Zaragoza: The Power of Citizen Innovation

Pedestrian boardwalk towards Zaragoza's Etopia Center for Arts and Technology

Pedestrian boardwalk towards Etopia by Leonid Andronov (Source iStock)

By Jon Glasco

(Originally published at Bee Smart City.)

Fifteen years ago, Zaragoza – the historic Spanish city situated between Madrid and Barcelona – pioneered a vision of a future digital district and knowledge-based society. Since then, the city has developed an impressive portfolio of smart city projects and new urban services. According to Daniel Sarasa, Urban Innovation Planner, one of Zaragoza’s unique strengths is its culture of citizen involvement and participation. This culture has its roots in the reawakening of democracy. In the late 1970s, the city of Zaragoza (like other cities in Spain) looked back on thirty five years of dictatorship – and looked ahead to an uncertain future. During the years of dictatorship, Zaragoza had grown in population from approximately 235,000 to more than 500,000, but the civic infrastructure and public services needed to support this urban growth were inhibited by an autocratic national government which maintained severe austerity measures.

With democracy regaining a foothold in the early 1980s, the citizens of Zaragoza knew that the recovery of their communities and the development of civic infrastructure would depend on them taking matters into their own hands. From this awareness was born a grass-roots determination and pride-of-community mindset to reclaim rights to the city and to build new infrastructure. This resulted in citizen-inspired plans and actions to build neighborhood civic centers, kindergartens, centers for the elderly, public libraries and sport centers.

In the early years of democracy, citizens and city planners in Zaragoza could not have imagined that, decades later in the early 21st century, the city would become a leader in making the transition from a technology-centric to a citizen-centric smart city vision. Trust in citizen-inspired innovation was embedded in Zaragoza’s culture, waiting to be nurtured and developed. >> Read full article


Zaha Hadid’s Pavilion Bridge: Linking Architecture and Smart City

Original photo at

It was made public today that Zaha Hadid’s Pavilion Bridge in Zaragoza will host a center for showcasing progress in electric mobility. According to the local media, the project is a joint agreement between Aragon’s main savings bank, Ibercaja, the administration and the motor industry, and will reinforce Zaragoza’s strategic position in the mobility arena.

Mobility is an essential side of any smart city strategy, as it is a smart citizenship. But, traditionally, the motor industry around Zaragoza, which accounts for 6% of the region’s GDP and more than 25.000 jobs, has stood with his back turned to the city. The situation will likely change when the Pavilion Bridge opens its doors and the citizens will be able to interact with the latest developments through its exhibition rooms.

But this is not the only divide that the renewed Pavilion Bridge is intended to close. On each bank of the Ebro river, two flagship urban developments still seem unconnected. On the north bank, the Expo site, formerly dedicated to water and sustainable development and now hosting many of the regional administration offices, is mainly fueled by the regional Government. On the south, the Digital Mile, an innovation district planned by the City Hall in 2003 that has stagnated for almost five years following the financial crisis. The crisis has also left its footprints on the Zaha Hadid’s Pavilion Bridge. Lifeless for almost 10 years as a consequence of Ibercaja’s struggles to digest the real estate crash, it wil now require more than just a coat of paint to shine again as one of the landmarks of the “new Zaragoza” that emerged with the Expo 2008. Continue reading


Innovation Districts: From Barcelona to Dublin, This Is What I Know

Elections for Mayor are a-coming. With the aim of shaping my contribution to the approaching campaign, I have been reflecting lately on innovation districts. Ours, the Digital Mile (Milla Digital) is unfinished. One tends to think that all innovation districts are, by definition, unfinished. But, seriously, the Digital Mile must be one of the more unfinished innovation districts in the world, and I’ve known a few. Planned ahead of its time, built too late, never fully understood.

District layout at Poblenou and Barcelona's 22@

District layout at Poblenou and Barcelona’s 22@

I know that innovation districts are big real estate operations in the first place. Land owners, developers and construction companies are the first and primary beneficiaries. To shift the urban economics from construction to innovation we need bricks, glass and concrete. And a delicate urban planning, too. See the delicacy in Barcelona’s 22@ urban fabric, the first innovation district I knew back in 2002 and a place I have visited many times since.

In it, the legacy of Cerdà’s urban layout serves as a landing track for Castells’ discoveries about digital economy. Jane Jacobs would have approved: perfect block sizes, mixed uses, walkability. And a focused management structure, that soon shifted its efforts from urban development to economic development. The result: more than 100.000 new jobs (many of them high-skilled) and an overall impact of 15% in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the city. Continue reading


Dublin’s Declaration on Smart Districts

Dublin’s Smart Docklands District

Last month I was invited to participate in the Harvard Smart City Accelerator, which, organized by Harvard Tech and hosted by the great Smart Dublin team, took place at Dublin’s Smart Docklands, the thriving smart district of Ireland’s capital.

