Smart and Sustainable Cities: complex urban challenges can be tackled through Research and Innovation actions

The following summary, based on the contributions of Marie Yeroyanni – Senior Expert at the European Commission- and Stefano Carosio – Managing Director at Unismart -, provides an overview of the main findings and outcome from the 1st EU Seminar held in Padova on 22nd September 2017.


Many of the economic, social and environmental challenges that Europe is facing have a strong urban dimension. Rapid population growth, aging population, shrinking and growing cities, climate change, biodiversity loss, disaster risks, migration, unemployment, and social exclusion are some of the major problems affecting citizens living in the urban environment. Thus, making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable is a global objective (Sustainable Development Goal, SDG no. 11) that requires innovative and integrated solutions, by promoting multi-stakeholder cooperation within a multi-level governance

Cities are actors of open innovation which generate economies of agglomeration, foster regional growth and create new jobs and market opportunities. They represent incubators of the future on the front lines of change in our society and the place where we are making the necessary progress on climate change and where we show that inclusion and diversity are necessary ingredients for success.

Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities should be the place where new technologies are implemented in the fields of energy, mobility and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), but also the reflections of the people who live, work, and create within them. Our cities and public spaces are indeed integral to the innovation, cultural heritage, arts, democracy and sustainability. Envisioning the future of our cities implies synthesising   the different perspectives and practices coming from a variety of urban players such as local authorities, planners and designers, creative industries and SMEs, fab and living labs.

Open innovation for and with cities is at the heart of Horizon 2020 large, multi-stakeholder demonstration projects for Smart and Sustainable Cities, which act as ‘living labs’ and combine the power of ideas and knowledge from different players while promoting a citizen and user-centric approach.

In fact, Europe can capitalise on over 30 years of investment in transnational EU Research and Innovation (R&I) on sustainable urban development. The EU investment in urban related projects alone in the first four years of Horizon 2020 amounts to around 1.7 billion EUR for 612 projects across the three pillars of Horizon 2020, Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges. The investment in FP7, FP6 and FP5 were respectively 1.9 billion EUR; 0.4 billion EUR and 0.5 billion EUR.

smartThe role of cities as key actors and incubators for innovative solutions that tackle these challenges has been acknowledged and further encouraged by many international policy fora such as the COP21 Paris Agreement, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in particular the SDG11 for inclusive, resilient, safe and sustainable cities and human settlements, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Energy Union Strategy 2030,  the Urban Agenda for the EU and the new UN Habitat III Agenda.

During this EU seminar which was held in Padova (Italy), on 22nd September 2017, co-organised by the European Commission (RTD), EASME and Unismart Padova Enterprise, H2020 EU funded projects under the call “Smart and Sustainable cities” were presented and discussed. In particular, the Seminar focused on the valuable highlights of the H2020-2016 call on “Demonstrating innovative nature-based solutions in cities” and namely “Demonstrating innovative nature-based solutions for climate and water resilience in cities” and presented   the main EU R&I highlights from EU H2020 demonstration urban projects, promoted both at the European and international level to foster sustainable urban development.

Unismart Padova Enterprise is the in-house subsidiary of the University of Padova (UNIPD) created with the objective of maximising technology transfer and promoting joint research projects between the 32 University departments and the lively innovation ecosystem of SMEs, large companies, investors, banks, industry associations and knowledge mediators that revolve around one of Europe’s oldest and largest Universities. Unismart/UNIPD is also a member of the European Construction Technology Platform (ECTP) and it made it a priority to focus its activity on topics related to renewable energy production and use, nearly-zero-energy buildings, sustainable buildings, smart and sustainable mobility and sustainable & innovative materials, sectors which the University of Padova covers widely and proactively thanks to the dozens of specialized interdisciplinary research groups.

The EU seminar brought together a wide spectrum of urban stakeholders such as Research Institutions, SMEs, Construction Sector, Urban Planners and designers, Innovation Firms, NGOs, Citizens of the city of Padova and Municipalities and focused on the presentation of EU H2020 demonstration projects, European and Global initiatives and activities supporting research and innovation for Innovating Cities.

