Old-time Porteños were secretly futuristic. Even when they had probably never heard such thing as “sustainable development,” – the term was coined in 1983 – they sow the seeds for what would later become the smartest city in Latin America. The first example came in the 1920’s, when local manufacturers came out with a taxi-bus that allowed passengers to travel in groups at low prices. A century later, millions would still use the same “colectivo” as one of their main transportation systems.
As 80 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, the joint use of goods is being considered a key attribute in the planning of the modern megalopolis, and Buenos Aires is no exception.
Every day, almost three million porteños and three million commuters converge in the City of Buenos Aires, which has the most skyscrapers in the region after Sao Paulo.
We already share mate —even with strangers. Germs? Never heard of them—, there are so-called eco-bikes provided by the City government that you can pick up and drop off 24/7, soccer courts all over the map, online public data-sets, the colectivos, public libraries that remain open until midnight, and itinerant street art galleries. So which is the next step for the city of tango to become smarter?
What The Future of Buenos Aires Looks Like
As of October 2017, 166 parties have confirmed their commitment to reduce their carbon emissions, as established in the Paris Agreement. Argentina, which is currently responsible for 0.9 percent of Earth’s emissions of the kind, is one of them.
While the country has alleged it would reduce its carbon footprint by 15 percent by 2030, there is still a long way to go for both the government and Argentines. And if you were wondering what does that have to do with being “smart”? Here is were wired-cities come to shine.
The answer lays in three ingredients: the Internet of Things, open governance, and constant communication. These triplets would allow the city to integrate urban development and sustainability, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making cities a suitable place for everyone at the same time.
This year, Buenos Aires ranked as the smartest city in Latin America in the IESE Cities in Motion index, which evaluates 79 indicators using data from UNESCO, the World Bank, and Euromonitor.
Last week, BA toured around the Smart City Expo to bring you a glimpse at Buenos Aires’ top proposals for the future and show you how the latest state-of-the-art technologies and porteños can be best buddies (or not, but hopefully yes). Spoiler alert: there are no flying vehicles. Back to the future 2 lied to us all.
There Will Be Sensors Everywhere
At the colectivos
If you ever dreamed of working for a video game company, there are people in the city who are doing a similar job and the City of Buenos Aires is their project. They are officially working on Augmented Reality apps, interconnected colectivos and told BA in anonymity that one day we might see a robot guide in Puerto Madero.
These people work for a government program called “Neighborhoods of the future” and their most tangible project seeks to equip every colectivo in the city with a GPS tracker. Even if this technology is not leading-edge nowadays, they are planning to integrate all localization data from every bus into a complex real-time system that would send you an alert, telling you when the colectivo is going to arrive at every bus stop.
A beta version of the project has already been tried at the Metrobus in 9 de Julio Avenue. In the beginning, there will be monitors at each bus stop indicating when the next colectivo is coming. Later, all this information is set to be added to smartphone app “Como llego,” which already tells you how to go from point A to point B using your bike, the Subte, the colectivo or your not-so-modern gas-fueled vehicle.
In the long term, all this information —which they technically call “big data”— would allow the government to analyze transportation patterns, create new alternative routes, and determine which colectivos are most needed during rush hours.
At garbage containers
Don’t panic! The government will no be able to see if you have thrown away a corpse, a bloodstained shirt or your old gold denture teeth.
Waste management has always been a challenge for big cities. Every day, Buenos Aires generates 6,000 tons of residues, as reported by the Ecological Coordination for the Metropolitan Area, most of which is buried. However, another significant part of the produced rubbish is recycled at the city’s “Green Centers.”
To make the waste management system more efficient, the program is planning to install sensors at garbage bins that would indicate how full they are. That way, waste collectors would be able to determine the best routes that would allow them to save time and money. So you might want to throw that corpse in an emptier bin, just to be sure (disclaimer: BA doesn’t condone murder.)
For instance, if a garbage bin placed near a building of offices has not reached its maximum capacity on Friday, it won’t be necessary to pour it off until next Monday, which can shorten the trucks’s routes, thus reducing co2 emissions.
And all around the city
By November 2017, the city government will have installed more than 1,000 interconnected sensors across the city, which will continually be gathering data from solar radiation, humidity, temperature, noise pollution, the flow of cars and pedestrians, as well as protests.
Most of this information will be available at Buenos Aires Open Data, which gained the city a place at the Alliance for Open Government, which is part of the Open Government Partnership initiative. According to its website, The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
“All these sensors will be at the service of our neighbors, allowing us to make better decisions, predict phenomena and boost entrepreneurship,” said Andy Freire, Minister of Modernization at Buenos Aires, in a press statement.
Augmented Reality Will Add a New Layer of Information to Monuments
The “Neighborhoods of the future” team is also working on augmented reality apps that would allow us to obtain useful information every time we point our smartphones at a monument in the city. They are currently expecting to launch an in-house beta version of the app that would provide information at the Casa Rosada.
For instance, the app would recreate historical battles using your phone’s accelerometer and camera, depending on where you point at, just like Pokemon Go. And the great news is that we won’t need an iPhone X or any top-of-the-range smartphone because accessibility is a crucial pillar at the project.
Every Kid of The Future Will Be a Programmer
Back when we were kids, Microsoft Encarta and Discmans where a thing. We would also spend hours at home building a digestive system model using plasticine and our teachers would tell us “not to copy and paste” everything we would found on the Internet.
Gone are those days when teachers were skeptical of technology and its adverse effects. So instead of beating their enemy, they joined their side, and by 2019 every public school in Buenos Aires will count with a new program comprised of audiovisual creation, digital design, and robotics.
This program will not be part of the school’s pensum but an ally for each class. For instance, kids will be allowed to design a 3D-model of the digestive system that they would later be able to materialize using a 3D printer, whenever their teacher asks for it.
There will also be mobile touch screens in each classroom, 3D robotic arms and lego-like kits that would allow children to build electronic circuits.
On the audiovisual side, there will be cameras, mics, and screens, so kids can explore script-writing, acting, direction, edition and even simulate a news broadcast at the classroom, where they can be the journalists, scientists, or politicians.
A representative for the project told BA six primary schools are already part of this program and it is expected to be launched widely by the end of 2019.
People Living in Emergency Villas Will Own Property Titles
While Buenos Aires ranks among the top five Argentine cities with the lowest poverty levels, as reported by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, there are still 20 shantytowns (Villas de emergencia) erected throughout the city, where an estimated 160,000 people live in a permanent condition of precariousness.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Planning acquired a 3D map of Buenos Aires with an accuracy level so exact, that it allows specialists to take measurements of any space of the city just by using a computer.
As a result, they can now measure places that are naturally difficult to access to, such as green areas and villas de emergencia. Since the latter grew without following the city’s guidelines for urban development, most constructions are not “legally” registered.
With the use of the new 3D maps, the Ministry of Planning will be able to issue property deeds for its inhabitants without having to send people to manually measure each construction. According to a new government project, an estimated 9,000 homes in Villa 31 will be “officially integrated” to the city by the end of 2019.
What We Don’t Know Yet
What Will Happen to Buenos Aires if We Fall Short of The Paris Agreement Goals?
See it for yourself.