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Smart cities in Latin America

Sustainable cities through technology. In the minds of many this is how the future should look like. Smart city is a broad term used for this kind of innovation.

There are many definitions of what a smart city is, however, according to the Guardian a definition might look like this: “Smart cities integrate technology into urban infrastructure, usually to improve sustainability, maximize efficiency and minimize energy usage.”

Cities that seem to be at the forefront of this new trend are i.e. Barcelona, Singapore and Seoul. However, Latin American cities are trying hard to catch up and compete to do so. With over 80% of their population living in cities some of their cities face massive environmental problems. Thus, sustainability and becoming “smart” is something that many of the big Latin American cities aspire to.

Big Cities and Small Steps Towards Becoming Smart

Cities like Mexico City, Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires have made huge efforts to up their game. To reduce Mexico City’s CO2 emission and to deal with the perpetual issue of smog the government decided to upgrade a big part of the city’s cars. Further, in an innovative project the technology Prosolve 370e was integrated in the design of the new Manuel Gea Gonzales hospital. Prosolve 370e is a “decorative architectural module that effectively reduces air pollution”. It enables the hospital to neutralize pollution produced by 1000 cars each day.

Buenos Aires has upgraded the digital component in its mobility sector to deal with the city’s traffic problems – apps have been developed that map the fastest way by foot or bicycle, help you find a parking spot and make ordering a taxi easier.

Santiago on the other hand seeks to upgrade housing to be eco-friendly and smart, laying it’s focus on the use of sustainable energy.

Small Cities Smart Upgrade

While big cities are upgrading bit by bit, first small smart city projects have already been completed in Latin America.

The Buzios Smart City Project in Brazil focuses on improved telecommunication, street lighting, eco-friendly energy and buildings, better public transportation, sustainable tourism and social integration.

Atlixco is the first of a project of 15 smart cities (Spanish: Barrios Smart) planned in the state of Puebla, Mexico. Together with Alianza Smart Latam Puebla wants to upgrade cities to include “safe crosswalks, free internet, video surveillance, seismic alarm, playground, trash cans, signage, ecological benches and payment modules”.

Resistance

While smart cities are thus, being build all over Latin America not everybody sees this as progress, so for example Santa Maria Tonantzintla. Under the Puebla project the small city was supposed to become a smart city in the near future.

However, the people of Santa Maria Tonantzintla were not overly enthusiastic about the idea. To modernize the town square and to make it more accessible for tourists beloved landmarks like the clock tower and stucco bridge were knocked down.

The remodeling of the town to a smart city for them meant not only a drastic change in the city’s landscape but with it also a loss of the city’s identity and traditions. The population of the little town fought hard to overturn the decision and achieved a stop of the plans.

Conclusion

Technology can make life easier and cities more sustainable. However, technology is not always the answer. Adaptions to local culture need to be made when implementing a project. In places where technology does not yet play a big role in the lives of people another sustainable path needs to be found.

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Rebecca Jimenez

Master Candidate at the University of Geneva

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