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Sustainable Innovation Zones and related projects are spreading.

Porto Alegre Sustainable Innovation Zone (ZISPOA)

The Porto Alegre Sustainable Innovation Zone (ZISPOA--Zona de Inovação Sustentável de Porto Alegre) is the first major implementation step of Global Urban Development's World Bank-funded 2015 Leapfrog Economic Strategy for the City of Porto Alegre and the State of Rio Grande do Sul (RS) to become the most Sustainable and Innovative places in Latin America by 2030.

Sustainable Innovation Zones near urban universities, technology parks, and business incubators are designed to become international magnets for talent and concentrated experiments in developing advanced technologies and globally scalable products and services that conserve, reuse, and renew resources much more efficiently.  Through this approach, people, places, and organizations can experience greater prosperity and quality of life, earning and saving more money with thriving businesses, better jobs, and higher incomes, at the same time that they are helping to accomplish the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Climate Agreement, and New Urban Agenda by 2030.


The ZISPOA area includes all of 15 Porto Alegre bairros (neighborhoods): Auxiliadora, Azenha, Bom Fim, Centro Histórico, Cidade Baixa, Farroupilha, Floresta, Independência, Menino Deus, Moinhos de Vento, Praia de Belas, Rio Branco, Santa Cecilia, Santana, and São Geraldo.  Located inside ZISPOA are Porto Alegre's largest public park, two federal universities and three other higher education institutions, six major hospitals, Brazil's oldest and largest weekly organic farmers market, an historic urban retail center, four large private companies, numerous educational, cultural, and religious institutions, and several neighborhoods that have been at the heart of Porto Alegre's sustainability movement for the past half century.

GUD began organizing ZISPOA in September 2015 through the Entrepreneurship Challenge at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), together with various courses and activities at the Paralelo Vivo Sustainable Innovation Hub, and numerous civic and university events.  In March 2017 we launched the ZISPOA Project at UFRGS in the Engineering School's Centenario Building.   ZISPOA is working with senior administrators, faculty, and students at UFRGS to develop a plan for the university to become a global leader in Sustainable Innovation by 2030, in teaching, research, resource utilization, facilities management, community collaboration, entrepreneurial development, public service, and internationalization.

In December 2017 the Porto Alegre City Council voted unanimously to officially recognize ZISPOA and its boundaries, and Mayor Nelson Marchezan Jr. signed this legislation into law in March 2018.  Currently ZISPOA is working with the Porto Alegre City Government to include the Sustainable Innovation Zone as part of updating the city's master urban development plan.

ZISPOA is based on six key elements:

  • Innovation and Technology

  • Entrepreneurship and Startups

  • Sustainability and Resource Efficiency

  • Creativity and Collaboration

  • Participatory Community Management

  • Business-Friendly Environment


Thus far ZISPOA is focused on becoming:

  • more solar-powered 

  • more bike-friendly 

  • more renewable technology-friendly (zero waste/recycling/circular economy)

  • more energy-efficient 

  • more digitally connected

The ZISPOA network includes university professors and students, young entrepreneurs and professionals, collaborative houses and sustainability organizations.  Operating as a citizen-led, community-oriented, university and private sector movement, in active collaboration with UFRGS, the Porto Alegre City Government, and the Swedish and US governments, to date ZISPOA has helped launch numerous sustainable startup businesses, including Loop, Re-ciclo, and Volta; built a solar charging station for electric car sharing at Shopping Total with MVM, Orkestra, and YES; built the Solar Poste with Elysia for charging mobile devices in the courtyard of the UFRGS Administration School; promoted solar "trees" with OZ Engenharia;  developed the Espaço Floresta community gardening and composting center at a city-owned recycling facility; and built the ZISPOA Sustainable Parklet with Tetra Pak, Josephyna's, Sim Sala Bim, Elysia, Solidarieadade, Urban Ode, Pacto Alegre, UFRGS, the Swedish Embassy, and other partners.

