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


Inteligencia colectiva, datos urbanos y co-creación

La semana pasada fuimos invitados por la organización de Smart City Expo Latam a compartir en Puebla (México) nuestra visión y experiencia acerca de cómo conectar la inteligencia colectiva al diseño de ciudad, mediante los datos urbanos y las dinámicas de co-creación de nuevos servicios y espacios públicos.

La historia que compartimos fue la siguiente:

Nuestra ciudad, Zaragoza, de 700.000 habitantes, es una ciudad media, quinta de España en población, con más de 2.000 años de historia. Hemos conocido guerras, sitios, pestes y hambrunas. A pesar de la reciente crisis, nunca nos ha ido tan bien como hasta ahora. El gran salto demográfico de Zaragoza se produjo en dos fases: en los años 60 gracias a la emigración interior y, a principios del siglo XXI gracias a la emigración exterior, en buena medida procedente de Latinoamérica. La inmensa mayoría de los que vinieron a Zaragoza lo hicieron por un sueño: prosperidad. Idénticos sueños que en el resto de ciudades a lo largo y ancho del globo.

Las ciudades se han portado razonablemente bien con los que vinieron del campo o del otro lado del mar en busca de oportunidades, a juzgar por la evolución de la esperanza de vida global y el nivel de urbanización, dos magnitudes que avanzan en paralelo desde principios del siglo XX. A grandes rasgos, pues, podemos decir que las ciudades han resultado un gran invento. Un gran invento no exento de imperfecciones, o bugs. Muchos de estos bugs son producto de la concentración demográfica, y otros derivan de una inadecuada planificación urbanística. Las ciudades, de una u otra manera, se las han ido arreglando para encontrar soluciones a medida que se les han ido planteando problemas. Las infraestructuras y servicios que hoy tenemos son el producto más visible de estas innovaciones. Lo que hoy llamamos comúnmente smart city es, pura y llanamente, el uso de medios digitales para resolver algunos de estos problemas. Continue reading


Citykeys: guidelines to measure our progress to a smarter future

During the last 2 years, we have been lucky enough to be part of an outstanding team: the Citykeys team. Lots of learning and thinking around tricky issues: what a smart city is (no one really knows), what smart city rankings should mean, how can we measure urban innovation or our progress towards a smarter urban future.

I write these lines in rainy Brussels, on the day after meeting with the European Comission’s reviewers, the discussions still fresh, a glimpse of nostalgia (the sense of an ending), a sort of rewarding feeling: that maybe our contribution may have had some impact in future European innovation policies.

This article is meant to be a quick guidelines into some of the project results, but it also contains personal reflections, in the form of a logbook, on the ample subjects covered by the project. Continue reading


Zaragoza Sources the Code to Citizen Co-Creation


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


Retención de datos y privacidad

track-and-treasureRecientemente Telefonica ha anunciado una plataforma para recoger todos los datos que se comparten con los OTT *
La plataforma mostrará los datos compartidos por usuarios, siguiendo sus propias normas de configuración, por ejemplo, la localización, sensores del teléfono, links de navegación, etc.
Parece ser que esta plataforma busca tener una posición de fuerza ante las compañías en una situación de beneficios menguantes y competencia creciente. Las OTT ofrecen más servicios, los usuarios requieren más, la inversión en redes la soporta el operador, pero el grueso de los beneficios se los lleva la OTT. Continue reading


Open Data and Smart City KPIs


Photo by

There are many initiatives to measure the “smartness” of cities and a jungle of smart city indexes that establish annual city comparisons. Open data can help fulfill the transparency gap in this field.

Sustainability, prosperity or democracy are three of the main challenges of today’s societies. Societies that are, essentially, urban, therefore making the study of urban data one of the most promising fields of progress nowadays. Of course, many of the answers to the challenges above can be found in cities. After many decades of mistrust, today most policy makers know that cities are great problem-solving tools. In fact, with near 60% of the world population inhabiting urban soil, there is little hope for the general progress of mankind outside the three pillars of sustainable, participatory and prosperous urban development.

A fourth element, innovation, adds to the former three to stand for the aforementioned process of problem-solving cycle in which cities are embarked. Continue reading


Sharing big data to deploy smart energy services

londonEnergyBusesBNOn Jan, 29th 2015 we spoke at the “Smart energy UK & Europe Summit” in London, where we had the chance to discuss and develop the idea of advancing towards a “data sharing economy” at the urban ecosystem. What we were presenting, basically, is how a new kind of organizational relationship between urban players could eventually lead both to the creation of new social, scientific and economic value at the local scale, and to the development of new business prospects in those industries willing to play the game.

Cities have faced challenges in history with innovative ways of transforming the materials at their reach into innovative solutions. Whether we are talking about limestone, wood, brass, concrete, copper, or electrons, engineers have effectively used technology to provide security, access to drinkable water, sanitation, wired communications, or energy to households and people. Today, data is the new material upon which we can continue to develop innovative solutions to deal with the “bugs” or impracticalities (in Jane Jacobs’ words) of urban life. Continue reading