For Miguel Gamiño, executive vice president of Global Cities Mastercard, instead of “smart cities”, it would be more appropriate to call it “inclusive urbanization.” In his experience, he has witnessed the discourse around smart cities shift away from tech tools, and evolved into a conversation about quality of life. For example, in Bogotá, it would make no sense to integrate smart traffic lights since people currently do not respect the rules of transit anyway.
Another issue he sees around the term “smart city” is that it sounds like a destination or end result. “In fact it is a journey that takes hundreds of years, and that will continue for many more,” he says, pointing out that the internet of things, data retrieval and information technologies are seen as tools of progress, the same way the construction of roads and aqueducts once were.
“When aqueducts were invented, fewer people died of sickness. If we were alive then, we would say: the city has become smarter now that we are using technology to clean the water. Today we use technology to improve work conditions and manage financial resources, with data and public policy being used to improve people’s lives,” says Gamiño.
Rise in rankings
For the CEO of Tigo, Marcelo Cataldo, a smart city is one that is sustainable, inclusive, equitable, participatory, secure, competitive and focused on innovation and science. Having noted this, he is certain that Bogotá has the potential to consolidate itself as one of the principal smart cities in Latin America. Today, the capital city is the first in Colombia and the sixth in the region.
Cataldo bases his statement on findings in the IESE Cities in Motion Index 2019, a study done by the Business School of the University of Navarra, which evaluated 174 cities for their economy, mobility, urban planning and technology, among other aspects. Bogotá’s result was a 46.01 (out of 100), placing it number 117 on the list, behind other Latin American cities like Santiago de Chile (66), Buenos Aires (77), and Montevideo (92). However, Bogotá is better ranked than Rosario (125), Rio de Janeiro (128), Brasilia (130), and Sao Paulo (132).
According to the study, Bogotá’s weakest aspects are in mobility and transportation, human capital, and its environmental footprint. Yet despite its low rating, the study considers the capital city to have great potential, as it continues to evolve at a rapid pace. With regards to mobility and transport, for example, the study evaluated time spent in traffic, the length of its subway lines (including those under construction and expected to be finished by 2024), bicycles per household and availability of airline flights. This is expected to improve transportation over long distances, and to evolve infrastructure and routes.
Regarding human capital, the study says that Bogotá should focus on improving its talent pool and work on ways to retain any incoming workers. The city also needs to create plans to improve education by promoting creativity and research. Here it analyzed aspects like higher education, availability of museums, theaters and spending on leisure and recreation.
Finally, with environmental concerns in mind, Bogotá must develop plans that allow it to meet its energy needs without compromising the resources of future generations, manage anti-pollution plans, support the expansion of ecological buildings and combat global warming. Bogotá was measured in CO2 emissions, methane, access to water supply and solid waste management, among other indicators.
Beginner to leader
Another relevant study is the “Smartest Cities 2025: Building a Sustainable Business and Finance Plan”, conducted by the research firm ESI ThoughLab. Here cities are classified as either "beginner", "transition" or "leader". The best cities in the region were Buenos Aires, Lima and Rio de Janeiro, classified as “in transition.” Meanwhile Bogotá fit into "beginner", as did Mexico City and Panama City. This, at least, means that the city has already begun planning initiatives for setting up a “smart city”.
One projection from the study says that by 2025 Bogotá will consolidate itself as a leader in the use of cutting-edge technology and execution of smart investments. In this sense, for the president of ProBogotá Juan Carlos Pinzón, it is essential that the Colombian government invests in the regulation of new technologies. He explained that this is actually quite a complicated issue, not only because of the speed with which technology evolves, but because an adequate balance is needed — between not creating so much regulation that it stifles innovation, nor too little out of trepidation for what’s to come.
For example, consider the sudden arrival of electric bikes and scooters in the city, which were introduced in October 2018. Not regulating them could prove to be hazardous if citizens were to ride without helmets; but tightening regulations too much could mean the potential disappearance of micromobility within the city. This is why for Pinzón, it would make sense for Bogotá to hire a Secretary of Technology that would address these issues in a timely fashion.
Finally, for Tigo’s CEO it is important that Colombia make advances in 5G technology, which it hopes to have in the country by 2022. “For me, the advantage of 5G is not its speed, but its hyperconnectivity. Today the average person has five devices connected to the internet. It is expected that by 2050, this number will rise to 5,000 objects, since even clothes will be connected,” he said, adding that these benefits could help in sectors such as medicine, since a specialist doctor in Bogotá would be able to see patients over in Chocó. There is also the self-driving car, technology that could improve mobility in the future. According to Cataldo, with 4G, an order given to a vehicle going sixty kilometers per hour will be executed within 25 meters, with 5G the distance is reduced to two centimeters.
The panorama then seems to show a Bogotá with all the potential to consolidate itself as one of the main smart cities in Latin America. To reach that destination, Colombia will need leaders who understand how the adoption of new technologies works to improve people’s quality of life, and smart citizens who reinforce smart city initiatives that are carried out from both public and private spheres. And there is one final challenge amid all these changes: making sure our privacy is protected in the middle of a world where everything will be connected
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