In addition, ZISPOA has helped organize many other initiatives including a wide range of weekly seminars (ZIStalks), workshops, lectures, festivals, and networking events such as monthly Green Drinks. Events have ranged from two UN-Habitat Urban Thinkers Campuses during November 2017 and December 2019; Sweden-Brazil Innovation Week activities during October 2016, October 2017, and September 2019; a ZISPOA World Environment Day Festival at Vila Flores in June 2016; a ZISPOA Bike-Friendly Festival in October 2017; and much more.

ZISPOA involves many projects and working groups, including: Professores Conselheiros da ZISPOA (ZISProf), a network of more than 150 professors from 15 universities in metropolitan Porto Alegre supporting ZISPOA's activities through teaching and research; ZISPOA nas Universidades (ZUNI), involving hundreds of students engaging in ZISPOA research and action through university courses and programs; POA Solar/Solarizing ZISPOA, promoting solar energy throughout ZISPOA and Porto Alegre, including a ZISPOA solar electric cooperative; Bike-Friendly ZISPOA, promoting dedicated bike lanes (ciclovias), secure bike parking (paraciclos), bike sharing, parklets as outdoor gathering spaces, and bike apps; Greening UFRGS, focusing on Sustainable Innovation of campus buildings and facilities; and many other projects.

ZISPOA works very closely with Porto Alegre's Mayor, City Government, City Council, businesses and associations, collaborative houses and startup hubs, coworking and maker spaces, sustainability and social advocacy and service groups, and many other key stakeholder organizations, including Pacto Alegre, Aliança de Inovação, Virada Sustentável, Singularity University (South Brazil Chapter), Porto Alegre Inquieta, TodaVida, UFO Sustainable Innovation Hub, GRID, Pulsar, PROPUR-GPIT, Point, Casa Guandu, Vila Flores, Aeromovel, Minha Porto Alegre, Josephyna's, Global Shapers, Casa das Cidades, INSPE, Órbita Coworking, CRA‐RS, IAB-RS, CAU-RS, Engineers Without Borders, Misturai, Solidarieadade, Porto Alegre Resiliente, Marquise 51 Hub Criativo, TransLab, WOW, Nós Coworking, POA Hub, Distrito Criativo, Distrito Empreendedor, Fábrica do Futuro, UFRGS Parque Zenit, WRI Brasil, and numerous others.

Through GUD, Sustainable Innovation Zones are now beginning to spread to other cities.  Currently two more have recently been launched:  1) ZISSAN in Santo Angelo, a smaller Brazilian city in Rio Grande do Sul; and 2) ACTA in Panama City, Panama.  GUD also is working to help organize Sustainable Innovation Zones in other cities, including London (UK), Toronto (Canada), and Brooklyn/New York City (US).

ZISPOA's strategy incorporates many aspects of a successful "technology innovation ecosystem" (as identified by the World Bank) -- college and university education and research, technology transfer, business incubators and accelerators, startup hubs, coworking and maker spaces, fab labs, hackathons, meetups, boot camps, angel investors, venture capital, financial and regulatory incentives, etc. -- and adds four more vital components: 1) place-based community emphasis; 2) primary purpose promoting Sustainable Innovation technologies, businesses, and talent; 3) active participation and support by sustainability, social, and creative design experts and activists (in addition to entrepreneurs and technologists) and, 4) empowered by a grassroots citizen movement. 

In addition, ZISPOA's commitment to generating Inclusive Prosperity in urban neighborhoods represents a "community development ecosystem" as defined by Robert Zdenek and Dee Walsh in their recent book about Community Development Corporations (CDCs), producer and consumer cooperatives, and other community-based and affordable housing development organizations in the US.  The key distinction about ZISPOA as a community development ecosystem is its primary focus on Sustainable Innovation.  Indeed, ZISPOA's Sustainable Communities approach is comparable to EcoDistricts, Transition Towns, and similar urban local sustainability movements.

ZISPOA also promotes the main activities of the "creative economy" and works with many organizations in Porto Alegre to encourage this approach, including INSPE, Vila Flores, Porto Alegre Inquieta, RS Criativo, and many other organizations.