The conclusions and highlights of the Seminar are a concrete input to the Urban Agenda for the EU and the new Habitat III Global Agenda.



 It was acknowledged that urban challenges are complex and can be tackled through Research and Innovation actions combining an ecosystem of multi-stakeholder engagement linking research skills to innovative city practice solutions for city management, that can overcome the complexities of sustainable urban development and deliver on pan-European and global commitments on societal challenges and Sustainable Development Goals.

Presentations and extensive discussions as well as the systemic nature of the EU funded H2020 projects confirmed the need to consider urban challenges in a wider perspective which promotes multi-stakeholder and integrated solutions (e.g. nature-based, cultural, technological, digital, social, governance, and regulatory innovations) which deliver benefits and co-benefits, new options and strategies for city managers and politicians for a sustainable Urban Design and Development.

Best practices and systemic solutions presented which deploy an integrated analysis of the urban ecosystem, demonstrated the interconnected nature of the urban challenges arising in our cities, as well as the need to develop and implement integrated policy research solutions to the societal challenges that generate policy benefits and co-benefits simultaneously delivering socio-economic and environmental political objectives for regional, local city authorities, civil society, and political representatives, the private sector and industry.

As acknowledged by the majority of the participants  an integrated Research and Innovation Framework for Innovating Cities should enable a sustainable and systemic approach to innovation, by fostering co-creation, co-development and co-implementation with different actors and citizens in cities across the Union and worldwide.

New business and governance models should be implemented to support the mobilisation of new partnerships and investments, facilitating market uptake of innovative, systemic solutions to ensure innovative and resilient cities.

Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable is a global objective that requires integrated and systemic solutions to problems ranging from climate change and adaptation, natural resources depletion, disaster risks, energy efficiency, urban mobility, health and well-being, social exclusion, urban poverty and migration and more.

Local Authorities, and all concerned stakeholders should capitalise from the EU funded evidence knowledge base which exists to inform decisions on investments into key urban infrastructure, as well as for policy-making, planning and land use management affecting the urban environment. Thus creativeness combined with the existing stock of EU funded Research and Innovation projects and the new H2020 projects, existing business cases, governance models that cities use and new ones aiming at multi-stakeholder solutions with benefits and co-benefits can make this possible.

Cities are on the front lines of change in our society and the place where the economic expansion, the new ideas, and the cultural advances happen, where we are making the necessary progress on climate change and where we show that inclusion and diversity are necessary ingredients for success, as cities are incubators of the future.

Truly smart cities are reflections of the people who live, work, and create within them. Our cities and public spaces are integral to the arts, innovation, culture, democracy and sustainability.

Innovating cities should happen by envisioning the future of our cities together with urbanists, entrepreneurs, designers, architects, engineers, industries, storytellers, Local Authorities will bring more promise of building solutions that work for everyone, create a dialogue about the opportunity and potential cities hold and lead to Smart and Sustainable cities.

Moreover, as acknowledged by the majority of participants to achieve a sustainable Urban Development in the years to come, we need to unlock the capacity and potential in cities, by enabling action having citizens as key actors. New instruments of urban governance based on strong public-private-people partnerships need to be explored and implemented, in order to facilitate the interplay between policy-making, market-driven actions, grassroots initiatives and upscale the deployment of systemic solutions which include technological, digital, cultural, social, financial innovations and  nature-based-innovation.

Acceleration towards Sustainable Urban Development requires engaging with all stakeholders and citizens from the start of the project (as partners) and capitalising on existing and diverse knowledge in the city-region. To effectively tap into the diverse capacities of local people, urban governance needs to enhance social diversity and plurality and to establish and nourish a continuous dialogue to different types of socio-economic organizations. European research and innovation actions in cities are instrumental in implementing the UN Habitat III Urban Agenda and the Urban Agenda for the EU.




Stefano CarosioStefano Carosio
Managing Director
Unismart Padova Enterprise
A company of the University of Padova
Maria Yeroyanni
Senior Expert
European Commission
Directorate General for Research and Innovation











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