How do cities learn from each other about climate change policies?

On April 16, JUSTRA Cities Network kicked-off a webinar series on City-to-City (C2C) Learning! The three-part webinar series is aimed at enhancing the understanding and implementation of translocal network learning. In this first edition, city representatives took the spotlight: speakers Alicia Villazán Cabero (Agency for Innovation of the Valladolid City Council) and Micol Sonnino (Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani – Lazio) shared their experiences with C2C Learning on climate change policies. In this blog, JUSTRA summarizes their initiatives and key takeaways.

URBAN GreenUp Project – Reintegrating Nature Based Solutions in Valladolid, Spain

Our first speaker of the webinar was Alicia Villazán Cabero, Project Manager at the Agency for Innovation of the Valladolid City CouncilOpens external and key overseer of the implementation of the URBAN GreenUp project in Valladolid. Alicia introduced the URBAN GreenUp project in Valladolid, as one of the one-hundred cities selected to reach the goal of climate neutrality by 2030. In her presentation, Alicia addressed the benefits, process, and outcomes of C2C learning in the context of the URBAN GreenUp project.

So, what is URBAN GreenUp? The project is a C2C learning program centred on the re-naturalization of urban areas and integration of nature-based solutions as a means of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. A variety of strategies are used in the program, including webinars, coaching workshops, exchange programs, and interventions like vertical gardens emphasizing diverse stakeholder engagement. The program includes over one hundred network cities, with three learning cities: Liverpool in the UK; Izmir in Turkey, and Valladolid in Spain. Subsequently, these cities serve as a guide for five follower cities in applying insights gained from C2C learning to address their own challenges. 

Alicia’s discussion on C2C learning highlighted several key aspects and outcomes for cities:

  1. Location Selection and Technical Design: Cities must consider topographical, political, and socio-economic factors when determining the most applicable nature-based solutions.
  2. Real Cost Assessment: Beyond financial expenses, assessing the time and resources invested in implementation.
  3. Financing Schemes and Stakeholder Involvement: Exploring funding approaches and the important role of stakeholder investment and incentivization.
  4. Result Monitoring: the importance of monitoring results in determining effectiveness and application to other cities. 

Additionally, individual participants in the program gained insights from peers, exchanged implementation strategies, shared challenges, learned from others' failures, and received moral support from other participants. 

GenerACTOR Project – A Horizontal Cooperation Between Rome (Italy) and Barranquilla (Colombia)

Our second speaker, Micol Sonnino, works as support coordinator for ANCI Lazio, which heads the GenerACTOR project. GenerACTOR is a horizontal collaboration between the cities of Rome (Italy) and Barranquilla (Colombia), focused on creating community gardens for good governance, active citizenship, and participation. Co-creation between citizens, public administrators, and international actors is a key approach in this project, alongside a focus on participatory governance models. 

Co-financed by the European Union, GenerACTOR’s objectives include: (1) building capacity for local authorities and communities in sustainable urban transformation, (2) implementation of urban community gardens and public green spaces, and (3) reduction of poverty and food insecurity levels. This also involved institutionalizing areas previously deemed illegally occupied, thereby making it legal for citizens to begin community agriculture in these spaces. 

An important aspect of the project involved the creation of four new community gardens, with pilots in four vulnerable peri-urban areas of Barranquilla. Micol highlighted a few key aspects and outcomes of the project:

  1. Nature-based solutions were utilized in studies and designs (green infrastructures and organic production) as well, citizens were highly involved, and only organic production took place. These solutions included targeted drip irrigation, use of green spaces to reduce heat, and clay soil stabilization. 
  2. Being long-lasting with a focus on integration, specifically ensuring that productive community gardens would be integrated into existing policies. Community associations were formalized for the operation of urban community gardens. 
  3. Outcomes of the project so far have included a focus on financial matters: profit creation from the gardens to benefit citizens is not possible under legislation in Rome, but it is an interesting idea for the residents of Barranquilla, where there was also a focus on productivity. This also adds to the project’s goals of reducing poverty and improving food security.
  4. Training to become “Gardenisers”: Citizens were strongly involved in the regeneration process, with 221 participants trained on urban agriculture techniques (including 38 community leaders) and 21 participants trained and licensed under “Gardeniser PRO” (through a 40-hour course and 40-hour internship) in the management of urban community garden projects. Over 400 students were also involved in training programmes and activities at public schools. 

