Affordable and high quality living space; safety and security to inhabitants of cities are considered as the most important urban issues cities need to tackle, according to Kaspars Karolis, Senior Expert of the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. An interview with the Latvian representative in JPI Urban Europe.

Priorities based on the development of cities and towns in balance with the regions
What are the main Latvian priorities regarding urban development?
“Priorities of Latvia in regional development are defined in the main national level planning document ‘Regional policy guidelines 2013-2020’. There are several priority areas defined. A network of 30 national and regional centres is set up to attain a balanced regional development. The network consists of 9 urban municipalities and our 21 largest towns that are part of urban-rural municipalities. We also work on the establishment of functional target areas, e.g. the area of the Riga metropolis, the coast of the Baltic sea and the Eastern border area.
The government strives for a balanced investment facilitation for economic development and entrepreneurship on local and regional levels. We stimulate an increased role of local governments and regions in the development of territories in order to use the full potential.
Furthermore we strive for a wide involvement of stakeholders in the implementation of regional policy.
All these priorities are strongly based on the development of cities and towns – the earlier mentioned network of national and regional development centres form the key target areas of the regional policy of Latvia to ensure a balanced development of the regions.”

Two main support programmes for municipalities
Which activities, programmes or strategies are in place to support sustainable urban development?
“The aforementioned guidelines are the fundament of the government’s leading strategic document. The largest operational contribution is from EU Structural funds, in the activities directly supporting the cities regarding entrepreneurship, transportation and environment. The cities develop corresponding documents on their level. Riga for example, has a development programme for 2014-2020 and a sustainable development strategy elaborated until 2030.
We address demographic challenges related to outmigration of population by increasing the attractiveness of the 30 national and regional development centres as places of residence, economic activity and development; and as a result to ensure socioeconomic sustainability of the regions of Latvia.
In the operational program of 2014-2020 EU funds planning period ‘Growth and Employment’ two main support programmes for municipalities co-financed by ERDF have been introduced in Latvia. The aims are to increase the amount of private investment in the regions by investing in the development of entrepreneurship. This is operated according to the economic field of work of topics of the municipal development programs, and is also based on the local entrepreneurs’ needs.”

Main issues in urban research and innovation
What are the main issues in urban research and innovation in Latvia?
“Latvia has several national level programmes on research and innovation for city technologies. There is a dedicated programme National Research Programme SOPHIS that stands for ‘Cyber-physical systems, ontologies and bio photonics for safe & smart city and society’. Digitalisation and smart cities are part of projects that also run under other national level funding schemes, as well as structural fund supported innovation projects.
Food and energy provision to cities is another theme relevant to Latvian research and innovation.”

 

“Small countries like Latvia simply don’t have research capacities for everything”

 

Synergies from other cities experience
How important is transnational cooperation for Latvia?
“For Latvia as a small country, transnational cooperation is very important, since we simply do not have own research capacities for everything. Latvia can also make better forecasts based on information abroad. For instance, Riga is a relatively large city without a subway system, an issue that has been intensely discussed. However, we see now that subways are a main security and safety risk, and therefore other solutions should be scrutinised, in a trade-off between resilience and efficiency. Another synergy from other cities experiences could be created on the issue of unfinished buildings because of the major economic crisis. Joint analysis of the question what to do with them (finish via public funds, decommission, keep it as it is) could result in identifying appropriate policy measures or setting up joint research activities.
Latvia is not well integrated in the Horizon2020 programme yet; therefore member states initiatives as Joint Programming enhance the transnational collaboration and widen our thematic scope.”

Possibility to participate in the decision processes
What are the expectations and the expected added value for the engagement in JPI Urban Europe?
“Latvia has been an observer in JPI Urban Europe since 2010. Becoming a full member will make it possible to participate in the decision processes and elevate more prominently priorities of Latvia. Since Latvia like most EU-13 is underrepresented in H2020 projects, the participation in JPI Urban Europe calls will offer possibilities to cooperate on scientific institution levels. JPIs in general must deliver substantial impact in the area they represent, and therefore they must support collaboration above all criteria.”

City issues
What are – from your personal view – the most important urban issues that our cities need to tackle?
“Affordable and high quality living space, safety and security to inhabitants of cities.”

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