Half-blinded by the sun, I walk out of the hotel. The air is crisp with the smell of autumn, and it’s still warm enough to unzip my jacket. Although fall has only just arrived, the weather is about to change: soon, the snow will start to fall as the residents of Umeå bundle up in warm sweaters to protect themselves against the elements: temperatures in the negative double figures aren’t unheard of in this part of Sweden. It’s difficult to imagine right now, even though I’m only 350 kilometres away from the Arctic Circle.
City of Birches
Umeå is popularly known as the City of Birches: after an enormous fire devastated large areas of the city, birch trees were planted all along its avenues to prevent future fires from spreading and to contain the damage; deciduous hardwood trees are said to retain more moisture and don’t burn nearly as fast as other kinds of trees.
Studded tires and heated cycling paths
I have been told that the winters here hardly inconvenience the people of Umeå: despite the harsh temperatures and inhospitable weather conditions, the city preserves a 30% modal bicycling modal share even during the coldest months. The key to Umeå’s cycling success story is that the city provides safe infrastructure and carries out plenty of winter maintenance: its residents are encouraged to use studded winter tires and have access to heated bridge decks, parking facilities, and public bicycle pumps.
Mobility, heat, and sustainability
Granted, the winter does pose certain challenges for sustainable mobility. As part of the European-funded RUGGEDISED Smart City Project (in which the city of Rotterdam is also involved), Umeå is working on various smart solutions to reduce energy use and to manage peak load variation. One such smart solution that the city is currently working on as part of the RUGGEDISED initiative is the implementation of climate-friendly bus stops that connect with the vehicle in order to provide insulation and to reduce heat loss.
Umeå is the fastest-growing city in Sweden and currently has approximately 85,000 inhabitants. Its city council has developed and adopted an ambitious sustainable urban mobility plan as well as seven strategic long-term objectives that align with the Europe 2020 Strategy. In 2018, the city was shortlisted along with a number of other European cities to proceed to the next stage of the European Green Capital Award competition but ultimately lost to the Dutch city of Nijmegen. This year’s CIVITAS Forum Conference, an annual event organised as part of the EU CIVITAS 2020 Initiative, was my reason for coming to this Swedish city, as I wanted to learn more about the latest developments within CIVITAS and to find out more about its various projects. I will use the insights I have gained to develop and implement new and exciting training activities for the CIVITAS ELEVATE Project and to come up with new ideas for the Dutch and Flemish cities that are part of the CIVITAS network.
EU subsidies // Horizon Europe
The Horizon 2020 programme is coming to a close, and the European Commission has already pitched a number of plans that will expand the focus of Horizon 2020 and that will be incorporated into the Horizon Europe programme. Over the next few months, it will be up to the European Council and the European Parliament to deliberate on the programme’s policy missions, aims, and targets, all of which will be subject to plenty of lobbying, debate, and negotiations by the various member states. Interestingly, there will no longer be a separate budget for climate and transport: rather, the two budgets will likely be merged. Funding has also been allocated towards so-called ‘military mobility’, i.e. solutions and infrastructure for moving military equipment.
Forthcoming EU policy changes
What sort of changes can we expect in the upcoming years?
- An update of the SUMP guidelines, in which careful consideration will be given to issues such as public transport, parking, automated driving, etc.
- Publication of guidelines for bicycle infrastructure, as well as an interactive website that collects national design guidelines and practical examples.
- Publication of guidelines for, among other things, environmental zones.
- An evaluation of the Urban Mobility Package, the single-most important urban mobility policy document.
- In the long term, the European Commission might adopt a new White Paper Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area.
Learn it today, apply it tomorrow
After three days, my time in Umeå is up: the forum has ended, and Umeå has passed the baton to the Austrian city of Graz, which will host the next CIVITAS event. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience to meet and talk with so many enthusiastic and dedicated people, and I have gained many new insights and ideas that I’m keen to implement in both our DTV Capacity Building programme and the CIVITAS Elevate training programme. We use our many years of experience in providing courses and training programmes in the Netherlands to effect change in the quality of European training programmes and to make them relevant to the workplace: learn it today, apply it tomorrow!
CIVITAS is a network of cities for cities dedicated to cleaner, better, and sustainable urban mobility that focuses on mutual reliance and work-sharing. There are three kinds of CIVITAS projects: the Living Lab projects that test and showcase innovations, the research projects that aim to build and develop knowledge, and the support actions designed for knowledge dissemination, evaluation, and capacity building. All CIVITAS projects are developed and financed through calls and the rules of the Horizon 2020 programme. In turn, these projects provide funding to – often smaller – initiatives and/or activities, such as study tours, workshops, or (urban) exploration programmes.
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