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Integrating Quality of Life into policymaking

During its second presidency of the Council of the EU, in the field of territorial cohesion and urban matters, Slovenia highlighted quality of life, affordable housing and recommendations of the ‘green’ Urban Agenda partnerships on better regulation. The Territorial Agenda 2030 and the New Leipzig Charter, our common framework documents adopted in December 2021, address quality of life through specific spatial and urban aspects.

During its second presidency of the Council of the EU, in the field of territorial cohesion and urban matters, Slovenia highlighted quality of life, affordable housing and recommendations of the ‘green’ Urban Agenda partnerships on better regulation. The Territorial Agenda 2030 and the New Leipzig Charter, our common framework documents adopted in December 2021, address quality of life through specific spatial and urban aspects.

The Ljubljana Agreement and its annex, the Multiannual Working Programme for the Urban Agenda for the EU – the Next Generation, adopted last week, show the pathway for the continuation and development of the EU Urban Agenda, which will bring a new impetus to support for the quality of life of our citizens.

The most interesting issue is how such a broad concept as quality of life can be integrated into policymaking, taking into account territorial dimensions. Stemming from ESPON’s applied research on measuring territorial quality of life, the approach has been implemented and further developed in the cross-border area of the Province of Trieste in Italy, the Coastal-Karstic region in Slovenia and Istria in Croatia, showing interesting differences in quality of life there.

In parallel, the Atlas on Quality of Life in Slovenia, using available data at municipal level, has been prepared. It shows not only the state of art in quality of life, but also how the ESPON methodology can be used at other territorial levels. Information on lower territorial levels is especially important for national policymakers to understand interregional and intermunicipal differences and commons better. 

Public authorities are guardians of the public good and carriers of a sustainable future for present and future generations.

Pilot actions are a tool for implementing the Territorial Agenda 2030; they aim to inspire stakeholders with ways to implement its objectives in practice. In the ESPON pilot lab in October this year, pilot actions’ coordinators, together with ESPON and the Slovenian Presidency, explored what are the most promising elements of the ESPON quality of life approach that they can use for better addressing challenges of lagging regions, small places, cross-border areas, Alpine towns, landscapes and territorial imbalances. 

We live in the world, where quality of life has individual and societal values. Its meaning differs from one continent to another, from one state to another, from one culture to another and from one individual to another. Generally, people’s desire is to live good, long and healthy lives, but how this is realised partly depends on their subjective expectations and social status, and partly on public policies and the societal system in place.

In Europe, we are proud of what is known as the European social model, which ensures social justice and solidarity including in the field of accessibility to services of general interest. European states have introduced methods for suitable and adequate distribution of, quality of and access to services such as health, education, housing, social services and basic supplies. Different instruments have been applied to enable appropriate distribution, including spatial planning and polycentric development. Quality of life is also ensured through the protection of land, landscape, nature, water and the environment embedded in the multilevel governance systems. 

Decisions are a societal compromise, but they have to take a long-term perspective and responsibility for the future of all places, as stipulated in the Territorial Agenda 2030

Public authorities are guardians of the public good and carriers of a sustainable future for present and future generations. Since no one size fits all, common visions should be a result of joint searching, weighing and balancing solutions for the needs of people and their different territories, rural, remote and sparsely populated or urban. Decisions are a societal compromise, but they have to take a long-term perspective and responsibility for the future of all places, as stipulated in the Territorial Agenda 2030.

The policy brief on quality of life, a joint paper by ESPON and the Slovenian Presidency, highlights among other things that individuals are not only the consumers of public policies, but also managers of changes. This is very important, for we are at a breakthrough moment, facing great changes as a society and as individuals that require adapting our behaviour and societal production towards implementing carbon neutrality.

In spite of a high level of environmental consciousness and support for changes, we cannot completely comprehend and comprehensively manage the potential impacts of the objective of carbon neutrality on societal and spatial organisation. For example, the current prevention of expanding settlements might not be relevant anymore; some places will become more endangered by climate change in future and densification will no longer be the right answer. It might require new settlement policies, looking perhaps towards currently abandoned places.

All this requires change in lifestyles, because not all of our challenges can be solved by technology. It also requires truly integrated, more coherent and more evidence- and place-based policies that will be able to support the necessary changes. Regular and timely interaction among policy and decision makers, practitioners, researchers and citizens is thus crucial to support better preparation of public policies and their monitoring.

ESPON approaches show many interesting possibilities for tackling challenges better and in more innovative ways, and we are looking forward with great expectations to the new ESPON programme to capitalise on existing knowledge and develop it further, in collaboration with the Member States and partner states and all interested stakeholders.

This article appears in the Quality of Life Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the Quality of Life Issue of TerritoriALL