Medellín, a city in Colombia, is known for its resurrection from the status of the most dangerous city in the world to that of the most innovative one (awarded in 2013). The paper discusses the achievements of Medellín as a Smart City, which include, among others, the popularisation of Internet usage, optimisation of the urban transportation system with a reduction in traffic accidents, development of a mass transportation system with a cable car for a famous city in the developing world, improved security, together with an efficient crime reporting system and environmental risk monitoring. The potential risks involved in the implementation of ICT in city management are also discussed, related mostly to social exclusion and the actual distribution of the benefit coming from the Smart City. When compared with European cities, the additional barriers that the Colombian city needs to overcome are very high social inequalities, endemic crime, and topographic difficulties. This Latin American perspective can make clearer the difference between the Smart City in cities of the Global North vs Global South.
Reflecting on the reasons for the violent crisis in Colombia and calling for modernisation of the whole nation, John H. Coatsworth, Professor of Latin American History at Harvard University, called Colombia a ‘shaky archipelago of modern cities surrounded by an ocean of neglect’ (Coatsworth 2003: 7). In fact the neoliberal model of the economy adopted in Colombia, as well as in many other Latin American countries, has resulted in a high concentration of capital and industries in the strongest cities, which have competed with each other to attract investment (Czerny 2014). The biggest cities in this region become hubs of development deepening the gap with surrounding territories. The process is present worldwide, as globalised world companies need to localise their physical infrastructure in a real place ‘even when the outputs are hypermobile’ (Sassen 2005: 35), but in Latin America the gap is especially striking.
The very dynamic flow of immigrants was a result of their developing economies, and this factor determined the structure of many Latin-American cities, inducing the expansion of housing towards the outskirts. Increased unemployment and failure of the city authorities to provide sufficient social housing resulted in vast areas of informal development, leading to an increased social gap within the city, socio-spatial segregation and exclusion, which are among the most characteristic, and at the same time the burning, problems of many Latin - American cities (Czerny 2014).
This background is no different in the case of the second largest Colombian city, Medellín. On the contrary, segregation and exclusion have strongly marked this city and are intertwined with the activity of violent players leading to tragedy for thousands of citizens. In 1991, decades after the city’s most dynamic growth, it had become the most violent city in the world with 6,349 people killed per year (homicide rate 381 per 100,000 inhabitants) (Martin 2012: 191).
Medellín in the context of the Latin American city
The Medellín story, put briefly, usually presents the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of this city’s tragedy which gives an incorrect impression of sudden and miraculous change. In fact the city transformation was neither so rapid, nor complete.
This second largest city in Colombia, located in the Western Andes, was founded in 1616 by the Spaniards. In the 20th century, a new railway connected Medellín with other regions, and the coffee boom started, through which Colombia was incorporated in the global
As a result of developing industry, but also the dramatic period of ‘La Violencia’: bloody conflict between the supporters of the conservative and liberal parties, Medellín has experienced an unprecedented inflow of immigrants (Patiño Villa 2015). While in 1951 the city only had 358 189 inhabitants, in 1964 the number had increased to 772 887 (Patiño Villa 2015: 128). A city in which housing was mostly provided by private developers would not be able to give a decent home to all of the newcomers, mostly from the working class. Informal housing was the only alternative available. From the 1950s, Medellín observed the dynamic growth of informal settlements which marked the city landscape and anatomy for the next 50 years. These processes, typical of the region, coincided with a very particular topography in Medellín; the city runs North-South for 14 km with the Medellín river running through the city. There is 1km height difference between the highest and the lowest point in the city (Ferrari et al. 2018: 354). Due to the specific conditions, a traditional chequerboard layout structure of the city could no longer be practiced and further housing development was organised in neighbourhoods (barrios), a key unit of growth. A barrio does not have any precise structure or size and is a quite endemic form of spatial development (Patiño Villa 2015).
