UrbanA culminated in creating the 4 Sets of 17 Keys for unlocking Sustainable and Just Cities.

Integral City of the Year 2021 is a city association spanning a whole region: Urban Arena Europe – affectionately known as UrbanA. In its trans-European work over the last few years, UrbanA has made visible many of the frameworks developed by Integral City including:

Who Are UrbanA Partners?

UrbanA was a 3-year project funded by the European Commission and led by a consortium of seven partners: ICLEI, DRIFT, CENTRAL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY, CIENCAS LISBOA, UN FREIBERG, ECOLISE, ICTA.

Why UrbanA?

Cities play a key role in responding to the great challenges of our time. However, increasing poverty and inequality, exacerbated by the recent financial and housing crises, are putting the social cohesion and resilience of European cities to the test.

Much research has focused on teasing out the causes of urban social inequality and ecological unsustainability, and on understanding the connections, tensions and contradictions between the two. Research and innovation have also contributed to the development of ways to make cities more just and sustainable. Yet the need to consolidate and effectively communicate this knowledge and experience remains.

UrbanA, Urban Arenas for Sustainable and Just Cities, took up this challenge.

How & Where? Purpose, Funding, Arenas

UrbanA was funded by H2020. It brought together hundreds of urban activists, policy makers and researchers in a highly collaborative way. (A group of “Fellows” were also invited to advise and reflect – Dr. Marilyn Hamilton, Founder of Integral City Meshworks was honoured to serve in this capacity – from where she had a front row seat to observe the trans-European events unfolding).

The consortium set out to tackle the challenge of how to make cities both just and sustainable. UrbanA stands for “Urban Arenas for Sustainable and Just Cities.” There were four Arenas, each happened in a different city and focused on a specific theme:

  • Rotterdam – Mapping approaches to urban sustainability and justice (November 2019)
  • Barcelona – Justice challenges in urban sustainability (June 2020)
  • Berlin – Governance arrangements for sustainable and just cities (March 2020)
  • Brussels – Policy action for sustainable and just cities (October 2021)

UrbanA Community of Practice Invited 4+1 Voices of the City

The UrbanA Community of Practice (CoP) has become an open network of individuals committed to taking constructive action on urban social inequality and ecological unsustainability in the ambition to create more just and sustainable cities.

UrbanA created an open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. (This compendium makes no claims of authoritative completeness but welcomes ongoing suggestions).

UrbanA aimed to:

  • synthesize and broker knowledge for sustainable and just cities generated by prior research and innovation projects and translate this knowledge into action (IC Map 1)
  • empower participants to apply this knowledge locally (IC Map 2)
  • facilitate interaction among diverse participants (IC Map 3, Map 4)
  • influence policies in favour of sustainable and just cities. (IC Map4, Map5)

(We notice that these aims positioned UrbanA on many of the Integral City Maps noted in parentheses above – as result, participants gained a shapeshifting diversity of perspectives that resulted in thick, rich feedback.)

The project created a Community of Practice based around its knowledge commons (wiki) and produced a host of accessible resources including podcasts, videos, a blog and much discussion on social media using the #SustainableJustCities hashtag on twitter. The penultimate step of UrbanA was the publication of its new sustainablejustcities.eu platform and the launch of the 17 keys in October 2021. (Vid here)


UrbanA 4 Key Sets Unlock 17 Sustainable and Just City Intelligences

Resonating with Integral City’s Master Code of Care and 5 Maps and 12 Intelligences, that disclose the shape-shifting nature of a city as a living complex adaptive whole system, UrbanA discovered sustainable just cities are:



Regenerative (Robust)


The 17 keys to #SustainableJustCities are grouped under these 4 “sets” on the sustainablejustcities.eu platform. The keys are 17 elements (or intelligences) which have the potential to unlock sustainable and just cities.

UrbanA believes that sustainability and justice need to go hand in hand. Their platform collects news and resources on how to create cities that are both sustainable and just. They aim to support and provide tools for decision-makers, administrators, activists, and other city-makers in their work towards an equal, inclusive, and sustainable future. The platform is based on the work done by the EU-funded UrbanA project. UrbanA is a community of individuals and organizations committed to transformative change across Europe.

What is a Sustainable and Just City?

