Sustainable lifestyles: From the niche to the city centres

young woman offers things to swap instead of buy in modern furnished storeClick to enlarge
Swapping instead of buying new saves resources and avoids waste.
Source: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS / Adobe Stock

City centres have long been characterised by high levels of consumption. They now face major changes due to online retailing, the aftermath of COVID19 and the climate crisis. The UBA coordinated EU Interreg project “NiCE – from niche to centre”, started in May 2023. The project aims to take advantage of these changes and make city centres more attractive again by offering sustainable options.

The challenges

European city centres are changing. Over the last few decades, they have been resource-intensive centres of consumption. Social interaction was strongly linked to consumption. With the growth of online retail, consumption is now increasingly shifting from stationary shops to the digitised sphere. In addition, COVID19 has weakened stationary retail and numerous shops have had to close. City centres are therefore experiencing a decline in use and importance.

In contrast, alternative and sustainable consumption models, such as secondhand, borrowing, swapping or repairing, are increasing, leading to more circularity and ⁠sufficiency⁠. However, due to the current environment, these models usually only remain a niche option and are at best only perceived by “interested parties”. Consumers currently lack central and easily accessible options for alternative and circular forms of consumption.

Who and what is “NiCE”?

The project “NiCE: from niche to centre – city centres as places of circular lifestyles” brings these two challenges together: a transformation of central places in cities that make it easy for their inhabitants to adopt sustainable lifestyles. At the same time, city centres can be revitalised in a circular and sustainable way.

A total of nine project partners from eight countries are involved in the project. In addition to the UBA⁠ as lead partner these are: ENVIROS from the Czech Republic, StadtLABOR from Austria, the Bistra Scientific Research Centre from Slovenia, the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development (ENEA) from Italy, the University of Budapest for Technology and Economics from Hungary, Creative Industry Košice from Slovakia, and the Pro-Akademia Research and Innovation Centre and the City of Brzeg Dolny from Poland.

The project is funded by the EU Interreg programme for Central Europe and will run from May 2023 to April 2026.

What is being planned?

The launch meeting of the project took place in Budapest at the end of May 2023. The first tasks now relate to the questions: What are the needs of local people in city centres? How can we ascertain these in the best possible way? And: What good examples already exist? 

The core of the project is the piloting. A total of eight pilot implementations are planned, one in each partner country. These eight pilots are divided into four main topics:

  • Consumer activation,
  • Revitalisation of vacant spaces,
  • Implementation and running of resource centres, and
  • Linking online and bricks-and-mortar retail.

The UBA will conduct a pilot on the topic of online retail. This will be done in close cooperation with the national research project “SONa” – which stands for “City Centres as Places of Sustainable Consumption”. Ideas for implementation range from pop-up stores by traders who have so far only been active online to the mirroring of city centre products and services on a city's own online marketplace.

It is important for the project that it is not about individual solutions. Rather, the pilots serve to try things out and then extend them to a wider audience. The subsequent offerings of the project will therefore build on the experience gained from the pilots: Among other things which are planned are an online seminar series for selected target groups, policy recommendations, on-site visits with experts, a virtual reality exhibition with good examples as well as educational materials on sustainable consumption and circular lifestyles.

More information and contact

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