Technology has promoted change in the way cities deal with the main urban challenges. New solutions have emerged based on collective empowerment, creativity, smart social citizenship, urban ecology, sustainable mobility or advanced retailing, among others. These instruments, on the other hand, may also help to align them as global leaders in terms of innovation.

In the last years, the European Union (EU) has launched strategies to enhance a more inclusive, sustainable and inclusive growth (Europe 2020) or Smart Specialization Strategies (S3) to establish priorities for innovation at the local level. S3 Strategies are an inspiration for actions funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

This is the reason why the ERDF reserves 372 million euros for Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) program for the period 2016-2019. An instrument that, unlike the rest of the ERDF funds, is directly managed directly by the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission.

Which is its purpose?

The purpose of Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) program is supporting the identification and test of innovative and creative solutions for present & future urban challenges such as aging, the environment and the circular economy, energy, sustainable mobility or housing, among others.

The main vision is to generate transferable knowledge for other European cities in the shape of pilot projects or studies. Research is a key element to carry it. This is the reason why the European Commission intends to stimulate cooperation between cities and researchers.

The basic philosophy is to provide local administration with resources to take risks and implement new practices under the umbrella of the European Union whose execution is too risky for the local administration itself in terms of funding and knowledge. This is the reason why the selected projects are co-financed by 80% with ERDF funding. The maxim contribution is 5 milion euros.

Requirements to participation and funding:

The UIA program is intended for those municipalities or urban areas whose population exceeds 50,000 inhabitants. The implementation of the project has a maximum duration of three years.

The head of ranks (and applicant) must be a local government, but it must have the support of local stakeholders – R&D and training centers, companies, think tanks, NGOs, chambers of commerce, public agencies, among others- with a secondary role, but also key at the time of executing the project.

Evaluation criteria:

The evaluation of the projects is carried out in two phases. The Strategic Assessment, carried out by independent experts, accounts for 80% of weighting given to the overall project assessment, and it evaluates…

  • Innovativeness (40%): the project purposal must be a new solution with a clear potential to add value
  • Quality of the Partnership (15%): to what extent the stakeholders are relevant for the implementation of the project
  • Measurability of the project results and outputs (15%)
  • Transferability (10%): the project must be transferable to other urban areas across the EU

Once the first phase is over, the UIA permanent secretariat will proceed to analyze the quality of the proposal (the proportionality of the budget, its justification, coherence, real viability), which in total will represent 20% of the weight given to the general evaluation of the draft.

Current projects: First and Second Call for Urban Innovative Actions

So far, two UIA calls have been held, respectively, for the years 2016 and 2017, with a total of 32 selected projects. Two projects made up by Catalan municipalities have been selected in the first call.

  • Urban Poverty: the B-Income project has been presented by Barcelona’s City Council, and it aims to identify the effectiveness of different kinds of welfare benefits and services for housing, education, employment and community involvement through a pilot test for 1000 families in deprived areas of Barcelona. Among other measures, the project seeks to implement an ethnographic research system to better understand the causes and consequences of urban poverty in Barcelona.
  • Energy Transition: the Vilawatts project (VIDEO) seeks to create an integral energy operator in the shape of a civic public-private partnership (PPCP) for an energy management improvement and capitalization of the savings to boost the housing energy renovation.

Other selected projects in Spain are AS FABRIK (Bilbao) and MARES (Madrid), for promoting Occupation and Skills in the Local Economy, and BRIK-BEACH (Vélez-Málaga), in circular economy.

Future projects: Third & Fourth Call

The third call for Urban Innovative Actions projects was published in mid-December. The deadline to submit applications will end on Friday, March 30. This year, projects focusing on the following topics will be selected:

  • Jobs and skills in the local economy
  • Housing
  • Air quality
  • Climate adaptation

On the other hand, the fourth call will be open at the end of 2018, and will accept those proposals that focus on:

  • Digital transition
  • Sustainable use of land and nature based solutions
  • Urban poverty
  • Circular Economy
  • Urban mobility

Even though the thematic approach is free, since the central axis of the proposal must be based on innovation, DG Regio highly recommends following the guidelines recommended for each theme, as well as the priorities of the Europe 2020 strategy.

U·TRANS fervently encourages those urban areas with more than 50,000 inhabitants seeking to become European leaders in innovative solutions to compete, as well as we offer our support to prepare the candidancy.

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