palma

31-07-2020

Silicon Valley. Does it need to be explained? You wouldn’t have thought so, but a Spanish newspaper report the other day clearly deemed that it was necessary. Silicon Valley is a zone in San Francisco which houses “many of the world’s leading technology corporations”. The explanation was not required and it was in any event not strictly accurate. Silicon Valley is in the San Francisco Bay Area; San Jose is the main city.

Palma town hall wants to convert an area of the city into a “small Silicon Valley”. This was how the headline had it, thus implying that readers would indeed be familiar with Silicon Valley. And so they should be, as the town hall has been wishing to embark upon this conversion (in Nou Llevant and La Soledat) for several years. Silicon Valley (a mini version) has been spoken of for this area of the city, it having also been name-checked in respect of a different area - ParcBit. Silicon Valley, English though it is, is global language shorthand for technological ambition, and there has been no shortage of this in institutional circles - the regional government, Palma town hall, and the university.

The town hall’s councillor for the model of the city is Neus Truyol of Més, whose party colleague, Antoni Noguera, was himself the councillor with this responsibility before he swapped roles with José Hila of PSOE and became mayor in the mid-term between 2015 and 2019. It is Truyol who now carries the torch for little Silicon Valley, ever mindful of observing that this area will be replete with new businesses from the green and knowledge economies and from the cultural and creative industries that will coexist with researchers and some transferred university faculties and will thus cast aside “tourism monoculture”.

Noguera often spoke of a creative, digital space for the Nou Llevant district, in much the same way as he wanted the Gesa building to become creative and digital (and cultural). When he was model of the city councillor and for part of his time as mayor, Noguera could count on another Més colleague speaking the same language. Biel Barceló, it will have been forgotten, was minister for research and innovation as well as for tourism. It is easy to have forgotten, as Barceló appeared to devote his energies in direct proportion with the respective budgets for tourism and research and innovation - a ratio of around 90 to 10 in percentage terms.

I don’t criticise Barceló, though; his intentions for technological developments were valid. Nor am I critical of Noguera’s efforts. The one-time mayor was (and still is) something of a visionary. The problem is that his vision has been blurred. In the case of his urban forest (a very good idea), the vision has been blinded, and where a green space was due to have flourished, the weeds grow and the vandals run amok.

It was when he started talking about the city being open to the sea that I got where he was coming from. This openness included the development for Nou Llevant: parkland, set-back low-rise building, digital creativity. Truyol now speaks of a specific abandonment of the tourism monoculture for Nou Llevant and La Soledat, and what she is referring to is tourist accommodation - hotels. But Noguera had already pretty much kicked these into the long grass (and getting longer) of his urban forest; it was a question of modifying the city’s general urban plan, which is currently being worked upon.

For all this, one has to be sceptical. There has been so much talk down the years of this little Silicon Valley. Yet there remains comparatively little evidence of it, and where there is evidence, a good deal of technological creativity and entrepreneurship has been directed at the monoculture of tourism. This is almost inevitable. When one has such a dominant industry, research, innovation and application will feed it. Tourism is a known; other industries are far less so. Technological development doesn’t exist in isolation; it needs context and purpose.

Palma, Majorca and the Balearics have been highlighted as potential beneficiaries for foreign teleworkers who can operate remotely and can contribute to the greater good of the economy and to advancement in technologies. Politically, however, one very much doubts that this would be followed up, not least because ex-Balearic president José Ramón Bauzá is an advocate. For the likes of Neus Truyol, Bauzá is not far removed from the devil, while inevitably he is talking about talent which isn’t “local”.

It seems to me that a little Silicon Valley has to contemplate internationalism that isn’t solely export; there are also businesses and there is investment. For Més, this isn’t in their credo. Thus the vision potentially flounders in the shallows of parochialism and, perhaps more importantly, because of a lack of definition as to what this Silicon Valley actually is. Explanation is needed, after all.

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