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Is the New European Bauhaus leaving no one behind?

Source image: Europeana Pro

Disclaimer: This text reflects FEANTSA's opinion and not all of HSP partners

The "New European Bauhaus" was proposed by the European Commission in 2020[1] to create a more sustainable and inclusive built environment. The concept aims to bring together architecture, design, and technology to create spaces that are not only environmentally friendly, but also promote social inclusion and accessibility[2]. It is a reference to the 20th century “Bauhaus” movement (literally translated to “construction house”) originating from the German school of the arts, a hub for creative experimentation bringing together all arts. The European Commission’s hope is to relaunch a creative hub for Europe, linked to the unfolding of the Green Deal and its renovation wave strategy, with the ambition for a massive renovation plan of Europe’s buildings.

This short article will discuss how is “inclusion” concretely tackled by this recent initiative who claims to be “sustainable, beautiful and inclusive”. So, is the NEB inclusive? Let’s look at if and how it addresses affordable housing, tackling homelessness and energy poverty initiatives.

What would an inclusive NEB look like?

In order to be truly inclusive, the NEB would need to contribute to address key social challenges linked to the built environment faced by the European Union. FEANTSA therefore expects the NEB to deliver strong social impact to address homelessness and housing exclusion, particularly in the context of another European Commission recent initiative: the European Platform on combatting homelessness (EPOCH). The EPOCH is a platform to help member states to develop and implement national strategies to combat homelessness, and to provide a forum for the exchange of information and knowledge on homelessness. An inclusive NEB should make inclusion as a basis for action, in a similar way to environmental sustainability.

The NEB: a catalyst for inclusive growth?

The New European Bauhaus Progress Report[3] and the May 4, 2022, press release[4], reveal a lack of direct commitment to the specific priorities of tackling homelessness and promoting affordable housing for lowest income groups. This is worrying as homelessness is on the rise across Europe[5]. However, it has provided support to the development of some positive initiative. For instance, the call “Support to New European Bauhaus Local Initiatives” (Cohesion Policy), embraces projects aimed at the inclusion of the Roma and the regeneration of abandoned industrial sites. Other dedicated calls and actions for transforming places on the ground in support of the transformation of the built environment and lifestyles at local level exist, such as the Social and Affordable Housing District Demonstrators (under Horizon Europe funded with €10 million) and the Affordable Housing Initiative (under the Single Market Program funded with €1.2 million). These are broader than the NEB, and independent from it, but claim to uphold its principles, being presented as flagships of the New European Bauhaus initiative.

Regarding the implementation in the Member States, the New European Bauhaus Progress Report mentions the case of France when it comes to affordable housing. Indeed, a call “Committed to the quality of tomorrow’s housing” by the French Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Housing awarded 97 projects with a seal of excellence for affordable and sustainable quality housing in line with the NEB principles and granted targeted support to 20 projects. The Progress Report then mentions another project, developed after the Russian aggression: the NEB Lab Actions for Ukraine project. In cooperation with Ukrainian partners, it is developed along three priority axes: housing emergency, circular housing, and capacity building webinars.

The New European Bauhaus initiative also awards prizes to support initiatives on the ground. In 2022, the prizes were aligned with the main NEB thematic[6]. The thematic axis that deals with the “inclusion” aspect is giving priority to the places and people who need it most. The Greek Academy Odyssea won an award in 2022 for its project to promote the professional integration of vulnerable groups of people.

Mainstreaming inclusion in Horizon Europe

On 4 May 2022, five projects were selected as part of the Horizon Europe missions, called lighthouse demonstrators. They deal with issues such as building renovation, circularity, art, cultural heritage, education, smart cities, urban and rural regeneration and more[7]. All selected projects have a social dimension. However, it is not clear how the objectives relevant to social inclusion will be developed concretely and what impact they will have on the most vulnerable groups. A brief presentation of these projects shows how “inclusion” is indeed present as a potential positive “add on” rather than an essential component of any NEB project development.

The project CULTUURCAMPUS (Cultuurcampus: a sustainable hub of arts, research, learning and community as a catalyst)’s core idea is the fusion of education, research, policy, and culture. Consideration of the lived experiences of its residents is mentioned as an important feature of the project. The aim of the project is to transform the degraded urban area of Rotterdam South (NL). This is where the social dimension appears. The Cultuur Campus will be in a historic building, in a part of the city where educational and cultural institutions are scarce and will act as a hub for different groups and activities. The housing dimension is about renovation of this historical building through a combination of a sustainable redesign vision of students of architecture and the built environment with the wishes and needs of local stakeholders. The project also aims to facilitate the improvement of the co-design to make the area more sustainable, inclusive, and enriching. Indeed, the bottom-up approach in project planning and implementation is emphasized and permeates this project as well as the subsequent ones. It aims to enable residents to take part in the processes that shape their city and offers a solid understanding of the area, its challenges, and opportunities. Poverty (energy) is only mentioned as there will be an opportunity on campus to address issues such as how to keep people from sinking into debt. The fight against homelessness is not addressed at all. Knowing that in recent years, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the Netherlands has been increasing dramatically, this is a missed opportunity. Indeed, according to the CBS (Statistics Netherlands), in 2019, the number of people who were homeless in the Netherlands was around 31,000, an increase of around 25% compared to 2015.

