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


1. Purpose(s)

Education is the first motor of each society, because represents the tool to promote human growth, democratic development and social integration. The schools and the educational institutions in general are the main channels to support education, but they usually involve just a part of population. A society that wants to be really educating should adopt others means to enhance education at all its components. This perspective is well expressed by the concept of lifelong education (UNESCO, 1972), which refers to all stages of human life in order to satisfy everyone’s right to education: a right that corresponds to the right to be and to be with and for others, promoting the manifestation of personal resources and a humanism of relational authenticity (Mencarelli, Richmond & Suchodolski, 1986). This idea of “total education” needs to rethinking the ways to do education and the same spaces of education. The complexity of today’s society requires us to give over the traditional point of view of school education and to return to focusing on two pillars of the lifelong education paradigm: that of the educating community and the connected one of the educating city, conceived as a “large classroom and an educational laboratory” (Frabboni, 1991: 35). Through the active involvement of its actors, and the pedagogical availability of its spaces (Gennari, 1989; Million, Heinrich & Coelen, 2017), the educating city (IAEC, 2008) can free the paths of personal and interpersonal realization in a permanent perspective and can simultaneously obtain multiple benefits from the educational enrichment of its citizens, both exquisitely human and economic.

In summary, a city that adopts lifelong education as an ethical, normative and regulating guiding idea, can be an educating city, capable of nurturing the educational and learning processes of its inhabitants thanks to the community’s commitment and the integrated presence of educationally significant “places” (material and immaterial).

How to translate this theoretical framework in concrete educational initiatives? A first test bench to explore the educating vocation of one community can be a festival of education. By networking various educational realities and not of the territory, it is possible to promote different educational workshops – in the internal and above all outside spaces of the centre the city – and recreational activities dedicated to children from 0 to 13 years, families, teachers, educators and citizens.

Key Words: educating city, lifelong education, festival of education, maker space

2. Relevance and Impact

The education festival allows, through training and recreational activities, to animate the social fabric of the community and to weave meaningful relationships, the latter understood as the beating heart of an educating and self-educating city/community.

The festival of education carried out in Macerata (Scarabò. Una città per educare) was the subject of a pedagogical field survey, developed over two years (2018 and 2019). This research involved the administration of an interview to 116 adults and 111 children participating in the festival. The interviews revealed the positive impact of the festival on the creation of meaningful relationships for the purposes of social integration/inclusion. Furthermore, the results of the research made it possible to explore the concept of the educating city/ community through the thoughts of the festival-goers. The aforementioned results were disseminated with the text by F. d'Aniello, Ritorno al futuro della città educante. Dal progetto Trans-Urban EU-China al festival dell'educazione Scarabò: una ricerca sul campo (Fano: Aras, 2021).

The educational potential of Maker Spaces is analysed in the article written by Fabrizio d’Aniello, Stefano Polenta, Elisabetta Patrizi and Xu Zhuqing “The City Is the Best Teacher”: A Review of the Educating City in Europe and China, «CHINA CITY PLANNING REVIEW», Vol. 28, No. 2, 2019, pp. 35-43. In the article, the authors underline the fundamental characters of Maker Spaces, namely: i. sharing, solidarity and cooperation; ii. distrust of authority, that is opposing the traditional, industrial top-down style of organization; iii. freedom, in the sense of autonomy as well as of free access and circulation of information; and iv. embracing the concept of learning by doing and peer-to-peer learning processes as opposed to formal modes of learning.

The project of festival of education wants to be a concrete experience to educating city, which:

  • uses formal and informal educational (schools, museums, makers spaces etc.) processes to promote the inclusion and integration of its inhabitants,
  • allows each person to realize its potentials, capabilities and rights to lifelong education within community,
  • promotes the identity of the community, i.e. the self-construction of the sense of community,
  • integrates people with different background (knowledge gap, region – places, cultural differences).

In this perspective, if the festival of education is planned as a tool of integration and exchanges between citizens of different age, social background and interests, its “effects” are not destined to be limited to the time of the event, but they can be compared to seeds which, if grown over time, can bear certainly good fruit. The festival of education should be thought as that test bench which allowed to test initiatives and meeting opportunities that can be repeated and expanded, on the initiative of individuals and community, throughout the year. The citizens must become attached to the event, considering it as that fixed appointment during the year in which they can meet to recognize the educational value of significant relationships, learn about new aspects of their city and the human potential that inhabits it through the changing glasses of education.