In a sustainable and just city, the economic, political and social choices which created unsustainable and unjust structures are put under the microscope. Sustainable and just city-makers examine the roots of injustice and ecological unsustainability. They actively and openly address the tensions between justice and sustainability. They don’t focus on fixing symptoms. They look at marginalisation and inequality, overconsumption and pollution. They address these challenges through honest and, at times, uncomfortable conversations. They shape their behaviours through the lens of justice and take concrete action, for example on climate adaptation and mitigation. The 17 keys (linked to Integral City Intelligences in brackets) help city-makers in this endeavour:

  1. Research & Innovation : (Inquiry) Justice is hardwired into research & innovation projects on urban sustainability
  2. Economy: (Social) The economy benefits people and the environment
  3. Power: (Culture, Evo) Power dynamics are identified and dismantled for more equitable structures
  4. Responsibility: (Inner) City makers take responsibility and are held accountable
  5. Technology: (Social, Navigating) Digital tools can serve everyone
  6. Accessibility: (Culture, Living, Eco ) Green is for everyone
  7. Nature: (Eco, Emergent) Nature creates living and breathing cities
  8. Diversity: (Culture, Integral, 4 Voices)) Inclusion starts by embracing diversity
  9. Solidarity: (Culture, Inner) Solidarity is fairness in action
  10. Adaptation: (Emergent, Living) Change is inevitable, and adaptation essential
  11. Regional: (Eco, Living) Regional integration makes cities stronger
  12. Participation: (Culture, Meshworking) Meaningful participation is empowering
  13. Art: (Inner, Culture, Navigating) Art creates a sense of belonging, and has the power to transform places
  14. Civil Society: (4 Voices, Culture) Anybody can be a change-maker in their community
  15. Knowledge: (Inquiry, Navigating, Eco) Knowledge is owned and managed by the community
  16. Translocal: (Map 2, 4+1 Voices) Sharing local learning brings transformative change
  17. Finance: (Social, Navigating) We need new ways of funding

The UrbanA videos for the keys are found here and here. Throughout the gatherings of UrbanA, vignettes were created by Barcelona-based graphic artist Carlotta Cataldi (find her on Instagram here).

Exploring 1 Key in Detail: Regional

The keys are grounded in the understanding that an examination of the roots of injustice and ecological unsustainability is an essential element of building cities that are equal, inclusive, and sustainable. Each key is linked to a wealth of relevant further information, including videos, podcasts & publications, as well as links to Wiki pages. Readers can delve into useful approaches and governance arrangements for making each key a reality, and the drivers of injustice that each specific key addresses.

There are 4 keys to make cities regenerative, one of which is:

  • Regional: Regional integration makes cities stronger

Sustainable and just cities have strong, circular and equitable links with one another in the context of a wider region, supporting both urban and rural areas. They support decentralized and collaborative economic and planning approaches, in which individual responsibility is balanced with the well-being of the region as a whole. These cities are attuned to the interconnected natural and human systems in their region: infrastructure, resource and waste flows, as well as cultural and social behaviours. With growing translocal challenges, cities can reorient goods and services to their nearby surroundings, decreasing environmental impacts and increasing resilience to crises.

Related keys: #Participation  #Knowledge  #Nature

  • What approaches can activate this key?

Enhancing the mutually beneficial development of cities and their regions for the broader purposes of sustainability and justice can be activated by three groups of approaches and goals. The first is to enable dialogue and mutual learning between civil society, the scientific community and policy makers, paying close attention to the inclusion of diverse voices and of knowledge coming from experience. This can take place via Co-learning and knowledge brokerage, Multi-stakeholder partnership – policy, Data Collection, Pathways and scenarios. The second is to support and strengthen innovative governance processes that allow for effective and empowered participation by all stakeholders, for instance via Democratic innovation through recognition, Governance and participation processes or Participatory budgeting. Finally, the third is to ensure that the initiatives and policies that are shaping the territory and people’s mindsets and behaviours can engender learning in a systemic and integral way from interventions, namely in terms of their design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and adaptation. Some concrete approaches are Community gardens and food, Social food movements, Sustainable food supply chains, Nature-based solutions, Governance for urban climate mitigation and adaptation, and Regeneration of disused urban land.

  • What governance arrangements enable this key?