Since the 1980s, Medellín has become the capital of the drug trade and a constant battlefield, with the highest ever homicide rate in 1991. The situation has gradually improved since 1993 with the death of Pablo Escobar, and especially since the beginning of the 21st century with a more definitive war against the leftist guerrillas and better coordination in the territorial control of criminal organisations (Moncada 2016). At the same time, and in large part fuelled by private sector resources, Medellín has become the subject of a broad social and spatial policy aimed at improving the living conditions of its inhabitants, and achieving political stability. It is not without significance that the private sector, wanting to attract foreign investment and attract tourism, launched a broad campaign at the turn of the 20th and 21st century to improve its image (McLean 2014; Sotomayor 2015; Moncada 2016; Reimerink 2017).
Recently the city has been recognised for its innovative nature in introducing spatial changes, and for the significant role of the planner - in this case, the city authorities - as one of the most important determinants of spatial layout (Sotomayor 2015). The city has become famous across the world thanks to the extraordinary change that has taken place - from the most dangerous city in the world in 1991, to the most innovative city of 2013 (an award of the Wall Street Journal Magazine and Citibank, see Metrocable, the symbol of Medellín’s transformation: Fig. 1.). The city’s success has been called, not without exaggeration, the ‘miracle of Medellín’ (Drummond, Dizgun & Keeling 2012; Ferrari et al. 2018).
The city’s role as a laboratory put under the microscope by scientists, mainly in Latin America and the United States, is also due to the potential usefulness of the solutions and policies applied in this city (Giraldo-Ramírez & Preciado-Restrepo 2015) however with one reservation, that given the numerous factors that contributed to successful change, this process cannot easily be exported to solve other cities’ problems (Moncada 2016).
While the early 20th century nation-state aimed at controlling all the economic and political processes across the whole territory of the state, under the circumstances of globalisation, it is the biggest cities that give the momentum to political and economic transformations, according to Saskia Sassen (Patiño Villa 2015). Cities, unlike the central authority, have real, face-to-face contact with their citizens. Yet these citizens have certain expectations towards the city; expectation of security, respect for their ownership, the desire to exercise their rights and have possibilities to develop as people (Patiño Villa 2015). Meeting these basic needs in Latin-American cities, with their complex socio-spatial patchwork and additional issues with delinquency and crime, is a real challenge. Can smart technologies help?
Methodology and setting
The present article’s key objective is to explore how smart technologies have been introduced in Medellín, together with presenting a discussion on their actual and potential impact.
The key means used to achieve this goal is a literature review, which gives special attention to reports on progress in the development of an intelligent city. Such reports come from the city institutions (Mayoralty of Medellín) as well as independent private (McKinsey & Company) or public (Inter-American Development Bank, Ministry of Information Technology and Communications of Colombia) organisations. Finally, a number of academics have also developed their own studies on fragments of the transformed Medellín (using or not using the concept of the Smart City). Medellín, due to its dramatic transformation, has been awakening the interest of a number of researchers and thus a range of data and viewpoints are available. These together should help build a multi-dimensional image of Medellín as a Smart City. These studies are furthermore contrasted with some other quantitative data and indicators such as poverty or literacy, which are not commonly looked at in analyses of the development of smart technologies. Yet they may point to significant risks associated with transformation intended to lead towards a Smart City.
In addition to the literature review, some examples and experiences have been used from the author’s own fieldwork in Medellín in 2017 and 2019. The research investigated the impact of city transformation on individuals and communities and included qualitative interviews and observations in the poorest districts of Medellín. Some of the outcomes of this research served as an illustration of Smart City impacts.
Despite the fact that the transformation of Medellín had already commenced in the 1990s, the data, research and examples used in the article mostly concern the current, second decade of 21st century.
Understanding the Smart City
Worldwide, and in Latin America in particular, we are experiencing a growth in city populations which challenges the cities’ infrastructure, efficient management, environment and safety (Girardi & Temporelli 2016; Sujata et al. 2016; Eremia, Toma & Sandulea 2017). In Latin America the urbanisation rate had already exceeded 80% and in some countries like Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Colombia, it exceeds 90% (Czerny 2014: 18-19). Living conditions, quality of life and the sustainability of development are real challenges in most of these cities. Meanwhile modern technologies and communication tools that have revolutionised many industries, social patterns or media so pushing the world into an ‘era of information’ can be also applied to help cities solve their problems and achieve goals.
