European City Makers

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= conference in the Netherlands

URL = (report)


Floortje Opbroek:

"The first City Makers meet-up took place on June 25 at Pakhuis de Zwijger, where the European network of City Ambassadors from 12 European capital cities looked into the state of city-making in the European capitals and the principles underlying transitional processes found in most cities.

The event this year focused on shaping the City Makers Agenda, which will be completed and presented as part of the EU Urban Agenda during the EU Presidency of the Netherlands in the first half of 2016." (


Floortje Opbroek:

"From the first round of discussions it became clear that City Makers observe shared problems and obstacles in their city, and share a common disillusionment in party politics and institutions. They feel a strong sense of ownership over their city and environment, and a sense of urgency that is not determined by short-term or long-term possibilities and solutions. Driven by this sense of ownership and urgency they take matters into their own hands. They are therefore pro-active, conscious and creative people. Applying an integrated and holistic approach to the problems they experience in their cities, they raise the level of knowledge (and agency) of all who are involved.

As resource-effective connectors who respond to specific local needs with tailor-made solutions, they have the ability to work with local government and other parties. Cutting corners and bypassing bureaucracy, their initiatives are innovative and sustainable, as they operate outside of pre-determined, institutionalized frameworks, networks and systems. The collaborative nature of their initiatives builds trust among communities, which is often lacking when regulations and democratic processes are concerned. City Making practices raise local democracy, as they enhance participation in decision-making which can and should inform civil servants about their priorities regarding the needs of citizens. City makers create value, and add value to the community and help those who might not know how to put their ideas into practice.


Community ambition and a DIY mentality lie at the core of City Maker’s initiatives. The initiatives often start as temporary experiments, and relate to similar themes: vacancy, re-use, recycling, urban agriculture, food production and waste, mobility, the sharing economy, and community building, to name just a few. City Makers find they work from common principles: local and small scale dimensions (at least at the start) with tangible processes and results, while offering and promoting acknowledgement for unofficial, informal or marginal communities. Initiatives are non-replicable and can act as a statement or source of inspiration, but do not necessarily function as a blueprint. They are generally cross-sectoral, and serve as mediation and brokering between different stakeholders. Although not always an immediate goal, they change the relation between state and citizens, promoting democratic innovation.

Depending on cultural and national background, there is a difference between connotations with different discourses, such as approaches to employment. ‘Volunteerism’, for example, can be viewed as purely unpaid, voluntary work or as pioneering social entrepreneurship. There are different types of innovative movement in which City Makers aim to operate: global technological innovation leading to a national energy transition supported by citizen initiatives, or modernization within government processes driven by and leading to increased participation of citizens on a local level.

Many of the differences are contextual and involve to the way citizens relate to the state and local government. City Makers and their initiatives differ in terms of level of vertical engagement, top-down + bottom-up, and how they cooperate with different stakeholders, participants and parties. Comfort levels are different across different urban contexts, inspiring and evoking different forms of citizen action and interaction, taking on a collaborative nature in older, more established nations and democracies and a suspicious, activist nature in younger states/democracies.

In Vienna the level and volume of civil society is limited because the city works so well, and citizens become comfortable, while in Eastern societies levels of trust in democratic processes, the state and local government are weak, characteristic of the legacy of communism. KeK contemporary architecture centre is rather unique in this context. There is, furthermore,considerable variation when it comes to availability of philanthropic, community and government funding. In the UK, for example, there are lotteries, but also community shares and crowdfunding provide access to funding.

City Makers need acknowledgement and trust. With growing trust comes a decrease in regulation, and a government who facilitates rather than just regulates. Reduced regulation gives City Makers the freedom to experiment and find innovative solutions to existing urban and societal problems. Initiatives and initiators furthermore need legitimacy. A good example of this is De Ceuvel, which has received widespread recognition for its innovativeness and effectiveness. What is needed in all contexts is access to funding. There is funding in place for existing mechanisms and institutions which should be open up to civil society organizations. Political reform is needed to allow for a handing over the mandate from the national level to the local level, cities, would increase participation and democratic processes as they are more easily accessible for citizens.

The added of a European network of City Makers is gaining (negotiating) power, it gives more weight to the argument. It offers a new perspective and a place to share knowledge and experiences. It is also about confirmation; it inspires and gives hope and empowerment. A network is a great source for knowledge about how to bypass bureaucracy, franchise technological tools, and best practices. The network offers a sense of belonging and community of interest. It is a great setting in which to reflect on a new European identity and citizenship.

The City Makers agenda needs to encourage a balance between public and private actions, as well as to get people, their energies and their social needs together. What is needed first of all is a definition of what a City Maker is. What do we do, what do we stand for? Many agree there is no necessity for a large-scale plan, but that the agenda should be used to establish the definition of City Maker in order to increase the inclusion of civic engagement in EU policy, legislation, and decision making. The City Makers Agenda could furthermore lead to true acknowledgement, funding streams, and policy reform. City Maker initiatives require a different, facilitating role of government which hopefully the agenda will contribute to. This also means more resource effective collaboration and acknowledgement for different actors and stakeholders." (