The City Science Initiative: strengthening science and research for urban policies Tech and the City – Reggio Emilia

The City Science Initiative: strengthening science and research for urban policies Tech and the City – Reggio Emilia

Launched in February 2019 by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) in collaboration with DG RTD (now DG R&I), DG REGIO and the City of Amsterdam, the City Science Initiative (CSI) is a pilot project as part of the Community of Practice on Cities. It aims at strengthening the ways in which research and science can be used to address urban challenges, thus developing a structured approach to evidence-informed policymaking at the city level. Because most societal challenges in Europe are intrinsically urban and can be addressed better thanks to science and innovation, the CSI precisely tackles the need to consolidate the science and policy interface at the urban level. Simultaneously, the initiative provides an opportunity for municipalities, city networks, experts, DGs and services of the European Commission to build a stronger cooperation. Indeed, it brings these professionals together to work and explore ways through which research, science, technology and innovation can inform city policies. This cooperation enables to explore the needs and priorities of cities in terms of evidence-based policy making, and in particular the potential of the European Commission to support this effort. The creation of the CSI attracted much interest from major European cities from the start. Thus, the initiative now promotes and facilitates a European network of City Science Offices (CSO) sharing their experience and good practices on the front of science and innovation for urban policy.

Since the CSI has started, several meetings have been organized, in Amsterdam or Brussels, to set up the initiative, and then to reflect on the next steps. Under the leadership of five European cities, the CSI is currently addressing five thematic urban areas from the perspective of science-based innovation and policies. The city of Paris tackles the issue of air quality and the city of Hamburg focuses on circular economy. Mental health issues are addressed by the city of Thessaloniki and the city of Cluj-Napoca’s working topic is sustainable mobility. The city of Reggio of Emilia addresses Tech and the City through new forms of collaborative management and co-governance of digital urban infrastructure with the support of LabGov.City as City Science Office.

Since 2015, the city of Reggio Emilia has initiated a policy strategy aimed at developing an inclusive, collaborative, creative city by relying on the enabling features of digital tools and infrastructures, which are key assets for sustainable urban development. This approach, which has later been called the Tech and the City approach as part of the CSI, builds on advanced theories of urban co-governance, the city as a commons or “co-cities” theory. It is based on the cooperation of public, private, knowledge, social and civic actors (the so-called quintuple helix), established and regulated through public-community and public-private-community partnerships agreements enabling sustainable innovations and scientific experimentations in the city. The approach entails a strong focus on the valorization of local know-how and the recognition of community stewardship rights (rights of use, co-management, co-ownership) over urban critical assets and infrastructure, the so-called urban commons. In 2015, the city of Reggio Emilia implemented the “neighbourhoood as a commons” program, a policy tool which inaugurated neighbourhood labs as co-design moments in social centres to define urban innovation projects with the actors of the neighbourhood. The labs result in the signature of citizenships pacts that sets terms, conditions, investments to implement sustainable innovation projects. The scientific methodology used in this program to put in place a wide variety of community-based urban innovation and experimentation projects finds a particular resonance within the CSI now. The most successful project developed as part of the neighbourhood labs is the Coviolo Wireless initiative which has successfully developed a broadband infrastructures in an underserved neighbourhood, extending broadband access to city inhabitants. The CSI enabled to scale up this approach and methodology in cooperation with LabGov.City as CSO, in particular through the “Collaboratorio Reggio Emilia” process, a city-wide innovation hub. It has the ambitious plan of setting up a collaborative urban innovation program aimed at experimenting a model of community-based sustainable urban development to address the challenges of digital transition and climate change in the city.

In the unusual context of the COVID19 crisis, the city of Reggio Emilia has even further strengthened the commons-based approach and started to elaborate a strategic direction post COVID19, based on a large online survey called “Reggio Emilia, come va?”, (“Reggio Emilia, how are you doing?”). Answered by more than 5,000 city inhabitants between the 17th of April 2020 and the 12th of May 2020, this questionnaire has helped the municipality to understand how citizens have experienced the crisis, and what are their priorities the future. The municipality of Reggio Emilia made this instrument available to any local administration interested in using it, free of charge and according to the international criteria of the Creative Commons. The English version will soon be able for download here. The analysis of the results of the survey enabled the municipality to rethink access to digital tools and infrastructure and redesign services to help the production of social and economic value by adapting the scale of public policy intervention to the new needs that emerged during the health emergency.

Cities being in the front line in responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic, the CSI took a key role to bring together information on the policies and measures designed in this period, showcasing the relation between science and policy. Virtual workshops were organized by each of the leading cities on the thematic issues already mentioned. On June 22nd, 2020, the city of Reggio Emilia hosted the Tech and the City workshop to present its approach and discuss with cities and key stakeholders how to integrate science-based evidences and results, as well as R&I best practices to provide a better policy framework for cities willing to invest on public-community partnerships to tackle digital challenges through science and innovation. The event was structured in three panels, the first one offering science-based evidence from cities, the second one from European urban initiatives, and the last one took the form of a roundtable discussion between European stakeholders on the potential for a policy uptake on the evidence presented. The discussion highlighted the importance of urban innovation brokers such as co-laboratories or urban living labs for the development of public-community partnerships. European stakeholders from various DGs of the European Commission also emphasized the key role of the involvement of community for good governance at the European level. Finally, a crucial point that emerged from the workshop is the need to break down silos and build bridges between European urban initiatives to grasp the opportunities offered by the CSI in terms of experimenting innovative policy solutions for urban sustainable development.