The authors of the McKinsey Global Institute report ‘Smart Cities: Digital solutions for a more liveable future’ define Smart Cities as ‘places, where different actors employ technology and data to make better decisions and achieve a better quality of life’ (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 22). They define 3 layers of the Smart City, built on top of the traditional, social and physical infrastructure:
- A technical base with connected devices and sensors;
- Smart apps (software) and data analyses;
- Their adoption and use has resulted in changed behaviour, with personal and collective benefits (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 22-23).
Technology at first glance seems to be free of any ideology. The authors of the McKinsey report compare Smart Cities’ tools to Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ claiming that thanks to numerous individual decisions aiming at maximising personal benefits and based on the data provided by smart tools, the city can significantly improve its functioning as well as, and in consequence, the quality of life (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 1). Just like the free market, the Smart City transforms individual benefits into benefits and positive change for all. Yet, in a similar manner to the free market, the state (city authorities) should aim to correct some unwanted effects.
Medellín, which is a very self-conscious city, plans to convert itself into an intelligent city (ciudad inteligente) ‘which refers to an urban development that responds to the needs of companies and public institutions as well as its citizens. It is undeniable that today the Internet constitutes a fundamental instrument for the democratization of knowledge’ (Patiño Villa 2015: 87). Yet they perceive the concept of an intelligent city in a holistic manner, considering not only the technical, market and infrastructure components, but also the social capital and the final objective of deepening democracy (Patiño Villa 2015: 87–88). The use of intelligent technologies is not seen as an objective in official discourse, but as a tool for efficiently administering the city for the benefit of citizens (Alcaldia de Medellín: 2016). The key goals of Medellín’s development include improvements in the areas of: citizen culture, security, equality, education, sustainability, territorial regeneration and environment. Social inclusion has been one of the key objectives of all introduced policies and tools. Technological and social innovations have been important means for achieving this goal, means which have contributed significantly to the city’s renown. A clear vision for developing a Smart City was developed in 2014 (Amar Flórez 2016: 7). The strategic themes of the Smart City programme include citizen participation, open government (accessibility of data and public information), social innovation (by participation and self-governance) and sustainability (economic, social and environmental).
Importantly, open and easy access to data and information is a fundamental element in developing Medellín as a Smart City. Ruta N, an institution established for the development, management and best use of ICT for the sake of the inhabitants, best puts it in words:
‘The use of data generated by public institutions, as the name suggests, is the right of all citizens. This information should remain within reach of people, as it allows us to learn about and verify the activities of institutions and government leaders, as well as discover, create, propose and develop solutions to the problems of our society. The policies of open data allow one to take the initiative and have an impact both in the public and private spheres, as well as enabling and encouraging innovation.
On the other hand, the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on the generation of better living conditions in society is known. Open and appropriate data schemes, put at the service of society through ICT, can become powerful tools for socioeconomic development’ (Ruta N website).
ICT in practice in Medellín
The area where Smart City techniques have been introduced to the greatest extent to date is in the field of transport and transportation. Some of the achievements are well documented. Medellín’s Smart Mobility System (SIMM) is designed to integrate ICT, communication, transportation and infrastructure (Amar Flórez 2016: 9) with the objective of limiting commuting time, improving security, and fighting against pollution. Thorough monitoring has proved to be effective in reducing the number of infractions at the sites monitored (Secretaría de Movilidad de Medellín…). The camera system visually monitors the road network (Amar Flórez 2016: 10) and automatically detects accidents, occupation, intensity and many other transit-related data. The data is used not only to get an instant reaction, but also stores and analyses it in order to propose better transportation policies. The traffic lights in Medellín operate as part of a centrally managed network and the vehicles of the public transportation fleet carry monitoring devices that allow real time measurement of their speed, route, capacity, number of passengers etc. (Amar Flórez 2016: 11). The most useful information is available to the inhabitants online. It needs to be underlined though that the greater part of the city’s mass transportation system is operated by private carriers, which do not participate in this kind of monitoring.
