EU Funds and Best Practices of Projects in Urban Areas


In recent years, cities and local authorities have showcased remarkable resilience and adaptability. The Covid-19 pandemic, despite its disruptions, highlighted the vital role of urban areas in fostering community spirit and innovation. Post-pandemic, many cities have emerged stronger, leveraging lessons learnt to build more robust systems and thriving communities.

Cities are also at the forefront of addressing significant challenges such as climate change, energy prices, the ageing population, and the integration of migrants. A proactive approach is needed to transform challenges into avenues for growth and improvement.

The European Union is supporting the efforts of cities and local authorities via various funding instruments. In a series of blogs, we will provide an overview of the European funds available for cities and local authorities in the current programming period 2021–2027.

In this first blog we will focus on EU funds under the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF): the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) of €226 billion, which finances the European Urban Initiative, the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) of €98.5 billion, and the Cohesion Fund (€48 billion). We will also present inspiring examples and best practices of EU-funded projects in urban areas, including testimonials from government officials.

European Regional Development Fund

The ERDF aims to reduce disparities between European regions and allocates at least 8% of its resources to sustainable urban development. This involves promoting decarbonisation, digitalisation, and sustainable mobility in urban areas, and at the same time fostering economic growth and employment.

The regeneration of the city centre of Katowice

The ERDF co-financed the construction of the Culture Zone on the territory of the former coal mine in the centre of Katowice, in the south of Poland. This cultural and entertainment area was created through three projects: the International Congress Centre (ICC) (Międzynarodowe Centrum Kongresowe – MCK), the Silesian Museum, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio (Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia – NOSPR), under the Regional Operational Programme (OP) 2007–2013 (implementation 2011–2015).

The main goal was to bring economic and cultural benefits to the city and the former coal-mining region of Silesia. Similar projects are eligible for funding in the 2021–2027 programme.

Thanks to the ERDF (project cost: €90–€95 million, ERDF: €41–46 million) the ICC was established in the Culture Zone, made up of 26 conference rooms and an area offering virtually unlimited possibilities. As explained by Karolina Sabat, Sub-inspector at the Department of Communication and Promotion in the province of Silesia, since May 2016, almost 500 events have taken place (75 large trade fairs, 145 congresses and conferences, and about 100 cultural events, concerts, and performances). The ICC also hosted important events such as the European Economic Congress, COP24, the UN Digital Summit IGF 2022, and the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) World Conference. The ICC features a unique architectural design and green spaces open to residents and tourists.

The Silesian Museum (project cost: €60–€65 million, with 85% of the ERDF co-financing: €41–€45 million), celebrates the industrial heritage of the region while enriching its cultural offer. The museum hosts the Gallery of Polish Modern Art 1800–1945, the Gallery of Silesian Sacred Art, and the Gallery of Non-professional Art. It also hosts educational rooms, a library, and an auditorium with 320 seats. The adjacent former mining shaft was turned into an observation tower where visitors can enjoy a unique panorama over the Culture Zone and the city of Katowice. The museum and the nearby park frequently host events such as debates, film screenings, sport tournaments, and family walks.

The Culture Zone represents a great example of EU funds being used to find a new purposes for former coal mines. In addition to hosting cultural and economic events, it is a modern, aesthetically beautiful, and green space enjoyed by local residents and visitors from around the world.

An old factory in Naples was turned into an innovation hub

The ERDF also contributed to an urban redevelopment project in Naples with €45.6 million, which was implemented between 2008 and 2016. It consisted of converting a former tomato canning factory into a modern building – now one of the campuses of the University of Naples and an innovation hub. The building has classrooms for 1000 students, laboratories, and congress centres. Further expansion works that are currently underway will be able to host 4000 students. Companies such as Apple and Cisco have opened academies in the complex, where students are equipped with the know-how to face the digital transition.

European Urban Initiative

The ERDF funds the European Urban Initiative (EUI), which focuses on innovation and aims to promote new solutions, disseminate knowledge, and design relevant policies. The EUI assists cities in co-financing innovative projects, implementing sustainable development strategies, and learning from each other. The co-financed projects must be untested and experimental; they must also bring measurable added value and be applicable in different locations across Europe.

Co-City project in Turin

The Co-City project in Turin (2017–2020), co-financed by the ERDF under EUI (€4.1 million), represents an innovative way to address the problems caused by urban decay, urban poverty, and mistrust in local institutions. The project aimed to directly involve citizens and local associations in urban regeneration actions. This was made possible thanks to agreements between residents and the municipality, called ‘pacts of collaboration’.

