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SubUrbanLab project: Evaluation of the Urban Living Labs in Alby and Peltosaari

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Across Europe, some 200 million people live in suburbs in great need of modernization and social uplifting. The JPI Urban Europe SubUrbanLab project (2013-2016) has examined how these suburbs can be modernized and socially uplifted together with the residents and other stakeholders. The project developed and set up six Urban Living Labs (ULLs): three in Alby, Sweden and three in Peltosaari, Finland. These ULLs were arenas for co-creation of innovative urban solutions: a means to develop new forms of experiences on involving the residents and stakeholders into development in an urban context. The long-term goal is to turn these suburbs into more attractive, sustainable and economically viable urban areas.

 

This report presents the evaluation of the six Urban Living Labs with regard to their impact on sustainability in Alby and Peltosaari. The report also discusses how well each ULL has lived up to the project definition of an Urban Living Lab.

 

The evaluations show that the impact on sustainability has been varied. Evaluations focused particularly on the social dimension of sustainability, in line with the ULLs themselves, although it covers the environmental and economic dimension as well. Since the ULLs have been small-scale, contribution to sustainability has also been small-scale However, if the ULLs were to be developed further and up-scaled to other suburbs, the ULLs have the potential for a more significant impact on sustainability, both short-term and long-term.

 

The evaluations further reveal that the ULLs have lived up to the project definition to different degrees. Some joint challenges with the ULL approach can be identified. For example, most of the ULLs struggled with the involvement of users and stakeholder, especially in the earlier phases of developing and planning the ULL. Although the ULLs have integrated a variety of stakeholders and organizations in the co-development of new solutions and ideas, few lived up to the feature of having the users of the developed solutions and ideas as active partners during the entire processes. The development and planning process of the ULL was integrated to a larger extent with stakeholders (other than users) while users were more involved in the implementation and evaluation process. It should be noted that, although ideal, it is often not practically possible (or motivating) to include all relevant users and stakeholders in all stages of an ULL. For example, it can difficult to know beforehand who are the most relevant users and stakeholders but also, as is evident in SubUrbanLab, difficult to get a long-term commitment to the ULL right from the start. However, one can raise the question if the Alby and Peltosaari ULLs would have had developed differently if it were possible to engage more users and stakeholders at an earlier stage in the process.

 

Other conclusions and lessons learned include a request of development of evaluation approaches to evaluate social sustainability and demonstrating cost effectiveness of an ULL and an understanding of the impact of the decision-making structures of public sector on the ULL process and function.

 

The presented results are primarily of interest for stakeholders interested in developing and establishing Urban Living Labs, as well as researchers on Urban Living Lab approach and other participatory approaches.