Transition towards urban sustainability through socially integrative cities in the EU and in China


1. Purpose(s)

Socially integrative urban development is focussed on, but not only, the creation of possibilities for civil society to make use of a city's resources. In addition to access to education, health, housing and income, leisure-related aspects also play a role, which rather address the individual development of the personality. These include, for example, the possibility of visiting cultural and sports facilities and, more generally, easy access to green and open spaces for all inhabitants (Continue reading on Common Space Co-Building; Community Mapping). However, marginalised groups still exist within city societies, which, related to socio-economic reasons, are unable to participate in the amenities of a city in the same way as the rest of society. Capacity building addresses this problem and aims at the sustainable alleviation of social grievances through the development and training of skills of actors in the socio-institutional system of a city (Habitat III Conference 2016, 6) (Figure 1 and Figure 2). It is based on a process, in which an initial needs assessment is followed by a project development and implementation phase. Finally, a monitoring is conducted in order to analyse the success of the capacity building activities (URBACT 2018) (Figure 3) (Continue reading on Educational festival).

In terms of professionals involved in urban development and management, the ability of multiple stakeholders and institutions at all levels of governance are strengthened and consolidated, enabling them to implement public policies towards sustainable urban development. In this sense, capacity building develops the ability to understand the urban governance systems and the elements that produce urban prosperity such as housing and infrastructure development, urban mobility, mitigation of social exclusion, environmental sustainability, urban planning and municipal finance. Activities range from long-term institution building programs to on-the-job training and various forms of knowledge and know-how development geared to strengthen human resources and the social capital of urban institutions. But it also includes tailor-made training, peer-to-peer learning and web-based education for the practitioners itself (Habitat III Conference 2016, 7). In terms of civil society and especially marginalised groups capacity building activities are focused on the provision of job opportunities and education projects for pupils but also adults in the corresponding neighbourhood resulting in a better chance to obtain a higher income (Figure 4 to 6). Projects providing skills and knowledge for the local population on how to strengthen social networks are also one key aspect of capacity building activities addressing civil society.

Key Words: urban renewal, socially integrative urban development, capacity building, new urban agenda, skills and knowledge, urban practitioners, civil society, Copenhagen, Denmark, London, United Kingdom

2. Relevance and Impact

Capacity building addresses the core of socially integrative urban development, since appropriate measures guarantee long-term equal participation and integration of people in urban areas (Box 1).

This tool was selected through the analysis of good practice examples of renewal in Europe. The fundamental value has been proven by European experts in joint workshops. Also, Chinese experts confirmed the relevance of respective measures, nevertheless this is still underrepresented in Chinese renewal activities. 

Through capacity building measures individuals, organisations and institutions can obtain the skills and knowledge necessary to act in a larger level of freedom, i.e. in larger scale or impact. Urban practitioners increase their knowledge and capacities regarding integrated approaches to socially sustainable urban development. They can be considered as change agents in charge of securing enhancement of organisational/institutional capacity and better policy through the development of their individual skills and knowledge in order to evenly provide access to urban amenities for the whole urban society (URBACT 2018). Capacity building in terms of civil society removes individual socio-economic obstacles to get access to urban resources such as education, work or social networks. People's scope for action is expanded so that they are able to react flexibly and in a solution-oriented manner to changing framework conditions on their own.



3. Strenghts

Capacity building approaches acknowledges variations in capabilities and skills and recognises the possibility for improvement. All individuals and organisations have capacity; the weakest as well as the strongest, which have the potential to develop more capacity. In addition, capacity building is valuable because of its obvious long-term impacts (University of Memphis 2020) (Box 2):

  • Capacity building approaches minimise dependency from outside experts as sources of knowledge and resources to community issues and thus encourage local people to take action on local issues themselves.

  • Capacity building support a sense of ownership and empowerment, so that community partners gain greater control over their own future development.

  • Strengthened confidence, skills and knowledge that develop from capacity building efforts on one project may enhance the ability of stakeholders to successfully transfer those resources to other circumstances in following projects.

  • Capacity building efforts take account of local culture and context, and therefore often lead to more appropriate community solutions than approaches that lack a capacity building focus.

Capacity building approaches addressing a wide range of stakeholders acknowledge that learning and change occur reciprocally. All participating groups are expected to be different at the end of the neighbourhood work. Administrative staff will be more effective and successful in addressing community issues, and local inhabitants will learn about working with community partners more effectively and respectfully.



