21 November 2022

The Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) Conference took place on 16 November in Barcelona. The conference was moderated by journalist Meabh McMahon, who reflected on Mayors Summit learnings, emphasising how crucial greater partnerships and wider sharing of information is.

Valentina Superti, Director of Tourism & Proximity at DG-GROW, European Commission, highlighted the importance of cities to deliver on the European policy objectives and took pride in the progress of the 136 cities involved.

The €1.9 billion in funding earmarked to ICC developed solutions was one of the many figures presented by Nikos Maroulis, ICC Project Director, Technopolis Group Belgium as he shared the achievements of ICC.

 “A New Social Contract” was the takeaway message from Francesca Bria’s keynote speech on the twin transition at city level. The President of CDP (Cassa Depositi e Prestiti) Venture Capital and Chairwomen of the Italian National Innovation Fund spoke about the importance of putting digitisation in a direction that attains social and environmental sustainability whilst tackling challenges from the bottom-up. 

The key to making a successful Local Green Deal

Dana Eleftheriadou, Head of Cities and Proximity, DG GROW, European Commission, opened the session on Green Economy and Local Green Deals by presenting the Local Green Deals journey and outcomes and asking the question of “What’s in it for cities?” with regards to implementing Local Green Deals.

Creating a sense of ownership within communities towards their Local Green Deals was a common theme among the panel of representatives. Tim Guily, Smart City Advisor, in the City of Leuven shared drivers from his city such as the Leuven Mindgate and Leuven 2030 as projects to make their outlook a greener one using community cooperation.

“We often look towards technology as a silver bullet” Cornelia Dinca, International Liaison, Amsterdam Metropolitan Region remarked as she described Amsterdam Metropolitan Area’s successes, referencing green solutions in the textile, timber construction and bicycle sectors.

Understanding change requires cooperation, especially in the case of implementing Local Green Deals, emphasised Remus Balan from Cross Alp Med project, Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie du Var. The city’s "Green Deal Thursdays", a series of workshops organised around key topics such as transportation and energy, provides training, raises awareness and offers localised support. This successful project has seen 209 companies sign up for the workshops and more than 40 local stakeholders and decision-makers get involved.

“If you want to act like a smart city, stop acting like a procurer. Create value together around data.”

Words spoken by Mieke Van Cauwenberghe and Nicole La Iacona from the City of Mechelen encouraged cities to push themselves to be bold in taking innovative action outside of their usual role. During the Digital Transition and Digital Economy session, the city focused on its creation of a digital twin, which has been enabled through cooperation with ICC.

“Think about digitalisation as something that happens with all stakeholders in the city involved, step up and don’t be scared.”

This mindset was encouraged by Paula Boet Serrano from the City of Barcelona who shared the city’s impressive digital ecosystem and strongly emphasised the continued need to ensure the rights of its citizens in a digital world.

“We should move the conversation away from “Why are you collecting my data?” and towards “How can we use this data to create a better city? It all comes down to communication and education.”

Alice Xu, Project Manager at the City of Toronto explained her city’s challenges with data privacy and how the city balances its growth as a fast-growing tech hub with sustainability. 

“Make the projects for the people, not just the KPIs, and be actively present for your citizens.”

Cities should design human centred projects and prioritise awareness-building of their work according to Velko Velkov from the City of Sofia who shared the city’s high satisfaction rating on its digital platform.

Outlining the transition pathway for cities

A session focused on the Proximity and Social Economy presented opportunities and invited cities to join up efforts for the green and digital transition and skills partnerships of various ecosystems, in particular: proximity and social economy, construction, tourism, and agri-food.

The Proximity and Social Economy transition pathway published on November 14 was explained by Karel Vanderpoorten, Policy Officer at DG GROW, European Commission who presented its 15 action areas, all having cities and local stakeholders at their core.

Turning to the important role of local businesses, perspectives from different sectors were then brought to the table.

From the Construction field, Ilektra Papadaki, from DG GROW, European Commission called for the commitment of cities and local authorities to take up EU-level initiatives, such as the creation of recycling facilities or the digitisation of building permit systems.

In the Agri-food sector, the lack of skills was mentioned as one of the biggest threats by Blaga Popova, Policy Officer at DG GROW at the European Commission who encouraged cities to prioritise the Pact for Skills, as well as enable citizens to choose the food they want, with healthier and more sustainable options on the market. 

From the Tourism side, skills also play a key role in the transition pathway. As tourism is estimated to be missing up to 1 million employees this year, Elfa Fere, Policy Officer of Tourism at DG GROW, looked forward to recently announce European Year of Skills in 2023. As the first to develop a transition pathway in June 2021, many actions have already been taken such as the development of 70 concrete actions grouped under key topic areas like digital transition.

The cities of Porto and Pori joined later together to share their insights and initiatives. Daniel Freitas, Head of Carbon Neutrality, shared Porto’s approach to building a sustainable food system. Examples of its initiatives were Good Food Hubs, a pilot launched to connect local producers and citizens in university fares, and Solidarity Restaurants, a project focused on the reuse of unsold food.

Whilst Kari Granfors, Project Manager of the city of Pori, also illustrated key initiatives aimed at building an Industrial Circular Economy, citing how the Australian company Critical Metals chose Pori as the preferred location for their sustainable vanadium recovery and production facility.

Paving the road to ICC 2.0

The last session of the day looked towards the future of ICC and what lessons can be learned to make this a smooth and effective process. Igor Kalinic, Head of Sector Competitiveness and Internationalisation at EISMEA from the European Commission stated that the foundations of ICC 2.0 will stay the same in broad lines: a call for expression of interest to extend the current network, advisory services, networking events & workshops and communication opportunities for cities, giving visibility to cities’ success stories.

Dana Eleftheriadou and Natalia Gkiaouri from DG GROW presented the current way of thinking for new matrix of priorities, focusing on Local Green Deals i.e. integrated, multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral action plans to lead the green and digital transition, and methodological adjustments to improve the services in the next phase. These are based on thorough consultation -17 workshops - with ICC core and mentor cities, lead city experts, external experts, and European Commission services.  The audience were invited to share live feedback during the session ahead of a formalised survey that will soon collect detailed feedback from all ICC cities.

This feedback revealed that providing a holistic strategy for the city is the most valorised accomplishment and that the biggest achievement of most cities thanks to ICC was the networking and collaboration opportunities. Key areas for growth and improvement in ICC 2.0 were also shared which were noted by the Commission who will prioritise the methodology, skills and training for key officers and city leaders and ecosystem stakeholders.

Michela Magas, Member of the New European Bauhaus high level roundtable gave inspiring insights in her keynote speech. Sharing an award-winning documentary carried out in the city of Aveiro, Michela illustrated core values that play its part when engaging with citizens and adapting locally including, the rediscover of indigenous technologies, emphasise on areas of convergence and the transition from human-centric to more than human.

“We definitely need challenge-led innovations in cities, but equally important, we need best practices and rapid scale up to achieve the breakthrough needed in our society” were Dana Eleftheriadou's final words that closed this edition of the Intelligent Cities Challenge.

The ICC project management team thanks all participants for joining this first in person event and looks forward to the future ICC 2.0!

Day 2 Family Photo


You can find the slides presented during day 2 of the ICC Conference here.