William Gourg
Director of Business Development
CapCity
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View from the Top

Smart Cities with a Human Touch

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 09:59

Q: What makes a city “smart” and how can cities accelerate toward achieving that status?

A: People mistakenly connect Smart Cities to urban development, when the latter focuses more on technology than people. CapCity is a consultancy that strives to go beyond technology. It targets the creation of human cities that solve neighborhood issues and promotes tools that help ease the toughest challenges that cities face without significant technological challenges. We recognize that each area has a different set of problems that need to be addressed, among them the fair distribution of service taxes that come from light, water, transportation and other basic services. There is a lack of social infrastructure for schools and libraries. Acquiring partnerships with the government, universities and the private sector can quickly boost progress.

Q: How can financial inclusion help avoid opposition to projects like the Cultural Corridor Chapultepec?

A: The Cultural Corridor Chapultepec should have been more transparent about the origin of the budget and its allocation. CapCity promotes a new model of governance that allows the public sector to intervene in private initiatives through transparent mechanisms that also have the advantage of attracting investment. On the whole, Smart Cities prioritize efficiency over quantity when it comes to capital and a higher level of transparency. The idea is to make sure all expenses can generate revenue and avoid the loss of investment. The issue is that authorities lack transparency about the financial aspect of these projects. CapCity promotes the participation of the private sector in sustainable city projects as they can take over important environmental and social studies. Projects are less successful with the sole participation of the public sector thanks to internal political conflicts and the insufficient inclusion of surrounding communities. If the Corridor had collaborated more with the private sector, the opposition could have been avoided.

Q: Where is the middle ground between the public and private sectors on the commercial focus of a project?

A: Municipalities are highly indebted, which prohibits them from receiving credit for urban development. This is exacerbated by the low priority authorities give to urban issues. The private sector can be a financial alternative to the public sector. The government has to establish mechanisms that promote an alliance between the private and public sectors so that municipalities can benefit from partnerships that reduce costs and energy consumption. Many cities around the world like Medellin and Barcelona have found this model to be quite successful. In those cities, developers identified abandoned areas that could be turned into urban development projects with space for innovation and creativity.

Q: What tools can Mexico City use to promote its basic infrastructure?

A: CapCity offers two basic tools. We have a database with social, economic, environmental and technological indicators that identify specific areas of opportunity. We have built an app called Geo Business Intelligence that will link this data to maps. Many companies want to do business in Mexico but the lack of information and database collection scare off investment and weaken the economy. Access to information can keep companies from wasting money unnecessarily and allows them to make smarter decisions.

Mexico also has a lack of transportation mobility technology. There is little information about minibuses and their routes. Transportation technology companies are unwilling to heavily invest in the creation of a database system because it is not profitable. They end up taking their knowledge to other regions that are more compatible with their products. CapCity can act as a liaison between the public and private sector with a database system that displays proposals and calls for tenders. Our objective is not only to attract investment but to allow an exchange of best practices. CapCity encompasses a strong network of consultancies in Medellin, Paris, Santiago and Amsterdam that share best public sector practices. We also have a strategic solution portfolio that can repair issues that cities face with sensors, smart grids, Smart City expertise, geolocation applications and urban Wi-Fi structures.