Beyond Smart Cities. What about Emphatic Cities?


Written by

Natalia Onesciuc – Urban and Landscape Planner, Junior Manager of EU Projects at URBASOFIA S.R.L

Cities are increasingly becoming places most people are trying to survive in, fast changing environments they try to cope with through different mechanisms. The human scale is slipping through our fingers, at both physical and intellectual level. Cities are growing bigger and faster while seeking efficiency instead of purpose. In this context we are posing the question: what are the real, most pressing and profound human needs and how can cities contribute? How can cities soften stress, loneliness and a painfully increasing lack of sense that people is sensing? How can we shift from efficient cities to empathic and inclusive cities?

The smart city concept puts technology at the core of urban development models, as a bridge between people and places. Right, wrong? We would say not right enough. Technology has become part of our life and we cannot ignore it, but is it part of everyone’s life? Should it be, and if yes, to what extent? Empathic cities would pay more attention about people but in a more profound way, not only giving them support and instant solutions, while also making them more vulnerable in case of a collapse. Technology should make people stronger and more prepared, it should be a learning instrument instead of a coping instrument. We should reconsider how does technology assure resilience, in terms of people-city and people-people relationships.

The emphatic cities we, as urban planners, have the moral responsibility to plan for the citizens, will look at the challenges cities are facing in a both pragmatic (as it is in the present) and sensitive way, while focusing on societal challenges, rather than only urban challenges of the future. It will foster inclusiveness. It will make sure that more bridges will be made between people (citizens and professionals) in order to develop the city and its digital canvas in a more meaningful and inclusive way. It will look at the actual evolution trends, and not only at the desired ones! Cities are facing a lot of issues, and while a slight minority are enjoying a flourishing development, most of them are not even close. In a shrinking city, region or country, with aging, poverty and unemployment issues, to what extent is technology an enabler and not an inhibitor?

ROCK project – Highlights of 2019

Cultural Heritage regeneration remains an open issue in the urban policies and practices, the current discourse struggling between protection/ preservation and valorisation in a sustainable way. In this light, ROCK project envisions Cultural Heritage as a common good, opening various perspectives to investigate its potentialities for leading urban transitions and regeneration/ transformation processes.

2019 has been very intense in terms of activities implementation for reaching out the envisioned results and innovations in the context of cultural heritage regeneration, relating to technological tools as process enablers. In short, ROCK has been represented by URBASOFIA at the following international events:

• Placemaking week in Valencia, Spain – tackling the topic of Heritage building stronger communities ( and looking at how cultural heritage can be used as a placemaking tool in different urban contexts.
• Changing Cities IV conference in Chania, Greece – responding to a pre-organised session invitation entitled Smart adaptation. Modernistic heritage for sustainability of the future and highlighting a particular ROCK case study of industrial heritage adaptive reuse in Eindhoven, Strijp-S area (
• Replication workshop in Lisbon, Portugal – a ROCK labelled event, opened to a wider cities’ audience, where the innovative practice of Lisbon (the Interpretive Centre of Marvila and Beato – has been investigated in terms of transferability aspects of a participatory approach for collecting and disseminating local cultural heritage.
• Getting Cultural Heritage at Work in Kavala, Greece – focused on how to get Cultural Heritage work for the sustainable and inclusive development of the city, where ROCK has been presented as a best practice given the variety of practices and demonstration actions implemented in 10 creative and knowledge-based cities (
• EURAC 3rd International Conference in Bolzano, Italy – discussing a Data-driven approach for urban transformation of cultural heritage areas, with a comparative case study of Location-Based Analytics (given by Wi-fi sensors) for assessing crowd flow movement within the historic centres of two ROCK cities: Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and Turin (Italy) –

Besides public appearances, ROCK has delivered a set of important deliverables, one particularly related to the Regulatory Framework, ROCK Procurement and Policy Recommendations (available here:, addressing 5 Overarching challenges (Governance, Protection rules, Capacities, Side-effects and Fragmentation) and proposing a set of Cross-policy recommendations (such as Decentralisation – Ensure multilevel governance platforms on local level, Equilibrium – Generate a balance of regulations and flexibility, Accessibility – Guarantee shared cultural heritage and fair use of public space, Integrative Approaches – Regulations to reconcile needs from both residents and visitors, Transversality – Support cooperation between cultural heritage and other sectors., Evidence – Ensure appropriate impact assessments in cultural heritage valorisation projects, etc).

