Barcelona was this week named the first European Capital of Innovation. The award, also known as the ‘iCapital’, was created by the European Commission to acknowledge the European city that has best created an ‘innovation ecosystem’ that links its citizens with both public organizations and business.
The announcement was made in Brussels by the European Commissioner for Research, Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, at the closing ceremony of the Innovation Convention 2014, Europe’s premier innovation event.
“What we have sought here is innovation and how cities, mayors, the population, all the citizens in the city have been encouraged to use innovation. And this we have seen in the Barcelona municipal authorities, in public buildings, in the way services are provided to their citizens in a more innovative way”, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn explained. “Barcelona has certainly proven to be very serious about including innovation in all its policies.”
A panel of independent experts chose Barcelona as the winner above the competing finalists of Grenoble, France and Groningen, Netherlands. Fifty-eight different cities had originally applied for the award. Criteria on which the applicants were judged included ‘innovative’, ‘inspiring’, ‘integrated’ and ‘interactive’. What set Barcelona apart, the panel explained, was its success in “introducing the use of new technologies to bring the city closer to citizens”.
In September 2011, the city council launched the ‘Barcelona as a people city’ project. The project introduced new technologies as a means of nurturing economic growth and quality of life and was one of the city’s major recent successes in innovation. The key components of the project included social innovation, promoting alliances between the responsible parties, improving ‘smart services’, open day initiatives to disseminate information and sustainable initiatives on mobility, smart lighting and residual energy.
Other recent initiatives have ranged from the public information sector, opened up through the Barcelona Open Data portal, to the public transport sector, with the orthogonal bus network that uses information panels to improve mobility inside buses. At Avinguda Josep Tarradellas, the city even has a smart street, where sensors turn up the streetlights when passing pedestrians are detected.
But the award was not granted for a specific project, but rather the city’s promotion of innovation for the benefit of its citizens as a whole, and the recognition of Barcelona’s emergence as a global technology hub and centre of innovation. The city was recently ranked the number-one smart city in Spain and number four in Europe. It also hosts the premier global event for smart cities stakeholders, the Smart Cities Expo World Congress. With its high mobile penetration and growing tech sector, the city has been named the Mobile World Capital and host to the mobile industry’s largest trade event, the annual Mobile World Congress until 2018. The success of the 22@ innovation district, meanwhile has become a global benchmark in the strategic concentration of intensive knowledge-based activities.
There are now 2,150 ICT-sector businesses in Barcelona, 1,210 technology parks and technology and research centres, and 9 internationally recognised science facilities. And with the recognition gained from being named the European Capital of Innovation, together with the €500,000 prize money to further expand and improve its innovation efforts, Barcelona’s reputation for innovation appears destined to grow and grow.
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