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Leuven named European Capital of Innovation 2020

20:26 25/09/2020

Leuven has been named European Capital of Innovation 2020, in a competition run by the European Commission. The €1 million prize recognises the city’s approach to innovation, particularly the way it involves residents in building strategies for the future.

“Innovation for the better and for all is Leuven’s motto,” said Mohamed Ridouani, the city’s mayor. “Collaboration and leadership from a place of empathy, translated systematically into an engaging governance model, is our way of getting it done.”

This was Leuven’s second attempt to secure the award after it lost out to Athens in 2018. It becomes the sixth city to secure the title, and the third that is not a national capital.

Leuven was selected by a jury of independent experts from academia, business and the public sector. The runners up this year were Cluj-Napoca in Romania, Espoo in Finland, Helsingborg in Sweden, Valencia in Spain and Vienna in Austria. They will receive €100,000 each.

Leuven was singled out for a mission-oriented approach that encourages collaborative innovation. Stakeholders come together with the common purpose of innovating around complex challenges, such as climate change, the shift to a circular economy or the need for high-quality education and health care.

“Leuven is not only providing increased opportunities for innovating to its citizens, but also actively involving them in testing their ideas in the city,” the award announcement said.

Initiatives cited in the award include the Leuven 2030 climate transition strategy, the co-creation initiative Leuven, Maak het Mee!, and a project to turn Frederik Lintsstraat into a “climate street” through neighbourhood actions.

The innovation continued through the coronavirus crisis, with projects such as Leuven Helps, an online platform that connected residents in need with thousands of volunteers ready to help, and the Leuven Learns online education.

After accepting the award at a virtual ceremony on Thursday, Ridouani said that he wants to build on Leuven’s achievements by creating a City Transformation Academy. This will function as a laboratory for the future.

“We are a city with students, researchers, entrepreneurs and residents of 163 different nationalities,” he said. “Their forces constantly connect to shape the solutions of the future.”

Photo: A particle accelerator being installed at UZ Leuven’s proton therapy centre
©UZ Leuven