The terrible pandemic that we are still suffering brought also some new opportunities in lots of different fields. One general example might be the generalisation of tele-working and the big challenge of the sustainable transformation into smart working, that is, new ways of organising the work at the organisations beyond the physical presence at the office.
Let me focus on one specific opportunity risen for the cities from the colossal amount of public money, which is going to be delivered by the European Union (EU): the obligation to think strategically with a horizon of at least 10 years. It may seem very simple, but this is a revolutionary change in the context of public authorities with mandates of only 4 or 5 years, as it has always been difficult to engage the decision-makers in mid-term planning beyond their period in office. A first step was being done with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), but the access requirements of the so-called Next Generation funds make them a must.
This temporary instrument is designed to boost the recovery with the largest stimulus package ever financed in Europe: a total of €1.8 trillion to rebuild a post-COVID-19 continent. However, the access to this aid is conditioned to a strong commitment to a greener, more digital and more resilient Europe. No project will be financed if it does not contribute to the strategic goals of the EU for 2030, in line with the SDGs, but also with a carbon-neutral Europe for 2050.
If you talk with a mayor nowadays, regardless of the size of the municipality, you will find someone talking, among other topics, about energy communities, low-emission areas, digital reskilling and upskilling, that is a long list of concepts previously only known and used by experts and technical staff. The reason is that the need to get funds to boost the economy of the cities is now conditioned by the development of solid strategies in the framework of urban agendas 2030.
Nevertheless, knowing the words is just a first step. The decision-makers will need a fast capacity building scheme for their teams, as well as external expertise. The strategies and the projects must be consistent, relevant, place-based and, last but not least, convincing enough so that they receive the award of grants by the managing authorities of the EU funds.
A next generation of funds is available for a next generation of smarter cities. Be ready for a revolution!
Author: Albert Sorrosal, Member of the board of Knowurbannet. Expert working for DG REGIO (European Commission)