Representatives from nine towns and cities across the EU visited Balbriggan last week to learn about the progress of the Our Balbriggan Rejuvenation Plan.
The nine locations, along with Balbriggan, are part of the iPlace network, which brings together urban centres across the EU with similar issues to focus on identifying and strengthening local economic development opportunities - through plans such as Our Balbriggan.
iPlace members exchange learning and experiences in dealing with their respective challenges to find niches for sustainable local economic development.
The iPlace network is managed by the lead partner Amarante in Portugal, alongside Balbriggan, Gabrovo in Bulgaria, Heerlen in the Netherlands, Kocejve in Slovenia, Saldus in Latvia, Medina del Campo in Spain, Grosetto in Italy, Pori in Finland and Parnu in Estonia.
During their trip from Wednesday evening to Friday morning last, the visitors saw the Irish Institute of Music and Song and the BEAT centre, took a tour of the town and had several workshops and talks, including the progress of the Our Balbriggan project, Smart Balbriggan, integrated planning and place making.
The 10 partners focus on deepening the understanding of their own local economic strengths and establishing strategic methods to revitalise their economy, adapt their city to the "next economy" and to future economic changes, establishing methodological bases to generate resilient cities.
Mayor Cllr Seána ÓRodaigh welcomed the visitors to Balbriggan and noted a stark contrast between the “events in Ukraine on one hand, and on the other, the work of the iPlace participants, which is conducted in the spirit of cooperation by people from all over our continent”.
The iPlace rationale is based around three questions: Can small cities compete with large cities for talent and investment? What good practices show how small cities are able to use opportunities for ‘new’ local economic development? How can 10 small towns and cities pool their knowledge and assist each other to initiate actions with a good possibility for success?
The end goal of the project is to develop an Integrated Action Plan (IAP) using the learnings of other cities, and once that has been developed, it is up to each city to implement the plan.
Cllr Tony Murphy, chair of EETCD Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) said that the experiences of the other similar towns and small cities around Europe would “prove invaluable to those involved in developing and implementing the Our Balbriggan Rejuvenation Plan”.
Four areas are currently being considered under the Integrated Action Plan. The first is a Creative Exchange which will organise regular networking opportunities for those involved and interested in growing cultural and creative enterprises.
The second are ‘in-between’ opportunities which will showcase cultural and creative talent and develop and grow opportunities for local niche enterprises.
The third are new spaces for enterprises which aim to convert old buildings and spaces into new sustainable opportunities for niche enterprises and fourthly, an industry plan for the creative arts which aims to create a strategy for a sustainable cultural and creative arts industry.
All of the members of iPlace will get an opportunity to host a city visit where team members from the partner places travel to and learn more about their European colleagues’ experiences.
The initial city visit was hosted in October 2019 by the lead Partner in Amarante and this month was Balbriggan’s turn.
One of the initiatives undertaken as part of the iPlace process is a Hackathon - an event which brings together lots of people from different backgrounds to work together to solve challenges.
Balbriggan hosted the Hackathon in two parts – in October 2021, the schools Hackathon took place over one week with three schools in the town participating in combined workshops and a one-day Hackathon, which took place online.
Winning solutions focused on the problem of food waste and building civic pride through a community podcast, town hall workshops and reporting improvements.
“Our Balbriggan continues to work and network with key stakeholders and partners to drive forward ideas and outputs that have become a key focus as part of the iplace programme,” said Aoife Sheridan, Senior Executive Officer at Fingal County Council.
“The completion of the Integrated Action Plans for all partner cities will be in June 2022, when the network will come together to present their bespoke plans for sustainable local economic development for each of their unique cities.”