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Post-crisis urban governance transformations in Southern Europe: a comparativist approach

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - URBANiTE (Post-crisis urban governance transformations in Southern Europe: a comparativist approach)

Reporting period: 2017-10-02 to 2019-10-01

URBANiTE (H2020-MSCA-IF-2016-747313) was a research project hosted at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain), between 2017 and 2019. The research addressed the broad field of critical urban studies and focused on a comparative approach to urban governance transformations that occurred in the period following the financial crisis in the cities of Madrid and Athens. In particular, URBANiTE employed two case studies, housing and social solidarity economy and generated crucial comparative insights into the reconfigurations of urban governance in relation to contestation and the variegated socio-political processes that took place over the past decade in the Southern European cities of Madrid and Athens. The project’s main objective was to produce interdisciplinary knowledge, of high relevance for the society and policy-making and, in doing so, succeeded in bringing together contemporary theoretical debates and scientific studies on urban studies, with the discourses of policy-makers and those arising from civil society actors and social movements. Methodologically, URBANiTE developed a context-sensitive approach, which sustained vigorous insights into the local particularities of the two cities and, at the same time, produced novel comparative tools for analysing broader socio-political transformations occurring in European cities. Conclusions of the action, with significant society and policy relevance, chiefly involve the following key aspects: (i) the importance of the local level for articulations of social innovation and social cohesion, generated by civil society groups and actors, with further potential for consolidating inclusive forms of urban governance and policy-making; (ii) key limitations imposed on such potential by broader processes of urbanisation and financialisation of urban space; and (iii) the implications of the above for foregrounding enhanced forms of democratic multi-level governance in Southern European cities and beyond.
The work performed throughout project URBANiTE was organized into 6 Work Packages (WP), each holding distinct activities and milestones. WP1 consisted of the project management activities and administrative tasks, while WP2 comprised of the various training activities, towards the acquisition of scientific competences that significantly contributed to the researcher’s career development. WP3 included the dissemination, exploitation and communication of the research to experts, stakeholders, the civil society and the general public. Moreover, WP4 addressed the development of an in-depth account of urban governance transformations in Madrid and Athens, through desktop research of relevant literature, theoretical debates and policy documents, leading to the conceptual and analytical framework layout of the research. The activities of WP4 proved useful for advancing the knowledge and scientific skills of the researcher, by familiarizing with the regional context of Madrid and by developing synergies with experts. WP5 focused on the empirical investigation of governance transformations, through extensive field research in the cities of Madrid and Athens, the collection of original qualitative data, semi-structured in-depth interviews and focus groups, engaging a total of 101 participants in both cities. The work conducted in WP5 generated crucial insights into the particularities of each of the 2 cities and their socio-political contexts. Finally, WP6 generated comparative insights and critical reflections on governance transformations in the 2 cities, through a critical comparative analysis of urban governance transformations and their relationship to civil society demands. Overall URBANiTE produced highly relevant results for urban studies scholars, public policy administration, civil society actors and social movements. The integrative analytical comparative framework employed in the research, responded to theoretical debates, policy studies and civil society discourses, thus enhanced the production of high quality and relevant research results, in scientific, social and policy terms, which relate to broader debates on the interplay between multi-level governance and civil society actors. The dissemination and communication of the project’s overall objectives and research results were actively pursued throughout the duration of the fellowship and triggered critical reflections around the research topic, by engaging civil society actors, social movements, policy-makers and experts and through various channels, such as press releases, the project’s website, conferences and academic journal publications.
The research results of URBANiTE contributed to contemporary theoretical debates and scholar studies on critical urban studies, by addressing different epistemologically relevant areas, in 3 ways: first, through employing an integrative approach to urban governance and social movements, it brought together the interplay between governance, the role of civil society actors and institutional politics; thus generated interdisciplinary scientific knowledge on institutional politics, structural approaches and agency-oriented studies. Second, while consolidating a comparative approach that is context-sensitive, it sustained generalizable analytical strength beyond the 2 cities, hence contributed to ongoing debates on comparative urbanisms and urban politics in the current conjuncture. Third, the research results, enhanced the empirical knowledge produced thus far on key societal issues that emerged during the past decade in the cities of Madrid and Athens, by focusing on the 2 case studies of housing and social solidarity economy. Housing acted as a crucial contestation issue, which brought forward the deeply uneven urbanization processes and the long-lasting social inequalities in regard to access to housing, with broader societal and policy implications. Moreover, social solidarity economy, introduced sustainable and resilient means for urban inhabitants to cope with the crisis and consolidate forms of socio-economic conduct that challenged societal inequalities in the cities of Madrid and Athens. Therefore, the project’s impact and wider societal implications can be summarised as follows: (i) URBANiTE provided critical reflections on urban governance transformations in the 2 cities, whereby civil society demands became transposed to formal institutions, with variable outcomes. (ii) It addressed contemporary topics that local and regional societies actively engage with, hence generated hands-on knowledge on societal processes and their interplay with governance structures. (iii) The research engaged an array of stakeholders, such as experts, policy-makers, the grassroots and social movements, hence triggered a vigorous reflexive dialogue among different actors with similar interests. (iv) The research was attentive to the voicing of societal concerns and to the particularities of local communities. (v) The project critically engaged with policy analysis and social actors’ demands on governance issues, with direct implications for broader European policy objectives, as laid out in the Horizon2020 ‘Societal challenges programme’.
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