Willing to find out more? Visit and save the date of the ROCK Final Conference and Business Matching Event: 14-15 May 2020, Bologna ( Stay tuned, registration will open in January 2020!

Conference EURAC 3rd International Conference in Bolzano, Italy

In December 2019, ROCK project has been presented by URBASOFIA at EURAC 3rd International Conference in Bolzano (Italy), entitled TOWARDS DATA-DRIVEN URBAN TRANSFORMATION OF CULTURAL HERITAGE AREAS.

In respect to the conference topic, URBASOFIA has presented the particular case of two ROCK Role Model Cities: Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and Turin (Italy), addressing similar approaches related to the integration of technology for monitoring crowd flows in different CH locations and events in the city. Consequently, the presentation overviewed the collaborative and data-driven approach for progressive transformation of CH in creative and knowledge cities, generated by the impact of permanent and temporary actions. The presentation was hosted under the session Urban (Big) Data: Challenges for Information Retrieval and Knowledge Discovery.

  • For the case of Cluj-Napoca, data collection involves: visitors count per hour/ day; duration of the visit; mobility of visitors among city areas (specific target locations identified: museums, art fairs, crowded areas); new visitors vs returning visitors; main locations/ events: Central Park, Casino Building, Polyvalent Hall, Cluj Arena, Museums (areas with high no. of cultural events, dynamic people flows).
  • For the case of Turin, data collection is focused on: Visitors count per hour / day; Duration of the visit; Mobility of visitors among city areas (specific target locations identified: museums, art fairs, crowded areas); New visitors vs returning visitors; Main locations/ events: Contemporary Art Fairs Paratissima, International Book Fair, Museums and Palaces, Library, etc.

Finally, the presentation showcased a comparison of similar ROCK approaches implemented in two cities with different historical background, while following the same end goal of providing deeper knowledge on the actual and less self-evident situation of cultural heritage use and potentiality within the local community.

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Thematic Conference Getting Cultural Heritage at Work in Kavala

On the 4th of December 2019, URBASOFIA has been invited to present ROCK project at the event organized by the Municipality of Kavala (Greece), entitled GETTING CULTURAL HERITAGE WORK FOR KAVALA.

The event addressed the thematic of how to get cultural heritage work for a sustainable and inclusive development of the city. Cultural heritage was analysed in its twofold components, material and immaterial, and the concept was connected to the past, present and future realities in order to find new cultural identities. ROCK project was presented as a good practice of the Regeneration and Optimization of Cultural Heritage in creative and Knowledge Cities by Dr. Pietro ELISEI (URBASOFIA Managing Director). The presentation was aimed at highlighting the 3 key pillars promoted in ROCK: Accessibility, Sustainability and New Collaboration for a proper cultural heritage led urban regeneration. Furthermore, it showcased the particular case of Bologna, focused on the integration of new tools and technologies to enables the mentioned pillars.

Local experts introduced the general state of Cultural Heritage Led Development applied to the city of Kavala, demonstrating the vastity of its material and immaterial CH and analysing the Funding opportunities and former initiatives investing in this thematic that could represent a great opportunity for cities to valorise its heritage (Mayor’s advisor in EU Programmes).

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Release of ROCK Regulatory framework report, contribution from URBASOFIA

The Regulatory Framework, Rock Procurement and Policy Recommendations has been released and it can be consulted on ROCK website, at the following link:

The ROCK regulatory framework has been envisaged as an assemblage of key policy recommendations empowering Cultural Heritage (CH) as a driver for sustainable and smart growth. Its development is an attempt to better shape implementation frameworks, targeting decision and policy makers from all administrative levels. The challenge was to embrace the multifaceted nature of CH valorisation, which is inherent to cultural heritage-led urban development and regeneration and the ROCK circle model, focusing on four key supportive policies – culture, urban policies and space provision, economic frameworks and taxation settings, and environmental protection – plus a number of crosscutting issues concerning public procurement and emerging monetary and non-monetary support tools.

