A great climate change adaptation event for cities – but where are the ones most in need?

 

I am just back from another Open European Day at the Resilient Cities conference in Bonn. Already for the fourth time, this became a great interactive event - and brand, I would say. Five years ago, we designed it as a day in which European cities could talk to their colleagues in other cities and explore their challenges and solutions to deal with climate change impacts. The event is different from many other conferences of its kind. It lives from the lively interaction of its participants. Very special: the day does not entail any presentation but lots of workshops, interactive sessions and time for free exchange and networking. As one of the initiators of this event series, I was overwhelmed by the great dedication of the participants and the appreciation they expressed for having that helpful event. It seems that this day really fills a niche in the broader adaptation discussion in Europe. Still, there is one thing that puzzles me…

 

The event is explicitly designed for cities and puts their voice first, while other experts can enrich the discussions and learn valuable first-hand lessons from practice.  Yet, not so many of cities’ technical staff took part as we had aimed for!? In the preparation of this year’s day, we had even made an extra call to city, to bring us their challenge and make it a case for one of the workshops. There, they could explore solutions together with colleagues from other cities. Sometimes, it is just a change in perspective from an outsider that opens your eyes for new ways. The response to the call was however relatively low, but some cities took their chance. Interestingly,  rather cities that are already on their way an reacted on it, but rarely the ones that we thought are most in need.

 

I know from many contacts I have met at earlier occasions, there are cities and towns that are aware, that they should act, but they tell me that they do not know how and where to start. And there are the cities that have already stepped into the adaptation process but do not show up or stay rather in the background at such meetings. Are they too shy, too intimidated by the other examples? Do the discussions feel too advanced for them?

 

Back in 2013 at the first Open European Day, we had 18 beginner cities from the EU Cities Adapt project. They just had started the process of adaptation, but used actively the chance to learn from their colleagues and gave life to the day. They were hungry for information and eager to learn about ways to move forwards. Among them had been cities like Almada in Portugal or Bratislava in Slovakia. After just four years it was amazing to see the immense progress they had made. Now, they are among the frontrunner cities that participate in our events. Still, they love to be part of it as they can learn so much more in a very efficient way and value highly their ever growing network.

 

How can we engage the ones that are most in need but do rarely show up?

 

Why is the positive experience of our participants and their expressed demand for a recurring event like this in such a contrast to the number of cities representatives participating? We see the ‘usual suspects’ and I am really glad to see them, but where are the others? What prevents them from using that event and turn it into their learning day, fill their gaps and make new contacts? I do not have the answers - just guesses concerning single factors, like available time, conflicting appointments, unclear ideas on what to gain, language barriers, shyness to be in a European event, or probably it is a combination of all this?

 

Do you have any idea about the reasons and, in particular, on how to make a change? I would really appreciate to hear from you. Please leave a comment!

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Holger Robrecht (Wednesday, 21 June 2017 17:23)

    Thanks, Birgit, for your story and considerations! The Open European Day is, what it is, due to your dedication and passion from the start. Let me first say: there have been cities represented in all editions - more or less same numbers (i.e. 1/4th of the participants. Not too bad compared to other events. This years' ECCA conference, as much as this event is profiled for good reasons, suffered from the bias to research. At least, the Open European Day is one that truly brings together all relevant stakeholder groups in urban adaptation. Not too bad, either.
    To your question: There might be several reasons for your observation - date, money (well for travel, only, as participation is for free), promotion channels, topics - or just: personal capacity. Some that have expressed their desire to come have told us that they've been overwhelmed by tasks and under-resourced by personnel. I guess, we still see that adaptation is not always made a political priority - in which case technical experts would get back up by their departments to participate. But we also should consider, how to even better communicate the Open European Day as a day of practitioners for practitioners - a low-cost help to get response to questions like: How and where should I (or we) start?