1 August 2023

How Interreg builds smart and attractive cities

Written by Elena Kolosova
Cities and towns managed to make the most of their resources, public budgets, capacities, and skills by working together. They cooperated beyond borders to find the most fitting solutions to the challenges they face and become smarter and more attractive to residents. We take a look back at 25 years of Interreg Baltic Sea Region cooperation in this field. 
Cities and towns are engines for the development

Cities and towns are engines for the development of the whole Baltic Sea region. Interreg projects helped them define their strengths and respond to emerging challenges. In the early 2000s, over 50 cities and towns learned together how to develop their services for the benefit of residents. Some focused on planning and developing their urban space and reconstructing residential quarters and industrial areas, while others created investment and marketing strategies by making use of the expertise of capital cities.

Esa Kokkonen, Director of the Baltic Institute of Finland and the coordinator of the policy area Innovation of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

“The Programme is a very important instrument for local and regional actors in Tampere to connect with peers in neighbouring countries in topics like smart specialisation.
©Zuzen Media

We were able to coordinate and use the existing policies, policy instruments and innovation assets more effectively. The Programme helped us to be more effective with our innovation investments in the region.

In 2005, we started to reach out to Tampere’s peer regions along Via Baltica Nordica Development Zone and with a related cooperation proposal. It was our first own Interreg Baltic Sea Region project. It was about building a network and learning from peers. These were our first steps in smart specialisation when we tried to understand what our strengths and assets as a northern European region. And we have been continuing ever since.”

New focus over the years

Between 2009 and 2014, projects brought cities closer to each other and promoted them jointly as one unique destination for tourism and for investments outside the Baltic Sea region. They also helped bigger cities and smaller towns transform their development and urban design strategies that considered the opinions of residents.

Ann Irene Saeternes, Monitoring Committee member from Norway, Eastern Norway County Network

“Another project PIPE, led by Norway, involved young people in the planning processes and local community development. It was the first time for us to focus on youth involvement. We realised that smaller cities and regions outside capitals need to become more attractive for young people to live and work in.
The next steps were taken in the projects InnovationCircle and also TransInform project. For example, they used storytelling and created public spaces where people could meet.

Nowadays, youth empowerment and participation are well-established in Norway. Since 2020 it is regulated by law to establish youth councils and to involve young people in the region and municipalities’ debates and planning process. The Interreg projects played an important role in the process.”

Responding to new challenges

In 2016-2021, projects helped cities and towns deal with emerging societal and demographic changes and climate change challenges. Urban managers together with community activists, artists, and researchers engaged residents in urban social innovation to jointly develop visions for city spaces and design them as common community projects. Cities also developed urban mobility plans, established new mobility points, and introduced living street initiatives. They integrated autonomous public transport and e-mobility solutions, such as e-bikes, e-scooters, and e-buses, to increase the liveability of cities for residents.

Teresa Marcinów, Monitoring Committee member from Poland, Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy

“I believe that many Polish institutions appreciate the experience gained in the course of cooperation projects.
I have noticed that organisations that are active in transnational programmes are more curious and courageous when they try to get the best solutions for their regions. In this context, it is impossible not to mention small infrastructure improvements, planning investments, e.g. in tourism routes, or testing new mobility or transport solutions. Those investments are real and they often initiate bigger projects financed from national and regional resources.”


This year, our Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme is celebrating its 25th anniversary. For more examples of #MadeWithIBSR project results and testimonials of great people who have helped shape the regions with us,  visit our birthday celebrations page!

Want to know more about the projects that have been helping cities and towns become more attractive? Flip through the project examples below:


Cultural Planning as a method for urban social innovation
The project UrbCulturalPlanning addressed social and urban development by involving citizens in the cultural planning.
Read more about the project

BSR electric

BSR electric - Fostering e-mobility solutions in urban areas in the Baltic Sea Region
The Interreg project BSR electric fostered and integrated e-mobility solutions such as e-logistics, e-bikes, e-buses, e-scooters, and e-ferries, in urban transport systems in eight countries across the Baltic Sea region.
Read more about the project


Cities.multimodal – urban transport system in transition towards low carbon mobility
The Interreg project cities.multimodal presented environmentally friendly alternatives to driving, enhanced sustainable urban mobility planning for multimodal transport in ten cities and introduced six mobility points and smartphone-based travel planning.
Read more about the project


Holistic Urban and Peri-urban Mobility
The HUPMOBILE project provided city authorities, infrastructure operators and transport providers with tools for holistic sustainable urban mobility planning.
Read more about the project

Sohjoa Baltic

Sohjoa - Baltic Sea Region transitioning into eco-friendly autonomous last mile public transportation
The Interreg project Sohjoa Baltic increased knowledge on autonomous public transport in eight countries, brought piloting experience of self-driving electric minibuses to six countries, and contributed to promotion of environmentally friendly transport solutions in the Baltic Sea region.
Read more about the project


UrbanTestbeds.JR / AI-supported urban testbeds identification, co-design and data-driven storytelling with and for Young Citizens
In the project UrbanTestbeds.JR, public authorities use artificial intelligence and storytelling to co-create, together with the youth, climate and sustainability plans for urban spaces.
Read more about the project


Revitalisation of Inner-Urban Freight Rail Hubs
The project UrbFRail enables spatial and transport planners to create and revitalise freight rail hubs to improve last-mile transport in inner parts of the cities.
Read more about the project

BSR Cultural Pearls

Baltic Sea Region Cultural Pearls for more resilient Cities and Regions
The project BSR Cultural Pearls helps smaller cities and regions be more attractive to live in and improve their quality of life by engaging people in cultural activities and developing a stronger sense of commonship.
Read more about the project

We make transition!

Towards sustainable and resilient societies through empowered civil society and collaborative innovation
In the project We make transition! public authorities work on social and ecological initiatives with civil society, and co-create changes in the areas of consumption, mobility, energy and social life.
Read more about the project


CITYAM - Preparing cities for sustainable Urban Air Mobility
The project CITYAM equips cities with tools to improve airspace management in dealing with emerging urban air mobility and scaling drone operations.
Read more about the project

More recent news

Interreg design for young people

Interreg design for young people

On the occasion of the EU Youth Week, we dive deeper into several Interreg Baltic Sea Region projects to prove the added value of Interreg for young people in the region: from improving children’s well-being to co-creating their living spaces and future employment environments.

read more