Designing the UrbanA Arenas

Sustainable Just Cities
Blog on Sustainable Just Cities
3 min readOct 24, 2019

By Giorgia Silvestri & Sarah Rach, Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT)

In the UrbanA project we aim to collect promising approaches for sustainability and justice in cities and to share them widely with city-makers and city thinkers. From a transitions perspective we understand sustainability and justice as complex and wicked phenomena. To tackle them we need to acknowledge that different actors and different cross-domain perspectives are involved and that systemic transformation is needed. For this, participatory processes are essential. In UrbanA an important participatory element is the organization of four UrbanA Arena events.

What is an UrbanA Arena?

In transition management, a transition governance approach to accelerate change for sustainable futures, a transition arena is a specific participatory method to engage people in a collective process. In an arena participants co-create knowledge, critically reflect and develop new ideas, visions and actions. We have adapted this concept for the UrbanA project into the UrbanA Arena. UrbanA Arena events are temporary spaces in which city-makers and city-thinkers from across Europe and across disciplines come together to connect with one another, to reflect on the urban knowledge that previous research projects has already identified, and to generate promising approaches for the creation of sustainable, inclusive and thriving cities.

The first Arena event in Rotterdam

On November 28th-29th the first UrbanA Arena event takes place in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It focusses on the breadth of approaches that the UrbanA team has mapped in the past few months (see here) and on building the UrbanA Community of Practice. We’ll be presenting the fruit of our work thus far, sharing experiences and getting to know our UrbanA fellows and participants and facilitating connection between them. In the program we leave ample space for networking (e.g. long coffee breaks!) and for participants to share their experiences and their challenges (e.g. during a facilitated open space on day two).

We are also experimenting with hosting the UrbanA Arena in a blended fashion, allowing online participants to actively participate in discussions and parallel sessions. This requires the right technology, software (we will use ZOOM) and mindful facilitation. For example, we have a dedicated role — the ‘virtual host’ — to bridge between the online and in person participants. You can read more about virtual meetings here. After the Arena event we will share our experiences and recommendations for organizing such a large scale blended event.

UrbanA Arena principles

The UrbanA Arena events are based on the following principles:

● (In)justice and (un)sustainability are recognized as complex, normative, subjective and ambiguous issues. They are intergenerational phenomena, they operate at multiple levels and cover socio-cultural, economic and ecological dimensions.

● Reflection, action and connection are needed to address these complex issues. Reflection helps embrace paradoxes and develop alternatives or improved solutions. Policy agendas need to be influenced and action taken for systemic change. This can only be done if people and networks connect.

● Transdisciplinary and translocal arenas are spaces that enable these processes. UrbanA Arena events will bridge across different disciplines and domains, science and practice, while remaining locally rooted and transnationally connected.

Want to read more?

A thorough description of the overall design of the UrbanA Arena event can be found in our Guidelines for designing, co-creating and hosting a translocal arena for sustainable and just cities. It details the theoretical and methodological background of urban sustainability and transition research that inspired the UrbanA Arena design. Section three of the guidelines gives an overview of UrbanA guiding principles, and describes the UrbanA Arena events, UrbanA Arena side events (the first one is being held in Lisbon on November 13th), and the Community of Practice. The other sections provide information about the UrbanA Arena participants and the monitoring and evaluation of the project. In the appendices we include participatory and facilitation methods which we hope will both inspire and be useful.

If you’d like to get involved please join our UrbanA Community of Practice and subscribe to our newsletter.