3. Strenghts

The Festival of education can easily propose in each city or neighbourhood (depending of the dimension of the city).

You can consider it as an experiment of lifelong education, which allow to host different workshops devoted to different target of people and realize by different actors (from teachers and professional educators to businessmen, artisans, traders, entrepreneurs, voluntary associations, promoters of Maker Spaces and so on).

The overall idea is that each person of the city can promote an educational experience, in order to donate his/her skills to others to trigger a virtuous circle capable of amplifying the flow of skills and knowledge possessed by adults and children.

It is a way to know better the human resources of a city and, not less important, to experiment different ways of social interactions able to involve people of different age and interests. In this perspective, every citizen is invited to get involved as a trainer or learner in order to explore new ways of educating and to experience educational relationships aimed at creating social ties (by means of workshops and also recreational activities).

To realize a festival of education means give to the citizens the opportunity to live their city in a different way, becoming active part of different paths of social integration, which they bring people together and allow them to weave communication wires, which can continue after the event.

But it isn’t all. In fact, a festival of education thinking in this direction allows to rediscover the urban space and living it in a different way, i.e. through the perspective of education. The particularity of a festival of education is that the possibilities of education are not concentrated in school environments, but all the buildings and outside places of city can be places of education: squares, arcades, terraces, urban gardens, alleys, old disused warehouses or shops, associations premises usually open to few. The opportunities to act education can be really unlimited. And the same possibility of a space lived educatively can urge to educatively reconfigure that space to meet educational and social needs.

4. How to realize a festival of education

In order to realize a festival of education, first of all we need to be in touch with the administration of the city. The event must be planned in close collaboration with the city administration, which has to give the authorization to realize it and to the inner and outside spaces available for the workshops and the recreational activities.

It is also important to know better the educational and social background of the city, in order to understand which workshops could be realized and interest the citizenship. That’s mean that we need to know the characteristics of population, such as age target, literacy levels, schooling rate, interests, professions, leisure activities.

Third we need to create a network of people, coming from different work places (teachers, educators, craftsmen, entrepreneurs etc.) and voluntary association, available to realize free workshops to their fellow citizens.

Fourth it is necessary to plan accurately the event with the contribution of the city authority and citizens who hold the workshops. This part requires time, in order to meet the people involved in the initiatives, share with them the proposals and specific needs to achieve them.

Last but not least there is the part of dissemination. The citizens must be informed of the festival through different tool of communication (posters, flyers, institutional sites of the municipality and schools, social networks etc.). This information campaign must be planned in time. To be effective, it must start at least a month before the event and intensify close to it. 

5. Good practice examples

Scarabò, Macerata, Italy

“Scarabò. A city to educate” is a festival of education held in Macerata (Italy, map) in May. The festival started in 2017 for initiative of PhD Laura Copparoni. The philosophy that inspired Scarabò is that of educating city. The main idea this festival moves from is that of a city that helps its citizens to educate themselves and develop their potential, promotes the right to learn outside and beyond formal channels throughout the lifetime, integrates the education system by becoming an educating community and that, through this care towards its own inhabitants, draws its lifeblood for a general enrichment of itself and of the society to which it gives body. The decision to placing the event in the historic centre of the town is not random. The will, above all, is to allow the educational rediscovery of spaces usually used in other ways and for other purposes, as well as to rediscover tout court some spaces forgotten by a citizenship that tends to decentralize in favour of the suburbs. It is also the case of sparsely frequented spaces, or hidden in a manner of speaking, but not less important is the intention to lead the city to pedagogically reflect on the opportunity of an urban design that will be able to outline the physical spaces as spaces in line with different educational needs.

