Interview With Íñigo de la Serna. Santander Mayor

Íñigo de la Serna

“We have become an urban laboratory”

“We must be ready to face future challenges, be more sustainable, offer more efficient services to our citizens and adapt to their needs”

“The history of mankind is measured by the technological achievements reached. We are now facing a new period of change and evolution”

“SmartSantander made it possible to launch an ecosystem in which research, innovation and development are part of a «virtuous trinity»

“One of the key points lies in the regulation changes in the Contract Law (Ley de Contratos), which is essential to foster public-private partnerships”

“We are proud of the participation and engagement of our citizens in the transformation process of our city”

Santander is known to be one of the most advanced Spanish cities in terms of innovation and the application of new technologies. The city has become a reference even at an international level, and its mayor, Íñigo de la Serna, has played a fundamental role in that. His personal engagement in the transformation of the city is well-known and notorious. As the president of the Spanish Network for Smart Cities (RECI, Red Española de Ciudades Inteligentes), he is playing an essential role in the future not only of Santander but also that of their national counterparts. We talked to him about the present and future of cities.

In October 2012, you wrote in our magazine that Santander was launching several projects to move forward in its way towards a Smart City. Nearly two years later, what is your opinion on what has been done in your city?

We are extremely satisfied with our progress. There are still things to do, and we are working on them right now. But we have achieved many important milestones to become a Smart City. Some of them include:

We devoted four years to the creation of the foundations and structure of the city, which started with the European Project SmartSantander back in 2010. We then began to introduce technological devices in the city, amounting to more than 12.000 sensors. The cooperation of the international consortium is already finished. Nevertheless, the Santander City Council, in close collaboration with the University of Cantabria, is still introducing IoT devices in the city and developing new services and applications for citizens based on the existing platform. In his report from last March, the European Commission -which had several worldwide experts in the area of Smart Cities in the Advisory Board for the report- evaluates the progress and development of the SmartSantander project considering that not only has it reached the expected “goals and milestones” with “high standards” but also has “exceeded expectations”. Such an evaluation gives us the strength to keep on following the pathway we have been following until now.

We have created a Smart City Platform containing more than 25.000 devices (sensors, intake devices, action devices, cameras or mobile devices) that keeps growing and generating a virtual space where objects communicate to each other and produce useful information for people.

We have moved several steps forward in the creation of applications for citizens: SmartSantanderRA, Pulso de la Ciudad (City Pulse), Santander Visual (Visual Santander), Santander al móvil (Santander on your cell phone), MedCitas, ePark, Santander e Joven (Santander e Young), Smart Water, Smarter Travel, and guided tours using QR codes.

And of course we keep on working to improve sustainability and efficiency of public services focusing on innovation, by means of environmental monitoring, noise management, car park management in the streets, traffic intensity monitoring, and the implementation of smart watering and lighting in public spaces.

Santander has become an urban lab, and it has attracted the attention of several agents involved in the Smart City area: companies, user communities, entrepreneurs from other organizations who wish to use the experimental platform to deploy and evaluate new services and applications, as well as internet researchers who can validate their new technological developments.

Smart Santander has made it possible to launch, in the capital of Cantabria, an “ecosystem” in which research, innovation and development come together to create a “virtuous trinity” that has brought about the current participation of Santander in many projects linked to networks and telematic services in the Smart City area.

Have all the planned projects been developed? Is Santader, in 2014, what you expected it to be?

We are achieving the deadlines that were established in our Innovation Action Plan for each project, and I am really satisfied with all we have achieved. Much work lies ahead, as well as many projects are yet to be developed.

One of the key points lies in the regulation changes in the Contract Law (Ley de Contratos), which is essential to foster public-private partnerships. These partnerships are fundamental for innovation to become empowered with the required alliances to keep growing and helping cities generate more economic activity and job positions in an area where this can be achieved.

Which of the projects makes you prouder? Which was the most complex one?

This is a tough question, as the Smart City approach essentially focuses on transversality, interlinked projects, the development of a new city management level that involves a vision of the city as a whole. Pointing out a single project is extremely difficult: each of them plays an important role in the city we are designing. From a social point of view, I think we may be proud of citizen participation and engagement in the transformation process the city is going through.

