Athens, the capital of Greece, beat 26 cities from 16 other countries to walk away with the coveted European Capital of Innovation awards for the year 2018.
The euro 1-million award is funded by the European Union’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. It recognizes cities in Europe that stand out in terms of using new ideas and technologies to solve local problems and improving the plight of their denizens.
Aarhus (Denmark), Hamburg (Germany), Leuven (Belgium), Toulouse (France), and Umeå (Sweden) – emerged runners-up and bagged euro 100,000 each.
The prize money will be used to scale up local innovation activities and collaborate with other cities.
Announcing the name of the winning city, Carlos Moedas , commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said, “Cities are beacons of innovation. They act as magnets for talent, for capital, for the opportunity. With the European Capital of Innovation, we reward the cities that go the extra mile to test new ideas, technologies and ways to make citizens heard in the way their city is changed".
Commissioner Moedas praised Athens for pulling itself out of the crises that had been haunting it for some time.
"Athens stands out as an example that a city facing many challenges can achieve great things. Through innovation, Athens has found a new purpose to turn around the economic and social crisis. It is proof that it's not the difficulties but how you lift yourself that matters,” he said.
Some of the ingenious ideas adopted by the Greek capital includes the POLIS project aimed to revitalise abandoned buildings by providing small grants to residents, small enterprises, creative communities and other civil society groups and bring life to all corners of Athens.
The renovation of the Kypseli Public Market , a 90-year old historical building with active support of Athens' citizens and turning it into a hub of exhibitions, workshops, theatre shows and other initiatives also impressed the jury.
Serafeio, a popular community playground has also been turned into a host of initiatives like Athens Digital Lab, Open Schools or Athens Culture Net.
Curing the Limbo initiative, which gives refugees and migrants the possibility to connect with other residents in order to learn the language, develop new skills, find employment opportunities, and engage in active citizenship and the Digital Council, in which the city brought together companies and educational institutions to offer training on digital literacy and civic technology training as well as promote sustainable innovations like smart recycling bins also helped Athens bag the honour.
This year’s European Capital of Innovation contest was launched in February 2018 and opened to cities with over 100,000 inhabitants from EU Member States and countries associated to Horizon 2020.
The selection of the winner and the five runner-up cities was made by a high-level independent jury of experts from local administrations, universities, businesses and the non-profit sector.
The award criteria included analysing how cities use innovation and new technologies to respond to societal challenges and how they engage broad local communities in their decision-making processes and improve the lives of their citizens.
The competition first took place in 2014. Past winners include Barcelona (2014), Amsterdam (2016) and Paris (2017). The next edition of the European Capital of Innovation Awards is planned to be launched in the first quarter of 2019.