Urban Media Lab & Not Just Jane Jacobs: A Collaboration to Uncover Influential Women in Urbanism

Urban Media Lab & Not Just Jane Jacobs: A Collaboration to Uncover Influential Women in Urbanism

Photograph by Elliott Erwitt / Magnum and John J. Burns Library, Boston College

“I’m not white, wearing black, funky glasses, tall or male. I’m none of the preconceptions of what an architect might be, and that means that every time I introduce myself as an architect, I have to push through the initial assumptions.” Yen Ha, founding principal of the New York architecture firm Front Studio explained in a recent interview with the NYTimes. Representation matters, and in an industry with so few visible women at the top, Marian Wright Edelman’s assertion that “you cannot be what you cannot see” could easily be the rallying cry for women in architecture and urbanism.

Despite a general global trend toward educational equity of the sexes in university architecture programs – a prevailing disparity is revealed when observing women in the workforce. Even though graduating classes are close to gender parity, in Canada only about 29% of practicing architects are female – and the numbers only get lower elsewhere. The share of practicing female architects is about 26% in the United Kingdom, 24% in the United States, 21% in South Africa, and less than 20% in Australia. Similar polling is taking place for the first time in the Middle East, where Suad Amiry, founder of the Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation, explains, “I taught architecture in Jordan and at Birzeit University in Palestine and I would say 60 to 70 percent were women, but when we go into the real world and begin to work, all of a sudden, we disappear…”

UK firm Foster + Partners has 10 executive partners, all of whom are men

Unfortunately, the proportion of women visible in the architecture industry only gets more dismal when delving deeper into the management hierarchies of the world’s largest architectural firms. Dezeen’s 2017 study of the 100 biggest architecture firms in the world, found only three headed by women (Scandinavia’s Henning Larsen, Tengbom, and White Arkitektur), and only two that had management teams that were comprised of over 50% women (Tengbom and White Arkitektur). While just 1 in 10 of the top-level roles at the 100 biggest international firms are female, architect Dorte Mandrup, who runs her own studio in Denmark, responded to the findings: “It’s interesting too that there seem to be practically no woman holding creative director or lead designer positions…The women that are at top positions have administrative or CEO roles backing up a male star.” Thus, of the already small proportion of women practicing architecture professionally, only a handful of these women make it to the top, comprising only 18% of the top three tiers of management at the world’s 100 largest firms. 

Though the numbers are harder to track – urbanism and urban planning too appear to have a gender parity crisis. Planetizen’s “Top 20 Urban Planning Books (Of All Time)” contains only three female authors out of the total twenty (Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction co-authored by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein). Additionally, the 2016 edition of the Routledge City Reader includes articles by 66 contributors, only 4 of which are women (6%). Meanwhile, Routledge’s 2016 Planning Sustainable Cities and Regions, contained 11 female contributors out of the total 52 authors (21%), better but still nowhere near equal representation.

Urban governance obviously plays an undeniable role in how cities are structured and serve their residents. While globally women are increasingly able to secure positions of authority, their representation in mayoral offices is still nowhere near equal to that of men. A survey of the fifty most populous cities in the world (according to data provided by the United Nations) shows that only ten of these cities are run by women, while forty men hold the mayoral (or similar) titles. 

These numbers are particularly frustrating in that, when women have contributed to architecture and urbanism, their achievements have historically been miscredited or discarded. From about 3500 years ago when Egyptian ruler, Hatshepsut, had her name and buildings struck out of history by her successor – to 1991, when Robert Venturi alone was awarded the Pritzker Prize for his and Denise Scott Brown’s joint work– women’s achievements have been concealed or solely attributed to the men in their lives.
The small proportion of women in the field and the erasure of their achievements paint revisionist histories of our cities, leading us to believe that women have only been active creators and influencers since the late 20th century. Women in the industry who have been able to overcome such obstacles are few and far between, creating a tokenism that makes finding role models difficult, and fosters the belief that in order to succeed one must be the exception. The disappointing absence of women in architecture studios, boardrooms, global summits, scholarly readers, syllabi, and classrooms led to the creation of Not Just Jane Jacobs – an ever-growing catalog of brief but scholarly biographies of the women who shape our cities. With a dual mission Not Just Jane Jacobs hopes to acknowledge women whose work was historically erased while also illuminating the numerous and diverse women who are currently contributing to the urban fabric.

In collaboration with the Urban Media Lab, Not Just Jane Jacobs seeks to act as a resource for women who may be looking for role models who look a bit more like them. Throughout this collaborative series we will be showcasing influential women who have had a profound impact on their urban surroundings through biographies, histories, and hopefully even an interview or two; seeking answers to the questions: What does it mean to have a male-dominated city in urbanism, architecture, and design? How can we design more inclusive cities? And who might already be doing it? 

If you know of someone that you believe should be showcased, feel free to reach out directly, here.