Cultural heritage leading urban futures: The Horizon 2020 ROCK project

“ROCK focuses on historic city centres as extraordinary laboratories to demonstrate how cultural heritage can be a unique and powerful engine of regeneration, sustainable development and economic growth for the whole city”.



32 participants from 13 countries[1], among which 10 cities, 7 Universities, 3 networks of enterprises, 2 networks of cities, a foundation, a charity, companies and development agencies. This is the large and heterogenous consortium, coordinated by the Municipality of Bologna, leading the ROCK project: Regeneration and Optimisation of Cultural heritage in creative and knowledge cities. The project has received 9,837,585€ of EU funding under the Horizon 2020 topic “Cultural heritage as a driver for sustainable growth” (SC5-21-2016-2017).

The main objective is to support three Replicator Cities (Bologna, Lisbon and Skopje) − that are already experimenting urban innovation processes − in the transformation of historic city centres areas affected by social problems and physical decay, following the example of seven Role Model cities experiencing a knowledge-based economy (Athens, Cluj-Napoca, Eindhoven, Liverpool, Lyon, Turin and Vilnius).

The underpinning idea is to develop a collaborative and circular approach through which implement successful heritage-led regeneration models and test their replicability. The project is organised around four complementary phases: Knowledge Inventory (thanks to an open knowledge portfolio and atlas); Sharing & Modelling through mentoring visits and work-shadowing; Piloting & Demonstration, by developing a shared model of local development resulting in integrated management plans; fourthly, the assessment ad upscaling phase.

The project comprises Local Actions in the replicator cities related to the organizational and technological innovation domains, Transversal Actions related to the social innovation domain, and Piloting Actions including implementation activities also in Role Model Cities. The entire process is facilitated by a Multi-actor Advisory Board, made up of seven experts, serving as a consulting board for the project implementation, and by a Regional Board, made up of six representatives of participating Regions, fostering collaboration and a structured cooperation among the different regional bodies.

A range of tools, tested in Bologna, Lisbon and Skopje, supports the development of the project activities, such as a web platform for networking and mentoring, a multiplatform app related to cultural heritage experiences, integrated cultural heritage analytics, large crowd monitoring tools, environmental control monitoring as well as creative industry green tools.

In each replicator city the project focuses on the regeneration and sustainable development of different areas, with the support of three Living Labs, set up for the specific purpose of facilitating co-creation processes. In Skopje, the aim is to transform an historical area – comprising a medieval fortress, the Old Bazaar area and the Jewish quarter − into a knowledge, culture and technology-driven hub.

The Skopje Urban Living Lab “SkULLab” has been established especially for the development of creative industries and technology-driven models involving the local communities of the Old Bazaar area, also in order to reverse the decline of artisans.

In Bologna, the aim is to transform the university area located in the historical city-centre into a sustainable cultural and creative district; for that purpose, on December 2017 the Living Lab “U-Lab” was launched, already organising open meetings for stakeholders and a call for proposals to select and fund projects that involve local communities in the transformative visions of the area.

In Lisbon, the focus is on the innovative re-use of historical buildings and spaces – namely the Olisipo Archaeological area in Santa Maria Maior District, Tagus River and Beato zone (Marvila) – by attracting creative industries talents and developing ICT infrastructure. An important role is played by the “LLL” Lisbon Living Lab, raising awareness of local communities and stakeholders about their heritage, in order to develop participatory projects and processes and to support start-up actions. In 2018 LLL has already promoted a range of activities like exhibitions, an international culture forum, a hackathon, a city-branding workshop, the “Marvila days” and the “Bibliogamers” (a collaborative technology game-based event).

The project includes a tight schedule of project meetings and events: on the 17th of October 2018, the ROCK Cities Session in Lisbon; on the 19th the “Urban centers. Acting Upon or With Cities?” meeting, organised by the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon in partnership with the Centro de Informação Urbana de Lisboa, dealing with the role of urban centers in participatory governance and cultural heritage-led regeneration; from the 22nd of October to the 23rd the ROCK Seminar on “Innovative City Branding” in Turin, including a workshop and a short open conference; from the 25th of October to the 26th, the ROCK Hackathon 2018 in Lisbon, a two day co-creation marathon on “Eco-entrepreneurship, cities and sustainable business innovation for a green & inclusive Lisboa”.

An innovative and inspiring project, with huge potential, to be followed closely!


[1]                Italy, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Portugal, Greece, Lithuania, Spain, Switzerland, Romania, Germany, Belgium, France.