28 September 2020

Yesterday, over 350 ICC city representatives and members of the public met online during the first-ever ICC City Lab, to learn more about the European Commission’s views on the future of cities and their role in building a green and digital recovery. Throughout the afternoon, participating cities and the interested public engaged in interactive panels. Attendees learned more about the ICC’s ambitions, upcoming policy programmes and practical examples of city initiatives.  

The ICC envisions cities as key actors in delivering the EU’s commitment to a digital, green and socially resilient future. Ulla Engelmann, Head of Unit of Social Economy at DG GROW of the European Commission, opened the first day of the City Lab. She emphasised the important role cities and industrial clusters play in building economies that work for people through reskilling, upskilling and advanced technologies. She highlighted the €672.5 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility as one of the central long-term mechanisms for helping cities to emerge more resilient from the current pandemic, and strengthen their positions after this crisis. 

The panellists of the Open Day sessions proposed that in securing a social and economic recovery for future cities, it will be crucial to offer a sustainable growth path for industry and SMEs. The first panel brought together five high-level representatives from international organisations, industry and policymakers, who canvassed the role of cities in a green and digital recovery that builds in social resilience. Discussing the influence of advanced technologies on industry, SMEs, and economy, this panel shed light on common challenges and the impacts of economic recovery plans, local green deals, skill-building and education. They agreed that, on the road to improvement, different levels of governance need to work together to amplify results.  

Cities are anchors for sustainable change. Particularly because they can help mobilise industry, business, SME and public sector ecosystems. That is why the second panel of the day brought city representatives as well as industry and green economy representatives to the table to discuss how to mobilise local ecosystems for a green and digital recovery. Amsterdam Smart Cities, Toronto, Singapore, Espoo, Barcelona, regional cluster representative and the city network organisation ICLEI shared useful insights on how to build strong and effective city ecosystems by: 

  • acknowledging differences 
  • agreeing on the “big picture” and finding common ground between partners 
  • looking for an integrated approach with a focus on equity and equality 

A crucial element in any city plans remains the involvement of citizens as true participants in the project. This means that citizens need to have technological skills and that enough attention should be paid to digital inclusiveness, especially when it comes to elderly and vulnerable populations. 

The key learnings from the first day of the ICC City Lab included: 

  • There is tremendous value in further building local ecosystems, as they are the key to success. Cities, industries, social enterprises, and citizens all need to work together to design solutions that will help to tackle real problems as they emerge. 
  • Solid preparation is crucial to emerge successful from this crisis. Cities need to build a technological infrastructure on a human scale that helps to make them liveable ecosystems where people enjoy working and living.  
  • The implementation stage is when everything needs to come together. Cities need to be open to innovative ways of public procurement and crowdfunding to effectively shape the cities of tomorrow. 
  • Leadership is an attitude that is present at every level of the ecosystem. Cities, clusters, social enterprise, and smaller groupings all have the capability of making change. 
  • Genuine citizen participation is undeniably important in crafting plans and solutions that resonate with the needs of the entire ecosystem.  

Today, on day 2 of our first City Lab, the ICC cities will be introduced to the specific thematic tracks that ICC proposes and will meet their lead expert, who will help them kick their challenge into a higher gear.