Smartcities, Mexican-Style: Scopes and Locations
One of my favorite museums in Mexico City is the National Museum of Art. Its privileged location sits in front of the Palace of Mining– old School of Engineering and work of the architect and sculptor, Manuel Tolsá. The school’s rooms house the Costumbrismo landscapes and portraits that have allowed me to experience other cities in the Mexican Republic, through the eyes of privileged 19th-century painters. Who would have imagined that the landscapes of Eugenio Landesio, José María Velasco, or Gerardo Murillo (el Dr. Atl) would be contrasted in the 21st century by the smart city projects that we find rendered on the web. Click here, there, over there and right here.
What makes a city “smart”?
The term has been formulating for the past few decades and refers to human establishments (not necessarily the size of a large industrial or urban area of the 20th century), in which cutting-edge technology is used to achieve a higher standard of living. Sustainability, proper management of electric energy, alternative modes of transportation, video surveillance, and the movement towards e-government are just some of the axes which, by means of public and private collaborations, install the adjective “smart” into a sector. However, it’s worth asking: Do those who live in these areas also become “smarter?” The answer points to a profile that we might call: the “smart” citizen. That is, one with “post-secondary education, ethnic and social diversity, openness and cohesion, a cosmopolitan perspective, flexible goals in life and work, high labor productivity, entrepreneurial focus, business skills, and cultural plurality.”
The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) recently declared several places in the Mexican Republic that qualify as “smart zones.” This is interesting to confirm that our country paints its profile towards a promising digital future. These zones are: Maderas, in Querétaro; Ciudad Creativa and Tequila, in Jalisco; and Smart, in Puebla. Further, the Mexican technology firm, Netcity, adds that Mexico City, although not 100% smart, features diverse characteristics that are pushing it towards this category. Federal resources are leveraged to allow commercial associates to self-design what they believe local citizens need. Internet access is perhaps most desired, in a country that is also one of the top consumers of Coca Cola worldwide.
Trendy and friendly
Some of the new generation’s trends are moving along these paths: alternative transportation; fair trade; independent, or “freelance,” employment; online information sources; recycling; an eco-friendly, and even pet-friendly, attitude; alternative political tendencies; volunteer work; urban gardens; startups; and social fighters, in the style of change.org. In Mexican smart cities, all of these amenities find a place–and more–a profit. One way or another, the individual who decides, or has the luck, to live in a smart city accepts the task of turning into a smart citizen.
Right at Home
Atlixco, located in Puebla, was planted as the “First Smart Neighborhood in Latin America.” It was inaugurated at the beginning of 2018, as an integral cell of collaborative solutions that look to push tourism, walking and cycling transport, economic development, and co-living space for the area’s inhabitants. This project aimed to reclaim underused or abandoned urban spaces, sometimes in Mexico called “terrenos baldíos” (“wasteland plots”); the name references the poor or nonexistent use of space. To start, this project offered free public Wi-Fi, bicycle lanes, street lights, and video surveillance cameras with panic buttons that connect directly to local authorities. Unfortunately, slightly over a year after the project began, the place stands abandoned, the cameras don’t work, tourists don’t visit, and government employees took away part of the installations “due to superior orders.”
Monopoly with Enchiladas
Located in the Querétaro State, the Ciudad Maderas is a real estate project to be developed in the coming years. It stems from approximately 400 hectares, where technology companies, hotels, educational institutions, commercial centers, residential zones, and churches will all be located. The area will also feature an ecological area of 20 hectares. Life in this city will move to the rhythm of the internet, by means of mobile tools and the use of renewable energy like turbines and solar panels. Residents will have information on their cell phones regarding services such as transport, trash collection, electricity, gas, and water. Their homes will feature special sensors to determine humidity, temperature, and intruder alarms. So far, the project seems viable and will depend upon the commercial success of the proposal, seeing as how there are similar real estate development projects in San Luis Potosí, León, and Mérida.