In the city of Medellín the topic of security has been always taken seriously by the governors and is also addressed by ICT by the creation of the Integrated Metropolitan Emergency and Security System. All issues related to security, mobility, disaster, health and medical emergencies are managed through this system, with one emergency telephone number and an online crime reporting system. Video monitoring also contributes to the security system.
Pollution and contamination of the environment has been quite a contentious topic in Medellín, a rapidly growing city with a topography favouring smog and which was a centre of heavy industry for decades. The topography – and location on the steep slopes around the city – also means that many city dwellers are at risk of landslides, which used to result in the loss of many lives in the past. The Early Warning System run by many public and private institutions, apart from monitoring environmental indicators, is designed to be ready to alert and support communities, which are threatened by environmental conditions. The Energy Management system uses a pre-paid sales tool, especially in the poor neighbourhoods, and is very popular there. Also, the level of noise is monitored (Zambrano 2017).
Among the indicators of improvement in the city’s transportation and mobility, the following are mentioned:
- A significant reduction in traffic accidents in the areas covered by the monitoring;
- A reduction in response time to traffic incidents;
- Fewer drivers fined for exceeding the speed limit and running red lights;
- Hours of congestion saved (Amar Flórez 2016: 27).
Sometimes it is also mentioned that the security and crime statistics have improved thanks to ICT, however this is too multi-factor process to be looked at only from the perspective of the application of ICT. The emergency platform allows one to reduce the waiting time to receive help. Constant air quality monitoring helps one to take immediate action and in total also helped to reduce the PM2.5 content in the air. The tool frequently used to fight against traffic and pollution in the larger Columbian cities (unlike in e.g. European cities) is the pico y placa (peak and plate) system whereby on a given day only cars with registration numbers ending with certain numbers can use the public roads in the city. Thanks to ICT, energy expenditure has been also been significantly constrained.
Finally, the city institutions are using modern ways of communication with its citizens including dedicated websites, social media and television.
One of the important Smart City investments in Medellín was the previously mentioned construction of Ruta N, an ICT hub. Its mission is to ‘lead the economic development of the city towards intensive activities in science, technology, and innovation in an inclusive and sustainable way’ (Ruta N website). This institution is intended to ‘facilitate the economic development of the city towards intensive businesses in science, technology, and innovation in an inclusive and sustainable way.’ Their activities include training courses, search for capital, provision of infrastructure and stimulating innovative business. The main objective is to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the city through innovation.
In terms of familiarity with ITC and providing internet access to as big a part of the city population as possible, the Office of the Mayor of Medellín provides the following data (Amar Flórez 2016: 26):
- There are 510 public Internet sites and 59% of city dwellers are Internet users (2014);
- • Telecentros (there are 48) allow citizens to access the Internet and training sessions, workshops and courses;
- 340000 citizens connect to free internet in 61 sites in the city (2014);
- The authors of the report admit that Medellín has done a spectacular job in improving citizens’ quality of life. Successful activities noted include the following
(Amar Flórez 2016: 29-30):
- The integration of ‘municipal, departmental, metropolitan and national administrative entities’.
- • Good public-private partnerships with systematic data exchange and management.
Medellín, seen as a city where a ‘miracle’ happened, is frequently the object of scientists’ research. To academics’ delight, the city (as well as other Colombian cities), has made a huge range of data available.
The city runs a large number of quantitative studies regarding the quality of life, poverty, evaluation of the changes going on in the city etc. And they are easily available in the form of tables as well databases which allow further analyses to be carried out (see e.g. Ciudatos website). Geographers will find a handful of editable QGIS maps on different topics: population, administration, mobility etc. (see: GeoMedellín website). One of the most renowned centres for urban research (Urbam at EAFIT university) gives free access to its publications. The National Statistical Centre (DANE) provides a good example of user-friendly access to statistical data. Inside Medellín, as elsewhere around the world, there are many researchers interested in uncovering the city’s secret, which reciprocally helps us empower Smart City tools and mechanisms, but fortunately also provides for a critical approach towards recent changes (Velasquez 2013; Gonzalez Escobar 2014, 2016; Reimerink 2017).
