Joy Carey’s reflections from URBACT meeting in Brussels and Urban Strategy Mix conference

Understanding the cases better

The three reports cover a wide range of practical examples of what is currently going on in the different partner cities.  The richness lies in the diversity of examples that address different scales, audiences, instigated by many different ‘actors’ to address a range of challenges.

What unifies all these examples is that it has taken visionary individuals and groups to drive them; people that are looking ahead and searching for innovative solutions which meet real needs.

So, how to make best use of all these cases in local action plans?

One of the biggest challenges in deciding how to make use of all these examples, is to both i) understand and ii) be able to assess the impact.

  • To what extent are they being successful, and what is the practical tangible evidence of success?
  • What changes are happening as a result of these initiatives?
  • Are the outcomes those that were originally expected?

A short overview of the cases from all three reports

For each themed report, we can see there are various categories of cases that more or less can be summarized as set out below.


1. Growing (categorized by activity type)

Agriculture & rural economy support – land protection, business support, market development

Commercial urban agriculture  – temporary land use, soil management & decontamination, aquaponics, zero-farming

Community food growing projects – urban orchards, school & community gardens, ‘incredible edible’ projects

Community supported agriculture – consumers & producers

Research – audits, feasibility studies, CO2 efficiency, eco-design


2. Delivering (categorized by activity type)

Collective marketing – local brand, eco-labeling

Local and regional supply – markets, wholesale, internet platforms

Retail & local food products – supermarkets, farm shops

Tools to strengthen the local economy – currencies, vouchers

Community led trade – university market, buying groups

CO2 & resource efficiency – food waste, eco-delivery, logistics & transport connections


3. Enjoying (categorized by target audience and activity type)

Caterers – improved menus and procedures for canteens & restaurants

Communities – buying and cooking support for families, low-income households & multi-ethnic communities

Children & young people – school gardens, farm visits, cooking

Young entrepreneurs – providing food business opportunities

Research – economic & environmental challenges, impacts, solutions

Making use of cases:

In considering which cases are most relevant to a Local Action Plan, cities need to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Why it has attracted our attention?
  • Do we understand enough about it?

Here are some aspects to explore in relation to the cases that have caught your attention:

  • Type of activity
  • Overall purpose(s) – CO2 reductions, increase in skills & jobs, behavior changes, inclusion of more people and a wider diversity
  • Scale – numbers of people that will be affected
  • Aim – what is the project trying to change?
  • Target audiences – who is this activity aimed at and why?
  • Drivers/instigators & key ‘actors’ – who is in charge; who is essential?
  • Successes & challenges  – what has worked well; what has not worked well?
  • Impacts ie what has actually changed?

Local action plans

As you think about where to start with your action plan, here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • What experiences/cases from elsewhere are most relevant to your city?
  • What changes do you most need to achieve? If you are successful what results do you want to be able to see?
  • Where will you find most energy & enthusiasm – to show you where to start or to help you get started?

In deciding on what approach to take with practical action on food, there are some useful criteria to bear in mind. (These are similar questions to the ones above, but this time they relate to your planned new activity)

  • What type of activity are you proposing?
  • What is the overall ‘food sustainability’ purpose – CO2 emissions reduction and resource efficiency, skills & jobs, behavior change, social inclusion?
  • Impacts – what is it that you want to change through this activity?
  • What is the scale of activity, and audience  – thousands of people; a small number of people?
  • Who is your target audience and what do you want to enable them to do?
  • Who are the instigators and who are the key ‘actors’
  • Successes & challenges
  • How will you measure impacts ie what has actually changed?

Summary comments from workshops at the conference (5.02.2015)

The discussions in the workshops provide some helpful insights into what works well.


Build on all the great innovative ideas that are already happening. Focus even more on telling a transparent human-scale story about where food comes from.  Maximize availability of fresh seasonal (and therefore often local) food.  Focus attention on ‘hubs’ that help to make distribution and retail of fresh seasonal and local food available in an efficient way.


(to add)


(to add)

Thinking about the themes and how they can continue to be helpful

All four cross-cutting themes have all been explored to different extents in the three reports and further insights were gained from the workshops (5.02.2014)

  • Reducing CO2 emissions and improving resource efficiency
  • Improving skills & creating jobs
  • Influencing and changing behavior
  • Ensuring social inclusion

There are also two other cross-cutting themes:

  • Governance
  • Funding

Reducing CO2 emissions and improving resource efficiency: taking a simple approach

We know from existing research that the main ways urban communities can contribute to reducing CO2 emissions in the food system is by eating less meat and more plants; reducing food waste and by making fresh seasonal food from the surrounding regions available to everyone. Food should be produced with less use of fossil-fuel derived inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. If it is certified organic then we know it will have good standards of animal welfare and will produced in a way that is in harmony with nature.


Useful comments from the 5th Feb workshop

Less meat, more veg & fruit, focus on fresh seasonal food, fun activities that engage the public and are an interesting challenge with tangible results. There are many opportunities for new innovative urban food production businesses that create jobs. Labeling and recognition schemes need to be simple, aimed at the non-green audiences and help people to make a small shift. Cities can use recognition schemes to inspire and encourage collective action around fresh seasonal and local food; reducing food waste and encouraging the circular economy.


Improving skills & creating jobs

Influencing and changing behavior

Ensuring social inclusion



Moving forward

For the second phase of the project, it might be helpful to draw out the areas that affect all the participating cities.

The project could be re-framed very simply as follows:

Sustainable food for urban communities

We believe that to create more sustainable food systems and provide more sustainable food for urban communities, activities that aim to engage the public and influence change in eating, cooking and buying habits need to be inspiring and enjoyable.

Our focus is on reducing meat consumption where possible and on increasing the availability of fresh seasonal produce and staple food items from the surrounding region.  For this we need to make connections with those who work closely with local and regional food suppliers, if not directly.

It is very important that we make both activities and good food available to everyone and actively find ways to reach groups that are usually missed.

Involving young people are important and we need to ensure that they have the opportunity to learn new skills that lead to paid work.

Urban agriculture has an important role to play – both as education and enjoyment, but also as an opportunity for new businesses.


These could be summarized into practical action agreed by URBACT partners:

  • Fresh, seasonal regional & local food
  • Less meat more fruit & veg
  • Less food waste; more recycling of food waste and more redistribution of food which might be wasted but is fit for human consumption
  • Many more enjoyable activities that inform and inspire personal and collective action to achieve the above