Vera will lead the e-SAFE co-design process on the ground in Timișoara and Bucharest with building owners and citizens.
You are an urban planner specialised in energy efficiency and sustainability. What make you choose this path? And how do you see the impact of your work on the ground with citizens?
About ten years ago, I decided to become an urban planner while studying building engineering and architecture at the University of Catania. I was a young student with a strong interest in all the subjects concerning sustainability. My love for planning arose when I discovered that sustainability is a problem on a larger scale than just the buildings we live in. Human organizations, economic systems, and social issues all play a role in sustainability. In other words, sustainability is rooted in the interactions between societal and environmental change in our cities. From this principle, we cannot ignore working with the citizens who live in a city and their organizations.
You will be leading e-SAFE efforts on the ground in Timișoara and Bucharest to co-design an energy efficient, seismic-safe renovation project together with building owners and occupants over a period of several months. This is a huge task! Can you tell us a bit about what the process will look like, and explain your role in all of this?
The word "co-design" refers to a participatory, co-creative, and open design process where the building’s end users share their ideas, needs, and aspirations with the technical experts so that together they can identify the best solutions framed within a common background. It will be a mutual learning process that involves all the people who have a stake in the building. This kind of process requires a long time to be effective. As a result, the activities will be scheduled over a period of three months and arranged to address all issues related to the building's deep renovation (thermal systems, structure, architectural issues, etc.) in a way that is understandable to everyone. As an expert in participatory processes, I am responsible to ensure high quality and democratic governance of the process, to build confidence and trust in decision making, to generate a greater understanding of issues, concerns, priorities, and solutions among stakeholders, to increase mutual learning through the sharing of information, data, and experiences, to reach agreements in a collaborative manner and of course, to create enthusiasm in being part of it. Yes, it is a huge task, but it is fun!
What challenges do you expect to face when you get there?
The two pilots are very different, so the challenge is to tailor the co-design for the two contexts. In Timișoara, our partner is a high school, so the work will primarily be done with teenagers. Here, one of the main challenges is to capture their attention on a topic that may not be one of their primary interests.
In Bucharest, we will work on a residential building located in a distressed urban area. The main challenge in this case will be to consider both the building's issues, its urban context, and economic challenges.
And what are you most excited about?
I’ve never been to Romania, so I'm excited to discover a cultural context that is entirely new to me. Furthermore, you stated that leading the co-design activities is a massive task. I completely agree, but such an effort makes me thrilled and motivates me to do my best. My hope is that everything we do with e-SAFE will actually contribute to the pilot's transformation.
Any key messages you would like to share about e-SAFE and the significance of this pilot process with citizens?
Our cities and buildings are extremely vulnerable due to energy and seismic safety issues. Although we talk about it, deep renovation is not widely practiced, and we no longer have the time to wait. The e-SAFE project is highly innovative, not only because of the technology developed, but because it addresses all aspects of deep renovation, including social and economic. Involving citizens in co-design allows us to raise awareness in the large public about the importance of deep renovation while also learning about the main barriers to implementation. The e-SAFE project aims to establish this as a design quality standard, and I am quite optimistic that these experimentations in Romania will become common practice in the near future, all over Europe.