.

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