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Housing Europe’s project demonstrating affordable and well-thought renovation has a special mention in a New European Bauhaus report

When sustainability, beauty, and inclusivity take over the neighbourhood

31 October 2023 | Published in Energy, Social

Through its objectives and expected results, drOp project can also be considered a demonstration case of the New European Bauhaus. NEB is an initiative designed with the purpose of bringing the European Green Deal and its transition towards climate neutrality. What does it mean in practice?

This autumn, a EU study that aimed at analysing the state of the art of the New European Bauhaus initiative implementation, and especially what local and regional authorities are delivering on the ground explicitly gave as an example one of Housing Europe’s projects. “Digitally enabled social district renovation processes for age-friendly environments driving social, innovation and local economic development” or drOp in short is part of Housing Europe’s project portfolio and one out of the three projects that was chosen to become a lighthouse demonstrator of how the Affordable Housing Initiative can be applied on the ground. In this article, we explain why it is so special.

When Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen announced the New European Bauhaus initiative in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, with a clear call to roll out renovation that results in sustainable, aesthetic, and inclusive neighbourhoods, the Housing Europe network saw an opportunity. The search for lighthouse districts within the Affordable Housing Initiative on how this can be done created a new platform for cooperative, and social housing providers to share their knowhow of what they have been doing for decades – renovating without renovicting, being one step ahead with innovation in refurbishment, building bridges between different communities and cultures.

What was needed to move forward was to link up those who have been excelling with decreasing energy bills through renovation with peers who have ensured that the culture industries bring people together, and with others who have grasped and introduced digitalised solutions. This has been now made possible through the Horizon Europe project, drOp. But how does drOp fit in this framework?

Since its main ambition is to achieve district regeneration, an Integrated Renovation Methodology (IRM) will be developed, based on the following elements: social innovation, local economic development and the peer-learning method. Ermua, an industrial small town from the Basque Country, is the demonstration case where the IRM will be developed and tested. Matera, former European Capital of Culture from Italy, and Elva, as a digitally advanced town from Estonia, will participate as peer-cities and contribute with their expertise on cultural and creative industries, and respectively digital infrastructure, as well as potential replication cases.

This methodology will be a tool to attain beneficial, energy and digital updates in the neighbourhood, by improving urban space, accessibility, and the residents’ quality of life. Moreover, the aim is to guarantee the connectivity of the neighbourhoods in physical, social, and digital areas. This methodology will be built upon two drivers: social innovation and local economic development. It will explore the potential of digitalisation and the cultural and creative industries to foster this social innovation and push the local economic development.

In the following you will see some examples, to better understand the project’s ambition. It is important for municipalities to be able to provide health or social care services at home, especially with an increasing proportion of an elderly population. Digitalisation would allow the use of tools that could, for instance, detect unusual behaviour at home. When it comes to social innovation,  the creation of cultural activities could be used as a pretext to encourage citizens engagement and community strengthening, through co-governance models. Local economic development will occur partly as an effect of the renovation process, as local companies will be involved in its implementation, as well as in developing new services. You can learn more about the methodology and the concept of neighbourhood regeneration on the project’s website.

Even though by the end of the project the actual renovation works phase will not have been reached, the IRM will be developed to cover a retrofit intervention, and to offer necessary guidelines to transform the existing buildings into accessible, beautiful, and sustainable ones. Energy efficiency will be the main driver, with the aim to rely on the use of renewable energy. At the same time citizens will be empowered to become involved in the decision-making process related to home energy consumption and comfort, encouraging them to reduce their environmental and resources footprint.

A place where culture and creativity are present and available for anyone who is interested, cannot be anything but ‘beautiful’. Thanks to the expertise of Matera, cultural and creative industries will be significantly developed at the neighbourhood level, which will positively impact the local economic activities. 

All this will be possible through the implementation of the co-creation principle, in order to strengthen social cohesion and design new ways of living together, with the ultimate purpose of achieving inclusiveness and leaving no one behind. Given the demographics of the Santa Ana neighbourhood, the focus will be more on the elderly population. From a concrete point of view, the new methodology will rely on digitalisation.

As a consortium partner, Housing Europe will be in charge of spreading the major achievements and milestones, and it will work alongside its member, the Estonian Union of Co-operative Housing Associations (EKYL), which will have the responsibility of sharing what has worked.

Partners met this October to discuss the progress of the project. All three municipalities have encountered the barrier of successfully engaging citizens. Matera suggested that good communication and a participatory approach are essential to implement new ideas, even when resources are limited. Being able to see the Estonian demo case was essential for understanding the cultural differences. The biggest problems in Elva: apartment buildings dating from the 80', with some of them never having been renovated; lack of public utilities and badly organised parking spaces. EKYL presented an overview of the national context. An interesting example was a study of the Tallinn Technical University, showing that state subsidised renovations can be budget neutral. In the coming months, results will be released on the concept of co-governance methodology, the IRM and replication potential.

To ensure that the future methodology could be indeed reproduced throughout Europe, all contributions are welcomed. Do you have experience in engaging your community? Have you dealt with renovating cultural heritage buildings? Do you have tips on encouraging youth participation? Would you like to share you experience of accessing private funding? You need to work often with local stakeholders? Do not hesitate to get in touch! Our Junior Communications Officer Andreea Nacu would be happy to hear your ideas.