4. Weaknesses

Capacity building may take place at different administrative levels and at different social groups. Often capacity building activities within one of those stakeholders strengthen capacity on other levels but also may not be embraced by everyone (University of Memphis 2020) (Box 3):

  • Capacity building efforts are based on a different kind of partnership, where all parties contribute and learn from one another. In this sense, two things are important: the community work itself and sustainably maintaining project results over time. Sometimes, stakeholders want to get the work done and put no effort into mainstreaming the changes over time.
  • Successful capacity building requires a longer period of time and does not necessarily lead to an immediate sense of satisfaction. Sometimes, stakeholders may want to feel a sense of accomplishment at a job well done, which is not always feasible to provide immediately.
  • Capacity building focuses on sustaining change, which often requires to change the underlying structural power differences as well. But power structures developed over a long period of time are long-lasting and a system change is often more difficult than addressing a symptom caused by the underlying problem.

Capacity building is often intangible, which makes it difficult to measure the results in terms of (positive) impacts. As a dynamic process, it may also strengthen or weaken over time.



5. Good practice examples

KvarterlØft, Copenhagen, Denmark

Within the Kvarterløft (map) renewal procedure, being applied in several neighbourhoods in Denmark but especially in Copenhagen, several capacity building approaches were implemented and conducted, although these measures were not explicitly named as capacity building. The “Kista Job Matching Model” for example is based on qualification and partnerships with private enterprises and was applied in Kongens Enghave, a working class neighbourhood and Kvarterløft area in Copenhagen. The idea is that the job centre and enterprises with vacant positions together prepare a targeted qualification plan that gives the unemployed person the qualifications for the job in question. The enterprise must guarantee a job for the unemployed persons who complete the qualification process (e.g. taxi driver, waiter, construction worker to shop assistant). Another education-oriented approach was called the “Magnet school concept” and focussed on the improvement of curriculum and leisure activities of a school in a socially deprived Kvarterløft area in Avedøre/Copenhagen. By networking with other private and public institutions, the possibilities of the school (e.g. allowing day-care institutions to use school facilities) to attract pupils with strong economic and educative background was promoted. Additional integrative leisure activities, e.g. intercultural cooking, fostered social capital in the neighbourhood and enhanced accessibility to personal development opportunities (The Ministry of Refugees, Immigration and Integration Affairs (Denmark) 2007).

New Deal for Communities, London, United Kingdom

Besides physical upgrading, the New Deal for Communities funding system also comprised capacity building features within the renewal process. The project “Family Learning”, established in Lewisham, London (map), consisted of educational joint workshops for parents and children (information and communication technology, arts/crafts, story sacks), courses aimed at parents to teach them how to help their children with their homework (‘Keeping Up with the Children’) as well as information, advice and guidance sessions on progression routes to further learning. The health-focussed CHOICE approach (Complementary Health Offered in the Community for Everyone) offered alternative health services to complement the existing mainstream health services available in the area. This programme included an osteopathy clinic, a reflexology clinic and yoga classes. A youth and community centre, established in the Lewisham New Deal area, supported the local youth by engaging them in structured leisure, sports or educational activities. In addition, links were made with partners to develop computer workshops, reading clubs and various other pursuits for local children and young people (New Cross Gate New Deal for Communities 2001).

Specific attention has also been paid to enhance economic opportunities for the inhabitants of the neighbourhood: The project “Job Networking” aimed at developing links with large business organisations by matching staff from the companies with pupils to provide mentoring support, with the objective to raise aspirations and attainment. Business grants were provided for small businesses, social enterprises and start-ups. A new established “Employment and Enterprise Agency” addressed the needs of the residents by providing advice on feasibility of business ideas, preparation of business plans and advice and support on funding applications. Inhabitants looking for job opportunities were supported through preparation of CVs, assistance with application forms and covering letters, interview preparations and job searching (New Cross Gate New Deal for Communities 2001).

6. Further helpful study material

7. References

EKONG, J., CHOWDHURY, A.H., ISAKANDARANI, M. and TRIGO, E. (2016). Common Framework on Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems: Conceptual Background. Tropical Agriculture Platform, Food and Agriculture Organization.

HABITAT III CONFERENCE. (2016). Capacity building and knowledge form the foundation of the new urban agenda: a position paper.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANISATION. (2020). Capacity development framework. (retrieved 07.07.2020)

New Cross Gate New Deal for Communities. (2001). Delivery Plan March 2001.

THAPA, R.B., MARTIN, M.A. and BAJRACHARYA, B. (2019). Capacity Building Approach and Application: Utilisation of Earth Observation Data and Geospatial Information Technology in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 7.

The Ministry of Refugees, Immigration and Integration Affairs (DENMARK). (2007). Kvarterloft 10 years of urban regeneration.

TRANS-URBAN-EU-CHINA. (2020). Land management instruments for socially integrative urban expansion and urban renewal in China and Europe. D 3.3 Report.

UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS. (2020). Engaged Scholarship – Online Modules. (retrieved 07.07.2020)

URBACT. (2018). Capacity building framework.

8. Author(s) of the article

Robin Gutting, Stefanie Rößler