Smart City beyond ICT
The McKinsey research on Smart Cities included studies of 50 cities from 5 continents to track the following stages of Smart City development with the ‘aim to show the full sweep of activity under way around the globe and examine which kinds of cities are making progress in deployment, with the aim of uncovering best practices and implications’ (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 73-74). The survey, a part of this study, was carried out online, thus (due to varying internet penetration and consequent bias) the results need to be read with caution. Still, it is relatively safe to compare Medellín with other Latin-American metropolises. In the ranking of the technology base of Smart City components (sensors, communication, open data portal), Medellín is located in 5th position out of 7 (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 10). In the ranking of applications (the software base), it is last among 7 Latin American cities (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 12) but in terms of the last component: of citizen experience (awareness, usage and satisfaction), it scores best across all 7 cities (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 91). This kind of result can really be considered a success, as, according to some researchers, a Smart City tends to be invisible to its citizens (Sujata et al. 2016) and it is hard to actively involve them. This result coincides with the classification of Medellín as a generation 3 Smart City according to the B. Cohen (2015) classification. He describes 3 generations which show up, not necessarily in chronological order:
- Generation 1.0 refers to cities where the providers of technologies are the key players in implementing intelligent solutions. The authorities and dwellers are not consciously converting it into improvement in the quality of life;
- Generation 2.0 emerges when the authorities take on an active role in inspiring and taking advantage of Smart City tools. They consciously program ICT to act in favour of the city development strategy and goals;
- Generation 3.0, in which B. Cohen also includes Medellín, is a Smart City, which includes residents as active users and co-creators of the city’s ICT. Citizens are encouraged to share their opinions and actively and democratically participate in the future development of these tools, in strict accordance with their needs as city dwellers.
Indeed the governors of Medellín, along with introducing smart technologies from the very beginning, applied a lot of city marketing as a part of the strategy for improving the image of the city. The addressees of the strategy were foreign investors, but also city dwellers who responded with increased pride to the city they live in and recognised the advancement and tools used to improve the quality of life.
Multifaceted impacts of smart technologies
The benefits from the application of smart technologies are numerous; from a cleaner environment, safer roads and energy saved to improved security, saved time and easier participation in the life of the city’s inhabitants. However to make ICT a really powerful tool, access should be equal and democratic. This still remains a challenge in Medellín.
While public and private institutions invest in the major part of the necessary infrastructure; sensors, monitoring, software development, skilled staff, the ‘other side’ should keep up with this public infrastructure and fuel it with information in a reciprocal manner. This ‘other side’ is the widespread use of the Smartphone, which is what really allows one to complete the idea of a Smart City. This is a device which is necessary to collect and send data from individual residents as well as access these data transformed into usable information. The Smartphone allows one to optimise one’s daily route, report emergencies, express an opinion, proceed with administrative processes and generally fully participate in the Smart City. ‘Many Smart City applications succeed only if they are widely adopted and if they manage to change behaviours’ (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 26). Furthermore, full access is assured by a Smartphone with an appropriate Internet connection. This is an especial concern and barrier in the smart cities of the developing world; in South Asia, Africa and Latin America most of all (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 23).
The McKinsey analysis says that the concern about there being a particular danger for low income residents of ‘smart cities becoming gentrified technology hubs’ is not justified, as Smart City apps actually help to save some of the household budget (McKinsey Global Institute 2018: 9). However, this still refers to that section of the inhabitants for whom access to a Smartphone is within reach, the others are excluded from this benefit.