During three days we launched urban challenges, discussed on subjects such as economic growth, privacy or openness, learned from multiple stakeholders’ views, from industry to academia, walked the district under Irelands’ chilly winter and toasted with Irish beer for the success of our respectives innovation districts and strategies back home. Continue reading


Descifrando la estrategia urbana de Zaragoza

Aunque en Open Your City hablamos de ciudades, en general, uno de los objetivos “fundacionales” de este blog era ayudar a comprender nuestra ciudad, Zaragoza, sus proyectos y sus retos. En el apartado estratégico, nos hemos dado cuenta de que no hay un único lugar donde aparezcan todas las piezas, todos los planes estratégicos sectoriales que marcan el presente y que marcarán el futuro de nuestra ciudad. Por ello, nos hemos tomado el trabajo de buscar todos ellos y mostrarlos en un único lugar. De esta manera el lector, planificador urbano, político, académico o simplemente ciudadano curioso, puede tener una visión integral acerca de adónde se dirige su ciudad, así como del trabajo que a la ciudad le queda por hacer desde el punto de vista de su estrategia urbana.

Empecemos por arriba. Continue reading


The electron shepherds

Electrons only obbey the law of Physics. And in Physics, using electrons to produce work is called ‘power’. Power is what drives electrons and power is what electrons produce, for the lucky ones that can master them. In Spain, a ‘small’ lobby of utility companies have the power to shape a big part of our future. But many knowledgeable individuals are resisting, mostly through bottom-up, self-organizing initiatives. They don’t have the power to master all the electrons in our networks, but they can shepherd them into more social pastures.

On October 23, 2016 the price of electricity in Spain broke a new record hitting 182 EUR per MWh (Megawatt per hour). While utilities and the Spanish government blame the severe drought as the main responsible, consumers and independent experts argue that the Spanish energy market is far from perfect. The fact is that the price of electricity rises when the resource is most needed, rocketing around July-August and December, when air-conditioning and heat demands are at their highest, in which seems a sort of “uberized” behaviour. Since the energy market is a heavily regulated environment, and given that Spain has a well-known track of questionable energy policy, many argue that we are not facing a market flaw, but a government failure. Continue reading


Robots y renta básica

“Figuras ocultas” es una emotiva película acerca de un grupo de mujeres afroamericanas altamente cualificadas que, en los años sesenta, y en el marco de su trabajo como ingenieras y matemáticas en la NASA, no sólo enfrentaron la doble discriminación de raza y de género, sino que hubieron de lidiar con el imparable progreso tecnológico. Ante la perspectiva de que su trabajo de cálculo manual de trayectorias espaciales fuera reemplazado por el primer computador IBM, aprendieron el lenguaje FORTRAN y se hicieron programadoras. Enfrentaron el desafío mediante nuestra mejor herramienta: la fabulosa capacidad de adaptación que, frente al medio cambiante, tenemos los humanos. Sobre todo si somos jóvenes y poseemos la suficiente preparación. Continue reading


En ruta hacia… Etopia Demo City

Sabemos que últimamente no estamos escribiendo mucho en este blog. La verdad, aunque parezca una excusa, están siendo unos tiempos de no parar: proyectos, viajes, hackathones,… Y es que han pasado unas cuantas cosas desde la vuelta del verano. Empezamos viajando a Seúl para participar en la DMC International Conference, contando cómo Zaragoza ha adaptado su estrategia smart a los tiempos (duros). Seguimos con la celebración del hackathon de prototipado “100IdeasZGZ”, y en Uppsala (Suecia), al tiempo que contábamos la estrategia de de Zaragoza como Smart City colaborativa, recibimos la buena noticia de que Zaragoza ha sido seleccionada, precisamente gracias al proyecto “100ideas…”, como sede del Eurocities Knowledge Society Forum de otoño de 2018. Además, “100Ideas…” es finalista de los premios ICLEI a la iniciativa más transformadora. Estamos muy satisfechos en el equipo, aunque vayamos sin resuello.

En el apartado de gestión, el proyecto de Tarjeta Ciudadana ha dado un gran paso adelante con la presentación de la Tarjeta Lazo, con la cual se pretende llegar a la totalidad de usuarios de los servicios públicos de Zaragoza, estén o no empadronados. Perfilado de usos, big data, la tarjeta en el móvil,… gran labor de equipo, grandes posibilidades y grandes desafíos. Estamos muy contentos igualmente de cómo evolucionan los tres proyectos de innovación abierta que hemos lanzado en el Laboratorio Urbano Abierto: Ecohub, BiciSur y Prometeo, impulsados por sus promotores y facilitadores. Y hemos anunciado, igualmente, el lanzamiento de un cuarto proyecto, “La Milla Productiva”. Otro reto, esta vez en el espacio público más cercano a Etopia.

Y finalmente, y junto a todo lo anterior, con el equipo hemos diseñado las Jornadas Etopia Demo City, un ágora con más de 80 proyectos. Una actualización, dos años después de nuestras II Jornadas Smart ZGZ, de hacia dónde van las ciudades, incluida la nuestra, en estos tiempos tan convulsos como esperanzadores. Esperamos que os gusten. Continue reading