As cities grow in size and importance, negotiating just urban transitions is critical for our shared future. In 2019, a collective of urban innovators in Cluj-Napoca, Romania began asking what if a different set of values were guiding urban transitions. What if goals of well-being were prioritized over economic growth? What if care were prioritized over efficiency? What if the cultivation of trust were more important than expediency? We are examining the benefits of prioritizing well-being over economic growth in urban innovation.
OurCluj is a multi-sectoral arrangement of projects. It aims to activate values of care and trust for outcomes such as youth well-being. Prioritizing these values is a requirement for creating policies and programs that are optimized for enhanced well-being. We call this unique arrangement a Values-Based Urban Living Laboratory (VBULL). We describe the work of the Values-Based Urban Living Laboratory (VBULL) in three parts: imagining futures, reconciling the past, and sharing power. The research unpacks each of these activities and examines how they contribute to urban innovation culture that is both unique to the Eastern European context and potentially applicable to cities in other regions. By giving these cities the tools they need to prioritize values of trust and care, they can go through rapid economic transformation they need in the post COVID-19 world.
This project, ‘Transforming Our Cities for a Better Urban Future’, highlights the role of intermediary cities, within the world. These cities are at the forefront of forging transformative pathways in post COVID-19 recovery, when nearly every assumption about urban growth is being questioned. Our research and therefore the impact of this project is felt over several cities across Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. The final outcome of 10 design recommendations for practitioners to catalyze VBULL in their spaces is complemented with a reflective activity with full-colored artistic posters to imagine alternative frames for urban innovation and communities.