Summary (by Juanjo Galan Vivas, Coordinator)
During the VLC_Summer School on Synergic Urban Infrastructures, 36 students and 16 teachers from 6 universities of the ENHANCE Alliance worked together to develop synergic proposals for a pilot site in Valencia (Spain).
The course was codesigned by representatives from all the participating universities in a process that fostered pedagogical and organisational discussions affecting interdisciplinary education in Urban Planning. These discussions were not only crucial for the development of the course but also for advancing in one of the key objectives of the ENHANCE Alliance: the creation and consolidation of a European network of technical universities working and researching together on some of the most critical and complex challenges affecting humankind and our planet.
In particular, the Summer School was developed as a 4,5 credits Blended Intensive Programme (BIP) supported by the Erasmus Programme of the European Union and included 64,5 hours of online learning and 48 hours of onsite activities. Overall, 120 applications were received, and after a strict selection process based on the search for excellence and interdisciplinarity, six students from each university were accepted.
The online phase of the Summer School included online lectures about the different infrastructures addressed in the course (green, blue-water, social, housing, mobility, and energy) and the key strategies, plans and missions already developed for Valencia. During this same phase, students and teachers from each university worked in the TASK1, covering the analysis and definition of toolboxes for each urban infrastructure in the whole city and the pilot area.
The onsite phase was activated with a welcoming event in a coworking space in Ruzafa, one of the liveliest neighbourhoods of Valencia, and was followed by a site visit in which the students had the opportunity to validate and complete their analytical works. After this visit and the public presentation of TASK1, new multi-thematic teams integrated by students from each university were created, and the TASK2 was initiated. This new task included the definition of a synergic method or ‘synergy-meter’ for detecting and increasing the positive interactions between ecological, water, social, mobility, housing, and energy systems. The TASK2 was considered a keystone in the course since it was expected to provide a new lens or approach to develop urban plans. With this new design tool in their hands, students were invited to initiate the TASK3 to define a spatial strategy for the pilot site. This last phase was accompanied by two participatory workshops where students and teachers could engage in lively and fruitful discussions with neighbours and local experts. As some of the students said, these conversations, full of feelings and personal stories, were crucial to provide a meaning and a ‘soul’ to the place. On Saturday, 9 September, a summary of all the works developed during the onsite week were presented and a general feeling of satisfaction was floating in the air, both regarding the VLC_Summer School and the potential of the ENHANCE Alliance to promote advanced and innovative learning. Quoting the words from some students and teachers, ‘Such international and multidisciplinary courses are incredible ways to learn so much in such little time. Truly valuable!’.
In addition, ‘the exchange of students and teachers can help to transform and adapt the way planning is taught at the member universities to existing challenges’. Both students and teachers emphasised the importance as well of the ENHANCE alliance: ‘From my point of view as a student, alliances between different universities, such as ENHANCE, are highly beneficial and essential. It’s a great opportunity to be taught by excellent teachers from other universities and learn alongside other outstanding students. It does inspire’. ‘ENHANCE is opening a new challenging way of organising research and teaching in the European framework while facilitating common pioneering initiatives’.
Overall, the development and results of the Summer School greatly exceeded the highest expectations of the organisers and paved the way for future collaborations within the ENHANCE network. After the course, all participants felt that after this initial step, they wanted to move forward to more ambitious and impactful endeavours.