Istanbul Innovation Days 2021: First regional dialogue looks at Urban Shifts in Europe and Central Asia

February 22, 2021

Photo UNDP Turkey / Levent Kulu

Cities play an important role in the economy of countries in Europe and Central Asia (ECA), where they provide 70% of GDP and 70% of the growth. Cities are at the forefront of confronting issues such as inequality, harnessing new technologies, and addressing systemic risks, like climate change, although it is true that they also consume 75% of the resources and account for 60-80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has most recently surfaced their vulnerability and is likely to have a long-term impact on structural aspects, spatial distribution and organization of urban centers.

Against this backdrop, the opening session of the Istanbul Innovation Days 2021 (IID2021), UNDP’s flagship event on innovation for development, focused on Urban Shifts - Transformation and Narratives that Fuel it. The first of five Regional Dialogues in a series of 30 online conversations over 8 weeks, the event aims to build on the emergent practice and body of knowledge around new ways of addressing urban transformation, models and financing mechanisms in Europe and Central Asia.

“Urban spaces in Europe and Central Asia suffer from depopulation and dying industries or high density of population. Across all, mayors struggle with old infrastructure, weak capacities and administration, and reliance on industries that are out of date,” said Ms. Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, UNDP Assistant Administrator, Regional Director for Europe and the CIS, opening the session.

In her keynote on new models for urban transformation, Ms. Kirsten Dunlop, CEO of Climate KIC, emphasized that “innovation is not a race to win solutions but a mechanism for learning. Achieving the systemic change we need requires a different order of innovation.”

In the context of Europe and Central Asia, the question is how to achieve these urban shifts while balancing green and blue development towards climate neutrality and exploring the financing models, new capabilities and partnerships needed to address the complex and interdependent nature of development challenges in urban space.

Opening the Leaders’ Dialogue on the art of the possible and new urban futures, H.E. Mr. Aureliu Ciocoi, Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova a.i., said that his country’s “future of development meant growth poles, new decent and greener jobs, as well as further attraction of new climate and smart investments in renewables”.

UNDP Administrator, Mr. Achim Steiner, underlined that urban shifts are fundamental to what happens next. “Cities will continue to be the lens through which a society continues to look at the future,” he said.

Ms. Fatma Sahin, Mayor of Gaziantep and President of the Union of Municipalities in Turkey, explained that green economies and knowledge-based economies were going to be the two main headlines of the future, highlighting that countries with human-centered development models had suffered less during the pandemic

Mr. Edin Forto, Prime Minister, Canton Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, touched upon the major issues his city faced, from exposure to some of the highest pollution rates in the world, to depopulation and low capacity in public administration.  

Dr. Josianne Cutajar, Member of the European Parliament, emphasized the vital role of SMEs in urban economy rejuvenation, and underlined the importance of digitalization and innovation.

The event was moderated by Ms. Shada Islam.


Istanbul Innovation Days

IID2021 is an eight-week programme of online events between 22 February and 20 April, not about what development is, but what it could be.

Around 30 online conversations hosted by the UNDP and partners from different locations around the world will focus on ‘Development and its futures.‘  In focusing on the plurality – the futures –  IID 2021 engages edge thinkers and doers to discover and accelerate alternative development paths in light of new risks – whether pandemic-like events, climate change, or the fourth industrial revolution. Website:

For more information, please contact:

Laurence Lessire, Regional Communications Specialist, UNDP Europe and Central Asia,