Accelerate 2014, Outcomes from the Eurbanlab Community Conference

Written by Janet Dounen on 18 December 2014

Accelerate 2014, outcomes from the Eurbanlab Community Conference

In December 2014, experts and practitioners from across Europe involved in sourcing, creating, and delivering urban innovations gathered to discuss ways to accelerate the delivery of low carbon urban solutions for cities. Read about the interesting tools and case studies that were shared. Discover the secrets of success from some of the most innovative urban development projects in Europe.

La Halle Pajol, Paris : 25-26 November 2014

Purpose: This conference sought to accelerate urban innovation, to highlight successful projects, and to make a significant impact in the efforts to move Europe into a sustainable and vibrant low carbon era.

Organised by Eurbanlab and World Cities Network

The conference started with a welcome and presentation on the need for innovation by Brian Kilkelly of World Cities Network. This was followed by presentations from Kees van Deelen and Carolina Mateo on The European Opportunity – Spreading innovation faster.

Kees van Deelen, TNO and founding member of Eurbanlab, explained that at the outset of forming Eurbanlab, they looked at the difficulties of spreading innovation. He explained that Eurbanlab was an initiative to accelerate the transition into low carbon resilient cities - sponsored by Climate-KIC. Successful projects are now showcased in the Eurbanlab library and to help overcome risk aversion to innovate, an assessment method was developed which indicates the performance and success of an urban innovation. In addition to tools, a community of public and private partners came together to network and to learn ways to innovate more effectively.

Carolina Mateo, Instituto Valenciano de la Edificación, explained how in Spain the benefits of the Eurbanlab assessment methodology has helped improve the classical approach to sustainable building in the Mediterranean region. Carolina explained that historically urban development projects has been 75% funded through the public sector and that obviously this could not be expected to continue. Therefore more public-private collaboration and different approaches to financing was crucial.

Smart and open approaches to enabling citizens and driving change

The second panel discussed the topic of ‘smart and open approaches to enabling citizens and driving change’. Josep Pique, Francesco Zingales, Morgan Colombert, and Minna Maarttola shared their experiences on citizen engagement, urban planning, and driving behaviour change.

Joseph Pique, City of Barcelona presents the results from Urban Lab Barcelona. Josep explained that smart and open approaches are not just a way to create sustainable cities with citizen involvement, they were also powerful in creating opportunities for democracy.

"People are [often] selling challenges, why not sell solutions? And if you can find a common agenda on issues like water, you can work together on solutions on global solutions."

Minna Maarttola, development manager of the City of Helsinki, echoed this experience and explained that it is certainly difficult to “just copy” solutions from one city to another. Minna shared the new (still in draft) city master plan and highlighted the desire to respond to the changing needs of citizens and enterprises in Finland.

Francesco Zingales, greenApes from Rome, shared a video to introduce a new way to seduce citizens into sustainable actions by decreasing the barriers and increasing incentives. Their award winning 'app' is available from along with products for companies and community groups. Significant engagement has been achieved and now Francesco is working with several cities to help spread the approach more rapidly. 

Morgane Colombert, EIVP, spoke about the importance of stakeholder management to know when to act to improve new urban planning, for both top down as bottom up approaches. It is important to keep listening to citizens, involve them in the process of masterplanning through to small scale implementation. 

Toward zero carbon communities

This panel featured case studies from Ed Metcalfe, Tom Knowland, Christophe Gobin, and Florence Castel.

Ed Metcalfe, Institute for Sustainability, drew upon experience gained through Eurbanlab assessments and the wider work of the Institute, highlighting the importance of local government and communities working together through shared ambitions and extensive consultation leading to co-creation and co-investment. At neighbourhood and district scale we need more flexible governance which is able to adapt as systemic solutions evolve.

Tom Knowland, City of Leeds, shared information about the city and metro region with some 800,000 inhabitants and an ambition for sustainable development. Leeds is eager to innovate and looking for other cities to cooperate in European programs. Innovative projects such as the Leeds Data Mill. Tom provided an excellent overview of the many interconnected service and infrastructure systems across the city that needed to be considered in any urban development project.

Christophe Gobin, Vinci Construction, has seen many projects with financing difficulties. He expressed the need for a new business model and proposed to monetise the soft values in Life Cycle Analysis. The current valuation systems were too short term and unable to deal with long term gain such as those achieved over a 15 year lifecycle.

"It is time to share a new vision on activities!"

Christophe recommended that we take advantage of systemic approaches, like Eurbanlab to improve the way impact is evaluated - and valuations assessed. He also shared news of how Vinci is investing in a project called Effiacity which will create a physical hub for many construction, engineering, and development organisations to work collaboratively with universities and city authorities on new approaches to urban development.

Florence Castel explained how Advancity works on community building around implementation of sustainable urban projects. She shared their model of creating consortia to accelerate the process of turning ideas into implementable projects both in Paris and beyond.

Collaboration on a metropolitan scale

Roger Toussaint, Carine Saloff-Coste, and Jon Bloomfield then took the stage to discuss what progress in being made to improve collaboration between and across cities and regions.

Carine Saloff-Coste, City of Paris used a map of Paris and the region to illustrate that the Parisien economy does not exist [alone], it crosses the city borders. If we fail [to collaborate], we will be less competitive, and not be able to tackle issues like transportation. 

 “There is no choice - collaboration is a must!" Carine Saloff-Coste, City of Paris

Fifteen years ago the city of Paris began to talk with the neighbouring cities about the metropole possibilities. As a big city, it is important to share our tools to support economic development and innovation in other municipalities.

