Work and the city: how Cluj-Napoca is involving local community in the debate on the future
For the third year in a row, Jaclyn Youngblood came to Cluj-Napoca to bring her contribution of ideas and experience gained at the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanism to the Urban Dialogues, a series of events organized by the Cluj-Napoca Urban Innovation Unit within Cluj Cultural Centre to exchange good practices on cities with academics, experts and practitioners from all over the world. As chief of staff of the structure created by the Mayor of Boston to experiment new approaches of governance working across different departments and communities, she is in charge of fostering civic engagement in experimental projects run by the city to improve the quality of life of residents. This is one of the main elements that also Cluj-Napoca is trying to replicate with its urban innovation strategy, in which Cluj Future of Work plays a decisive role.
“Cluj-Napoca has many similarities with Boston . It is an university city, is growing, is full of energy and people are really motivated. With the Urban Innovation Unit of Cluj we share the same goal: rebuilding trust with residents. We do it connecting all the different elements of the innovation ecosystem and creating moments of public dialogue: this is also what Cluj is doing and it is not something you can find everywhere” says Jaclyn Younglood
The debate between local stakeholders and international experts invited to the last edition of the Urban Dialogues, held in Cluj-Napoca on 6 December, was focused on co-creating the job description of the Chief Innovation Officer, the professional figure who will lead the Urban Innovation Unit once it will be officially transferred to the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca in 2022. The working groups joined by local and international participants gave interesting inputs to update the functions of the Unit, which was created by the Cluj Cultural Center as a research and development program aimed at proposing alternative solutions to Cluj-Napoca’s challenges bringing together ideas from academia, cultural and business sector, civil society and public administration.
The active involvement of the most dynamic stakeholders of Cluj-Napoca in rethinking urban challenges from different perspectives can be beneficial also to open up the reflection on future of work to local community and consequently to inspire the action of the local authority and the stakeholders involved as partners in the UIA project.
FUTURE OF WORK AND THE CHALLENGES OF URBAN INNOVATION
Cluj Future of Work is one of the main pillars of action of the Urban Innovation Unit, which is focusing also on urban mobility, resilience and housing. The UIA project reflects in its governance that kind of osmotic collaboration between the Municipality and Cluj Cultural Centre, which is leading to reinforce the role of the Unit in local governance and in civic life on the medium and long term.
As co-managers of Cluj Future of Work, the Municipality and the Cluj Cultural Centre (created in 2014 as non-governmental organization for culture and urban development) are concretely testing how the collaboration among different sectors can make public authority more willing to take risks while creating unexpected partnerships and relations, both at local as at international level.
The bid for European Capital of Culture 2021, then won by Timisoara, created the momentum for rethinking the scope of action of an entity such as Cluj Cultural Center, launching a stronger collaboration between the Municipality and the cultural and creative sector of Cluj-Napoca, which was seen as a facilitator of social cohesion and economic growth for the local civil society.
Most of the stakeholders involved in the realization of the actions of Cluj Future of Work started to collaborate at the occasion of the bid for European Capital of Culture, or immediately after the presentation of the candidature. What happened in Cluj-Napoca shows how the participation to this kind of competition can be decisive to connect ideas, energies and projects already ongoing in the city, accelerated by the local authority when it acts as connecting point and broker of innovation at local level.
The preparation of the candidature for European Capital of Culture was also the opportunity to establish stronger connections with other European cities, such as Belfast, Nurnberg and Varna, which followed similar paths and then decided to join the efforts creating Culture Next, the network of cities candidate to be national or European Capital of Culture. Many of them were in Cluj-Napoca last December to attend the Urban Dialogues, which was paired for the first time to the Future of Work conference.
Combining these two meetings, held respectively on 5 and 6 December 2019, constituted an interesting opportunity not only to present the work which has been done until now in the framework of the UIA project but also to show to the local audience and to the international guests how the action on promoting jobs and skills in local economy is connected to current and future urban development strategies.
“This connection helps in opening up the imagination, it is impossible to build the future if you can’t imagine it. Talking about the future of work is also talking about housing, mobility and the society we want to build” says Jaclyn Youngblood.
THE FUTURE OF WORK CONFERENCE AND THE LOCAL DEBATE
The Future of Work Conference was conceived as a relevant occasion to present the main results achieved in the first year of implementation to the local public but also as a useful moment of interaction between the Cluj-Napoca’s stakeholders involved in the project and the international experts, who worked together in the Deep Dives dedicated to the main pillars of the project (Informal Work, Culturepreneurs and Work 4.0).
The key findings of the thematic benchmarks studies, carried out by different departments of the Babeș-Bolyai University and presented at the beginning of each parallel session, were the departure points to connect the state of the art of work in Cluj with national and global trends, highlighted by the international experts who gave their support in animating the sessions.
“We discussed with local actors of Cluj how they can help to create a better, more flexible (not only for the workers) labor market, which is now rigid and ossified . The dialogue was very valuable and focused not only on future trends but also on what is currently happening in terms of informal work practices and on what happened in the last five or ten years to determinate the current situation” says Peter Ramsden, expert of the UIA Salus Space project of Bologna, who animated the Deep Dive on Informal Work.
The combination between analysis of future scenarios and co-creation of models and solutions, which is the approach at the core of Cluj Future of Work, was the methodology followed also by the conference to share knowledge about the transformation of work and create awareness through stimulating the imagination of the participants. Their contribution can be decisive on medium and long term to fuel the project with fresh inputs taken from the continuous change of work landscape at local and national level. Making local community part of the collaborative effort of reflection on the future of work, with a particular focus on the actors of cultural and creative sector but also to the employees of other sectors, can be beneficial also to co-create strategies and actions in direct collaboration with potential beneficiaries.
Even though some of the figures presented by the studies may look disquieting, as the fact that 57% of jobs in Cluj-Napoca are at high risk of automation, an approach orientated to find a common vision for the future emerged as prevalent from the discussion that involved representatives of all the delivery partners, as well as other relevant stakeholders in the field of culture and entrepreneurship.
“The humble truth in any forecasting exercise is that there is little certainty on how the future will turn out. This is why, we consider crucial of curating these type of dialogues and opening up the process to a wider array of city stakeholders, for building a common understanding and narrative around the changes needed. In a way, it’s both a witnessing process, and the inception of a city-wide co-creation one. Because the answers for the challenges we address around the future of work can only be collective” says Anamaria Vrabie, Director of the Urban Innovation Unit and co-manager Cluj Future of Work for the Cluj Cultural Center.