Many outcomes were positive: for example, that the EU Community Gardens have a productive community focus in Colombia – but there are some factors like inflation and changing political administrations that have created challenges for projects like these.

Four Reflections on C2C Learning

The project presentations and the insightful Q&A session that followed inspired some important reflections on C2C learning processes, the idea of co-creation, and the role played by local contexts. 

1. Informality is key when learning together

Alicia discussed how her experiences in Valladolid have taught her that informal meetings are just as important as formal ones, specifically when it comes to forging strong relationships with other city representatives. Collaborative work between different cities does not just require formal meetings and discussions, but also informal gatherings like dinners together at a restaurant. Here, being a good “host” is important – creating a welcoming and hospitable environment through sharing food and drink is incredibly valuable, and conducive for establishing a comfortable relationship between actors. 

2. Projects should fit to the local environment

In the discussion of the GenerACTOR initiative, Micol highlighted that project strategies should be adapted to the local context to be most effective. This also refers to “socialization” activities that add an element of fun into processes like gardening and composting: for example, people dancing together on the compost as a way of contributing towards the process collectively and adding a “social component” to a process like the generation of fertilized soil. In a culture that generally values dance and food, activities like this work well in fostering engagement in community gardens amongst Barranquilla residents. This important part of the Colombian cultural context is considered and integrated into the structure of the project. 

Meanwhile, the effectiveness of public-private partnerships in the local area and their integration into sustainability projects like these is highly dependent on a number of factors – not least the financial conditions and relationships in communities – but can be a valuable source of insight for a project. 

3. Cultivating a sense of pride and ownership 

For an urban initiative to truly encourage co-creation, it is vital for citizens to experience a sense of local ownership within the project. Citizens may benefit from the feeling that the urban initiative is their own, and that any of its achievements are also reflections of themselves to celebrate too. Micol’s discussion of GenerACTOR in Barranquilla illuminated how people began cultivating a sense of pride in their work. This idea also played a major role for the local communities involved and in making co-creation possible.

4. Food for thought: how do we involve non-western initiatives, and more cities from the global south?

In the Q&A session that followed, one of the key points raised was the possible opportunities for communities outside of Europe, in continents such as Africa or Asia. In this, it is important to be mindful for barriers, such as a language barrier that was also experienced during the webinar, as participation required English skills. This raises several questions on how we can include initiatives from other regions in discussions around C2C learning. Such as, what opportunities for collaboration and (re)distribution of funds and resources are there for non-western and non-EU countries? How can different policy settings, collaboration structures and cultural-, language- and infrastructure challenges be taken into account in the organizational structures of C2C learning in other regions? And finally, how can leadership and knowledge exchange between cities in the Global South context be supported, or opportunities for collaboration be explored?

Webinar Background Information

We welcomed 106 participants from a diverse range of countries across six continents in this first edition of the C2C learning webinar series. The audience was very diverse in their experience in sustainable development, including academia, government, and private sector backgrounds. 

To watch a recording of the first installment of the “City-to-City Learning on Climate Change Policies” webinar, visit the IHS YouTube page or use this link:

Are you interested in the role that networks play in the urban sustainability transition? If you want to engage more with this topic, join us for our upcoming second webinar in the series, taking place on Tuesday 7 May: Webinar: Networks in City to City Learning for Sustainable Urban Development | Erasmus University Rotterdam

The three-part webinar series on “City-to-City Learning for Urban Sustainable Development” is a collaborative effort of the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Vital Cities and Citizens’ JUSTRA Cities NetworkCloser Cities and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). 


This blogpost is written by JUSTRA Cities Network.


Fiona Sosnowski, JUSTRA Intern, Vital Cities and Citizens

Lina Le Pelley, JUSTRA Student Assistant, Vital Cities and Citizens