The European Commission has awarded Athens the title of the European Capital of Innovation 2018 for the innovative ways in which it has overcome social and economic challenges and turned them into new opportunities. Mayor Georgios Kaminis (EL/PES), who is a member of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), represented Athens in the award ceremony hosted by Commissioner Carlos Moedas in Lisbon on Tuesday.
According to Carlos Moedas , Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Athens stands out as an example of a city that can achieve great things in difficult times and use innovation to turn around the economic and social crisis. For example, an innovative project is connecting the growing refugee and migrant population to local citizens and offering them employment and training opportunities.
Georgios Kaminis (EL/PES), Mayor of Athens said: "Athens has shown a new dimension to what we mean by innovation. It is not only for the powerful, well-resourced and prosperous cities, it is for everyone. By choosing a different way to deal with the major challenges of our city we have become an example for other European cities facing similar social and economic difficulties."
The CoRs' President , Karl-Heinz Lambertz , said: "I congratulate Mayor Kaminis and the City of Athens for this achievement. Cities and regions are the new powerhouses for progress and societal innovation. Smart specialisation, open innovation and bench-learning across cities and regions are essential concepts that can support Europe's shift to a sustainable, inclusive, knowledge-based economy and respond to the major challenges of the 21 st century."
The CoR's First Vice President Markku Markkula said: "I welcome the choice of Athens as European Capital of Innovation 2018 because it is a true pioneering city, fully committed in implementing societal innovations in order to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals."
The City of Athens placed a lot of importance to innovation and how it can help the local community bring about change and open up to the world. Some of the innovations promoted include:
The POLIS² 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 aims to create a new social entrepreneurship market hosting exhibitions, workshops, theatre shows and other initiatives.
Making Serafeio , a popular community playground, a host of initiatives like Athens Digital Lab, Open Schools or Athens Culture Net, and a novel events space, following a joint decision by the municipality and the local community.
The 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.
The Digital Council, in which the city brought together companies and educational institutions to offer trainings on digital literacy and civic technology trainings as well as promote sustainable innovations like smart recycling bins .
‘ This is Athens ' campaign where the city invites volunteers to talk about the city's present and past to some of the record 5 million tourists that visited Athens in 2017.
The European Capital of Innovation Awards are funded by the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The winner receives a price of €1 million. The runner-up cities - Aarhus (Denmark), Hamburg (Germany), Leuven (Belgium), Toulouse (France), and Umeå (Sweden) – each received €100,000. The prize money will be used to scale up local innovation activities and collaborate with other cities.
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. Twenty-six cities from sixteen countries applied. 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 – experimenting, engaging, expanding, empowering – analyse how cities use innovation and new technologies to respond to societal challenges engage broad local communities in their decision-making processes and improve lives of their citizens.
The competition first took place in 2014. Past winners include Barcelona (2014), Amsterdam (2016) and Paris (2017). The awards are granted under Horizon 2020, the current EU research and innovation programme with a budget of €77 billion (2014-2020). The next edition of the European Capital of Innovation Awards is planned to be launched in the first quarter of 2019.
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