Building attractive, high-quality and sustainable urban areas and increasing competitiveness is a common challenge for Central Baltic cities. By 2020, approximately 80% of Europeans live in urban areas. Due to migration, cities are becoming denser and green space is scarce. Lack of available urban land may cause a lack of business space, higher housing costs, increased congestion and urban sprawl with negative impacts on both environment and competitiveness.

The demand for land in and around cities is acute, and changes in the land use are rapid and often conflicting.  Instead of using unspoiled habitats like green areas, brownfields can satisfy the need for land and intensify the land use in urban areas. Redevelopment of brownfields into city districts where modern, sustainable solutions are combined with history and cultural heritage has the potential to make cities more attractive to invest in and create conditions necessary for sustainable development.

Brownfields – a problem or an opportunity?

Brownfields can be defined as areas that have been affected by former use such as industry or infrastructure. Cities have several types of sites that are being underused or the current use does not fit to the overall urban structure and the land is in need of redevelopment. Brownfields can be considered as a problem and an opportunity. The key challenge related to the regeneration of brownfield sites is the complexity of the process and the large amount of stakeholders involved with differing interests.

Although the main responsibility for urban development lies with local authorities, cooperation and integrated planning approach within the various units of local administration but also between public, private and third sector is necessary in order to address the challenge efficiently and find good solutions for the area. However, Central Baltic cities are often lacking of structured, integrated planning and partnership models for revitalization of urban space that would help to ensure the active participation of all relevant stakeholder groups in formulation of common goals and plans, making sure that all available resources are directed for the development. Baltic Urban Lab project aims to tackle this challenge.  

Co-creation and strengthening partnerships – a solution?

The project promotes urban planning that is seen more as a co-creation of concepts and solutions on urban challenges in cooperation with different actors in the society than an activity performed solely by the local authorities and that goes beyond the land-use planning. Brownfields are seen as Urban Labs – collaborations of PPP-partnerships, in which stakeholders innovate, co-create and test new designs, solutions and services in real-life environments e.g. on mobility, services, housing and energy.

Through the co-creative planning process the local authority, land and real estate owners and developers, service providers, local businesses, citizens cooperate in the planning and design of the brownfield sites from the outset of the process. The city acts as visionary, enabler and facilitator of local networking encouraging planners, developers and citizens to work together and produce feasible strategies and concrete solutions for the brownfield sites. Thus, the project aims to bridge the gap between city-led and private-led development and find new ways to overcome the lack of a common vision and understanding. The project also facilitates fast piloting of solutions with commercial potential by better integration of planning and implementation processes. Through improving PPP-partnerships and dialogue, the project strengthens the role of urban planning as a strategic tool to promote all pillars of sustainable development.