URBASOFIA has contributed to the preparation of the ROCK regulatory framework, especially in relation to the topic of urban policies and space provision. Special attention is provided to the urban dimension and how rules can encourage or hinder the sustainable and smart valorisation of Cultural Heritage.

An overall look at that resulting 5 overarching challenges to overcome for an effective and sustainable cultural heritage valorisation in cities:

  • GOVERNANCE – Challenging international, local and multilevel governance frameworks.
  • PROTECTION RULES – Somewhat rigidity of rules for protection.
  • CAPACITIES – Lacks in skills, capacities and resources as well as enforcement power.
  • SIDE-EFFECTS – Missing rules, measures and data to avoid undesired side-effects.
  • FRAGMENTATION – Fragmented frameworks for professional cross-sectoral cooperation.

Finally, the document proposes 11 cross-policy recommendations for consideration by policy makers and in the course of the implementation of cultural heritage valorisation projects.

  • DECENTRALISATION – Ensure multilevel governance platforms on local level.
  • EQUILIBRIUM – Generate a balance of regulations and flexibility.
  • ACCESSIBILITY – Guarantee shared cultural heritage and fair use of public space
  • INTEGRATIVE APPROACHES – Regulations to reconcile needs from both residents and visitors
  • TRANSVERSALITY – Support cooperation between cultural heritage and other sectors
  • EVIDENCE – Ensure appropriate impact assessments in cultural heritage valorisation projects
  • PARTICIPATION – Guarantee cultural and civic rights in regulations
  • FINANCE – Address the systemic underfinancing of cultural heritage
  • LEVERAGE – Apply new public procurement instruments
  • TRAINING – Understand that specific skills and qualifications are required

INTERNATIONAL – Address the international and European dimension of CH valorisation.

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Replication and co-creation workshop in Lisbon, session facilitated by URBASOFIA

In September 2018, a replication and co-creation workshop have been hosted by the city of Lisbon (CML and ICS-UL), co-organised by EUROCITIES and URBASOFIA, moderators of two sessions, both dedicated to Learning from and with Lisbon on citizens engagement for cultural heritage in neighbourhoods.

URBASOFIA has facilitated the replication workshop, supporting in the identification of what works, why and how to transfer it to a wider audience of cities (Arezzo, Athens, Bologna, Bristol, Eindhoven, Helsinki, Turin and Vilnius). The replication workshop offered the participants an opportunity to learn from and capitalise on the lessons learned from an innovative approach implemented by Lisbon on citizens engagement and cultural heritage. The objectives of the replication workshop were:

  • Learn from the experiences and capitalise on the lessons learned from a city that has piloted an innovative approach that has led to promising results.
  • Identify success factors that can help the transferability, scalability or replication of the innovative approach to other urban contexts.
  • Discuss challenges and obstacles in the process of implementation and how to overcome them.

The workshop format was interactive, with a strong focus on collaborative learning, where the audience examined in depth the particular case study of the Marvila and Beato Interpretive Centre (presented by Alexandra Anibal, Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, Direção Municipal de Cultura). Participants discussed the lessons learned and ideas on how to apply them to other urban contexts, such as in their own cities.

As presented by the city of Lisbon, the case study was focused on the Marvila and Beato Interpretive Centre, including the participatory inventory methodology, which was later discussed and explored through situation-based group work. The Interpretive Centre was created in the Marvila’s Library through a participatory approach in which the local community (residents, local institutions, entities with local intervention) was called to participate actively. Its main objective was to gather knowledge about the cultural, material and immaterial patrimony of the parish, making it available to the public in an appealing, playful and innovative way. Lisbon methodology was based on a bottom-up safeguard strategy, encouraging the direct participation of communities. A participatory/ open inventory was developed, which offers the communities an opportunity to present their own tangible and intangible cultural heritage.



Lastly, the workshop aimed at mapping the essential transferability factors to adapt the practice in the other present cities, the audience being guided by the following questions:


  1. What can we learn from this case study? What is the added value of the innovative approach?
  2. What worked well and why? (identifying success factors)
  3. What didn’t work so well and why? (challenges/obstacles met in the process)
  4. Which elements can be transferred to other urban contexts? (transferability factors)
  5. Which participating cities would consider transferring (parts of) this innovative approach?


