Last week I posted a blog about the City Data Exchange in Copenhagen that is not only being used to provide better government services but is also offered as an open data mart for use by private businesses and citizens to buy and sell data to improve the environment and economy in Copenhagen.
This week I was in Mexico City, and I was pleased to find a similar effort being developed here. Laboratorio para Ciudad, or LabPLC, is a new smart city project begun by Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera. It is an urban Innovation lab where creative young people in and out of government can invent and test new ideas and technologies. The founder and director of the Mexico City Lab is Gabriela Gómez-Mont, whose background is in visual arts and documentary filmmaking with a focus on urban thinking. She believes that Mexico City can serve as an example for developing cities in addressing urban problems. With a population of 21 million people, ten times the population of Copenhagen, Mexico City is ranked among the top ten mega cities in the world and has all the problems we need to solve if we are to have smarter, safer, healthier cities.
Gabriela believes that future solutions will come from Mexico’s young people and she sponsors seminars, fellowships and Hack-a-thons to engage young people in creating solutions to address urban problems. She is also creating an open data platform, collecting data from government agencies, who in the past have been reluctant to share information internally, let alone share them with the public. Using this data her programmers are developing apps to help people with services like finding free clinics and helping car owners figure out what emission tests their cars require.
Traxi is a smart phone app that was developed by this group to provide safer use of taxis. In Mexico City there are many pirate cabs which are painted in the same colors as regulated cabs and the use of pirate cabs has led to crimes against passengers. Traxi enables a prospective passenger to verify the registration of the cab by typing in the cab number or taking a snapshot of the license plate which is queried against city data. If the passenger chooses to ride in an unregistered taxi anyway, the app includes a panic button that sends an alert to the police department if trouble occurs. Apps like this are tailored to the unique needs of living in Mexico City.
This effort is modest compared to the Copenhagen City Data Exchange, but it is a start in the right direction. There still are challenges getting access to the data in many city offices. The website fastcoexist.com has ranked Mexico City number two behind Santiago as one of the "smartest" cities in Latin America. Mexico City has actually been a pioneer in the region in several areas associated with smart cities. Leveraging data from the Digital Governance research by faculty at Rutgers University, as well as analyzing open data initiatives like LabPLC, Mexico City emerges as the leader in smart governance in Latin America. Mexico City has also been an early player in the region in promoting smart and green buildings. In fact, they are one of the first cities in the world to experiment with technology allowing buildings to actually absorb nearby smog.
One of the biggest problems facing this megacity is traffic congestion which is causing an increase in smog pollution and lost productivity for workers. Mexico City is surrounded by mountains which creates a thermal inversion, which traps airborne contaminants from releasing upward into the atmosphere. This spring Mexico City is experiencing the worst smog levels in 11 years. Most of this smog comes from traffic congestion.
Our offices are located in the Santa Fe area of the city where there is less smog. However, traffic congestion creates another problem in terms of productivity. A recent report from the World Resource Institute calculated that someone who works in Santa Fe spends, on average, 26 days a year travelling to and from work—more time than all thier annual holidays combined. During my visit I had a driver, Fernando, who drove me around the city the first day in a Mazda. The next day he was driving a Volkswagen. When I commented on the change, he explained that he had to change cars since the city is attempting to reduce smog by restricting the daily number of cars in the the city by license plate number. A series of city administrations have tried to reduce congestion by building things like double-decker highways for cars while expanding its subway, bus and urban train systems. A bike-share program has been wildly popular and dedicated bus lanes have attracted huge ridership since their inception in 2005.
Another problem in building a smart city is the lack of readily available Wifi and cellular access. While Wifi is available in establishments like Starbucks and hotels, it is not readily available in public places. An international ad agency teamed up with a media conglomerate Terra Mexico in an experiment to socially engineer residents of Mexico City using wifi to address another social problem, dog poop in the city parks.
Click on this link “Poo Wifi” to see how disposing of dog poop can provide free Wifi.