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The race is on. Italy's department of culture in Rome requests all Italian cities wanting to compete for the title of European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2019 to hand in their bid book by the 20th September 2013 

There is no official number yet, but about 20 Italian cities are expected to take part in the competition, and it's likely that no more than three to six of them will make it through the first round. The shortlisted cities will then have another year of time to fine-tune their bid book for the final round of ECoC 2019. Being designated as future European Capital of Culture isn't just a question of pride. The winning cities receive major investments and undergo profound change in their socio-cultural setup.

Siena2019 has its headquarters in the Santa Maria della Scala museum and the tension must be high right now, as the team has worked hard all through the last year. The Tuscan city, world-famous for piazza del Campo, the Palio horse race and its medieval architecture, is undergoing deep economical crisis since the debacle of the Monte dei Paschi bank. The idea behind the ECoC 2019 bid is to induce the urgently needed transition from Gothic dream to smart city of the 21st century, with due respect to Siena's impressive cultural heritage.

Torre del Mangia and Palazzo Pubblico on Siena's Piazza del Campo
September, 20: Carrier pigeon leaving for Rome 

As competition is fierce, Siena's bid book is the city's best kept secret right now. But whilst the 2019 competition is entering the initial phase, Europe has just pronounced Leuwaarden as Netherlands' European Capital of Culture in 2018 (the other ECoC in 2018 is La Valletta in Malta). 

The name Leuwaarden doesn't ring a bell? In fact, the jury's vote seems surprising, considering that powerhouses like Maastricht, The Hague, and Eindhoven were in the run-up for the title too. 

I've spent last night studying Leuwaarden's application for ECoC 2018, which is now accessible to the public. Whilst Siena and the Dutch winner don't seem to have much in common at first sight, important parallels surface quickly. 

  • Leuwaarden won the title together with the province of Friesland, one of Northern Europe's most fascinating tourist destinations thanks to the Wadden Sea. Similar to the province of Siena, agriculture and tourism are two of the most important economic factors in Friesland.
  • The province of Friesland and its capital Leuwaarden are in need of large scale cultural interventions to move beyond the current economic crisis. 
  • Leuwaarden and Siena are small university towns. Both of them experience the 'brain drain' phenomena: once students successfully graduate from university, they are quick to move out and onward to city's with more promising jobs and better quality of life.

Leuwaarden proposes a thought-through set of interventions to foster change and restart the economyI highly recommend to take a look at Leuwaarden's inspiring bid book, which can be downloaded from the Leuwaarden 2019 website

If you'd like to find out more about the exact motivations behind Siena's candidature, read my interview with Pier Luigi Sacco, the director of Siena2019.

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