A few minutes after the clock struck 12 noon on Tuesday, the crowd gathered at the recently renovated Serafeio complex in downtown Athens broke out in applause and cheers. Representatives from the municipal authority, local NGOs and civil society were celebrating an unexpected victory for the City of Athens – the coveted title of European Capital of Innovation for 2018, accompanied by a one million euros cash prize funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program.
On a widescreen TV set up at the recreation center, they watched Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis receive the prize on behalf of the city, in a live broadcast of the ceremony in Lisbon. “This success is something we all achieved together,” said the mayor as he handled the enormous check.
The term innovation can be misleading as it usually refers to technological breakthroughs and the booming of a startup ecosystem. In the case of the European Commission’s prize the approach is more conceptual: here, the EU rewards cities that find new and imaginative solutions to address their social, economic and administrative challenges.