The second selected project is called NEB-STAR (New European Bauhaus STAvangeR). It aims to show how spatial transformation plans can incorporate NEB principles and values in the cities of Stavanger (NO), Prague (CZ) and Utrecht (NL). The project will address four emblematic challenges related to climate-neutral cities. Consideration of local needs and concerns through co-creation with residents and stakeholders will be central as for the CULTUURCAMPUS project. The dimension of social housing and the vulnerability of disadvantaged people is taken into consideration more than in other projects. The four challenges identified are: co-creation of a new aesthetic sense for climate-neutral cities, capturing the uniqueness of places and generating a sense of belonging; reconnect with nature to increase resilience and sense of community; creation of temporary meeting spaces in urban transition areas taking into account the uniqueness of the people and places that need it most and finally the co-creation of co-benefits for the neighbourhood through the multifunctional use of spaces and infrastructures. Prima facie energy poverty and the fight against homelessness do not play a role in the project. This is again a missed opportunity.

The third project is called NEBourhoods. The project is directed at the city of Munich-Neuperlach in Germany with the aim of structuring its future as defined by the European Green Deal in terms of the built environment, circularity, mobility, energy, nutrition, and health. The project aims not only like the others to create a strong sense of community but also to redesign large-scale housing, even if in need of renovation[8]. The area is chosen because there is above-average unemployment and below-average levels of education. Furthermore, co-design is strongly emphasized. This is a pattern also identified in the other projects. The project also includes the housing dimension with the emphasis placed on the desire to pursue urban regeneration, even if this is not defined. The importance of adapting to local conditions and needs is also mentioned, to design processes with the local population and all stakeholders. Energy is mentioned in the sense that the project aims to feed the neighbourhood mainly with renewable energy, but does not address energy poverty or gentrification risk per se.

The fourth project, called DESIRE (Designing the Irresistible Circular Society), aims to address societal challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and resource scarcity. Based on three main themes of inclusiveness, circularity, and reconciliation of cities with nature, the project aims to use art, architecture, and design to explore alternative ways of transforming territories in different European cities in Denmark, Netherlands, Slovenia, Italy, and Latvia. Co-creation with the largest group of stakeholders will be central to the project. The housing dimension is present in the project. Indeed, DESIRE aims to create social and inclusive housing where to address the need for inclusive processes in the circular transformation of social housing. A concrete example will be the transformation of the Gadehavegaard housing blocks in the town of Høje-Taastrup, Denmark. A complete transformation of the blocks is expected to be finished by 2030. The site will experience the involvement of citizens in the redefinition of open spaces. Another social housing building, located in Ziepju in Riga (Latvia) will be renovated. The project aims to transform the old residential area into an attractive living environment. The third example is concentrated in a poor quality post-war social housing area of Amsterdam called Wildemanbuurt. It is a vulnerable neighbourhood with about 5000 inhabitants. The aim of the project is to create new paths and prototypes towards innovative forms of sharing and creation of an inclusive and sustainable living environment. Local qualities, such as high cultural diversity, presence of young and old, heritage, green spaces, edible gardens will be integrated with the policies and expertise of the real estate companies[9].

The last selected project is called EHHUR (EYES HEARTS HANDS Urban Revolution). The project has a strong social dimension. Indeed, it aims to support cities and vulnerable residents in transforming the built environment around them. Furthermore, it will seek to address socio-economic and cultural challenges such as social segregation, energy poverty and the degradation of depopulated historic centres. It covers seven different locations in the European Union and associated countries: Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, and Italy. Concerning the energy poverty dimension, EHHUR will adopt “energy solidarity” approaches to energy poverty and reducing inequalities through case studies addressing social segregation, vulnerable residents experiencing energy poverty, the transition to coal and the depopulated and degraded historical centres. Indeed, the project is concerned that the urban transformation is socially equitable and does not exclude the most vulnerable[10]. Finally, as for the other projects, the commitment to engage the citizens is underlined in order to transform them into active actors in the co-design of the project.

To conclude, therefore, on the selected projects, it can be noted that the need to adopt an inclusive approach to the design and implementation is particularly emphasized. Furthermore, while some projects such as the last one presented (EHHUR) also have a strong aspect of social inclusion, in which the construction or renovation of social housing finds space, the theme of tackling homelessness is missing.

In addition to these selected projects, other NEB activities related to the “inclusion” dimension exist. For example, the Commission Representations in the Member States have organized events across Europe, collaborating with local and national authorities. The "Green Challenges in Spatial Practice" conference organized by the European Commission Representation in Estonia together with the Estonian Association of Architects was one such event. In the spirit of the New European Bauhaus, the Tallinn conference explored how to plan and design cities, buildings, and public spaces in sustainable and inclusive ways.

In conclusion, it is great to have projects with a participatory approach, but there should be more ambition to support projects that actually increase access to decent, affordable housing for people who can not secure/maintain that currently. EU is facing a massive housing affordability crisis, partly fuelled by the EU policy context. It is one of the biggest social challenges facing EU countries, and the energy transition may accentuate it. These projects aren’t fundamentally addressing that and may be construed as “social wash” as a result.

There are many ways NEB could foster a stronger determination to addressing homelessness. It could for instance propose to work towards:

  • preventing homelessness through early intervention and targeted support for at-risk groups

  • improving access to affordable housing and social housing

  • strengthening the rights and social inclusion of people experiencing homelessness

  • improving the quality and coordination of services for people experiencing homelessness

FEANTSA will continue working for the NEB to be a social impact driven initiative, that will contribute to the eradication of extreme poverty in Europe.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]


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