Breaking from reality to radically reimagine our cities

Cities of spiderwebs, strings and stars: using fiction to fundamentally rethink our urban environments at Energy Cities’ Inspirational Day in Modena.

Imagining the sustainable and fossil-free cities of tomorrow is not always easy. We’re often biased by our daily experiences of familiar cities: the buildings, crosswalks, streets and spaces that we interact with every day. It’s hard to imagine the potential of what’s there but hiding below the surface. On top of that, city leaders and practitioners are often limited by bureaucracy, legislative barriers, and resource constraints; routine and fatigue hold back imaginary potential, limiting our ability to radically transform our cities. 

And radical transformation is needed. For that, it’s essential that we stretch our imagination and sometimes start from a completely new perspective: from cities unlike any that we’ve ever seen before… That’s why, for this year’s inspirational day at our annual Forum, we are inviting you on a journey from the very real city of Modena to the very unreal “invisible cities” from Italo Calvino’s novel. Invisible Cities is a poetic and imaginative exploration of cities, real and unreal, as narrated by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. 

Cities made of strings, stars and dreams: we invite you to travel through seven of these cities, that are 100% fictitious and magical, to explore the “unimaginable” possibilities hidden below the surface in our own contexts.  

Here’s a taste of the journey that awaits. 

Octavia – a spiderweb of support 

The journey will start in Octavia, a city unlike any other, where spider-web-like structures connect its inhabitants between two mountain crests, using ropes, chains, and suspended catwalks over the void. In Octavia, the net is not just a means of passage but a symbol of support, paradoxically providing its citizens with a sense of certainty amidst their precarious surroundings. Here, the people are acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities their unique situation offers. 

Octavia is Energy Cities: not just a network; it’s a living web that supports its members, cities, and local leaders. From Octavia, you will journey on through each of Energy Cities’ hubs to explore the multitude of ideas, innovations, and visions they have to offer. 

Ersilia – strings binding cities to its citizens 

In Ersilia, you’ll discover a city where the ties and strings connecting its inhabitants are more enduring than any walls or infrastructure. These strings represent the city’s most valuable capital, capable of triggering transformative change in their territories.  

Ersilia, local governance hub at Energy Cities inspitrational day, journey through Italo Calvino's invisible cities

Ersilia is our Local Governance Hub: it’s where you can engage in discussions on local governance, learn from innovative stakeholder engagement processes from other cities, and test new tools for planning energy and climate strategies. 

Isaura – an underground lake unplugged from fossil dependency 

Isaura’s existence revolves around an underground lake that defines its “green boundaries”. The mysteries surrounding the lake, the wells and the pipes that extract the underground black liquid from the lake: these shape the lives of its residents and has even given rise to two religions.   

Isaura, invisible city, Grafting Cities, Energy Cities Inspirational Day

Isaura is our Fossil-free Cities Hub: it’s where you can exchange ideas on liberating cities from fossil dependency. In Isaura, learn about the New European Bauhaus and its role in affordable housing development. Explore how cities are decommissioning their gas grids, and test various heat planning tools and building renovation accelerators. 

Andria – a city of innovation among the stars

Andria is a city intricately connected to the stars and constellations, deeply embedded in its environment. Its inhabitants constantly consider how their innovations impact cities worldwide.  

Andria is our Community Energy Hub: in Andria, explore the role of regional energy agencies in fighting poverty, learn how to create energy communities, and engage in cross-expert exercises like renewable energy mapping. 

Euphemia – where stories are exchanged to nourish dreams

Euphemia showcases that cities are not just about infrastructures; they are living stories. It’s a place where stories are exchanged, and markets are more than just sources of food—they provide nourishment for dreams.  

Euphemia is our Sustainable Land & Food Policies Hub: in Euphemia, you can delve into the Slow Food movement’s efforts to transform our food system, learn from UNESCO’s creative cities network, and test your municipal food policy ideas. 

Olinda – circles generating different models of growth 

Olinda defies traditional growth models by regenerating itself in its center, like a hidden city blossoming amidst its streets. Join discussions on involving economic and social actors in regenerating strategies.  

Olinda is our Fair Economies Hub: in Olinda, explore the repurposing of vacant spaces, discover how cities have gone “free from advertisement,” and learn how to transform streets into living, vibrant spaces. 

Thekla – building the future

Continue your journey into Thekla, a city in constant construction, guided by the ever-evolving blueprint of the stars.  

Thekla is our Mayor’s Voice: in Thekla, mayors and city leaders gather to address contemporary challenges. They exchange strategies for overcoming local opposition, fostering respectful debates, and sharing responsibilities to mobilize further. These leaders also explore how to communicate the vision of a sustainable future, encompassing “well-being” economics and a shifting economy. 

Diomira – where emotions last longer than precious metals

End your journey in Diomira, a city adorned with sixty silver domes, bronze deities, streets paved with lead, and a crystalline theater. Yet, what truly distinguishes this city is the recollection of the joy experienced by travellers on a October evening, when the days grow shorter, and the vibrant lamps simultaneously illuminate at the entrances of the food stalls.

Diomira, journey through Italo Calvino's invisible cities at Energy Cities inspirational day in Modena

Diomira is where we consolidate the insights that we gained from our voyage through these fantastical cities. Having stretched the boundaries of our imagination, what remains is the strength of the emotions, connections and aspirations that were exchanged along this way. The hope of course is to each bring this new energy and new perspectives back home with us to our cities.

The journey awaits… what are you waiting for? 

Ready to delve into Calvino’s imaginary world to find radical answers and practical solutions for your city’s tomorrow? With a range of activities and interactive sessions, you can choose the topics that interest you the most and navigate through the different stages of this journey through Calvino’s “invisible cities” alongside fellow city leaders and experts. Check out the programme and make sure to register for Energy Cities’ Inspirational Day on Wednesday, October 18th!  

Discover the full programme of the forum. 


Invisible Cities, Energy Cities' Inspirational Day in Modena, journey through Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities

Illustrations by Lukas Verstraete