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The Informed Cities Forum (ICF) is a conference-like format initiated by the Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and takes places every year in a different European city. The fifth ICF will take place on June 16th and 17th in Dresden, Germany.
In March 2015 I went together with the ARTS team of Dresden comprising Franziska Ehnert, Kristin Reiß, Andreas Blum and Markus Egermann from the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER) to the last ICF in Rotterdam, Netherlands. This two-day event stood out due to its innovative and divers program besides its well mixed audience. It was certainly not what I expected to be a dry scientific conference!
The ARTS team was so thrilled by this event that they decided to bring the ICF home to Dresden to connect scientists, council staff and activists. I wanted to know from them and their scientific helpers Esther Heinke and Philip Harms how it all comes together and what their aspirations for the ICF 2016 in Dresden are.
You as ARTS team wanted to bring the Informed Cities Forum to Dresden in June 2016 . How did this come up?
To us the ICF brings together an interesting mix of people with scientific, societal, administrative, political and business backgrounds. Some of our team attended already three ICFs and they have always been inspired by this opportunity with its fruitful exchange between divers actors discussing sustainable urban and regional development.
Especially the diversity of people from science, politics and practice enables all participants to look beyond one’s own nose. They can comb through the presented pioneering projects, best practice examples, auspicious field reports and current scientific conclusions and thus be inspired and motivated for their work in their own communities.
In the end Markus and the rest of the team were so enthused by the ICF 2015 in Rotterdam that we decided we just had to bring this event to Dresden! We wanted to invite this posy of possibilities from outside into the city region of Dresden.
How would you explain the idea of an ICF?
The Informed Cities Forum is part of a series of meetings within the Informed Cities initiative, which wants to make research work for local sustainability. This initiative is an European initiative driven by ICLEI, which aims to bridge the gap between research, policy-making and action in sustainable development. This happens at and for the local level.
Drawing on various research projects, an Informed Cities Forum is a meeting place for dreamers, thinkers and doers who want to co-create the future of European cities.
How did you develope this year’s ICF theme “People, Partnerships and Power – building alliances for urban sustainability transitions”?
The theme is inspired by our scientific findings made in the ARTS project and we phrased it together with the other ARTS teams in Brighton, Budapest, Genk and Stockholm.
Our findings highlight – besides other things – the importance of individual activists, initiatives and cooperation for an urban development towards sustainability. But you cannot ignore the question of existing powers and structures, they always play their part.
How many participants do you expect for this year’s ICF and where do they come from?
We expect about 120 people but we could fit in up to 150 people. The participants come predominantly from European countries and work in the fields of research, politics, administration, grassroots and business.
There is also a cap on the number of German participants as the focus lies on the networking beyond borders.
What would the ICF 2016 have to be like that afterward you can say, you could not have spent your time in any better way?
In our eyes the ICF 2016 would be perfect if afterwards all participants are excited about the variety of initiatives in Dresden and that they can take home lots of inspiring examples from their concepts and practices.
We would be happy if simultaneously the actors in Dresden’s initiatives can connect more dots and find new cooperation partners.
It would be great, if the city’s administration and politicians would use this two-day conference to adopt some of the ideas presented from the other European cities and at best foster their implementation in Dresden.
Ideally the city’s administration staff and politicians become furthermore so enthusiastic about the idea behind an ICF that they adapt a similar concept for Dresden. Then they could invite pioneers of sustainability from Europe and the world to share their experience, say every 2 years. This way people from Dresden could learn more from them (and vice versa) to then better navigate Dresden’s transition towards sustainability.
We are looking forward to make Dresden through the ICF more colorful. We want to show guests to this city simultaneously that many groups in Dresden and Saxonia work together with other people in this world on exciting projects that give hope for the future.
What are your tasks in preparing the conference in June?
Wow, there is a lot to do! We prepare individual workshops and invite partners for those. We look for interesting speakers and bring them to the ICF. We coordinate with ICLEI, our lead-partner DRIFT and the ARTS teams about the planning in detail and together we co-create the program. Nevertheless we are still looking for additional ideas for the program or inspiring speakers. If you want to suggest something please let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org.
With this occasion of the ICF we again want to strengthen the links between the actors within Dresden. Therefore we personally invite representatives from the local city’s administration and politics as well as business and civil society and inform the public through press releases. We therefore also arranged the evening event to take place within the space of the Rosenwerk, all co-created with the partners involved like Konglomerat e.V., Tagträumer e.V. and the Hackenberger Genusswerke. And we want to provide our participants with delicious organic and local food.
Of course we also have to organize the logistics. We look for and book suitable rooms for the individual workshops, supply the needed infrastructure and the technical equipment and try to keep track of everything.
And if then there is some time left, we answer questions for the ARTS-Blog
What obstacles did you come across while planning the event and what went smoother than expected?
The difficulties we encountered were more of a technical nature. One of the characteristics of an ICF is that we want to go off the beaten track. That is why we have chosen event locations which are not sufficiently equipped for such a large gathering. The main event takes place in the St. Pauli ruin, the evening event within the rooms of Rosenwerk. This means improvising for us when it comes to e.g. fast internet connection or seats for 150 people. But we are very grateful for the harmonious and inspiring cooperation with our partners here!
Unfortunately it is more difficult than expected to invite representatives from Dresden’s city administration to the conference, as their schedules are incredibly packed.
It is also not easy to allure representatives from international sustainability projects to present their work. The activists work mostly voluntarily and thus are also short of time. Not surprisingly is the introduction of an unconditional base income a demand to be reckoned when asking for a sustainable development. This could set free creativity, innovation and development beyond market conditions.
What are your personal highlights in the current program and why?
The planned field trips through Dresden for sure! It will be fascinating because the participants will move through the city, meet the local activists and brainstorm with them and perhaps even come up with brand new ideas. Maybe these new ideas can even be included in our Transition Roadmap for Dresden and thus help define steps towards sustainable development.
One of our favorites is also the closing event! Because besides the exchange during the ICF we also want to start something up which will stay behind after the conference. For this we are searching for a possibility to engage the 150 participants into an action. This action should round off the conference and send out an inspiring signal to the city region as well. We think for instance of helping a local initiative in a tangible way. If you know of a group that could use 300 hands to get something going, please let us know via email@example.com!
This year’s ICF also marks one of the last official appearances of the ARTS project, although it continues until November 2016. Which role does ARTS play during the conference? And what of the conference’s output will find its way into ARTS?
Without putting ARTS in the headline there is a lot of ARTS in it! We explicitly included an one hour block within the program where we want to present our hitherto existing scientific findings.
We hope to be to enrich our regional Transition Roadmap with new notions expressed during the field trips and our presentation.
Besides, next to ARTS there is also a lot of arts in it for you! The field trip “Co-creating stories of change: art, culture and sustainability transitions” deals with the role of art and culture accompanying urban development. The group Stories of Change is one of the actors sharing their understanding of and experience in the matter of debate between art and sustainability in this field trip.
Together with Stories of Change we from Dresden’s ARTS team conduct the second edition of a video competition in 2016. Through this competition local actors for sustainability can present their stories of change to a wider public.
What do you hope the ICF contributes to the evolution of the city of Dresden?
Rays of hope, inspiration and after all a reference point for the thinking of alternatives.
I am looking forward on how an Informed Cities Forum will feel like in Dresden and what sustainability activists from all over Europe see in the future of “my” city!
Many thanks for your time and answers!