“Bem-vindo. Welcome. Small communities, big ideas” reads the sign at the entrance of Torres Vedras. 80,000-inhabitants, 50 km North from Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, Torres Vedras was chosen to host the 15th edition of the CIVITAS Forum Conference, an event that brings together hundreds of mobility experts, actors and stakeholders devoted to sustainable urban mobility.
Torres Vedras was selected because it is one of the country’s leading examples in sustainable urban development. It got awarded the European Green Leaf in 2015. Moreover, the city is heavily involved in CIVINET Portugal-Spain and in the CIVITAS Political Advisory Committee and has demonstrated over time a strong political commitment to sustainable mobility issues and to the CIVITAS Network. The combination of the conference title and its location aimed to suggest that size and innovation are not directly proportional. It is not necessarily the case that smaller municipalities are less innovative than metropolises.
On the contrary: sometimes it is easier to get people involved and put them at the centre of a renovation process by starting from local communities and offering the right tools. To help local authorities make better-informed decisions about which planning tools to apply in their given local context, CIVITAS tool inventory – an online repository of over 100 sustainable mobility instruments – was officially launched during the conference. Over 50 urban mobility tools (applications, scenario-building platforms, games, road maps and the like) were also available to be tested at the Forum during the Deployment Day, a new programme feature with presentations, training workshops and live demonstrations.
Besides tools and toolkits, people were there to bear witness to innovation stemming from smaller realities, starting from Carlos Bernardes, Mayor of Torres Vedras, and Steen Møller, Deputy Mayor of Odense and Chair of the CIVITAS Political Advisory Committee.
This is also where Cities-4-People fit and why the project was invited to be featured at the Forum: it’s true, we are active in big cities, but we want to adopt a community approach to come up with innovative mobility solutions and test them.
During the conference our coordinator and the communication and dissemination team discussed the opportunities and limitations of neighbourhood approaches with other three newly begun projects that also focus on urban districts and neighbourhoods: MUV, SUNRISE, METAMORPHOSIS. Since we have similar objectives and similar conceptual foundations, it is important that we exchange on the challenges we face (or we may face) and on the methods and tools we (may) want to apply to tackle them.
We generally agreed that neighbourhood-specific characteristics (proximity, trust, identity etc.) can be strategically used to trigger new types of mobility solutions. How one wants to do it, it’s another matter. METAMORPHOSIS works with children as vectors for change. MUV uses gamification instead. Cities-4-People looks at co-creation practices and citizen labs – if you are reading this, you may know already.
However, we also acknowledged the limits of our approach and the risks, for instance in terms of scalability and replicability. Our conclusion was therefore an open one: we’ll keep track of lessons learnt and we’ll find ways to continue the dialogue and learn from one another as well as from older projects and initiatives.
It is hard to summarise what else happened during the three conference days: hundreds of people, dozens of sessions covering a wide spectrum of mobility issues, tens of different backgrounds, varied socio-cultural contexts presented as case studies, countless brochures, videos, practical demonstrations, discourses – maybe even too much for the time available. Two easy picks:
1. a series of local politicians committed to the EC’s new Clean Bus Deployment Initiative by signing it at the Politicians’ Forum on the first day
2. the cities of Bologna and Murcia were awarded the CIVITAS “Bold measure” award and the “Transformations” award respectively.
You can check the dedicated website for more information and already start preparing for the next CIVITAS Forum, which will be hosted next year in Sweden by the municipality of Umeå.