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


Zaragoza Smart Citizen Card: a tiny plastic card that fits 100 ideas

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!!


Smart innovation through active citizen participation

Stockholm New magazine, Sweden Art Direction by Henrik Nygren, cut Rubylith-masking film 1994

Picture by

Daniel Sarasa’s interview for Nordic Smart Cities about smart innovation, whose original content can be found here.

If people are given the power to decide and be part of the decision-making process, their mark is felt all around. The city of Zaragoza manages not only to aim for active citizen participation, but to actually reinvent itself with the help of its people.

How can municipalities realize their potential for innovation?

The potential for innovation in municipalities truly lies in cities and in the citizens. There is a lot of talent in cities, hence we, the city hall and the public servants, have to make sure that we can gather as much talent and ideas as we can and put it into these Smart City projects or into the innovation process. That is the main issue and the main challenge. The reason why this is not easy is because we are so used to planning the city with a top-down perspective and it requires a complete shift from Smart City project managers or from the public servants to change their perspective. We need to open up and be able to take into account the ideas of our citizens, the ideas of our local ecosystem. Continue reading


Cities as innovation platforms

MCSInterview for the Master of City Sciences at Politechnic University of Madrid (UPM), whose original content can be found here.

Before becoming a professor, Daniel Sarasa (born 1972) was a student at MCS, so he can give us both perspectives about the master’s degree. He is Smart City Program Manager at Zaragoza City Hall and co-author of “Zaragozá’s Open Government Strategy 2012-2015. Towards a Smart Citizenship”. Moreover, he is co-editor and co-founder of Continue reading


Turning critical infrastructures into citizen-centric platforms

Daniel-SarasaWe were pleased to participate in the last Critical Communications World event, held in Amsterdam on on June 2nd 2016 and to answer CCW Event Director Emma Banymandhub’s questions. Here is the full interview

For the third instalment of our Critical Communications World “A Day in the Life of” series, CCW Event Director Emma Banymandhub spoke to urban innovation storyteller and Smart City Program Manager for Zaragoza City Hall, Daniel Sarasa.

Daniel Sarasa will be presenting at Critical Communications World 2016’s free-to-attend Future Technologies zone from 1655-1715 on June 1 on the subject “Turning urban telecom infrastructures into citizen-centric platforms”. Continue reading


Smart lighting, public space and urban innovation


Photo by Carlo Ratti Associatti

The Italian magazine “Luce et Design” interviewed us for its April 2016 number. We talked about topics such as urban innovation strategies, smart lighting, digital art, public space and… refugees. We share a translation of the interview in English.

Luce Et Design: What was your training course?

I had my masters degree as a Telecom Engineer at the University of Zaragoza, back in 1997. After almost twenty years of practice I added to my training a masters degree in city sciences by the Politechnic University of Madrid.

LED: On which essential techniques and strategies did you base your intervention to turn Zaragoza into a Smart City?

Zaragoza’s implementation of its own unique Digital City model will at a particularly difficult time for the both city and its inhabitants have the concept of open source as its connecting theme: open data, free software, accessible networks and open government, meaning a truly transparent and participatory administration.

In addition to this, it shall have an open code architecture which gives rise to reconfigurable buildings (“open place making”), new digital public spaces that are made up of, used and reconfigured by the public itself; spaces where they exercise their participation, grow in knowledge and strengthen their digital links with the city. Continue reading


Entrevista “El Mundo” (2 de 2): hacia la ciudad de código abierto


Continuación del cuestionario para la periodista de “El Mundo” María Crespo (@tusojosabiertos), cuya primera parte puede leerse aquí.

-¿Qué es una ciudad de código abierto? ¿Todas las ciudades inteligentes lo son?

Una ciudad de código abierto debe tener instituciones cercanas y accesibles, debe resultar sencillo entender cómo funciona y cómo se participa en ella, debe poder permitir diversos grados de participación en función de los intereses o del nivel de compromiso de la gente con su ciudad, ya sea como mero usuario o receptor de un curso, como promotor de ideas, como proveedor de contenidos (cursos, talleres, aplicaciones), o involucrándose en la propia gobernanza de los espacios y, por extensión, de la ciudad. Debe tratar de acompañar a los ciudadanos, en su crecimiento personal y profesional, y a las empresas que quieran crear empleo en ella en el desarrollo de sus negocios. Una ciudad de código abierto da, de esta manera, más y mejores oportunidades a ciudadanos y empresas. Y, haciéndolo, se está dando oportunidades a sí misma.

No todas las ciudades comparten esta filosofía. Singapur o Río de Janeiro, Continue reading


Entrevista “El Mundo” (1 de 2): City makers y smart cities

Primera parte de la entrevista para la periodista María Crespo (@tusojosabiertos en twitter), del diario “El Mundo”, con motivo de su especial sobre Smart Cities publicado el 28.11.13

-¿Qué son los “city makers”?

El mundo está experimentando un proceso de urbanización sin precedentes. Hay ciudades que están surgiendo casi de la nada (ahí están los ejemplos de Songdo en Corea del Sur, o de Masdar City en Abu Dabi), y hay otras que se agrandan a gran velocidad alimentándose de un masivo éxodo rural, como en Nigeria o en muchos lugares de China. En Europa, las ciudades no cambian demasiado de tamaño, pero muchas se están reinventando para consumir menos energía, para ser más eficientes o para atraer talento e inversiones. Los ciudadanos que, a través de asociaciones, empresas, instituciones, o simplemente a título personal, participan y aportan conscientemente ideas y esfuerzo a estos procesos de reconfiguración de las ciudades donde viven, son los que llamamos “city makers”. Y hay más de los que parece.

-¿De dónde surge el concepto de smart cities?

Resulta difícil precisarlo, pero en todo caso una de las primeras veces que aparece el concepto de “Smart City” es en un libro de William J. Mitchell “E-Topia” publicado a finales de los noventa. En él, el que era por aquel entonces director de la Escuela de Arquitectura del prestigioso M.I.T. (EE.UU) constataba que, por vez primera en la historia, los cambios físicos que vemos en algunas de nuestras ciudades occidentales no eran destructivos sino regenerativos: carriles bici, rehabilitación de viviendas, mejora de zonas verdes, recuperación de cascos históricos, implantación de sistemas de ahorro de energía, etc. Por primera vez en la historia, continuaba Mitchell, Continue reading