Scarabò proposes more than 40 workshops devoted to different target of people: children from 0 to 13 years old, families, teachers, educators and ordinary citizens. These workshops are conducted by various public and private subjects, educators, entrepreneurs, traders, grandparents, etc., and cover various topics, such as music, creative writing, reading, theatre animation, philosophy for children, drawing and painting, dance, work handicraft manual, creative recycling, etc. In addition to all of this, there are also fun and recreational activities. One import aspect is that these activities held not only in spaces inside the buildings of city center but also in squares, streets, galleries and other outside spaces of city. In this way the citizens can live the daily spaces of city in a different manner. i.e. as “theater” of educational opportunities (Figure 1).

Maker Space in China

In China, Science and Technology Week (Technological activity Week) is national Science and Technology activity initiated by the Chinese government since 2001. The third week of May is designated as Science and Technology Week every year. This initiative isn’t born like a program of community level (like Scarabò festival), it's organized by the city government, but is a great experience of informal education devoted to different target of people. In China, there are many projects devoted to enforce science and technological education and one of the privileged tool to achieve this purpose is represented by Maker Space.

Maker Space, also known as hackerspace, fablab, is a community-operated work place for people with common interests to do their project, often in computers, machining, technology, science, digital art or electronic art (Niaros, 2017). The key character of maker space in China is a service platform of innovation and entrepreneurship, but it contains a lot of educational processes and informal science education characters and this aspect makes Maker Space a very unique experience near to the philosophy of festival of education. For example, Maker Space have good communication and strong connection with experts on different scientific areas, the participant with science experts. And also, some of Maker Space began to collaborate with schools and colleges to make training sessions of innovation, science popularity and entrepreneurship.

Maker Space may locate in a city community, in a rural community or in a school. All these three kinds of maker spaces can be viewed as a useful place for informal education.

The third typology of Maker Space is most interesting because is linked with the initiatives of School Science and Technology Museum. In march of 2016, China's State Council General Office issued “The civic scientific literacy action implementation plan (2016-2020)". According to this document, the improvement of public science literacy is an urgent important issue during the 13th Five-Year Plan. Lately, China Science and Technology Association (CSTA) enhanced construction of Rural Middle School S&T Museum Project, which was launched in 2012, as a useful effort to flat the S&T gap between rural and urban CHINA.

The MSSTM of Zhenfeng Middle School make a very good example of this project. Located in Qianxinan State, in the southwest of Guizhou Province, the Museum of Zhenfeng Middle School show as a common exhibit, use for science education by students, who also create new exhibits by themselves. Most attractively, the school sets a “Golden Ideas” area and encourage students to write down their new thoughts of DIY, investigation and social practices.

6. References

Frabboni, F. 1991. “Un’aula grande come la mia città.” In Frabboni, F. & Guerra, I. (Eds.), La città educativa. Verso un sistema formativo integrato. Bologna: Cappelli, 34–46.

Gennari, M. 1989. “Architetture della città educante.” In Gennari, M. (Ed.), La città educante. Genova: Sagep, 135–158.

IAEC – International Association of Educating Cities (Ed.). 2008. Education and Urban Life: 20 Years of Educating Cities. Available: [Accessed 07.04.2020].

Mencarelli, M., Richmond, W. K., & Suchodolski, B. 1986. Educazione permanente e democrazia [Lifelong education and democracy]. Teramo: Giunti & Lisciani.

Million, A., Heinrich, A. J., & Coelen T. (Eds.). 2017. Education, Space and Urban Planning. Education as a Component of the City. Cham: Springer.

UNESCO. 1972. Learning to be. The world of education today and tomorrow. Paris: Unesco.

Niaros, V., Kostakis, V., and Drechsler W. 2017. "Making (in) the smart city: The emergence of makerspaces." Telematics & Informatics 34: 1143–1152.–content/uploads/2017/12/Telematics–Informatics–5.pdf.

Li Hongbo, Shi Huan. 2019. “An Evaluation on Operational Efficiency of Crowd Innovation Space in China Based on DEA Methods.” East China Economic and Management, 12: 77-83.

Liu Xinmin, Sun Xiangyan, Wu Shijian. 2019. “Evolutionary Game Analysis of Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development of Innovation Space under Government Regulation.” Journal of Business Economics, 4: 71–85.

7. Author(s) of the article

Fabrizio d’Aniello (UNIMC), Elisabetta Patrizi (UNIMC), Stefano Polenta (UNIMC), Zhuqing XU (CASTED)