The most innovative city in the European Union isn’t what you’d expect.
The European Commission has announced that Athens is the winner of its annual “European Capital of Innovation” prize on Tuesday. Greece’s ancient capital city has risen from the ashes of a recent series of Greek financial crises to grab this highly sought coveted prize.
“Through innovation, Athens has found 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,“ said Carlos Moedas, EU commissioner for research, science and innovation.
The title comes with €1m (£870,000) in prize money that “will be used to scale up local innovation activities and collaborate with other cities,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The European Commission said Athens stood out for a range of initiatives and campaigns that have revitalised the city, including the renovation of the historic Kypseli public market to create a new area for social entrepreneurship, exhibitions, workshops and theatre shows.
Another programme called “Curing the Limbo” gives refugees and migrants the opportunity to connect with other residents to learn the language, develop new skills and find employment.
The city is even testing out smart recycling bins in City Hall and some primary schools, which provide real-time information about people’s recycling habits.
But not everyone was on-board with the choice of Athens for this prize.
“I would not say it’s the most innovative city I can think of but I can say that recent problems have focused the Athenians on getting the basics right,” said Joe Dignan, an expert in smart cities and founder of the consulting firm, Kintechi. “Athens is a great example of not wasting a crisis.”
Dignan said Athens’ recent decision to create a new role for a chief digital officer (CDO) was a smart idea to help drive local innovation.
“The appointment of a CDO was critical in getting the disparate agencies to sign up to a strategic plan that starts with access to ubiquitous connectivity,” he said.
More than two dozen cities across the EU applied for the prize, with the competition judged by a jury of experts from local administrations, universities, businesses and non-profit organisations. Runner-up cities were Aarhus in Denmark, Hamburg in Germany, Leuven in Belgium, Toulouse in France, and Umeå in Sweden.
The Athens announcement was made at the high-profile annual Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.