Abstract: The urban population in Europe is expected to be 80% in 2020. Urban living labs (ULLs) are emerging as a form of collective urban governance and experimentation to address the sustainability challenges and opportunities created by urbanisation. They have different goals, they are initiated by various actors, and they form different types of partnerships. There is no uniform ULL definition. However, many projects studying and testing living lab methodologies are focusing on urban sustainability and low carbon challenges, as demonstrated by the current projects funded by the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe. At the same time, there is no clear understanding of what the ultimate role of ULLs is in urban governance, and whether they represent a completely new phenomenon that is replacing other forms of participation, collaboration, experimentation, learning and governing in cities. There is a need to clarify what makes the ULL approach attractive and novel. The aim of this article is to examine how the ULL concept is being operationalised in contemporary urban governance for sustainability and low carbon cities. This is undertaken through the analysis of academic literature complemented with five snapshot case studies of major ongoing ULL projects in Europe. Five key ULL characteristics are identified: geographical embeddedness, experimentation and learning, participation and user involvement, leadership and ownership, and evaluation and refinement. Four topics are found relevant when comparing ULLs: ways to operationalise the ULL approach, the type of ULL partnership and the role of research institutions, the types of challenges addressed by different ULLs, and the role of sustainability, environment and low carbon agenda in ULLs.
International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University, Sweden
The interview transcript
Hello Kes, thank you for accepting this invitation to my coffee break. How are you doing?
I’m doing Great!
I’m having a really nice coffee from Colombia from the Tayrona region – which one are you having?
I think I´m having a very black Swedish coffee.
I want to talk with you about a paper you wrote on urban living labs for sustainability ,could you please tell me what the paper was about?
This paper is about the role of cities in sustainable development and in particular focusing in on urban living labs as a particular way of working in cities and urban living labs are about sites or places in cities so physical places in cities which are used and designed to test and learn with innovation in real time.
Since the main notion of your paper is of course urban living labs, could you please tell me how will you define this concept throughout your paper?
Yeah I mean as with all kind of academic concepts it can be a bit fuzzy and broad, but it can also be really helpful to understand the world and to make sense of the world around us. So in our paper we defined urban living labs with five different characteristics and the first characteristic was around the context around that urban living labs are embedded in cities that they’re part of cities they can be a street or a building or a district but they’re actually a physical space in cities where we work with experimentation. And and that’s the second characteristic: The idea of experimentation which is really around doing something outside business as usual, so doing something a little bit different a little bit ambitious this can be anything from something quite technical: Solar panels – implementing them in a new way or some kind of community initiative. But experimentation is really a core aspect of urban living labs. The third part is around participation, the idea that it’s really important to engage with urban citizens and different organizations and stakeholders in cities to work on some kind of co-creation process, so to work together. Leadership another key characteristics of urban living labs what we found was that
leadership plays a really important role to the design of an urban lab and the different impacts so if an urban living lab is led by universities or led by municipalities or led by business or some kind of hybrid model this really shapes the types of impacts and so on. And then finally evaluation the idea that in an urban living lab we evaluate and assess as we go and that we feed back these learnings into the urban living lab this is another key characteristic of what makes an urban living lab something which can can have a positive impact on cities.
Thank you for that it’s very good to know. And which ones were the main findings of your paper?
I think like two key findings around governance and the role of universities. So the first around governance is that cities or municipalities are really using urban living labs to govern their cities. This is something quite different to regulation or enforcement urban living labs are being used to kind of experiment and to enable other actors to engage in shaping the urban development in cities and this is really exciting. Another kind of finding is around the role of universities in sustainable urban development and in urban living labs researchers and universities are being asked to engage kind of in these processes from the beginning to end and to early on to offer inputs and advice and to do something a little bit different to the way researchers typically work. Researchers typically work on projects and then produce a report at the end of that project Whereas in urban living labs they’re being asked to be to be very active from beginning to end and to be offering advice and inputs all the way through.
Thank you for clarifying that, I find this topic very important to know and
could you please let us know what was your main motivation in doing this research?
Yeah, I think from a big picture I’m really interested in the role of cities in sustainable development there’s a lot of emphasis on what cities can do for sustainable development around the world and I think it’s important that we try to understand what cities can can be doing by themselves what kind of activities they can be taking on and where they might need help from national policy or larger industry and so on. And I think urban living labs is a really fun concept to work with because it brings you down right to the street level to the ground level of what cities do but also kind of lifts you up to kind of bigger
policy issues and big issues around industry and innovation.
I think this topic has very important policy implications. Which one would you consider are the main ones, based on your findings?
Yeah, I think urban living labs have policy implications particularly for innovation policy and for innovation agencies how they think about their funding models and policies for cities. Urban living labs are quite different way of working that cities might have done in the past and that innovation agencies particularly can think about how they might fund those activities what kind of support they might provide to allow different urban living labs to kind of blossom and develop in different parts of cities and also the idea that some of these urban living labs might be really quite successful and others might be failures but you can actually learn from from both types of urban living labs.
Kes it was really nice for me to have you here in a coffee break and discussing with you this very important field of research I wish you all the best and I hope to see you next time bye-bye.
Thanks a lot I’ll enjoy my coffee! See you later!