Celia Davis, Community Engagement Officer, has been off on her travels… “It’s not often you get invited to international conferences with the EU as a small community organisation, so I jumped at the chance of a trip to Rotterdam to learn from grassroots interventions which build resilience in cities across Europe. Up Our Street were invited as we were a partner in Bristol City Council’s URBACT project to deliver an ‘urban experiment’ on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. Our project explored the experience of the local community where the needs of sustainable transport and community green space come in to conflict.
Being in Rotterdam, a city which lies two metres below sea level, brought home that resilience is a pressing issue where the threat of climate change feels immediate. But the URBACT project is interesting because it is not just about top-down technical solutions, it’s about local communities working together to build strength and adapting to the pressures they face.
An excellent example of this was the Middleland neighbourhood. Twenty years ago this neighbourhood’s reputation was dominated by crime and decline. We heard from residents who said they would step over unconscious drug users to get in to their homes, repeated burglaries and fear to go out at night. The city took a radical approach and devolved €7 million to the community to tackle crime in the community to tackle the problems. It’s clear that the way the community chose to spend their money would never have been thought of by the police or the city council. The ground floor of an empty building on the high street has been occupied as a focal point for community activity, with café, meeting space, sewing room and a busy hub of community activity which allows neighbours to get to know each other. Training schemes in catering are offered to the long term unemployed. Parks and green spaces have been given a facelift but the young people in the neighbourhood have been at the centre of their design. The budget also allowed for significant improvements to services that support rehabilitation of drug addicts and housing for vulnerable adults – importantly it was decided that these services should remain within the community rather than being moved on to another neighbourhood.
All over Rotterdam I saw evidence of communities taking a lead to solve issues that they could identify and understand. From Hotspot Hutspot, a social enterprise training young people and refugees as chef, where the ingredients are taken from supermarket waste to Blue City – a disused swimming pool which is now a hub for enterprises operating in the circular economy, which means products are made from waste and all waste is reused. The sustainability of these operations was not just in the low carbon and zero waste footprints, but in how they were embedded into the city, responding to the needs of the local community. This was the key message from the 11 URBACT projects from Bristol to Malmo, and Rotterdam to Katowice.
To find out more about our ‘urban experiment’ on the Railway Path see the video here.