Currently, Smartphone penetration amounts to 73% of households in Colombia’s cities, which is a great deal, but still leaves one quarter of families outside of this network. In addition, Smartphone penetration is obviously significantly different across the social classes and amounts to 65.2% in the lower class, 77.2% in the middle class and 88.8% in the upper classes (Ministry of Information Technology and Communications of Colombia 2017). Despite significant progress in recent years, 13% of Medellín inhabitants (27% in Colombia, for comparison this is approx. 13% in Poland) still live in poverty (source: for Colombia: DANE…, for Poland: Różne oblicza ubóstwa w Polsce…). It should be borne in mind that making full participation and taking benefit from the city’s development and modernisation conditional on the purchase of an expensive device (and Internet service) can be exclusive in nature and work against the key objective which is equity and inclusion (Graham 2002; Hollands 2008).
Another barrier is related to the skills needed to properly and safely use mobile devices. As R. Hollands (2008: 310) argues, it is ‘recognised, that technology has to be utilisable and understandable by the communities it is supposed to serve and that ordinary people and communities need to have the skills necessary to use ITC. This concerns purely technical skills as well as elevated consciousness of the possible risk of data abuse. These issues should be addressed by proper education; however marketing activities and sales pressure usually outpace the recognition and management of the threats associated with high technology. The 2.4% of Medellín residents who can’t read or write are naturally excluded from the full benefits of the Smart City. What’s more, the overall level of education is still on the way to improvement, with an average of 10 years of education in Medellín and a great degree of polarisation of access to school. Thus, there is a large section of society with only basic education with the need to get additional training on information technologies (Medellín Como Vamos 2017). Yet, Medellín offers such courses; until 2014 more than 93,000 people participated in workshops and courses in appropriate technology subjects close to the place they lived in (Ministry of Information Technology and Communications of Colombia 2017: 26). Getting more familiar with Medellín, however, needs to bring about a reflection about the actual relevance of being online, while there are still a number of families which struggle to satisfy the most basic needs: obtaining food and assuring stable employment (Graham 2002).
Finally, very rarely when thinking about information technologies and mobile devices is there a reflection on the influence of these on individual and social life. Seeing ICT as neutral and an ‘invisible hand’ is closing one’s eyes to the negative impacts that the Smartphone may have, among them (Sarwar & Soomro 2013):
- Distraction during classes among children and adolescents;
- Bullying and hazing ceremonies;
- Disconnect from true interaction;
- Eyesight issues;
- Problems with focusing attention;
- Addiction to online and video games and general addiction to the Smartphone;
- • Ease of spreading false news;
- Blurring work and family life.
Furthermore, these new technologies allow ‘unprecedented surveillance capabilities - surveillance not only by the State but by spammers, stalkers, and the merely curious’ (Rheingold & Kluitenberg 2006: 31). There is the question whether the actions needed to overcome ‘digital exclusion’ are accompanied by a discourse about being secure online. While the global North countries already speak about the right to be disconnected as a philosophical and political act (Rheingold & Kluitenberg 2006), international companies with local authorities seek to extend the penetration of the usage of modern technologies. ICT in Medellín is thought to deepen democracy (Patiño Villa 2015) but real democracy should include the privilege of withdrawing and disconnecting (Rheingol & Kluitenberg 2006).
The implementation of ICT in the city should also encourage an investigation into who else other than the citizens themselves would benefit from implementing these tools. Currently many cities calling themselves ‘smart’ actually act in favour of local and international business, trying to attract them, extending the domination of neo-liberal spaces (Hollands 2008). One of the groups of players taking a keen interest in introducing smart solutions is made up of telephone company operators and the providers of the devices, for instance Telefónica and Huawei, who, among other things, invest in Latin-American countries in order to obtain significant returns (GSMA Association 2017: 32, see: Fig. 2.).
Recognition of Medellín as a most innovative city is also beneficial for the private sector in this city generally, because it helps to attract foreign investment. Businesses of all kinds in Medellín, strongly united and organised (they even have their organisation: GEA, Business Group of Antioquia), were actively engaged and interested in improving the international perception of Medellín and the Region of Antioquia (Moncada 2016). Some world-recognised innovations were introduced more with the objective of impressing rather than really improving quality of life, such as was the case of the electric escalator built outdoors in marginal, poor and stigmatised neighbourhoods in the city. The escalator was supposed to be a transport solution, an alternative to climbing 357 stairs. The real impact it had mostly concerned an increased sense of pride, but did not improve the residents’ quality of life, as their real transportation needs were not investigated, nor was there a reason to invest in this way (Reimerink 2017).