Getting Creative in Investments
Ciudad Creativa Digital (Creative Digital City), in Jalisco, was announced–with an evident wink at investors–among the economic sectors coined as “The Silicon Valley of Latin America.” Now, the new Mexican government has likewise new projects for smart cities. Strategic alliances among private investors, religious sectors, academia, and businesses bear fruit in the form of mini-cities in the country’s interior, with amenities typical to the North American suburbs. Guadalajara Ciudad Creativa Digital A.C. (A.C. Digital Creative City of Guadalajara) was created with the participation of the State and Municipal governments, Canieti, ProMéxico, Sociedad Hipotecaria Federal, and Conaculta. This project, announced in 2012, proposed the creation of an innovation center for the creative industry of Mexico. Its patron is MIT, who designed a master plan to convert Guadalajara into the planet’s most innovative city; IADB gave an additional sponsorship in 2015. It’s up to the new federal government to correct the initial approach and raise a new investment of nearly 25 million pesos, in order to make this dream a tangible reality before the public’s prevailing panoramic of austerity.
Tech-quila: from Magic Town to Smart City
In 2012 in Tequila, Jalisco, the idea to create the first smart city in Latin America kicked off. The project, Smart City Tequila, aimed a preventative and integral focus towards the city’s holistic development, where information technologies are available to raise the inhabitants’ standard of living. Tequila features a digital ecosystem that consists of: Sensor citizen, Cameras, Whatsapp Bot, Connectivity in the Tequila Historic District, Big Data, Think Tank, and strategy and campaigning through social media. All this has reified in a plan that offers a complete experience: first, it is necessary to access the app, “Tequila Inteligente” (Android / iOS), which activates all the services, spaces, promotions, and activities to make your visit to this Municipality all the more enjoyable. “In the app, users can choose what to do and how to enjoy the city. Where to eat, to do a tasting, to take the kids, lodging sites, and other entertainment and dining options. All this is connected to Tequila web,” explains Federico de Arteaga, director of the Group JB Planning, and member of the Tequila Inteligente (Smart Tequila) work committee. To date, the municipality has 20 Access Points that feature video cameras, and are located in strategic tourist points. They also offer free public Wi-Fi connections. Thus, under the name, “Tequila Inteligente” (“Smart Tequila”), the municipality is in the process of consolidating a smart people. The plan is designed through 2020 when it will be stopped for evaluation and to trace out the next route towards its 2040 goal.
In the Belly Button of Technology
Mexico City fulfills multiple variables that would classify it as a smart city. Its inhabitants daily use a variety of apps that facilitate transport through the city (rideshare services, Uber, Easy, Cabify). On top of that, it is one of the first urban centers to implement a bike-sharing system (ecobike) in order to improve traffic flow. There is a prevailing tendency in the city towards green rooftops; also, mobile apps to interact with the city are on the rise. At the start of this year, Mexico City’s government authorities presented the digital plan that develops the Digital Innovation Agency, and which will use tech tools to reach socially-marginalized sectors through the agency’s leader, José Merino.
From Imagination to Reality
Some voices have risen against these projects claiming that they are about “gentrification processes and historic structures.” Although this is a sad reality, not only in Mexico but in the whole world; in the end, our reality is constructed, and we leave behind scaffolds, ideas, and methodology of life on this planet. As a dominant species (although insects are more numerous), we have dedicated ourselves to imposition. Such it is that smart cities will be the dominating trend until 2050, when, according to the UN’s predictions, 70% of the world’s population will be found living in cities. And therefore, it will serve us well to be as smart as our city hubs; or else, we’ll need to learn to fish, plant, and live without technology in our natural environment, a turn towards the wild that just isn’t for everyone.
And to close, contemporary landscapes: Torre Reforma Latino
The building in which we find WebCreek’s offices in Mexico City is a notable example of a structure found in a smart city. This office complex, constructed in 2015 by the Fibra Uno firm, features a LEED GOLD (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. This means that construction responsibly uses resources like energy and water. The property has a special system to capture rainwater and use it for daily tasks in common areas. By this means, the building manages to save a significant amount of this vital liquid and maintains the city’s water tables intact. Even as I write these notes, I gaze out the 25th story window at the city that has many times inspired poets, musicians, and artists. And I recognize that it will slowly transform into a scene in which technology and human life will find reconciliation. It is necessary, facing the need to connect the pending dots and find the path towards a future whose landscape will lead toward the bright interior we desire.
If you consider yourself ready to live smartly, there’s a place for you here.