Saturday, October 5, 2013

Is Bogota a Smart City?

Bogotá tomorrow? A futuristic urban vision at the Smart Cities Conference.
The Smart Cities Conference in Corferias ended yesterday with talks about water management.

But Smart Cities are still, with isolated exceptions, a fantasy. And Bogotá is not one of those exceptions. A decade ago, the city was seen as a pioneer, with its bike lane network and TransMilenio express bus system. Today, TransMilenio is in a perpetual crisis, many bike lanes are neglected, and the city has not adopted new methods for managing waste, traffic, energy and other urban issues.

A smart city has intelligent traffic lights which give priority to mass transit. (Not in Bogotá.) A smart city has a flexible electricity grid, which charges different rates depending on demand. (Not Bogotá.) A smart city has permeable street and other surfaces to let rainwater sink into the soil instead of filling waterways with pollutants. (But not Bogotá.)

For its part, the Smart Cities Conference exhibited some cutting edge concepts which aren't likely to be adopted here soon. And, lamentably, for an event supposed to protect the environment, many exhibitors seemed to believe that the best route to reducing one's impact on the world is thru more consumerism.

Samsung natural gas-powered washer and dryer on display. I asked the young woman what the most energy efficient method was for drying clothing. 'With natural gas,' she replied. I guess she's never heard of a technology called 'the clothesline'.
An electric car on display. Unfortunately, most of the taxi drivers who were recently issued electric cars quickly returned them. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 conventional, polluting, traffic congesting private cars enter Bogotá every year.

A taxi blocks a TransMilenio bus in central Bogotá. Smart cities enforce laws against stopping in intersections and have systems to give priority to mass transit. 
A display shows the environmental and economic benefits of natural gas driven vehicles. Unfortunately, the Colombian government recently gave in to public pressure to cut gasoline prices.
Collecting huge sacks of trash in front of a McDonald's in downtown Bogotá. A smart city would impose economic penalties on big trash porducers.  
Trash overflows from a bin labeled 'Environmental Management System.' Smart cities have banned or taxed packaging such as plastic bags and styrofoam, but Bogotá has not.  
WOMA, a Medellin design company, invented this system for bus stops in which passengers are supposed to pedal while waiting. But if you're willing to sit and pedal, then why not ride a bike there in the first place?
Jane Martin, an architect from San Francisco, California, described a program in which residents can break thru sidewalks and parking lots and plant urban gardens or ornamental plants. The policy, called Plant SF, not only adds green spaces, but also makes the ground permeable, allows rainwater to enter the soil, reducing flooding and pollution.
A San Francisco sidewalk transformed by urban planters.
A photo Jane Martin took in La Candelaria during a recent rainstorm, when waters backed up sewage into the streets.
The interior of Corferias. Why didn't they build it with transparent roof panels to let in sunlight and cut the electricity bill. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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