Smart Cities make progress in Latin America. Success stories around the region.

29/07/2015

By Andrés Sastre

Latin America is no stranger to the progress being made in implementing ICTs in the daily lives of its cities. Building smart cities that will improve the lives of its citizens is a challenge hundreds of cities are addressing around the region. We can’t miss this unique opportunity. It’s been more than fifteen years since AHCIET realized that improving city life would involve applying new technologies in day-to-day activities. That’s when the Ibero-American Meeting of Digital Cities was born, an even that is now organizing its sixteenth edition and which as has attempted to bring together local governments, academia, and companies for the purpose of building smarter, cleaner, more sustainable cities where citizens will participate in its day-to-day activities. The idea behind smart cities affects every aspect of the city —citizen participation is the cornerstone on which they are built—.

AHCIET’s goal is the replication of successful experiences implemented in Latin America and the promotion of everything ‘smart.’ This is why AHCIET presents the Digital Cities Awards, an attempt to recognize the efforts of different cities so they will be multiplied throughout the region.

More than 10 years after the first edition of the awards, we are pleased to see our task is becoming increasingly difficult because of the increasing number of experiences that are being implemented. Although much remains to be done, we no longer have to look at the experiences of other continents to set the Latin American agenda. We have our own examples of various initiatives and models. Here we will highlight three that we consider to be highly relevant.

The first is the Argentine city of Mercedes. In 2009, Mercedes created the Sub-Secretariat for State Reform and Modernization and followed the example of Marcos Paz, Argentina’s first Smart City. Mercedes is currently one of Latin America’s most digital cities and has already covered all the strategic pillars that need to be addressed to be considered a smart city, among them health, education, security, communications, and environment, and has set clear goals for improving municipal services and innovating in ICTs. Its flagship project is the creation of a ‘shared universal electronic medical records system.’ Under this system, ambulances are equipped with netbooks through which the staff can check patients’ medical records and automatically alert the hospital and their families via SMS. Ambulances are also connected to the hospital via videoconference, so the hospital knows in advance what specific care each patient will need.

There are also many examples of progress being made throughout the region in terms of citizen participation and empowerment, among which we’d like to highlight Rio de Janeiro. Here, a City Council was created comprising 150 professionals including social and business leaders who, in collaboration with Intel and Cisco, contributed to a strategic plan, the main goal of which was to build a sustainable, integrated, digital, intelligent, and creative city. In this case, the city’s most notable project is ‘Praça do conhecimiento,’ community spaces for sharing, building, learning, and creating digital content. The city’s inhabitants access these spaces through ultra-fast broadband services and, in many cases, learn the benefits of using the Internet for the first time. The importance of this initiative lies in the multi-stakeholder approach based on which it was designed, bringing together multiple agencies committed to improving citizen integration, with a focus on the creation of digital content.

Lastly, we’d like to share an example of a public-private partnership for the promotion of ‘smart’ developments —Medellin Digital—. This is a project of the Municipality of Medellin and Une-EPM (the telecommunications company), which tries to move beyond infrastructure and branches out into other areas such as open government, citizen participation, social innovation, and sustainability.

Its most notable project is ‘Ruta N,’ a corporation created to promote the development of innovative, technology-based companies that will increase the city’s competitiveness. The initiative seeks to combine public and private leadership with a focus on citizen orientation, including long-term evaluation and monitoring mechanisms that will contribute to the project’s sustainability.

These are all examples of successful projects that have been able to combine leadership and political vision, institutionality, digital inclusion, public-private coordination, integration of civil society, and innovation and investment in telecommunications infrastructure. In our opinion, this combination of factors should mark the progress of smart cities throughout Latin America. We’re on our way, yet we must continue to move forward. As stated above, we can’t miss this unique opportunity.

*The author is Advisor to the Ibero American Association of Research Centers and Telecommunication Companies.

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