The runner-up cities - Aarhus (Denmark), Hamburg (Germany), Leuven (Belgium), Toulouse (France), and Umeå (Sweden) - each received €100,000 to scale up local innovation activities and collaborate with other cities.
“Cities are beacons of innovation. They act like magnets for talent, for capital, for opportunity. With the European Capital of Innovation, we reward the cities that go the extra mile to test new ideas, technologies and ways to make citizens heard in the way their city is changed," said Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.
"Athens stands out as an example that a city facing many challenges can achieve great things. Through innovation, Athens has found new purpose to turn around the economic and social crisis. It is proof that it's not the difficulties but how you raise yourself above them that matters," he said.
Some of the innovations include the Athens Digital Lab and the POLIS² project revitalising abandoned buildings by providing small grants to residents, small enterprises, creative communities and other civil society groups. A Digital Council brought together companies and educational institutions to offer training on digital literacy and civic technology as well as promoting sustainable innovations like smart recycling bins.
The European Capital of Innovation contest was launched in February 2018 and open to cities with over 100,000 inhabitants from EU Member States and countries associated to Horizon 2020. Twenty-six cities from sixteen countries applied. The winner and the five runner-up cities were selected against criteria on experimenting, engaging, expanding and empowering, analysing how cities use innovation and new technologies to respond to societal challenges engage broad local communities in their decision-making processes and improve lives of their citizens.
Past winners include Barcelona in 2014, Amsterdam in 2016 and Paris in 2017.