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Research and innovation

Innovating cities

Research and innovation activities under the Innovating cities initiative, funding under Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe and related actions

What is this initiative about?

The EU's innovating cities initiative promotes an integrated vision of innovative urban planning and design that involves citizens as 'city makers' who innovate and participate in governance and policymaking.

Cities are nodes that bring together global networks of skills, knowledge, capital, public and private value. This makes cities critical to innovation.

The EU approaches research and innovation on smart and sustainable cities in an integrated way. This helps

  • better co-ordinate, streamline and focus the existing and future research and innovation activities and initiatives on urban issues across Horizon 2020 and future framework programmes
  • enable a sustainable and systemic approach to innovation, by fostering co-creation, co-development and co-implementation with different players in EU cities and worldwide
  • develop new business and governance models, mobilise new partnerships and investments, and foster market uptake of visionary solutions and approaches to enhance urban resilience
  • provide the knowledge and evidence base to inform decision on investments in key infrastructure for cities and urban regions as well as to inform policy-making, planning and land use management

The initiative supports cities in putting open innovation into practice and in replicating innovative multi-stakeholder solutions across cities. 

Sharing solutions is crucial to accelerating the transition to sustainable, climate neutral, resilient, safe, healthy, and socially innovative cities.

What areas does it cover?

Research and innovation can deliver holistic and innovative solutions across a broad range of interlinked areas. These areas include

  • climate-resilient urban areas
  • clean energy and energy efficiency in smart cities
  • urban mobility
  • culture driven urban regeneration and adaptive reuse
  • health and wellbeing 
  • innovative human-centred urban planning and design
  • social innovation and inclusion
  • circular economy in cities

Research and innovation programmes

Horizon 2020

The EU has invested about €3.1 billion in urban sustainable development research in Horizon 2020, its current research and innovation programme. That comes on top of €1.9 billion already invested in the previous framework programme.

Read about Horizon 2020 urban research and innovation projects

Missions in Horizon Europe 

A new feature in the EU's research and innovation programme Horizon Europe (2021- 2027) is Missions. They aim to deliver solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our world.

The Climate-neutral and smart cities mission area will bring together the many activities of the Innovating Cities initiative.

It has the ambition to support, promote and showcase 100 European cities in their systemic transformation towards climate neutrality by 2030 and turn them into innovation hubs for all cities, benefiting quality of life and sustainability in Europe. Climate-neutral cities will also enhance city-dwellers' health and wellbeing through healthier urban lifestyles.

Read more

Partnerships in Horizon Europe

Partnerships in Horizon Europe bring together private and/or public partners and the Commission to address some of Europe’s most pressing challenges. They will contribute significantly to achieving the EU’s political priorities.

Two candidate Horizon Europe partnerships focus on the urban environment

  • the Partnership on driving urban transitions for a sustainable future (DUT) will enable local authorities and municipalities, business and citizens to translate global strategies into local action, and develop the skills and tools to boost the urgently needed urban transformations
  • the Partnership on people-centric sustainable built environment (Built4People) aims for high quality, low carbon, energy and resource efficient built environments to drive the transition towards sustainability

Read more

JPI Urban Europe

The Urban Europe Joint Programming Initiative pools national research efforts and joins up public authorities, civil society, scientists, innovators, business and industry to develop a dialogue on urban transitions and deliver solutions through coordinated research.

JPI Urban Europe is driven by a strong group of 20 countries but is seeking to widen the community through capacity building in urban policy, funding and research

A multi-stakeholder community - JPI Urban Europe AGORA - supports knowledge sharing, promotes the uptake of results and mainstreams new approaches.

A sub-programme on Positive Energy Districts and Neighbourhoods was set up in 2018 in cooperation with the SET Plan Action 3.2 to support the planning, deployment and replication of 100 Positive Energy Neighbourhoods by 2025.

Since 2012, 9 joint calls have been implemented, four of which in cooperation with the Commission through ERA-NET Cofunds. The projects created about 50 urban living labs across Europe.

The ERA-NET Cofund Smart Urban Futures projects produced a collection of policy recommendations for decision makers and a results catalogue.

Mission Innovation

Mission Innovation is a global initiative of 24 countries and the European Commission (on behalf of the EU), created to make clean energy widely affordable and aligned with the European Green Deal.

Mission Innovation aims to to achieve innovative net-zero cities in 10 of its member countries by 2030 to accelerate the net-zero energy transition for all citizens (e.g. affordable heating and cooling in office buildings).

The energy transition is at the heart of in global climate action and one of the key low-carbon measures in cities. It will create economic opportunities and lead to prosperous cities and healthier lifestyles.

iCapital Award

Cities are the best place to test and develop ideas and projects to tackle the most pressing societal challenges the world is facing such as climate change, food, or mobility, while engaging with citizens.

The European Commission annually runs the European Capital of Innovation Awards to reward best practices and initiatives aimed to build, enhance and promote vibrant innovation ecosystems that positively transform life styles and life conditions in urban communities.

Read more

City Science Initiative

Over 35 European cities formed the City Science Initiative between January 2019 and July 2020 to explore how the science-policy interface operates in light of emerging urban challenges and crises. The initiative underlines the needs to improve the impact of current national and EU funded research funding programmes for tackling urban challenges.

Experience from the City Science Initiative shows that cities need more research and innovation to face upcoming challenges and take necessary steps towards sustainability.

‘Just-in-time’ research can make a significant difference. Professionals and decision-makers often do not get the research they need, while academics operate too much in isolation and do not align their research with the cities’ needs.

Read the pilot report


European cities are currently home to 75% of the European population, a figure that is predicted to rise to 85% by 2050.

Cities play a key role for achieving the targets set by major, international agreements such as the COP21 Paris Agreement, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (notably SDG11), the Urban Agenda for the EU and the Habitat III New Urban Agenda.

The Commission created the Innovating Cities initiative in 2014 to address the specific challenges that cities face.


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Innovating Cities in Europe and Worldwide