Madrid: A city turning eco-fictions into eco-futures through systems innovation – Daily Planet`

25 Mar 2020

Three-quarters of European citizensover 400 million peoplelive in urban areas, and these numbers are still on the rise. This makes Europes cities an ever more important crucible for low-carbon solutions. Here, we find out about an unusual cross-sectoral alliance in Madrid that is using creative arts in a city-wide decarbonisation and resilience project.

The Spanish capital is one of 15 cities taking part in an EIT Climate-KIC-led Deep Demonstration of Healthy, Clean Citiesa project that is prototyping a breakthrough model of orchestrated systems innovation. In the project, city governments act as challenge owners to ensure support for an ambitious, cross-sectoral transformation agenda. The project also integrates designers to help map the opportunity space for systemic change and to design leverage pointswhich can include interventions through finance, education, citizen engagement, regulation, and the creative arts.

At her workspace in the hanger-like studio of the Matadero Cultural Centre in downtown Madrid, Andrea Azuqueca is scribbling ideas in her notebook. At her elbow is a book about eco-social transition entitled Rutas sin Mapas (Routes without Maps) and, beside it, an illustrated guide to the Madrileo district of Usera. A 26-year-old recent architecture graduate, Ms Azuqueca is deep in the initial investigation phase of a three-month artistic residency. Her focus: To work alongside the residents of Usera (colloquially known as Madrids Chinatown) to re-envision the neighbourhood as an exemplar of low-carbon living.

Madrid is in urgent need of such examples. Located in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish capital finds itself facing ever-hotter summers as well as an increase in freak weather events. The citys climate challenges are exacerbated by a densely-packed built environment, coupled with increasingly congested traffic, limited green space, and a long-neglected watercourse (the River Manzanares).

A pointer towards a cleaner, greener future can be found in the Madrids current climate plan. An ambitious document, the 199-page Plan A sets out a vision for reducing the citys overall carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

But what would such a city look like? And how might Madrileos get there? Ms Azuqueca hopes that these two questions will spark the imagination of Useras residents about what the future could look like. Drawing on her creative talent, her job is then to find ways to bring these eco-fictions to life in an artistic installation within the community itself.

The goal of the installation is to help us all better visualise this future, which, along with the debates and discussion it will hopefully prompt, is the first step towards seeing such a future realised, says Ms Azuqueca, who also acts as a spokesperson for the Extinction Rebellion campaign group.

The Eco-fictions installation is the brainchild of Instituto Mutante de Narrativas Ambientales, an environment-focused arts group based at Matadero. They are taking part in the Madrid chapter of EIT Climate-KICs recently launched Deep Demonstration of Healthy Clean Cities project, along with three other core partnersMadrids Ayuntamiento (City Government), the transport infrastructure operator Ferrovial, and the Technical University of Madrid.

Zooming out, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Krakw, Krievci, Leuven, Malm, Maribor, Milano, Ni, Orlans, Sarajevo, Skopje and Vienna are also part of the pilot phase of the Healthy Clean Cities ecosystem. Each city is different and each city is contributing novel ideas and approaches within the same core Deep Demonstrations framework. The cities will share experiences and actionable intelligence to encourage replication, scaling, cross-pollination and speed. Its early days for the pilot project (it kicked off formally late last year), but Madrids four core participants were not starting from scratch. Far from it, in fact. The cross-sector coalition had already embarked together on an ambitious and highly experimental approach to driving forward climate innovation, off the back of an enriching two-year process and partnership.

From the outset, former hierarchical ways of working were binned. If the platform (as the partners initially called themselves) was going to fast-track climate action as hoped, everyone would have to be on the same level.

We are all aware of the urgency of climate change and the need to respond to emerging issues as flexibly as possible, which is why we were looking to work together in a less transactional and less top-down fashion, explains Juan Azcaratel, Deputy Director for Energy and Climate Change at Madrid City Government, the pilot projects challenge owner.

Agreeing a common purpose and a common approach was also super important, notes Sara Romero, one of the 15-strong team at the Technical Universitys Innovation and Technology for Human Development Centre (itdUPM).

Not only does a shared focus maximise efficiency and effectiveness, she explains, it also helps the project partners build a culture of mutual trusta vital, yet rare commodity among organisations coming from different sectors and used to different operating cultures. Lastly, in terms of approach, the group agreed to adopt the same set of tools and methodologies, be these for diagnosing the issues at stake, identifying the principal levers of change (and points of inertia), designing strategic interventions, or factoring feedback into the projects evolving design. Here, their gut reaction was to ditch the incremental, step-by-step approach that typifies so much current action on climate change. Instead, they took a route less travelled: Namely, working on multiple fronts at the same time and within the same ecosystem (i.e. their home city of Madrid). Their thinking: large-scale change requires a wholesale shift, not tinkering at the edges.

