Innovation capitals of Europe
8 April 2016
European Capital of Innovation Awards, Committee of the Regions
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery

Dear Mayors, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

In the last 10 years, we've been going from the physical to the digital world.  We have brought business, education, media, and more, online. But now, things are turning around. We are going from the digital, back into the physical world.

Last Saturday, I met with the founders of Horizontal Cities in Lisbon. Lisbon is not the first city you'd associate with cycling. Rather, it is a city famous for its Pombaline architecture, set on 7 very steep hills!

But the Horizontal Cities app gets cyclists in Lisbon from A to B by generating optimal cycling routes, not based on speed or distance, but on the incline of the route. And it turns out that over 60% of Lisbon's streets have less than a 4% incline.

Who would have guessed that?

The apps creators believe they can open the city to cyclists by as much as 85%. A great example of how the digital is now impacting on our physical world for the better. An example of how engaged citizens can co-create our urban experience.

Today, we are here to celebrate 9 cities embracing innovation for happiness and prosperity. Cities which acknowledge that 21st century city-planning must be open, democratic and inclusive, and that cities are more than just the sum of their streets and parks.

The cities of the future will be in tune with the lives of real people: encouraging us to care for each other and our environment. So, urban innovation is as much about social cohesion, as it is about energy efficiency or smart technology. And, as I see it, innovative cities have 3 characteristics in particular.

First of all they are open to citizens co-creating their future, encouraging cyclists, like Horizontal Cities, or keeping you safe, like Safecast, a community of international volunteers, who quickly began collecting and openly sharing data on environmental radiation, after the Fukushima disaster.

Second they are open to collaboration through diversity. Professor Neil Gerschenfeld – creator of the MIT course 'How to make (almost) anything' − observed that the best solutions, often come from the people who do not normally work in that discipline. So the more people, with different backgrounds we have around the table, the better our urban solutions will be.

Third, they are open to new businesses and companies, like Brussels based startup Bookalocal, through which local people offer their city authentic, intercultural dining experiences.

Our 9 finalists today, are cities that clearly understand the importance of these 3 things to our future.

But why have a prize like this at all? Surely cities are getting on with it. Investing, building, spreading…

This prize is a reminder that an innovative city is one that thinks with its citizens. Capitals, regional, coastal, big and small – all face very different challenges. Challenges which mean that they are constantly adapting.

Whether it's finding solutions to air pollution, water management or integrating migrants, cities are forever at the frontier of the social and environmental challenges we face as a continent.

The vastness of that responsibility can be overwhelming and the temptation to reach for glossy, short-term solutions can be strong.

So this prize is about rewarding the cities that don't take the easy way out!

The cities that aspire to make life better for everyone. The cities willing to re-imagine what it means to live in an urban environment. The cities which invest in innovation!

So for the delegations who have joined us today, I'm sorry, but this is only the start of your hard work. We're relying on you to set the standard for the rest of Europe. We're relying on you to share what you've learned and to showcase what has worked. We're relying on you to go beyond what's expected and to engage people in shaping the future of the cities they love.

Only last week, Europe lost a great and uncompromising figure in architecture, Zaha Hadid. I think she described the shift cities are facing very well, when she said:

"I started out trying to create buildings that would sparkle like isolated jewels. Now I want them to connect, to form a new kind of landscape, to flow together with contemporary cities and the lives of their peoples."

Zaha clearly understood that, whereas cities were once centres of power, prestige and ostentation for the few…Now they must give power to the many.

So, congratulations to all of you. I can't wait to hear more about what you have done, and what you still plan to achieve!