Other Sustainable Innovation Zones and Communities


Through GUD, Sustainable Innovation Zones are now beginning to spread to many other cities.  Currently two more have been launched since 2018:

  1. ZISSAN in Santo Angelo, Brazil (another city in Rio Grande do Sul);

  2. ACTA in Panama City, Panama. 


GUD also is working to help organize Sustainable Innovation Zones and Sustainable Innovation Communities in several additional cities, including:

  1. London (UK);

  2. New York City (USA);

  3. Western Sydney (Australia);

  4. Poznan (Poland);

  5. Wheaton, Maryland (USA).

UN-Habitat World Urban Campaign Newsletter

February 2020

Global Urban Development (GUD) in Brazil: Porto Alegre Urban Thinkers 
Campus in ZISPOA 
Highlights Progress of 
Sustainable Innovation Zones

Global Urban Development organized a second Urban Thinkers Campus in Porto Alegre during December 14-19, 2019, following up on GUD's successful Urban Thinkers Campus in November 2017.   For this new Urban Thinkers Campus, GUD's organizing partners and event hosts included the Porto Alegre Sustainable Innovation Zone (ZISPOA), Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Pacto Alegre, Vila Flores Cultural Association, UFO Sustainable Innovation Hub, and the Council of Architecture and Urbanism of Rio Grande do Sul (CAU-RS).


GUD's November 2017 Urban Thinkers Campus focused on "Sustainable Innovation Zones as Catalysts for the New Urban Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals, and Paris Climate Agreement through Citizen Empowerment, Entrepreneurial Engagement, and Strategic Collaboration", with particular emphasis on the first two years of substantial progress by ZISPOA.  For December 2019, our Urban Thinkers Campus highlighted more than four years of ongoing excellent progress by ZISPOA, as well as the rapidly growing international movement of Sustainable Innovation Zones, with two new zones that were launched in 2018, the Santo Angelo Sustainable Innovation Zone (ZISSAN) in Brazil, and the Panama City Sustainable Innovation Zone (ACTA) in Panama, plus three more zones currently being organized in Brooklyn/New York City (US), London (UK), and Toronto (Canada).  Several other Brazilian cities in Rio Grande do Sul, including Caxias do Sul and Pelotas, are considering the possibility of establishing Sustainable Innovation Zones similar to ZISPOA and ZISSAN. Also, numerous cities globally are discussing potentially organizing Sustainable Innovation Zones, from Accra (Ghana) to Bangalore (India).

At our recent Urban Thinkers Campus there was a special session featuring a detailed presentation and discussion about ZISSAN, including 20 people from Santo Angelo led by ZISSAN Coordinator Helenice Reis and ZISSAN's co-founder, Jorge Tonetto.  In addition, there was another special session highlighted by four lively and inspiring videos: 1) Jose Barria presenting the ACTA Sustainable Innovation Zone in the Calidonia/La Exposicion neighborhood of Panama City; 2) Michael Menser explaining the Brooklyn Sustainable Innovation Zone around Brooklyn College; and 3) Janine Campling, Haddy Ceesay-Jones and Prakash Kamtam describing the London Sustainable Innovation Community in the Borough of Camden.

Another focus of GUD's 2019 Urban Thinkers Campus was on our productive collaboration with the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), where the ZISPOA Project office is located in the GRID research center at the Engineering School's headquarters, the historic Centenario building.  UFRGS is consistently ranked among the best universities in Brazil, and is one of the largest and most important institutions located in ZISPOA.  Many UFRGS professors are providing leadership and support for ZISPOA through a faculty group called ZISProf, which includes teaching UFRGS courses in which students engage in research and action projects related to ZISPOA, and professors and students together conduct research focusing on ZISPOA and Sustainable Innovation for Porto Alegre.  Through the leadership and advocacy of ZISProf, the President and Vice Presidents of UFRGS have committed to the university becoming a world leader in Sustainable Innovation by 2030 in teaching, research, campus facilities management, entrepreneurship and technology development, public and community service, and internationalization. 


