Filling South America With Smart Cities

Most of the advances in smart city technology have taken place in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. But South America’s metropolises could use some improvements, too.

The smart cities movement has been picking up steam the past few years as old and new cities around the globe embrace technology, ubiquitous transit, green infrastructure and support for entrepreneurial ecosystems. Much of the smart cities discussion has focused on cities in the developed world. For example, in my first ranking of smart cities around the globe, eight of the top 10 cities were in Europe and North America, with Tokyo and Hong Kong filling out the top 10. This is not surprising given the financial resources required to become early adopters of integrated smart technology infrastructure.

However, cities in developing countries have gotten on the smart cities bandwagon as well. Here in Latin America, Rio de Janeiro has been actively implementing smart city solutions. It will, of course, be hosting the next Summer Olympics, with some saying it is likely to be the most sustainable ever—more than Vancouver and London. I also recently wrote about Buenos Aires’s low tech initiatives in the smart city arena. Bogota and Medellin, Colombia have been additional regional leaders in the smart city movement.

Many of the smart cities initiatives in Latin America have not been based on the early adoption of vanguard smart cities technology. But earlier this month, the city of Santiago, Chile announced a collaborative partnership with Ciudad Empresarial (a high profile business park in the Northeastern part of Santiago) to develop a high-tech integrated smart city pilot project. The project, known as Smartcity Santiago, is due to be completed in 2013 and will be integrated into the business park. Chilectra, the leading private utility in Chile, is collaborating on the ambitious project, which will "integrate a range of initiatives designed to pilot technologies of the future."

Among the technologies: electric mobility, e-health, smart homes,and integration of photovoltaic (PV) solar energy connected to a smart grid and free Wi-Fi. Smartcity Santiago will be the first project in Chile to provide full EV support with charging stations and EV buses and taxis.

Claudio Inzunsa of Chilectra summarized the project goals: "The idea of this living laboratory called SmartCity is to bring technologies that are available in the developed world and make them accessible. We aim to show that actually we are not that far from them and that their use can have direct benefits to our community´s pocketbooks and for quality of life."

The smart city movement has taken flight in Latin America, and with Smartcity Santiago we can observe how a pilot project leveraging the latest smart city technology can function and be embraced in the Latin American context. If this development goes well, it could open a huge market opportunity for smart cities entrepreneurs and multinational companies. After all, Latin America and the Caribbean have a total population of nearly 600 million people—twice the size of the U.S.—and they are home to several megacities in desperate need of solutions.

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  • WilliamL

    I live in Medellin and have lived in Bogota and I am wondering what the smart city initiatives are that this article claims that are making.  Sure, Bogota has implemented the Transmillenial but this hardly scratches the surface of Bogota's transportation problems.  Bogota, for example is about the same size as New York City, in both land area and population (perhaps a bit higher in population). And yet there is no subway in Bogota to take pressure off the overly crowded streets. Many of Bogota's problems could be fixed by simply and cheaply re-engineering the traffic patterns of surface streets which often require a person to drive three time the distance needed to get from point A to B.  Also, a campaign to get people out of there cars and walking would be useful.  Bogota is a relatively flat city with comfortable temperatures for walking, yet, to travel 1 km to work, most of my co-workers would rather spend 30 or 40 minutes sitting in traffic jams than 15 or 20 minutes walking.  

    Medellin has a metro that does a great job moving people from one end of the city to the other, but the metro does not have branches extending out to the width of the city.  Instead it uses feeder buses which have to travel through horrendous traffic thus negating any advantage of there use.  Most people who own cars will not think of using the metro because getting to the metro station is too much of a hassle, plus there really is no parking near the metro stations (they seem to have forgotten that element of smart city design). Also there are really not public transportation options in El Poblado, the area with the densest population of cars and the poorest road infrastructure due to steep hills.  

  • boyd cohen

    While running my carbon consulting company I had the opportunity to travel to and work in Colombia on a regular basis. Most of my time was spent in Bogota but I did travel to other parts of the country including Medellin. Both Bogota and Medellin have projects that clearly qualify as smart city initiatives.  As you say the Transmilenio is a very successful BRT project, although too successful because they do not have the capacity to serve the growing demand.

    Their efforts to provide alternatives including an impressive bike path system, their pico placa to also reduce the number of vehicles on the road (although congestion there is still terrible) and closing some streets down on sunday's for pedestrians and cyclists.  On the same topic I am a fan of their efforts to integrate multi-modal thinking by supporting cyclists to ride to the nearest BRT stop and securely park their bikes.

    Medellin is also engaged in numerous worthy initiatives and has really become quite an attractive city.  Their recent cable car implementation to enable quick, low-carbon transport from the barrios on the hillside into the city is one example.  This and other innovations in urban planning and transit has contributed to a massive reduction in violent crime in the city and has helped it become a worthwhile tourist attraction and a better place to live too.

  • $27180517

    Given the energy shortfall that South America, in particular Argentina/Chile, will be facing this is the best possible thing they can do...hopefully they are successful in their endeavors and I look forward to taking in the progress