The city of Lisbon and the Energy and Environment Agency of Lisbon – Lisboa E-Nova have been chosen to coordinate the European project HUB-IN, which brings together eight European cities with the same aim: to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in historic urban areas while preserving their identity, cultural uniqueness, and environmental sustainability. It is a four-year plan that will leave a lasting impact for the future.

From the traditional Lisbon Castle Hill to the walls of Nicosia and Brasov. From the former Titanic shipyards in Belfast to the surroundings of Porto Velho in Genoa. From the entrepreneurial Utrecht to the capital of comics in Angoulême or the peaceful Slovenska Bistrica. In each of these European cities, there is an engine of social and urban transformation whose mission is to bring new life and sustainability to their historic centers. This is the HUB-IN project – Hubs of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the Transformation of Historic Urban Areas.

Led by Lisboa E-Nova – Lisbon Energy and Environment Agency, the project  is a consortium of eight pilot cities that includes municipalities, agencies, universities, and companies with the aim of developing innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives in historic areas, contributing to the preservation of the natural, cultural, and social values of each city.

“This is a regeneration project with a very special, holistic perspective because it tries to enhance urban innovation ecosystems based on tradition and cultural heritage, whether material or immaterial, and always integrating people and neighborhood dynamics,” says Vera Gregório, a technician at Lisboa E-Nova – Lisbon Energy and Environment Agency and general coordinator of HUB-IN.

The involvement of local communities is indeed essential for the project, which seeks to help develop new skills, jobs, and opportunities for local businesses (particularly in the fields of innovation and creativity) while also creating more opportunities for existing traditional businesses. Sustainability and environmental regeneration are other essential pillars in HUB-IN initiatives, bringing the global climate urgency to a neighborhood scale.


Funded by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 program, HUB-IN is a four-year project that started in September 2020 and extends until 2024. During this period, it will have two main phases.

The first phase is dedicated to building the concept of innovation and regeneration in historic areas and developing innovation and entrepreneurship centers – the Hubs – to be created in each of the partner cities: Lisbon (Portugal), Belfast (Northern Ireland, United Kingdom), Brasov (Bulgaria), Genoa (Italy), Angoulême (France), Nicosia (Cyprus), Slovenska Bistrica (Slovenia), and Utrecht (Netherlands).

In the second phase, the aim is to extend this HUB-IN alliance to other follower cities through a collaborative global network that shares knowledge, methodologies, and tools. The commitment is to involve 20 more European cities within the project’s timeline.

Conceptually, the Hubs of Innovation and Entrepreneurship will work based on three innovation clusters. The first focuses on “Cultural and Creative Industries” such as crafts, fashion design, visual arts, music, film, or video games. Another cluster, called “New Lifestyles,” integrates digital technologies, circular economy, social innovation, and sustainability. The third cluster, “Resilient Places Connected to People,” is related to empowering communities and sustainability.


In Lisbon, HUB-IN is materialized in the HUB_IN LISBOA – COLINA DO CASTELO and will be developed in collaboration with the Lisbon City Council, a partner in the project, and include the historic areas of Alfama, Mouraria, Intendente, Castelo, Graça, and São Vicente. These neighborhoods have many differences among them, but also various common issues, from their ancient history and traditions to recent problems of gentrification, abandonment, real estate pressure, mass tourism, and energy poverty.

To leverage these positive aspects and help mitigate the negative ones (largely shared by the other cities in the project), three essential missions have been defined. The first mission is to create circular economy neighborhoods that value cultural heritage and strategies to support traditional businesses while promoting the regeneration of public spaces and combating social isolation, such as through intergenerational dynamics. The second mission aims to boost creativity and local businesses to enhance the characteristics of traditional knowledge so prevalent in the Castle Hill area, always with the goal of linking innovation and entrepreneurship. Finally, the third mission is based on the climate mission, promoting regeneration from the perspective of climate efficiency, such as creating greener public spaces or initiatives to combat heat islands.

“We want the HUB-IN LISBOA – COLINA DO CASTELO to be a force for territory regeneration and the well-being of communities, integrating innovation, tradition, and environmental sustainability. Always with the logic of reusing, readapting, and valorizing the resources that already exist in the neighborhoods,” says Vera Gregório.

The governance structure of this Hub is still being designed, but the idea is to involve different departments of the municipality, local parish councils, and associations, all represented in an Advisory Committee. Citizen involvement will also include various initiatives, such as the creation of a Friends of Colina do Castelo Network.

Interconnections with other international groups will also be prioritized. This is the case with the C40 Cities network, which Lisbon integrates, bringing together a hundred mayors from around the world in the fight against the climate crisis. One of the projects is the international competition Students Reinventing Cities, which has already challenged students and universities to present ideas to make Mouraria a more sustainable neighborhood.

Among the main actions to be developed in Castle Hill, the “Ignite the Hill” stands out, aiming to foster a network of creative industries in collaboration with the Mouraria Innovation Center (CIM). In addition to mapping projects, companies, and spaces through the GeoTool platform, a stamp will also be created for activities aligned with the spirit of the initiative. The CIM will also play a fundamental role in the “De-Incubator” action a kind of hybrid, decentralized, and dematerialized incubator that will serve as an acceleration program for innovative products or services. The goal is to encourage entrepreneurship, especially through job creation and talent attraction. Another emblematic action of HUB-IN Lisbon will be the “Castle Hill Pop-up Space,” to be installed in a historic building in Alfama, bringing the neighborhood community together through creative and sustainable actions. There will also be the “Sprout Tank,” a hub of ideas in the field of environmental sustainability and circular economy, with pilot projects and experimental activities focused on climate action.

Finally, the question arises: what happens after the four-year project deadline? Vera Gregório says that the mission to continue with the HUB-IN LISBOA – COLINA DO CASTELO does not end after this period and believes it will endure for a much longer time: “Actions may begin and end, but what we intend is to create governance structures for historical centers, such as these Hubs, and attract several activities that will continue to leverage other initiatives beyond HUB-IN. In fact, the project begins… when it ends.”

Photo: © CM Lisboa