Created by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) in partnership with Culture Action Europe (CAE) the Pilot Cities Programme is an international project designed to explore how well culture is embedded across areas such as housing, health, young people’s services, inclusion, economic development and urban regeneration. Its premise is a belief that without culture these areas cannot flourish and therefore will struggle to work together to create the sustainable cities of the future.

Each round of the programme has between 10 and 12 cities ranging in size from Capital cities such as Lisbon and Madrid to smaller provinces such as Elefsina in Greece and Timisoara in Romania. The programme undertakes a rigorous qualitative assessment of the city across these areas before spending an intensive two year period developing ‘pilot measures’ to address the weaknesses in the city and arranging peer-learning partnerships across the full global network of UCLG and CAE.



Leeds joined the Pilot Cities Programme in 2017 alongside cities including Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxemburg, Terrassa in Spain, Madrid in Spain and Namur in Belgium. Each city is paired with an advisor from the programme and nominates a ‘focal point’ who will facilitate the delivery of the programme and the associated pilot measures for their city – in Leeds’ case I was appointed as the focal point.

In the role of the focal point, working with the Pilot Cities advisor, I have undertaken the extensive process of assessing Leeds against the nine criteria set by the programme. Each criteria had ten areas of focus to be marked from 1-10 (1 being poor, 10 being excellent) by a mixed workshop of local artists, independent practitioners, large cultural organisations and community groups. In Leeds we chose to also host a workshop with politicians and senior council officers partly to obtain a more rounded perspective but also to ensure that the programme had buy-in at a senior level within the local authority,as when the pilot measures are developed they could require additional funding, or a different way of working between departments that would need to be approved by the city council’s formal Executive Board.

Following the assessment we put out an open call for members of an ‘Advisory Panel’ who would help to shape the pilot measures and create projects and solutions in response to the areas of weakness determined by the programme so far. Pilot Cities forms part of the Leeds Culture Strategy Delivery Plan and therefore we wanted to keep the spirit of transparency and collaboration in the project rather than use the Advisory Panel as a closed group. We hosted an open event where copies of the assessment were given to attendees and the results were shared in a presentation, followed by an exhibition of pilot measures that the Advisory Panel had developed which members of the audience could comment on and help to shape.

Over the course of the next 18 months we will work with the Advisory Panel to develop a series of pilot measures that will help the city to address areas including urban regeneration and public realm, economic development and environmental sustainability. We will also partner with other cities from across the global network to share examples of best practice in areas where Leeds was found to have particular strengths.

Main Image: Jeff Koons at Guggenheim in Bilbao
Left Image: Street Art in Melbourne
Right Image:Trams in Lisbon