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
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@
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 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
Just speaking on behalf of the Zaragoza Citizen Card’s outstanding team at the Cities in Transition International Conference…
Let’s imagine how a tiny piece of plastic that fits in your wallet can both be a cashflow generator for the city and a tool for granting refugees access to the city public services. A piece of plastic that can be shared with a visitor through a mobile app or that can be used by a disabled person to pay for a taxi ride just the price of a bus trip. A card that encompasses 15 different other cards and that can turn as well into the digital passport to citizen partipation. Your all-in-one key to the city, or the future city social currency…
When the city hall becomes a facilitator, you can count on your ideas to be set in motion. We need everyone’s ideas to make a smart city, let’s move on to a zero waste circular economy of ideas! Let’s hack and co-create the Zaragoza’s Citizen Card!!
Well, or so it seems. We are cruising through very busy weeks for our smart city team in Zaragoza. If I were to decipher the message that 2017 is bringing, I would say that data sharing and co-creation will certainly boost urban innovation in the forthcoming years. And that, in Zaragoza, we have some interesting tools to make it happen:
- our smart Citizen Card, our “de facto” digital platform upon which we can build all sorts of services, from gamification to citizen participation
- our Open Urban Lab, the co-creation lab of the city, located at the very core of Zaragoza’s flagship innovation hub “Etopia Center for Arts and Technology”
- a thriving civic and innovation ecosystem and a program “100 Ideas ZGZ” conceived to set bottom-up ideas in motion, using the city as an innovation platform
We are so proud to share the following
Press release from EUROCITIES
Brussels, 25 January 2017
Zaragoza (Spain) has been revealed as the winner of the Green Digital Charter (GDC) 2016 Award on ‘Citizen participation and impact on society’. The awards ceremony took place during the conference ‘Cities in Transition – the role of digital in shaping our future cities’ jointly organised by the EUROCITIES Knowledge Society Forum (KSF) and GDC.
Cristobal Irazoqui, formerly policy and project officer on smart cities and sustainability at the European Commission (DG CNECT), presented the award and congratulated Zaragoza on the deployment and success of its Zaragoza Citizen Card, which offers all-in- one access to the city, improving the sense of citizenship and belonging in Zaragoza. Continue reading
Co-creation workshop of the open mobility challenge “Bicisur”
Back in 2003, a group of local geeks and open source advocates met with Zaragoza’s future mayor Juan Alberto Belloch who, after being the last all-mighty minister of Justice and Interior in the last of prime minister Felipe González’s cabinet, was running for office for his second term. After a short immersion in the open source community, Belloch “fell instantly in love” with Linux philosophy and quickly made open source-based innovation one of the axes of his political campaign. His plans included turning the northeastern capital of the Spanish Aragón into the “Redmond of the European free software world,” for which purpose his team projected a 102-hectare innovation district, a city-wide free public wireless network and an ambitious campaign of digital literacy, with the city hall leading and paving the way by becoming one of the most advanced European administration in systems migration towards open source software. In an article appeared in Wired in May 2003 he declared “this open source battle might not be easy, but ‘open’ is the way it must be.” Continue reading
Progress towards a more open and agile urban innovation is a must for city halls. The case could be named “Google versus City Hall”. Yes, cities change rapidly, but on too many occasions those changes are powered by the giants of the “new economy”: Google, Amazon, Airbnb, Uber… City Halls just lag behind those changes trying to control damages in the local economies and communities. We reckon that the smart city is built between a multiplicity of agents. The city hall, universities, local startups, big corporations, and, mostly, citizens. But also that a new type of conversation between cities and big corporations can happen. Continue reading