From Barcelona to Eastern Europe
Brian Field worked as a special managerial advisor on urban planning and development at the EIB for many years before becoming a professor at University College, London. In an earlier academic incarnation during the 1970s, he used to take his students to Cardiff Bay to study a perfect case of urban blight. He traces a trajectory of EIB urban lending from Cardiff and other 1980s projects through social housing schemes in Glasgow during the late 1990s and on to the London Olympics, where the Bank financed the athletes’ village on the basis that it would subsequently become a social housing legacy project in the Stratford neighbourhood. “Cardiff’s regeneration has been spectacular,” says Field. “The Bank has had a similar effect across a very wide range of cities—you need only look at the transformation of Barcelona, and then on into EIB-financed urban regeneration initiatives in Eastern and Central Europe.”
Under the Treaty on European Union, the EU has formal responsibility for Regional Policy whilst Urban Policy is under the jurisdiction of the Member States, either at national or local level (regions, cities, towns). However, the EU’s promotion of employment, growth, and quality of life, also requires a concerted effort at the local level and, against this backdrop, the regional and specifically the urban context has become a key area of concern and focus for public policy. The urban dimension is incorporated at EU level through Cohesion Policy. The notion of its importance has grown gradually.
The Bank’s urban lending got a major boost during the years in which Central and Eastern European countries joined the EU. Gerry Muscat, head of the urban development division, worked in Eastern Europe for another international organisation at that time and saw how the dismantling of centrally planned economies there led to increased opportunities for municipalities and regions to manage their own development. “Suddenly they had their own sources of revenue and they could invest as cities,” says Muscat. “It empowered them to think about urban development for themselves.”
The EU Urban Agenda defines a set of key priorities which resonate across European cities:
- Smart Cities: European cities should become low carbon, low waste and smart flow cities. This involves the efficient management of resources (especially with respect to energy and transport) based on smart infrastructure solutions. Examples include supporting sustainable urban mobility and accessibility, energy efficiency and use of renewable energies, and building on the digital agenda.
- Green Cities: European cities should become environmentally friendly, climate resilient and compact. This embeds urban development in green infrastructure and nature-based solutions. Examples include building short circuit food production, minimising urban sprawl, land-take and soil sealing, as well as improved conservation of natural habitats.
- Inclusive Cities: European cities should become living, caring, inter-generational cities. This includes improving the quality of life through developing affordable housing, regenerating deprived neighbourhoods, improving access to key urban services, developing the local economy and creating jobs.
Muscat, the urban development head, puts it more starkly as the EIB heads toward its seventh decade. “The challenges of Europe are in many ways urban challenges,” he says. “Climate change, refugees, radicalisation and terrorist threats, social inequity. Urban development is a major part of the solution, because it builds social infrastructure and fosters job creation.”