Valladolid is one of my favourite cities. Perhaps because it is close by, perhaps because it is a young and dynamic city, perhaps because it’s historic and ancient; or perhaps because of all this and more. I can’t explain it but Valladolid has always appealed to me and I have been coming here to visit for some years. Whether for events, on business, or for leisure, going to Pucela is always invigorating. I returned there recently, at the invitation of my friend Fernando Burgos, who organises a very interesting Citizen Engagement initiative: Café Smart. It’s a gathering of guests and citizens who register and where diverse subjects related to the Smart City are debated.

The initiative, nurtured by the city administration (City of Valladolid), takes place in a space that was pioneering in Spain – an Innovation and Development agency.

It’s about support structures for the city’s economic development, whether through fostering and supporting new business ventures, with starts up and small and medium sized companies, or through building and strengthening the foundations of entrepreneurship, initiative and creativity among citizens, who for various reasons, are there looking for support and guidance. Without a doubt some fantastic work has been done; it has been pioneering. It was bold and has allowed Valladolid to take its place as one of the most intelligent cities in Spain, gaining importance in sectors such as mobility and alternative energy. We mustn’t forget that three big European car makers: Nissan, Renault and BMW, have their centres of excellence as well as their factories in Valladolid. And Valladolid is the place where these three carmakers develop and innovate in the area of electrical mobility.

While we were having a coffee I noted the great diversity of professional classes that came together for Fernando’s initiative. There were architects, industrial engineers, consultants, I.T. professionals, environmental engineers, computer and communications engineers, communication and education professionals etc. This is the current state of smart cities. It’s totally mainstream, open and crosses all economic and social classes. It’s a colourful palette. Replete with patterns and shapes, each one with its function, with its features, and each one with expectations that are sometimes quite different and distinct from each other. Cities are like this. The Polis. It is the cradle of everything, of civilisation itself, with all the good and bad that goes with it. With utopias, wars, betrayals, greed, poverty, crime and machiavelism, but also with altruism, honesty, creativity, science, love and truth.

In Valladolid I was confronted with some uncertainties about the future. Yes, we have very serious problems in our society. The bad side of humanity has caused many of these. We all have a sense now that when we talk about the Smart Human City, focused on citizens, there is always something that still appears to go wrong. Exactly what we need is citizen participation in problems, solving them more than creating them.

In recent years, marked by economic crises, the new generations have been buffeted by problems that, if not dealt with and controlled, may liquidate much of what Smart Cities is preaching. Investment in education is low, economic development stagnates, the birth rate decreases, the elderly population rises, the young flee to the big cities, the small cities languish, the large one hide or expel the homeless rather than kill them like animals because there still seems to be a smidgen of decorum. Although citizens without rights to housing, work and healthcare, are citizens condemned to a slow, cruel and shameful death. 

The new generations of citizens, those who will take care of the cities in the not too distant future, cannot be any worse than those who are currently at the helm. They shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, I note in many a nagging pessimism. But let’s have hope. In spite of everything there are still citizens who are interested, like this handful of good people who received me in Valladolid. Smart Citizens who will, ultimately, be able to contribute to this new intelligence becoming, yes, mainstream: the awareness that sometimes a lot of good is achieved with a little and sometimes a too little is done with a lot and done badly.

I shall return to Valladolid whenever I can. It’s a city that inspires and breathes, even though there are some problems and concerns. Only if there is a real desire to solve them will there be happy citizens and happy cities. Until then, we await.