The city of Leuven has been named European Capital of Innovation for 2020, the European Commission announced. Leuven becomes the first Belgian city to be awarded the title, and the sixth in total.
The jury of independent experts praised Leuven’s “inspiring governance models” and “the systems put in place for the public to innovate and to get involved in critical decision-making processes”.
Leuven is not only home to the country’s oldest university, but also tech spin-offs like imec, a hub for nano- and digital technologies. It also boasts citywide networks like Leuven 2030and Leuven MindGate which contribute to a new form of four-pronged collaboration, bringing together government, knowledge institutions, companies and citizens.
Twelve cities made it into the final round: Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Espoo (Finland), Helsingborg (Sweden), Valencia (Spain) and Vienna (Austria) were named runners-up and are awarded €100,000.
The cities of Ghent (Belgium), Groningen and Leeuwarden (the Netherlands), Linz (Austria), Milan (Italy) and Reykjavik (Iceland) were also in the final round.
Leuven, as winner, is awarded a prize of €1 million, and joins the ranks of previous winners: Nantes and Paris (France), Athens (Greece) and Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Leuven was a runner-up in 2018, when the prize went to Athens.
“This is recognition for everyone who is committed to our city,” said Leuven mayor Mohamed Ridouani (sp.a).
“I am honoured and thankful for this award, which is a symbol of hope for a better common future, especially in these challenging times. Innovation for the better and for all is Leuven’s motto. Collaboration and empathetic leadership, translated systematically into an engaging governance model, is our way of getting it done.”
The collaborative efforts referred to by the award jury made itself felt with Leuven Helpt (Leuven Helps), a network set up just days after the start of the Covid-19 crisis to bring together those who needed assistance of any kind with volunteers to provide it The model was later adopted by some 300 other cities and municipalities in Belgium and elsewhere.
“Leuven is a future lab for Europe,” Ridouani said.
“The solutions for the problems of the future first appear and are tested here. We are a city of students, researchers, entrepreneurs and residents of 163 different nationalities. The solutions of the future are given shape here by constantly reconnecting these various forces. Our model of radical cooperation and engaged leadership can be a blueprint for other European cities,” he concluded.