In recognition of this vital commitment, the Urban Thinkers Campus was opened by welcoming remarks from UFRGS President, Rui Vicente Oppermann, Vice President for Research, Rafael Roesler, and Engineering School Dean, Luiz Carlos Pinto da Silva Filho.  This enthusiastic opening was followed by a detailed speech by ZISPOA Coordinator and UFRGS International Visiting Professor Marc Weiss on the "Evolution of ZISPOA since 2015" and then by powerpoint presentations and extensive discussion of seven recent major activities at UFRGS, either directly initiated by, or closely coordinated with, ZISPOA and ZISProf:  1) developing a new Sustainable Innovation Professional curriculum and certificate program for masters and doctoral students across the entire university, directed by three ZISProf leaders, Professors Angela Danilevicz, Luis Felipe Nascimento, and Istefani de Paula; 2) creating a new Sustainability Office, headed by Andrea Loguercio, to facilitate Sustainable Innovation projects at UFRGS; 3) research on how to transform the historic Centenario and Chateau buildings into the two greenest in Brazil, as a first step towards greening the entire university campus, in the spirit of the ZISPOA Solar Post (charging electronic devices from renewable energy) located in the courtyard of the UFRGS Management School; 4) researching how to organize a solar electric cooperative that will enable ZISPOA to become the most solar-powered urban area in Latin America by 2030; 5) developing the Creathon (co-creation hackathon competition) as a collaboration of the Porto Alegre City Government, Pacto Alegre, UFRGS, ZISPOA, UFO, Thought Works, Yara, Sebrae, Tecnopuc, and Tecnosinos encouraging and supporting new private entrepreneurial and citizen/community-based solutions for recycling and zero waste in Porto Alegre; 6) research on how to develop electric car sharing in ZISPOA, led by the E-24 Mobility Lab at UFRGS; and 7) designing and developing a model Sustainable Innovation Parklet for ZISPOA with a solar post for powering LED lights and charging electronic devices, use of recycled building materials produced by an organization supporting livelihoods for low-income families, a dedicated bike lane and secure bike parking, outdoor street and sidewalk seating and reduced car parking, an open-air green roof with attractive planting, and other key features. 


This new Sustainable Innovation Parklet, located in ZISPOA near UFRGS, opened on the evening of December 17 with a special Green Drinks celebration for the Urban Thinkers Campus.  It received financial support from the Swedish Embassy in Brasilia and an international Swedish company, Tetra Pak, and from two local cafes, Josephyna's and Sim Sala Bim, plus in-kind support from Pacto Alegre, UFRGS, the Porto Alegre City Government, and several other supporting local organizations and businesses.

Another session of our recent Urban Thinkers Campus highlighted Porto Alegre urban and regional Sustainable Innovation actions involving GUD, ZISPOA, and UFRGS as key partners, including the Pacto Alegre public-private-civic-university partnership to help generate more dynamic economic growth and promote higher quality of life for Porto Alegre (modeled on Barcelona), and innovative technology initiatives by the city and state governments and other major universities such as PUCRS, UFCSPA, and Unisinos.  The 2019 Urban Thinkers Campus also involved: 1) showing "Citizen Jane" (a documentary film about Jane Jacobs) at the Vila Flores Cultural Association, followed by a discussion about Participatory Community Transformation and ZISPOA with the Council of Architecture and Urbanism (CAU-RS), and the UFRGS Post-Graduate Program in Urban and Regional Planning (PROPUR); 2) a co-creation workshop led by Pulsar at the UFO Sustainable Innovation Hub, exploring how people and institutions can strategically organize future Sustainable Innovation Zones in Brazil; and 3) UFRGS student presentations (organized by ZISProf) about their semester-long ZISPOA Sustainable Innovation research and action projects.

Two other important recent activities by GUD and ZISPOA, both held during late September 2019, were: 1) helping organize, for the third time since 2016, the annual Sweden-Brazil Innovation Week seminar in Porto Alegre, with this year's theme exploring smart city solutions for urban solid waste management (which immediately gave birth to the Creathon project mentioned above); and 2) helping organize at UFRGS an International Seminar on Participatory Community Transformation, with Professors Fabian Domingues, Eber Marzulo, Tarson Nunez, Wrana Panizzi, and other members of PROPUR's Identity and Territory Research Group (GPIT), in collaboration with City University of New York (CUNY) Professor Michael Menser and the Center for the Study of Brooklyn.

Our December 2019 Urban Thinkers Campus helped GUD and ZISPOA conclude the year with high energy and considerable optimism for 2020, starting with UN-Habitat's World Urban Forum 10 during February 8-13 in Abu Dhabi.

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