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People, data, or both. innovationHUB has permitted the interpretation of both these elements within the creation of a Smart City. It has done so by means of three visions: that of Marieta del Rivero, author of the book “Smart city: una visión para el ciudadano” (Smarty City: a vision for citizens”); Regina Llopis, CEO of Grupo AIA, which specializes in data management, and the institutional perspective offered by Gema Igual, Mayor of Santander.

The Cantabrian city, an international reference for what are known as smart cities, shows how both elements can be part of the same equation to get a human and technological feel for the city’s daily life. A process that Santander is living in real time, either through its deep mesh of sensors that monitor activity in its streets, or through the proposals made by citizens using the Santander City Brain for citizen participation.

Click to watch the full interview.

Innovadores (I): As we saw in the debate you took part in, a smart city is also smart because of its citizens. What role does citizen participation play in a smart city, and what role does Santander City Brain play in the city of Santander?

Gema Igual (GI): Santander City Brain is a strategic application for Santander’s City Council. It is a tool that gives us the opportunity to see the citizen’s point of view, and allows us to create loyalty through different municipal policies. Thanks to its use, we can interact with the people of Santander and even ask them questions regarding any issues or specific challenges. This, however, entails being brave and coherent, executing that which you have asked about.

I: What effect does this channel for citizen participation have on the municipal corporation?

GI: It has meant a big change in the way we govern, as well as the perception citizens have of the political actions executed by the city council. ideas4all Innovation has done a great job and Banco Santander supports us by making the project possible. Thanks to them, we can be in the streets of Santander virtually, and offer our citizens a viable channel where they can send us their suggestions and proposals. But even more than that, citizens perceive that those proposals don’t go to waste, they see that they are evaluated and implemented.

I: Could you tell us about any specific projects arising from this opening of political action to citizen participation?

GI: We have currently opened the refurbishment of the Parque de la Remonta to citizen participation. The park is a green lung for the city, and we asked citizens for ideas that will help to humanize this space through three projects with a maximum budget of 1,500 euros. We received an enormous number of proposals, such as planting a garden with aromatic plants, installing parking spaces for bicycles or adding wooden benches to the ones present in the initial project, which are made of stone and are therefore colder and less comfortable.

I: The objective, then, is to give a voice to people who, because they use public facilities and services every day, know them better than anyone?

GI: Certainly. It is very gratifying to see how our citizens build the city, how they participate in our municipal policies. And even, given the case, how they can redirect actions and ideas arising from the city’s governing team in time, before they are executed, if they believe they are not quite right for the city.

I: In this sense, does a tool like this give the city council more room for maneuver? Does gathering ideas and including other points of view force the government to be humbler?

GI: In this case, it is our neighbors and citizens who suggest, almost in real time, alternatives and another way of doing things. It is a great advantage for the city, and it is in the hands of the government team to ask for help or recognize mistakes whenever they happen. That is why Santander City Brain is such a valuable tool, a great source of information that makes the city council more agile and flexible.

I: What has changed in your relationship with citizens?

GI: Firstly, they no longer need to come to the City Hall to make their opinion heard. Years ago, it was very difficult for a citizen of Santander to participate so patently in the city’s construction even if their participation was necessary, as we must remember city councils are the administration that is closest to citizens.

I: Does this technology allow for greater citizen involvement in political action? Are the effects always positive?

GI: Without question, technology has changed how we think of the City Council. But it is also true that, sometimes, it allows for concealed identities and opinions that are not constructive and don’t pursue the common good.