Roger Toussaint, Eurbanlab / Javelin Creative Solutions, showed how the results from the initial fourteen Eurbanlab assessments indicate that more collaboration and leadership lead to a higher impact on energy efficiency and lower overall energy consumption. Roger sees extensive grassroots developments: urban farming, people being more engaged with the environment, and a greater awareness of what sustainable urban development looks like.

The case of Quartier Vauban in Freiburg, Germany was used by Roger to illustrate how political consensus and public support for sustainable action was crucial to creating one of the most celebrated walkable urban developments in the world.

Jon Bloomfield, Innovation Birmingham explained how the Transition Cities project is working on bridging the gap between individual projects and high-level political aspiration. Their city oriented approach suggests focus on a clear challenge for demonstrators and to create critical mass. It is very complementary to the Eurbanlab approach of focus on sharing and improving the innovative projects across cities to make the step from individual projects to sustainable cities.

The most important question of this session was: “Can we make progress in sustainable cities in these times of economic crisis? The answer from Jon was clear:

“Green growth, like efficient transport solutions and energy efficiency, is part of the solution of the economic problems of Europe.”

Business case for investing in innovation

The next panel took the topic of the business case for investing in innovation. Annabelle Diot, Alex Burrows, and Peter Bosch presented their experience.

Annabelle Diot, Avesta Group, showed the importance of culture for cities in general and for sustainable development in particular. The example of the Russian city of Perm in the Urals was used to prove how an industrial city can regain attractiveness and reputation by investing in the cultural development of the city. There was a fascinating account of how the authorities recognised the value of culture to stimulate a new sense of place, belonging, and engagement in city life.

Alex Burrows, Atkins Global, shared an approach beyond the current business model focused way of decision making for big investments. Quantifying the wider benefits with a systems approach gave the opportunity to balance the 3R’s:  Resources, Risks and Rewards. Alex believes that focussing on the 3R’s can unlock private investments.

Eurbanlab analyses and spreads examples of sustainable, innovative urban projects including innovations in business cases. Dr. Peter Bosch, TNO, explained the business model behind the Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) project in two Dutch building projects that have been analysed with the Eurbanlab assessment methodology.

This session raised questions about taking social impact into account in the business model. If this happens depends largely on who is paying for the project. E.g. Unesco has indicators for monitoring and benchmarking on cultural aspects.

The final session of the day saw moderate a session about tools to help us catalogue, model and liberate the best ideas. Anne-Marie Spierings, Peter Bosch, Veronique Pappe and Savvas Verdis joined this session.

Anne-Marie Spierings, ARCADIS, gives a live demonstration of how the Eurbanlab library can inspire through some of the best examples of sustainable urban development. Peter Bosch, TNO, provided a more detailed explanation of the Eurbanlab assessment method. After almost 25 assessments, clients reported increased confidence and trust, and support for the de-risking of investments.

Dr. Savvas Verdis, Siemens, shared insight from his work at Siemens and the LSE that as cities are quite different, copying techniques from well performing cities does not always work. Siemens has developed the City Performance Tool to make tailored transport choices based on four KPI’s: CO2-savings, PM10-savings, costs and new jobs. Savvas gave tangible examples of where energy analysis led to much more effective targeting of low carbon actions.

Véronique Pappe, Construction21 International, explained the organisation of Construction21 with national platforms managed by local chapters and information in local languages as well as in English. The online communities share information on the broad topic of green building. The local orientated approach to collecting and cataloguing projects was obviously proving to be a successful approach with over 600 case studies now documented in their libraries.

A question about health indicators suggested that we need to go beyond the existing limits of indicators on emissions.We know a sustainable city can contribute to good health in many more ways than just reducing pollution. This seems to be unquantified at present and could unlock investment opportunities.


Feedback from participants praised the diversity and richness of case studies and methodologies shared during the day. It was evident that there were many initiatives progressing well across Europe. There was a strong sense that more connectivity between these initiatives would be valuable. Some went further and suggested that we explore ways to combine efforts and create consistent measures for innovative urban development projects.

Further reporting and links to the presentations can be found on the Eurbanlab website here

Next Steps

World Cities Network will be following up with the Eurbanlab community and other interested parties to develop a series of meetings during 2015 to continue the sharing of best practice on urban innovation and to act upon the recommendations of the conference.


Alex Burrows, Technical Director, Atkins

Annabelle Diot, Associate Director, Avesta Group

Anne-Marie Spierings, Project Manager, Arcadis

Brian Kilkelly, CEO, World Cities Network

Carine Saloff-Coste, Director of Economic Development, City of Paris

Carolina Mateo Cecilia, Head of International Affairs, Valencian Institute of Building

Christophe Gobin, Director R&D, Vinci Construction

Ed Metcalfe, Director, Institute of Sustainability

Florence Castel, CEO, Advancity

Francesco Zingales, Business Partnerships Director, GreenApes

Jon Bloomfield, Innovation Birmingham

Josep Miquel Pique, CEO, Office of Economic Growth, Barcelona City Council

Kees van Deelen, Senior Program Manager, TNO

Minna Maarttola, Development Manager, City of Helsinki

Morgan Colombert, Assistant Professor, Ecole des Ingénieurs de la ville de Paris - EIVP

Peter Bosch, Project Leader, TNO

Roger Toussaint, Javelin Creative Solutions

Savvas Verdis, Infrastructure Economist, Siemens

Tom Knowland, Head of Sustainable Energy & Climate Change, City of Leeds

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