ROCK at Changing Cities conference in Chania, Greece

In June 2019, ROCK project was presented by URBASOFIA at the Changing Cities IV Conference in Chania (, in the pre-organised Special Session  “Smart adaptation. Modernistic heritage for sustainability of the future”, chaired by Prof. Izabela Mironowicz.

The presentation was based on the article written by URBASOFIA & TU/e, entitled Cultural Heritage Adaptive Reuse for Sustainable Development pathways in Creative and Knowledge Cities, which proposes the investigation of Eindhoven case study on industrial heritage. The paper highlights the main steps for CH adaptive reuse, based on the successful case of Eindhoven, stressing on the importance of restoring the significance of original heritage in the community, ensuring its survival towards a three-fold development pathway based on: accessibility, collaboration and sustainability. In order to address the paper objectives and to highlight the complexity of the urban regeneration process of the industrial heritage, the analysis of the case study (Strijp-S area in Eindhoven) has been conducted in respect to the following criteria:

  • the approach to material heritage conservation versus transformation – referring to the legacy of the site and the adaptation to the constantly-changing needs of the society, as well as the relationship with the existing context;
  • the role of creative industries involvement – as main drivers of innovation;
  • the importance of technological enablers for the process implementation.


Throughout the presentation, Sustainable Adaptive Reuse (SAR) guidelines have been mentioned, with an emphasis on the SAR process phases:

  1. Identify, determine and select the most suitable historic place/ area with high potential for adaptive reuse;
  2. Define the baseline state-of-play for the selected area;
  3. Map the significance and value of the place throughout its historical evolution;
  4. Adopt a creative and flexible attitude in the decision-making;
  5. Create synergies and link with other initiatives, and development projects;
  6. Communicate the historical value and significance and previous uses;
  7. Define long-term integrated management strategies and plans.

Highlights from the presentation


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The final National Seminar for Attractive Danube project

The final Capacity Building Seminar, which was also our final national event within “ATTRACTIVE DANUBE – Improving Capacities for Enhancing Territorial Attractiveness of the Danube Region” project took place on 24th of June in Bucharest!

Within the event were presented the overall results of the project at national level and were analyzed further opportunities for collaboration. In order to support the project results, it was also presented and signed a Memorandum of Understanding by 14 relevant institutions, with the purpose of enhancing the sustainability and cooperation and participation of stakeholders. The seminar was divided in two sections:

  • The first section had an introductory part where Dr. Pietro Elisei has presented the overall trajectory of the project and the general results. It was followed by several topic related presentations held by representatives from relevant institutions such as the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration, the Association of Danubian Local Communities (CLDR), the Association of Romanian Cities, USH Pro Business and the Professional Association for Public Administration Training (CINAQ). This part was followed by a more consistent presentation on the project results held by Ms. Sabina Leopa.
  • The second part of the day was organized as a Q&A session which had two objectives: raising the awareness of TAMP/Co-TAMP functionalities and future ways to assure the sustainability of the platform. Within this section, all participants had the chance to express their opinions regarding the platform and the project in general. It culminated with the introduction and signing of the Memorandum of Understanding

The event had a total number of 25 participants coming from relevant fields for the process of elaborating urban and regional development policies in Romania, such as academia, business, local and national authorities, regional organizations and professional associations.

Participation at CCIV under ROCK project

Urbasofia will attend Changing Cities Conference in Chania this week! The main theme of the conference is SMART CITIES; smart environment, smart mobility, smart economy. The article we will present was written under the in H2020-funded project ROCK (, and it will be presented in the fourth day of the event, on 27th of June, in the pre-organised Special Session  “Smart adaptation. Modernistic heritage for sustainability of the future”, organised and chaired by Prof. Izabela Mironowicz.

Our article is entitled Cultural Heritage Adaptive Reuse for Sustainable Development pathways in Creative and Knowledge Cities, and will tackle the case study of one of the seven Role Model City (Eindhoven), involved ROCK, which proposes a collaborative and systematic approach for progressive transformation of CH in creative and knowledge cities, based on a common enabler: innovative technologies. The current investigation focuses on the assessment of technological enablers of the sustainable adaptive reuse process in the (industrial) heritage area of Strijp-S, Eindhoven, which is nowadays recognised as a smart district using smart technologies as enabler for higher quality of life (Goulden, L., 2015).


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