What the group had intuited, EIT Climate-KIC has already worked hard to systematise into a new model of innovation. Their systems innovation model uses a portfolio approachi.e. they help to design, build and manage mission-led portfolios of connected and simultaneous interventions, with the aim of shifting whole systems more quickly. It is this model, and its tools, that provides the framework for the Healthy, Clean Cities project, and for EIT Climate-KICs seven other Deep Demonstration projects, covering landscapes as carbon sinks, food, maritime hubs, just transition, resilience, long-termism and circular economy.

Joining the Deep Demonstration has helped us to bring greater rigour to our way of working and has placed the concept of systems-level innovation at the heart of what were trying to achieve, says itdUPMs Ms Romero.

EIT Climate-KICs CEO, Kirsten Dunlop, is thrilled to have this unusual coalition on board:

Deep Demonstrations are intended as inspirational examples of what can be done when innovation is orchestrated, collaborative, and mission-led. Working backwards from the changes we want to see in the world is one way of approaching systemic change.

It may seem obvious that more of us need to collaborate across boundaries if we want to forge new grooves and move past business-as-usual. But this more horizontal model of innovation is not just a question of organisational governance: It also implies a radically different mode of working together and learning together.

So what have EIT Climate-KICs partners learnt so far about cross-sectoral co-operation? Firstly, flexibility and responsiveness are everything. Just because everyone starts on the same page, doesnt mean that circumstances dont change. Also, learning happens as the project evolves, and this should lead to tweaks and changes.

Cecilia Lpez, a development strategist in the itdUPM team, admits that working with such uncertainty can prove taxing. This is unsurprising. As with most organisations, the projects partners are all accustomed to operating in line with a predetermined strategy: goals firmly set, responsibilities divvied out, resources duly assigned and so the juggernaut starts chugging.

Such rigidity doesnt lend itself to managing todays climate emergency, she states. For that, decision-makers need the space to learn from experience and the freedom to change tack if required.

She continues: Companies and government agencies arent set up to work in such ways, but this is precisely what systems innovation requires.

Such an approach is not without its stress points. Trust in your partners helps offset this to an extent, Ms Lpez argues. More important still is a large dose of humility. The complexity of the systems addressed by the Deep Demonstration projects defy simple solutions. Once people accept that, she states, navigating the terrain ahead becomes more manageable:

Its perfectly possible to be dead clear on where you need to get to, but not one-hundred percent certain on the best solutions for getting there. Embracing this reality helps deal with the stress that comes with not knowing.

With constant learning and responsiveness such a key element of Deep Demonstrations, rigorous diagnostics and monitoring are fundamental to the model. To this end, the projects coordinating team at Madrids Technical University meet every Friday to reflect on current progress and, with the assistance of a visionary director, tweak their approach as necessary. In a similar way, one of the three working groups into which the Deep Demonstration partners are split is christened the Grupo de Contraste, which the team at itdUPM translate (loosely) as The Provocateurs. Their task, as Ms Romero puts it, is to probe and challenge the decisions of the two other working groups, which focus on project implementation and evaluation, respectively.

Last but not least is the centrality of citizens in the decision-making process. Madrids City Government already seeks to achieve this to an extent; a small percentage of the municipal budget, for instance, is decided by public vote. Yet, as Juan Azcarate admits, opportunities for citizens to get involved in designing and executing policies linked to the citytheir cityremain limited.

The team is not short of ideas on how to correct this. Framing climate change in a way that is not only readily understood but attractive to residents is an obvious first step. Likewise, finding appropriate means to engage citizensholding meetings on the communitys home turf (rather than in more formal environments), for instance, or via social mediais also imperative.

Citizens want to see clear outcomes from their involvement, Mr Azcarate from the City Government adds. In the normal way of working, it can easily take 18 months for a project to come to fruition after initial consultation. Thats too slow, he concedes: To keep momentum, its vital to show results quickly and make this [decarbonisation] a reality.

Back at the cultural centre in Matadeiro, turning Madrids low-carbon ambitions into a reality is precisely what the artist-architect Andrea Azuqueca is seeking to achieve. Even before she has settled on the theme or location for her exhibition, she is busy arranging a public debate to coincide with the opening night. As for the Deep Demonstration partners, early-stage discussions about precisely what activities will be included in the pilots portfolio are reaching culmination. While the exact specifics await confirmation, theres a consensus that the individual interventions should link directly to the City Governments recently agreed climate plan.

What keeps me motivated is that the idea that the fictitious stories that we tell each other today could become reality in the future, says Ms Azuqueca, But that all depends, of course, on the decisions we take today.

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