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santander - use case 2: Simulation tool for long-term urban planning

Elderly Couple Looking at Smartphone

Description and goal

The Santander City Council is currently developing the new general urban development plan. This plan will govern the development of the city in the long term. One of its objectives is to provide a solution to current problems and define, with concrete elements, the main lines on which the evolution of the city will be based in the coming years. It must also be a harmonious and flexible instrument of development that will also address the problems that are currently known and will affect the city in the coming years, but also the ones that are still unknown or with no major impact.

This plan will address a set of challenges that are common to cities of the same scale as Santander such as sustainability, the strong growth in demand for better and new municipal services in a context in which resources are not growing proportionally, etc. Additionally, it should emphasize those problems that are particular to the city or that have a higher-than-average incidence and that, therefore, must be solved at the local level. In the case of Santander, the two particular elements of importance have already been mentioned: the complicated orography and the aging of the population above the average of its surroundings.


For all these reasons, urban planning is something complex, of great impact (in terms of time and depth) and in which a multitude of general factors coexist (e.g., what will be the areas of urban expansion of the city and the new road networks needed) and particular factors (e.g., where the playgrounds, benches and other street furniture will be located).   To perform this task correctly, it is essential to have an in-depth knowledge of the current situation, not only from existing technical data but also from the point of view and ideas provided by the citizens who are ultimately the users of the city.  This provides the current needs and serves as a basis for defining future needs.


In addition, urban planning should be an instrument for shaping the intentions and policies for the future of the city, something that is the responsibility of politicians and senior officials. Although there are subjective elements in decision making by decision makers, there is one factor that can and should be substantially improved. This factor is the existence of objective information based on the most real and updated data of all the elements involved, which will make it possible to reliably establish the consequences of all the possible alternatives that may be chosen.


Currently, there is a significant amount of static information and also a wide range of data with a greater or lesser degree of frequency of updating. Besides the data available with greater reliability and a higher update frequency, it is necessary to it integrate in a common repository. This tool is currently under development in Santander and is called the Santander Smart City Platform. When completed, it will be a central information point for the city where information on the operation of municipal services will arrive and will provide the necessary information to all municipal services that need it, breaking with the traditional silo approach with which municipal services usually operate in cities.  This Platform will have reporting systems and dashboards, adapted to all levels of responsibility and decision making to allow analysis and, if necessary, decision making, through a system that is as simplified as possible.


The development of the digital twin that is carried out in this project is the perfect complement to this Platform since it focuses on a fundamental aspect of the city context, such as urban planning, and through a system that allows to exploit the available data in the optimal way to provide the consequences of all those alternatives that are desired.  The digital twin will be able to provide simulations that provide information on the segments of the population affected by each type of decision, in its multiple aspects, and on the degree of affection. This will make it possible to focus attention on those segments most in need or most vulnerable. The scope, reliability and detail of the outcome information provided by a digital twin goes beyond the tools currently available or in the pipeline as its simulations can incorporate real, live city data and can provide results with greater granularity.


During the participatory process that has been carried out within the URBANAGE project, it has been possible to contrast the vision of municipal officials, including those directly involved in the development of the new general urban plan with the real vision of citizens, especially that of senior citizens.

During the workshops and co-creation sessions, it became clear that in order to carry out high-level planning, the details of the citizen's day-to-day life must be taken into account. Many elements have been detected which, although not unknown to urban planners, confirm their vision or introduce a scale of priority in the actions and measures to be taken in the future. In this aspect, given that the population segment considered is around a quarter of the population of the city and with an upward trend, it has been very positive to make a special action with them, in addition to others that have been done with other stakeholders in the new urban planning.

Involved persona’s

 The older people´s community

  • As mentioned in previous paragraphs this stakeholder group is perhaps the most important because it is the largest and where the benefits will have the greatest impact.  In general, we can cite as aspects to highlight the greater knowledge about the decision-making processes carried out in the city, the greater degree of transparency and trust in decision-makers, the improvement of infrastructures and in general of the experience in the city, and the optimization of public investment based on data and decisions with a greater objective component.

  • As for the population segments affected, it is necessary to highlight that, given the long-term nature of the use case, the situation becomes more complex than in the previous case since the temporal component of the actions and their consequences must be considered.  However, it can be intuited that in addition to the segment of the population of older adults that was of special importance in the previous case, now also takes prominence that of not so old adults who, with the evolution of time, will enter the segment of the population with greater sensitivity and affection.

  • On the other hand, in addition to age, there is another factor worth analysing in order to segment the population, and that is the area of residence. Indeed, in this use case, related to urban planning, the areas of the city, and more specifically its neighbourhoods, will have different benefits depending on where they are located and, therefore, their interest in the results will be greater. In this aspect, neighbourhood associations take on a special role, as they are the instruments through which citizens have the greatest capacity to exert pressure on municipal policies.


Municipal civil servants

  • In general, civil servants are the ones in charge of executing the different actions and tasks associated with the high-level decisions made. It is very similar to what has been explained in use case 1 but now in a more medium-long term approach.


 Politicians/Decision Makers

  • Their main interest is to have the ability to make decisions in a more informed and objective manner and greater technical support in their decision making.  However, the availability of a tool where the process parameters are more adapted to their level of decision making is also important (technical ones can be more difficult to understand and more complicated to process in high-level decision making).

  • Additionally, the decision-making process will have an increase in transparency, an increasingly important requirement in society and one that, moreover, is being supported by laws that progress in this aspect.



  • Acquiring knowledge of the city's strategies and objectives that allow them to align their businesses, establish longer-term plans for their businesses, and make investments early and accurately.  Transparency in management provides them with greater security that decreases risk and thus encourages investment and economic growth.



  • Increased knowledge of the environment for the medium and long term within its most direct environment allows the creation of business opportunities. In today's knowledge-based economy, structured, reliable and accessible information is of vital importance for the creation of new business models. Although the digital twin, in principle, will not be directly accessible outside the municipality, the data will be and this can foster the concept of the data economy, where each set of data can have a value and can be consumed or generated.


Other public and private administrations

  • Santander being the capital of the region of Cantabria, a good part of both regional and state public administrations are centralized in the city.  The city, therefore, has the profile of a city of services and attraction of administrative and political activities not only for the citizens of Santander but also for all the citizens of the region. Likewise, the city has a university hospital called "Marqués de Valdecilla" which is a reference for its surroundings and constitutes an important part of the health-related activity of the city and the region.  In addition to this, the city hosts the University of Cantabria, the European University of the Atlantic and the International University "Menéndez Pelayo", which organizes summer courses.  These are just a few examples of the entities that may be affected by the decisions made in the context of this use case.

Expected outcomes


  • The use case will result in increased transparency and a higher degree of confidence in the decision-makers because this multi-criteria simulation tool will give decision-makers objective and well-founded data.


Policy (evidence-based)

  • This use case, as mentioned above, will have an impact on urban policies in the medium to long term, as it coincides with the development of the Santander new General Urban Plan, the digital twin will help to simulate different scenarios, in a way that will help to make decisions that will have a direct impact on the citizens.

Communication/co-creation/co-design (storytelling, gamification) 

  • Promoting initiatives and best practices within the ecosystem of Santander and its Smart city strategy that the city started in 2010, in order to continue using technology as a tool for the improvement of public services.

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