ICTs that boost the development of regions and their cities

Historically, the implementation of information and communication technologies as a strategy to promote the development of cities has been referenced in the context of large cities; however, the emergence of much more affordable technologies, innovation, economy of scale and distribution chain, have allowed small cities and even rural areas to benefit from ICTs to generate digital transformation for the benefit of the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Can small cities become Smart cities?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B.


Historically, the concept of Smart City has been closely linked to the existence of large cities, such as Singapore, New York, Buenos Aires, or Barcelona. However, as information and communication technologies have been simplified, new manufacturers have emerged, economies of scale have been consolidated and distribution has improved, new developments adaptable to any type of city are being offered in the global market at very affordable costs, allowing not only large metropolises to dream of raising the quality of life of their inhabitants through ICTs, but also remote populations with limited infrastructure to have access to information and communication technologies as an engine for change and transformation of their regions.

The United for Smart Sustainable Cities (#U4SSC) Methodology

A global project called: United for Smart Sustainable Cities (#U4SSC), has been designed to allow cities to self-assess their situation, for the development of smart objectives, promoting the necessary efforts to achieve them so that any city can be transformed through ICT, allowing that, once the cities have sufficient diagnostic data, they can identify what applicable information can be used to implement public policies based on “ad hoc” ICT that fit the specific needs of the city regardless of its population, size and degree of development [1].

Currently, multiple projects are being developed in Spain, in populations of less than 6 thousand inhabitants with this methodology, which mainly operates in the European continent [2].

Connectivity as a starting point

As we had previously discussed in an article [3], Chattanooga would have been an invisible city last century, had it not been for Glenn Miller composing a song called Chattanooga Choo Choo (in honor of the particular train that rolled by 1941), or for CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who in the late 1960s claimed that it was “the dirtiest, ugliest city in America” [4].

In the last decade, this city has been radically transformed and was recently named by Lonely Planet as “the best city to live in the United States” and “one of the 10 best destinations to visit” [5].

Chattanooga (Tennessee), with less than 200,000 inhabitants, was radically transformed thanks to a single public strategy: to have the fastest Internet in the United States and to put ICT at the center of the materialization of public policy, a model that has survived several governments and has been sustained over time, allowing it to be today the city with one of the fastest Internet connections in the world: 10 GB/s per household, 200 times faster than that of an average American or a thousand times faster than the average speed of an urban household in South America[6].

It all started in 2010, with a project designed by Harold Depriest, the CEO of Electric Power Board (EPB), who implemented an ambitious plan for a fiber optic network with full coverage in the city. The network would reach all electric power subscribers in the city, providing them with a 1Gb/s connection at a very low cost for the time. In other words, a low-income Chattanooga resident by 2012 had ten times faster Internet speed than the fastest residential connection of a citizen with high purchasing power in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or Argentina by 2015 [7].

They achieved this with a minimal investment of less than US$320 million, with one third of this amount coming from public resources from the Federal Department of Energy [8].

From that moment on, thousands of entrepreneurs decided to settle in Chattanooga, because, thanks to its Ultra-Fast Low Cost Internet, digital startups began to save months of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars in connectivity. As thousands of entrepreneurship projects arrived in the city; the unemployment rate reached zero in just months and it became a talent receiving city, especially from Silicon Valley, becoming a talent, thinking and creativity tank, which in turn led to a construction boom due to the growing demand for housing. This in turn generated more jobs, resources and wealth for the region, as well as new ventures such as supermarkets, technology stores, stores, laundromats, schools, service and entertainment companies, until becoming this year what Lonely Planet called: “The best city in the United States to visit and live in”.

Building cities from scratch

Kalasatama is a city being built from scratch on the outskirts of Helsinki, Finland. Where ICT has been put at the center of the development model, based largely on many emerging and innovative technologies.

The city is expected to be fully completed by 2030, by which time the inhabitants will gain back an average of one hour of their lives just by living there and their quality of life will triple, which seems impossible in one of the countries with the highest quality of life indices in the world.

“The people of this city will never again be stuck behind a garbage truck on their daily commute. Engineers installed a vacuum waste disposal system in the city, so people simply take their garbage to a fenced-off location and from there, it is vacuum-transported to a subway disposal center.” [9]

The city will have 5G coverage in all its corners, but there will also be a free high-speed WIFI 6.0 network, which will be paid with an additional surcharge, as happens with public lighting, there will be many forms of sustainable mobility, public and free and smart, all pets will have geolocated chips, that no matter where they are in the city, they can be located by their owners immediately, while if they cross a street, an ultrasonic sound that only the pet can hear, will make him move away from danger.

The health system will be interconnected with each citizen, so that an alert on a Smartwatch will send an ambulance immediately to a citizen’s home in the event of a heart attack or any other type of risk situation, as is already happening in the city of Riverside in California, where a pilot university project already offers this service to several inhabitants.

5G will play a key role

The ancient city of Matera, located on the side of a cliff in southern Italy, is one of the first cities in Europe to offer 5G enabled networks.

It all started in 2019, as part of an initiative of the city government, which bet on turning the city into a digital tourism center through technologies such as virtual reality, which allows any tourist to know with his cell phone the cultural and artistic legacy of a city that received the title of European Capital of Culture in 2019, simply by opening an application on his cell phone, so that by pointing to a building he can learn all the history of this place and the characters who inhabited it.

“There has been a genuine intention to rejuvenate this area and to make it a center for tourism, first of all, but also to take steps to make it a place for investment and industry,” Jonathan Reichental, an expert in emerging technological trends in urban environments, told the newspaper Expansion from Mexico [10].

The case of Peru

Smarcityperu.org is an academic initiative in charge of a non-profit organization in Peru, which aims to promote the implementation of Smart cities projects in the Andean nation, seeking to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants through ICT, with the help of engineers, developers and experts.

The initiatives seek to privilege small towns, where safety, mobility, accessibility and environment require innovative solutions to transform the quality of life of their inhabitants, thus becoming an important initiative from the civil society to generate transcendental changes in the infrastructure of Peruvian cities [11].

In conclusion, information and communication technologies applied to sustainability projects in cities, through initiatives called: Smart cities are not exclusive to large cities in the world, since the emergence of new technologies have allowed all kinds of initiatives to emerge around the world, allowing any type of region to design and implement smart city projects, for the benefit of its inhabitants, which substantially transform the quality of life.

[1] Academic article on the #U4SSC initiative in Spain

[2] Academic article on the #U4SSC initiative in Spain.

[3] Andinalink article about Chattanooga

[4] BBC World article on Chattanooga

[5] BBC World article on Chattanooga

[6] BBC World article on Chattanooga

[7] BBC world article on Chattanooga

[8] BBC world article on Chattanooga

[9] Article from Expansion Magazine of Mexico

[10] Article from Expansion Magazine of Mexico

[11] Smart city Peru Project