The side-effects of building a Smart City are difficult to predict, as digitalisation and the expansion of Internet coverage inevitably leads to the emergence of ‘hybrid spaces’ (Souza e Silva 2006). The term ‘hybrid spaces’ refers to spaces ‘in which the public is reconfigured by a multitude of media and communication networks interwoven into the social and political functions of space’ (Sassen 2006: 8). Hybrid space becomes more intangible as it persists in motion between ‘perceived, conceived, lived and virtual space’ (Kraan 2006: 39). We can imagine that, with the development of digital networks, places which have traditionally served as meeting points transform into hybrid spaces. It may happen, though, that creating an Internet access point also brings a very tangible and material meeting point to life, just as has happened in one of the places where the author undertook research, one of Medellín’s popular neighbourhoods. Sol de Oriente is part of Comuna 8, one of 16 districts of
the city, and is located close to the city’s eastern border. Two years before the research, this area received quite a number of new investments in recreational and housing infrastructure, which included a large sports building targeted mostly at children and adolescents. However it also included a free wifi point, which for the adults, very few of whom have a fixed Internet connection or mobile data service, was a key reason to approach the new building. With time it has become a well-recognised meeting point used by the inhabitants to connect to the Internet, but also serving as a community meeting point for appointments and incidental encounters.
The world-famous case of the Colombian city of Medellín shows some real and measurable positive impacts that ICT can have on the quality of life, mostly in the environment and public services. The idea of the Smart City goes further than that, however, and includes a necessary component of participation and real time reciprocal feedback of the inhabitants. The accumulation and sharing of data is also an important mission of Smart City strategy. Among Latin-American cities, Medellín is characterised by a high level of ‘citizen experience’ of ICT, which can partly explain their high level of pride in the city they inhabit, one of the best-documented impacts of the city’s accomplished transformation.
On the other hand the city’s social structure is marked with significant inequalities and by a range of still unsolved burning social problems topped by poverty. This poses a question about the actual inclusiveness of Smart City tools and the potential risks of their implementation: further adoption of smart technologies could simply deprive some social groups not only of the special benefits coming from additional city services, but also of the basic services traditionally available through offline channels.
While these technologies and smart solutions are quite similar across the whole breadth of the world’s large cities, the challenges that they experience may differ. Specifically, compared to Western metropolises, many Latin-American cities face much larger social gaps, inequalities and exclusion. Hence there is a higher risk that once participation in the benefits of the Smart City requires additional resources and individual effort from the individual, it may actually reproduce inequality and exclusion rather than break it. To avoid this effect additional social policy attention and tools should be activated. Post-colonial international economic relations also tend to favour multinational companies over local and marginalised communities which cannot make democratic decisions about whether they desire Smart City or not (Harvey 1989). This poses a question of who is the actual beneficiary of ICT introduction. Is it still the end user – a city dweller, or is this the business sector?
What’s more, the side effects of introducing it are very difficult to foresee. Hybridisation of spaces adds new dimensions to 3-dimensional reality, which makes it less predictable, observable and manageable. But it may be worthwhile to try and observe real cases of space hybridisation in a broad and holistic manner, including many disciplines and perspectives, e.g. functional, emotional, individual, collective, social and material aspects of space transformation in face of the growing penetration of ICT. This would require keeping track of multiple quantitative indicators but would also need qualitative, but systematic, insights into various types of city community. As the author’s experience shows, it is hard to gather exhaustive information and the full picture of Smart City impacts without looking at it from the inside.
Observation of real cases of the impact of ICT on individuals and communities calls for a reflection on ICT as not being ideology-free and not necessarily a natural stage in city development. Its adoption and the degree to which it is invited into communities, is a choice that should be made as consciously and as democratically as possible, taking into account the final costs and long - term consequences of its implementation.
The research of the author is financed by National Science Centre in Poland (NCN) under contract number: UMO-2015/19/N/HS6/00624.
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