School environments, vectors of change for urban regeneration and climate neutrality

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On November 3rd, the «Transformation of cities» community of El Día Después (The Day After) organized the first of a series of multi-stakeholder workshops focused on how to take advantage of school environments, their capillarity in cities and their educational and neighborhood value as axes to promote the regeneration and urban transformation of Spanish cities.

Why school environments?

Making our cities healthier, more resilient and sustainable spaces is a goal with which it is relatively easy to agree. How to achieve it from the existing structures in the cities -which make up the perimeter of the playing field- is, perhaps, a different question.

At El Día Después we believe that school environments represent a very good opportunity in this sense: the social demand to adapt these spaces to the knowledge and challenges of the 21st century, together with their distribution and available space, make them a unique opportunity to multiply actions and train the necessary capacities to face the current urban challenges.

In addition, they are a strategic point of intervention and represent a space of equity at the health, social and territorial levels: after all, in all neighborhoods there are schools, therefore, if intervening from school environments, there is the opportunity not only for boys and girls, but also for the community, to receive the benefits, recovering and enhancing the connection between these public spaces and the rest of the city.

How to make school environments a vector of urban transformation? A participatory approach

The starting challenge is to ensure that schools are a great source not only for education and growth for children, but also for well-being and health for the entire community.

For this, the participation of all relevant actors (citizens, the educational community, families, children and the scientific community) in the identification of needs and the co-creation of solutions that improve well-being and health in the city and its school environments undoubtedly requires the will and commitment of the administrations and different sectors.

That is why, from El Día Después, we propose a series of action-oriented multi-stakeholder dialogues: to co-design strategies that adapt to the Spanish context and that bring together actors from the public, private and third sector, within the action scope of school environments.

Results of the first workshop on healthy and resilient school environments

In the first workshop of the series, on November 3rd, not only participated representatives of different city councils (Madrid, Seville, Valencia, Barcelona, ​​Zaragoza, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Valladolid, Sabadell and León), but also representatives of the academic and research field (CIEMAT, ISGlobal, itdUPM, etc); social organizations (such as UNICEF, Save the Children or Teachers for Future, for example); or private companies, among other agents.

In the first part, six cities presented inspiring intervention initiatives in city school settings:

In the second part, the participants divided themselves into multi-stakeholder working groups where they identified barriers and opportunities in three areas: governance and regulations; management and maintenance of school environments; and training.

In the conversation about governance and regulations, cultural barriers emerged -among others- such as internal silos within city councils; the lack of coordination between the different levels of the administration involved in the management of school environments (town halls, councils, autonomous communities and the State); or the difficulty to carry out massive participation processes. But opportunities were also identified such as the possibility of using the annual municipal training plans to create a different work culture; or the creation of transversal working groups, internal to each city council, to address problems common to different areas of government.

In the dialogue on management and maintenance, barriers were raised -among others- such as the difficulty of accessing tenders in more vulnerable contexts; or the increase in the areas destined to green infrastructures in relation to the budget for their maintenance. At the same time, it was possible to identify opportunities such as the promotion of dialogue between those who design the intervention and those who must then take care of its sustainability over time; or take advantage of participatory budgets and promote a more participatory design including the third sector and smaller entities or groups.

Finally, the conversation about training revealed barriers such as the lack of cross-learning at the technician level about new initiatives that are carried out in the rest of the country, or the work overload that prevents prospecting. But it was also possible to identify opportunities such as betting on the environmental education centers in each city so that they can play a more active role.

After this workshop, which sought to map what some Spanish cities are doing in the field of school environments to learn and investigate the possibilities of exchanging learnings and their replicability, a document of good practices and tools will be elaborated to overcome the barriers that prevent carrying out these initiatives. And, in the long term, we hope to conceive and develop a strategy of urban intervention in Spain through schools and their environments.

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