2 Smart Cities That Are Changing The Future Of Urban Living

medellin smart city

Smart cities improve life. And who doesn’t want improvement?

A “smart city” is a city that’s smartly run. The city’s movers and shakers work together, thinking collectively. And they use technology to make the city a better place… nicer, more pleasant, more sustainable, easier…

Smart cities aren’t about technology being used at the dinner table, killing the art of conversation. They aren’t about your grandkids locking themselves away to play video games instead of ball in the backyard with buddies.

Smart cities are about technology working behind the scenes to improve your lifestyle… you don’t even know it’s there, but it casts a magic spell over everything to make urban living nicer.

First in this three-part series, we’re going to discover the smartest cities in Latin America…

Smart City: Curitiba, Brazil

Curitiba is home to nearly 2 million people and an infinity of ideas and innovation thanks to its 1968 Master Plan. Back in the 60s, this city began its quest for smart before the term had even been coined.

Forget The Jam—Get On the Tram

In this smart city, public transport serves residents instead of hindering them. Anybody who’s sat in a traffic jam on their commute to work will know what I mean by this. Curitiba’s Bus Rapid Transit system accounts for 80% of the city’s travel. It’s efficient and makes your life easier thanks to smart technology. Nobody lives more than 400 meters from a bus stop, and bus stops are all futuristic-looking, weatherproof, transparent tunnels. There’s only one thing better than not sitting in a traffic jam, and that’s not walking more than 400 meters to a bus stop. However, nothing is by chance in Curitiba.

Local planning laws stipulate that tall buildings (i.e., businesses and apartment blocks) must be located on a bus route, so development is organized and contained to key “urban corridors of growth.” Transport and real estate work collectively rather than reactively. In most U.S. or European cities, house prices react to developments in transport, creating markets that fluctuate in price. In Curitiba, they both grow harmoniously.

Also, a bus system is cheaper to run than a metro line, and this is reflected in Curitiba’s low fixed-rate fares. A majority of local employers subsidize employees that use the buses, so it’s no wonder why the triple-section, bendy buses smartly transport half the city’s population every day. Thanks to the affordable and efficient Rapid Bus Transit service, there are fewer cars. This reduces contamination and traffic jams… roads are once again open spaces like they used to be in 1953. Unless you are in the business of inhalers for asthmatics, this has to be a good thing.

Living near a bus stop and not sitting in a traffic jam make life… nice.

In Curitiba, low-income people can bring their garbage to a central collection point to be recycled or appropriately thrown away in return for bus tickets and fresh food. This has many social benefits such as social inclusion, better waste management, and improved urban sanitation (rubbish collectors cannot reach all low-income neighborhoods). Again, this smart initiative is about making life richer for everybody.

Making Today Good And Tomorrow Even Better

Curitiba’s local river often floods but this doesn’t hold back her residents. Town planners have smartly created parks and green spaces specifically to serve as a floodplain that locals can use for boating and water sports when the river decides to let rip. This is a far cry from Europe and the United States. Paris closed the world-famous Louvre museum earlier this year due to risk of flooding. Urban damage from floods in the States costs approximately US$36.8 billion a year.

But Curitiba doesn’t just think about the future in terms of the environment. It also pays attention to today’s children, who are the city’s future. Old buses are converted into mobile learning centers. The mobile learning centers along with Lighthouses of Knowledge (free electronic libraries in restored buildings) stimulate education, create curiosity, and give rise to innovation. E-books are cheaper for the state to provide than physical ones, and a library full of e-books is better than a library empty of hardbacks. Education keeps sustainability and innovation rolling for future generations so they can keep up the good work of making everything so… well, nice.

Smart Begins Before You Arrive

The country is making certain changes on a national level that mean the entire country is catching up with advanced cities such as Curitiba. Take the new e-visa, for example. Although not pertinent to a specific city, this online application is a prime example of “smart” and definitely makes it easy to visit Curitiba. The e-visa uses technology to increase cost and time efficiency. The entire process is expected to take applicants just 72 hours, and the visa is now just US$40 instead of US$160 thanks to a reduction in overheads.

Smart City: Medellín, Colombia

Nowadays, Medellín is one of the world’s most exemplary smart cities, but it hasn’t always been that way. It started life at a disadvantage. Unlike Curitiba, Medellín resembled a war zone back in the 1990s. It was completely paralyzed by violence. But then it decided to sharpen up its law enforcement. To be honest though, the plan was failing miserably.

Life in Medellín got better when it started to play smart. It combined law enforcement policies along with social and economic policies and presto… instead of a white rabbit, niceness jumped out the hat. Harmonizing all three aspects meant Medellín had the strength to beat the cartels that had crippled its city. In just a few years, Medellin cut its homicide rate by 90%. This is the most significant decrease in the history of the world.

Once it hit crime on the head, it started its smart city plan. Part of its plan included tackling the logistical nightmare of its transport system. Medellín presented some tough geographical factors to contend with: mountain and valley zones. Authorities recognized that the metropolis had to be untied, not divided, both metaphorically and literally, so they got smart…

Escalators In The Mountains?

To go up the mountains, Medellín has MetroCable and electric staircases… yep, escalators in the mountains. You can benefit from smart technology without even needing to work out how to use a computer. To go around the city, Medellín has a metro and gondola system. It also has a well-organized normal bus system and a smart Bus Rapid Transport system like Curitiba’s. Residential areas regardless of social class, tourist areas, and business areas are all connected, making your daily trips nice ‘n’ easy.

It’s Not Mine… It’s Ours

Another smart-city feature of Medellín is to share opinions, knowledge, and expertise. Information and communication technology (ICT) is a key ingredient in Medellín’s recipe for smart. Platforms such as MiMedellín allow citizens’ voices to be heard when urban plans are being discussed. Medellín uses ICT to give a real sense of community. It uses 2018 technology to go back to 1953 all over again. Through MiMedellín, you listen to your neighbors, pay attention to how people feel and what they want for their community. Here, technology doesn’t alienate. It brings people together. It’s an opportunity to go back to the good ol’ days, when people cared and communicated.

Other ICT projects include open Wi-Fi with a perimeter of 33 public parks, intelligent classrooms (classrooms with online learning resources) in more than 200 public schools, computers in public offices, libraries with computers, and community centers so residents can research, complete homework, interact, and stay connected at a worldwide level.

Realizing that merely providing computers is not enough, the city also trains 10,000 people from low-income neighborhoods per year. The training focuses on how to use the internet safely, as well as available mobile devices and online community services. By investing in education and its future, Medellín creates sustainability and leaves a legacy.

And the Medellín folk are thoughtful neighbors… Authorities are creating a platform called Citiesfor.life that allows international smart cooperation between cities and urban leaders across the world.

Medellín is also consulting Panama City at the moment, offering some big-brother advice to solve urban problems. Medellín’s smart approach is all about making the world a nicer place.

Samantha Russell