With all eyes on innovation at the recent Web Summit, which took place in Lisbon earlier in November, it was the ideal stage to announce that the winner of the European Capital of Innovation 2018 was the City of Athens, with a prize of €1 million.
Naming the winner of the prestigious distinction, Carlos Moedas, EU commissioner for research, science and innovation, said: “Athens stands out as an example that a city facing many challenges can achieve great things.”
The criteria for the award was how cities’ experiment, engage, expand and empower their communities using new technologies to respond to societal challenges. Along with the appointment of a chief digital officer (CDO), the City of Athens stood out for a range of initiatives and campaigns that have revitalised the city, according to the European Commission. Among them are:
- POLIS², a project aimed to revitalise abandoned buildings by providing small grants to residents, small enterprises and creative communities;
- Curing the Limbo, an initiative that gives refugees and migrants the chance to connect with local residents to learn the language, find employment and integrate into the city;
- The renovation of the historical Kypseli public market to create a “social entrepreneurship” space, hosting exhibitions, workshops, theatre shows and other creative projects.
What this means for Athens
At the brink of collapse less than a decade ago, after years of austerity and at the frontline of Europe’s refugee crisis, Greece has witnessed increasingly broad social challenges. Its response to turn the economic and social crisis around has been innovation. The title of European Capital of Innovation comes with a prize money of €1 million, which “will be used to scale up local innovation activities and collaborate with other cities”, according to a statement from the European Commission.
The award gives the City of Athens the opportunity to scale up and embrace existing strategies, including bottom-up approaches to resolve city challenges, engagement of different stakeholders and innovative approaches of cooperation within the municipality.
“We have overcome many obstacles by coming together as citizens, universities, private institutions, non-governmental organisations, municipal agencies and other partners committed to making Athens stronger,” said city mayor Giorgos Kaminis.
“Our new digital strategy, which has increased the municipality’s ability to serve residents, and programmes such as Athens Open Schools, which provide beacons for community members to learn and connect, are just a couple examples of how we are innovating and strengthening through collaboration.”
The runners-up of the competition, spearheaded by the Horizon 2020 programme, were Aarhus (Denmark), Hamburg (Germany), Leuven (Belgium), Toulouse (France) and Umeå (Sweden), who each received €100,000.