A total of 338 local associations or groups of citizens submitted 124 proposals for collaboration. This resulted in the implementation of 46 pacts. The actions mostly focused on finding new purposes for abandoned buildings and spaces, or their improvement. For instance, part of a disused former car factory was converted into a public space where socio-cultural, educational, and sports activities take place. The pacts also allowed the construction of sports grounds, the purchase of equipment for schools, and for the maintenance of green areas. In total, 18 projects entailed investments in the refurbishment and redevelopment of public buildings. Projects also aimed to tackle poverty and social exclusion, reaching around 220 vulnerable residents.

The Co-City project also had the advantage of improving residents’ attitudes towards the local government and administration. According to a survey carried out among residents involved in the submission of proposals, 73% of them believe that the administration of the city is more open to collaboration with citizens and more flexible in its communication. Moreover, 66% of respondents believe that pacts of collaboration are helpful in establishing a partnership between citizens and the administration.

The idea of using pacts of collaboration can be considered as a best practice. As highlighted by Giovanni Ferrero, Officer at the City of Turin and Project Manager of Co-City, the experimentation with pacts of collaboration was a success. Now that the project has ended, pacts of collaboration are an established practice in the city of Turin. A new project, called CO4CITIES, aimed to spread and promote their implementation in three other European cities (Budapest, Hungary; Gdańsk, Poland; and Cluj-Napoca, Romania). Pacts of collaboration also represent a very effective instrument to bring citizens and local institutions closer, particularly meaningful at a time of lack of trust of citizens in government and public administration.

Cohesion Fund

The Cohesion Fund (CF)’s main objectives are to support environmental investments aiming to facilitate the green transition (37% of its resources are allocated to climate goals) and to improve mobility between EU Member States (e.g. the Trans-European Transport Network). It also finances investments in sustainable urban transport.

Extension of Warsaw’s Metro Line 2

A project co-financed by the Cohesion Fund, with a contribution of €448.2 million, extended Warsaw’s Metro Line 2 (2019 and 2022): 5.8 km of new track were built and five new stations in total. In addition, 17 new trains replaced the older ones. The investment aimed to increase and improve the offer of environmentally friendly transportation in the city as opposed to the use of private vehicles.

European Social Fund Plus

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) is the main instrument to invest in people, facilitate access to employment – especially in marginalised groups – innovate the labour market, and promote educational, training, and upskilling activities. It also aims to tackle poverty by fostering social inclusion and the availability of essential services. In 2021–2027 the ESF has become ESF+, as a response to the social and occupational challenges brought by the pandemic. ESF+ has a stronger focus on labour participation by tackling inequalities, and access to education and healthcare. Its main goals are to bring excluded individuals into the labour market, provide them with the right skills and reduce deprivation and exclusion.

Good Perspectives project in Hamburg

The ESF+ contributed €357 773 to the ‘Good Perspectives’ project, implemented by Arbeit und Leben Hamburg, a non-profit organisation.

The objective of the project is to assist employees, especially in the trade, care services, and logistics sectors, in acquiring fundamental skills necessary to succeed in their jobs. Training is offered to workers without formal qualifications free of charge, focusing on reading, writing, numerical, and IT skills. The project started in 2022 and is still ongoing, involving 304 participants so far. Up to 420 participants in total are expected by the end of the project in December 2024.

According to Sabine Raab, Project Manager of the Good Perspectives project at Arbeit und Leben Hamburg, Good Perspectives has several points of strength that can serve as an example for other cities. The Covid pandemic has had a negative impact on education and the skill level of employees, in contrast to employers’ growing demand for a skilled workforce. Additionally, the workforce is ageing, making it more difficult to involve older employees in training activities. The project has successfully addressed this issue by organising on-the-job training at employees’ workplaces in small groups. What is learnt can be immediately applied, motivating participants to make the most of the sessions.

Good Perspectives also raises awareness among HR departments about training needs, and reduces the stigma of receiving training in basic skills. As a result, participants in the project are more self-confident and better prepared to grow in their careers.


The EU’s 2021–2027 MFF brings significant funding opportunities for cities and local authorities, enabling the implementation of projects that positively impact urban development and address various opportunities for growth. The best practices presented illustrate how cities have successfully regenerated previously abandoned areas, transforming them into vibrant spaces that foster employment, community-building, cultural activities, innovation, and sustainable mobility. Additionally, cities have empowered their most vulnerable residents by equipping them with essential skills to enter the local job market and providing crucial support amid rising living costs. These efforts highlight the vital role of cities in driving positive change, and ensuring a sustainable and inclusive future for all residents.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and not necessarily those of EIPA.

Tags ESIF and recovery & reform