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


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


Marshall McLuhan. Understanding media (and cities)

McLuhanI first new about Marshall McLuhan in 2011. José Carlos Arnal, former Director of the Zaragoza City of Knowledge Foundation, had introduced me to Mariano Salvador, a young local journalist who had just co-organized a remembrance exhibition about McLuhan at the Pratt Center in New York City.

I had no idea at the time that, under such resonant name, terms we were already familiar with, like “global village” or “the medium is the message”, had been coined and so acutely described. Those were the times when we were a small “guerrilla” of avid learners pushing for a shift in the economic model of our city, Zaragoza (Spain), and insanely committed to the launching of the city’s innovation flagship: Etopia Center for Arts and Technology. When Etopia Center finally opened two years later, in June 2013, a 600 square meter media façade wrapped around one of its three gigantic cubes illuminated with digital artworks the departure side of the city’s central station.

I stumbled upon McLuhan’s book Understanding Media on that very same summer of 2013, buried in a heap of books at the old, wood-and-dust smelling Venice’s Libreria Aqua Alta, just a week after having imparted a workshop on open place making with M.I.T. professor Michael Joroff as part of the inauguration activities of Etopia Center. I was so into the reading of place-making urbanists like Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl at the time that I decided to put momentarily McLuhan aside. I stubbornly wanted to understand cities. Understanding media could wait.

Here is what I was missing. Continue reading


The city as an innovation platform. #ICCS2015, Shanghai.


On 5th, June 2015 we spoke at the ‘International City Sciences Conference’ in Tongji University at Shanghai (China). The event gathered technologists, architects, policy makers and urban planners on deciphering how ‘New infrastructures for future cities’ could be planned, built and operated in these times of increasing uncertainty and breathtaking changes.

From the beginning of urbanization to the end of the 20th century, the historical ability of cities to adapt its form and function to the changing needs of people have been founded on a close relationship between urban planning and infrastructures. Traditionally servicing the purposes of urban planners, the role of infrastructures in cities is changing in this digital era. Digital infrastructures have contributed to the intentions of urban planners to revitalize city downtowns, recovering them as centers of production. Paradoxically, some of those digital entrepreneurs today run Internet giants like Google, Über, AirBnB or Amazon, and are launching innovative services at a much quicker pace than city authorities can regulate them. They are shaping, for good or bad, urban life. Continue reading


Jan Gehl. How to study public life

howToStudyPublicLifeVaya por delante que pensamos que el fenómeno de las “Smart Cities”, más allá de su componente “hype” industrial, trata fundamentalmente de parchear a base de tecnología los fallos del planeamiento urbanístico. Desde esa óptica, no es extraño que las ciudades que ocupan los primeros puestos en los más serios ránkings de ciudades inteligentes son aquéllas que cuentan con las mejores escuelas de urbanistas y en las que el conocimiento práctico y teórico entre ciudad y universidad circula en ambos sentidos con fluidez. No es extraño, por tanto, que Copenhague, gracias a urbanistas como Jan Gehl, ocupe el número 1. Continue reading


“Live in a living city” Santander

El 21 de Enero de 2015 fuimos invitados a participar en el evento “Live in a Living City” que, desplazado a Santander, tuvo como hilo conductor la necesidad de “humanizar” el fenómeno de las “Smart Cities”.

Colaboración, comunidad, inclusión, accesibilidad, son sustantivos que encajan con una visión más humana de las ciudades inteligentes, como también encajan con el código abierto (“open source”, en inglés). Entender las ciudades por parte de sus ciudadanos, poder reconfigurarlas, reconstruirlas y reprogramarlas, son capacidades que también forman parte de una visión de la ciudad de código abierto, a la vez humanista, innovadora, creativa y generadora de riqueza.

Redes como WiZi, software como Azlinux y Vitalinux, procesos de construcción de ciudad como Open Urban Lab, edificios como el Pabellón del Agua Digital, comunidades como Zagales Hacklab o programas como “Colonia Etopia” o “Esto no es un solar” nos hablan de esta triple dimensión humana, innovadora y social y económicamente valiosa.

Los ejemplos anteriores son algunos de que Zaragoza puede aportar a esta particular forma de entender la estrategia de innovación de la ciudad. Una estrategia que apuesta por reforzar la identidad de la ciudad invirtiendo fundamentalmente en el talento local, con especial atención a los niños.

El vídeo del evento puede accederse aquí. (Nuestra intervención a partir de las 3h11′)

Nota: agradecemos al Ayuntamiento de Santander (José Antonio Teixeira, moderador de nuestro panel) y, especialmente, a Carlos Moreno, el haber contado con nosotros para este inspirador evento.