I will give you an example. One of the applications that originated from the distribution of sensors in the city is SmartSantanderRA. Right now, it has been downloaded about 20.000 thousand times, and citizens have used it to have access to information more than 140.500 times. These are the figures for urban transport alone…

Besides, tags or stickers on municipal bus stops that make it possible to access data regarding bus lines, bus stops, arrival times… have been used more than 452.200 times. In a medium-sized city such as Santander (180.000 inhabitants) this is a real achievement.

New technologies kept creating new inventions, which will take some time to implement. Isn’t that an endless race? Is it possible that trying to be constantly up to date in a city is beyond measure?

We are not competing to possess the best technological means in the world. What we want is to be ready for future challenges, be more sustainable, offer more efficient services to citizens and adapt to their needs. We are achieving all the aforementioned goals with what is available to us right now, and things will become better as science moves further, as it has been the case in Medicine or in any other research field.

We follow the same thought process as does any other city without the “Smart” label; this is why alliances with the business sector are important, as they are the ones providing the technology and applying it to everyday uses. For example, the contracts with authorized dealers -the companies that provide access to water supply, waste management or electricity services- are renewed after a given period. Every time the contract is renewed, certain improvements are required by the administration, such as the authorized dealer company improving their facilities, their fleet or the technology used to develop the contracted job. The same happens in a Smart City.

In your trip to Singapur to attend IoT Asia, you underscored public-private partnership as an essential point to the advancement of Santander as a Smart City. Is that a paradigm shift?

This is what I was talking about above. We must collaborate with private sectors, because they are the ones developing technologies in partnership with research centers and universities, and they create economic activity and job positions. Public administrations should establish the rules, promote, cooperate and find the tools to make it possible for companies to work for the common benefit.

If public money is no longer enough, what is the role of the State? What should its mission be?

It should be the one creating the opportunities for the business sector, and subsequently for citizens. A representative that channels citizens needs and transform them in opportunities for growth by using technology and the business sector.

Which are the key points for a city to be really smart? What would you tell another city mayor about what to do to move in the right direction?

I am not entitled to give advice to a colleague. Every mayor knows about the needs of his/her city better than anybody else. We have worked in partnership with the scientific community in Santander, the University of Cantabria. I think there lies the success of our project.

Some cities seem to be on the fast track towards new technologies; others, however, are yet at the very beginning. Could this create a fracture in the long term? Who should take care of that: the state government, the autonomies or the cities?

I believe every city is aware of its own reality, the challenges to be faced and the opportunities available. Technology helps us cater for many of them, and it enables us to act in all other areas. This is why more and more capitals are focusing on technological development and innovation, not only as a new way to manage a city but also as a source for new opportunities for citizens in terms of employment. I think that nowadays, there is more of a convergence than a fracture in that sense. The Spanish Network of Smart Cities (Red Española de Ciudades Inteligentes, RECI) is a good example of that. There are already 50 cities interested in belonging to this work group, in which to share ideas and projects that may be applied in more than one city, and where synergies that benefit all members may be created.

What do you think about European Union regulations? If we are moving towards a pan-European government, as we are already doing in other areas, how much influence may/should the EU have on the administrative future of cities?

The EU should cooperate and collaborate the way it has been doing so until now, by means of programmes with significant allowances that made it possible to launch or foster the model we aim to achieve, based on science, innovation and technological development. Cities should be capable to grow in that sense, but it is important for the EU to be present when the changes are started, as it is extremely difficult for a city to start on its own. In Santander, help obtained from the 7th Framework Programme in the EU has been essential to achieve the position we hold now. It has been a fundamental starting point.

Is the personal drive of the mayor of Santander essential for the future of the city?

We are humbly learning and working in Santander, as we are convinced that the future of our city lies in the development of a new, more efficient and sustainable management model that is based on technology development. But many other cities in Spain are doing a great job in this area and have great work teams. Santander has an exceptional human team behind each project, both in the University and in the City Council, and the Innovation General Management Office is involved in every step we take to improve services to citizens, and in all our attempts to open new doors for companies to develop new services.

What would you say to a citizen to explain that new technologies are really leading us towards a better world?

We just need to look back and see what the introduction of technology meant in our lives: in our homes, our work places or our communications. What having cell phones or internet access meant, how they became almost essential in our daily lives. The history of mankind is measured by the technological achievements reached. We are now facing a new period of change and evolution towards new systems that help us make our cities cleaner, more manageable, more accessible and closer to citizens from every point of view.


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