Developing a comprehensive vision of change that can include and integrate aspirations from the regional level down to the local and community level is crucial for achieving greater sustainability and justice. Such a vision needs to go beyond words and actually shape policies, urban planning and small-scale interventions. As such, its implementation needs to come along with capacity- and relationship-building processes to empower it. Building bridges between separate stakeholder groups and Committing to a meaningful participation process are two such governance arrangements. They enable communication and broker information between different stakeholders and within institutions (effectively breaking silos), building up trust, as well as furthering inclusive and decentralised democratic participation.

  • What drivers of injustice does this key address?

Seeing cities as interdependent and integrated members of a region addresses the lack of coordinated policy and effective decision-making by urban governance institutions at different scales (Unfit institutional structures (#6)). It also addresses the insufficient, ineffective and limited participation in urban development: Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities (#8) and Limited citizen participation in urban planning (#7)). Regional thinking can bring a deeper capacity to listening, planning, intervening and learning in a way that breaks the status quo in terms of both sustainability and justice, especially in regard to decision making for investments and the distribution of resource flows (Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration (#4)).

The UrbanA Community of Practice

The project consortium nurtured a “Community of Practice” to better connect communities translocally and built a “Knowledge Commons”, offering processes where collaboration happened by online, offline and blended approaches.

A Community of Practice and Knowledge Commons were also developed to assist in the process. The final output of the process resulted in the 4 Key Sets.

Each Arena event was planned to take place in one of four different cities – Rotterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and Brussels – and to focus on a specific theme.

The events were designed from the beginning, as blended gatherings, allowing people to participate either in person or online – which turned out to be prescient with the onset of the pandemic just as UrbanA events got going.

At the Arenas city-makers and city-thinkers (like Integral City’s Placemakers and Placecarers) from across Europe came together to connect with one another, to reflect on the urban knowledge that research projects have already identified, and to generate promising approaches to the creation of sustainable, inclusive and thriving cities.

City Arenas


The second Arena event in Barcelona was organized and facilitated by BCNUEJ members of the UrbanA team. The event was attended by 46 participants, including UrbanA fellows from 13 countries, and 25 UrbanA team members from partner institutions across Europe.

The event aimed at fostering a transversal dialogue on what we mean by ‘justice’ in urban sustainability and built on the initial results of an UrbanA study that summarized the manifestations and drivers of urban injustice according to recent EU research. Participants engaged participants in contributing to the production of a clear, powerful and comprehensive statement on the drivers of urban injustice as challenges for sustainability, and to the overall UrbanA objective of consolidating and communicating knowledge and experience on how to make cities more just and sustainable.

The first day discussions focused on the 10 identified drivers of injustice in the context of urban sustainability efforts; a summary of each of which can be found in this series of short videos.


The UrbanA, third event in Berlin Arena focused on governance arrangements for sustainable and just cities. It provided an opportunity to learn with and get inspired by practitioners from Berlin and other corners of Europe on how to organize for more sustainable and just cities; and how to best tackle inequality and exclusion.

Local Events

In addition to the larger City Arenas local events were also encouraged. UrbanA ́s Portuguese team sought to ground this process by creating face- to-face “Local Arenas” in Lisbon. The purpose was to identify, connect and co- create with local communities responding to local urban challenges, who have clear insights on urban justice, or who are developing local solutions to climate breakdown. (The story of this Local Action was told by Duncan Crowley and Constanca Belchior, in the graphic book curated by Integral City:  Urban Hub 2020: Accelerating City Change in a VUCA World.)

(Further information on UrbanA, a major EU-funded project on urban sustainability and justice, can be found on the project’s public website. Much appreciation to Duncan Crowley, who assisted in compiling this story.)

Integral City 2021 is clearly more than a city. It is a Region of Cities – collaborating as an Association of Cities: UrbanA – Urban Arena Europe. They can be proud to tell a story of collaboration across Placecarers and Placemakers, the 4+1 Voices in a trans-European Community of Practice and in service to regional (and planetary) wellbeing expressed as social justice and sustainability.

 It is clear to see that UrbanA through the work of convening, researching, collaborating and curating over the last 3 years culminating with the 4/17 Key Sets is a significant contribution to the Intelligences of a whole region of cities.

Congratulations UrbanA, Integral City Region of the Year 2021.


For prior Integral City of the Year Awards see:

Edmonton – City of the Year 2020

Amsterdam – City of the Year 2019

6AIKA Finland – Cities of the Year 2018

Russia’s 3 City Associations – City of the Year 2017

Fort McMurray – City of the Year 2016.

Paris – City of the Year 2015.