UNO October 2017

Mexico City: keys and challenges to build a smart city for its citizens

Firmly and confidently is how we would like Mexico City to move forward in order to consolidate itself as a smart city. On this journey towards technological transition, there are aspects we must not forget in order to achieve this goal. The clock is ticking. In addition, I would like to begin by referring to time since it is a factor that we should not rely on.

Seventy years ago, the very first communication occurred between four computers for military purposes, which gave rise to what we know today as the Internet. This expanded and grew so fast that it turned into a lifestyle: connecting objects and even entire cities, thus even shaping the economy.

It was the connectivity trend that in 1999, Kevin Ashton named the Internet of Things, in which connection and communication between devices made it possible to store information and generate trends. With the third wave of the Internet, innovation became a constant process. This is because devices now have eyes and ears, which allow them to adapt to, and delve into our lives.

Along with this brief, yet precise panorama, we find the application of technology in countries’ public life. We talk about a smart city when the production of knowledge, derived from connected devices, converges into the management of public resources in order to improve the life quality of the people and the environment. The Inter-American Development Bank (2016) ensures the integration of technological development that makes cities more innovative, more competitive, more attractive and more resilient; it improves the lives of inhabitants.

Mexico City wants to be a smart city that offers solutions to the problems afflicting urban areas, which takes advantage of technology to simplify people’s lives and facilitate business operations

According to figures from the aforementioned international organization, 70 percent of the world’s population (more than 6 billion people) will live in cities by 2050, according to the UN. Hence, it is a challenge to achieve the appropriate integration of information technologies.

So, where does Mexico City stand?


Mexico City with potential

We shall begin by outlining some interesting facts.

Mexico City is a national leader as it is the political, economic and social reflection of the country. This is where the three powers of the Union are found: the federal executive branch, the Congress of the Union and the national Supreme Court of Justice; it is the second municipality in terms of number of inhabitants and the number one contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

In terms of connectivity, 63 percent of Mexico’s population aged 6 and over declared they are Internet users; in other words, 70 million people, 3 out of 4 of whom own a smart phone. According to PC World Mexico, an International Data Group (IDG) publication, the total economic contribution of the mobile device industry will reach 52 billion dollars by 2020, representing over 3.8 percent of Mexico’s GDP.

With these data, it is possible to see that there are favorable conditions for channeling and creating a smart city, which is why it is necessary to look back at what the government of Mexico City has done. Last year, it has led the efforts to turn this city into a world leader. As recently as September 2016, in an effort to increase connectivity in Mexico City and move towards becoming a smart city , the Secretary for Economic Development (SEDECO), in coordination with the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the World Bank, began to implement a “Connectivity Master Plan for Mexico City” that consists of:

  1. Identifying the current connectivity infrastructure in Mexico City,
  2. Estimating the demand for connectivity in Mexico City,
  3. Proposing a design for the Mexico City Connectivity Network,
  4. Proposing a new design for the Mexico City Broadcasting System,
  5. Analyzing the government structure and identifying the needs.

It is worth highlighting that this master plan provides for an “organizational division,” which shall be responsible for managing the infrastructure and designing a public/private association to operate the Mexico City Connectivity Network. This should base on the best international experiences, and it would make possible to efficiently take advantage of the existing infrastructure, foster synergies and boost the autonomous and sustainable growth of new infrastructure and lay the foundations so Mexico can become a smart city.

Mexico City wants to be a smart city, which offers solutions to the problems afflicting urban areas; one which takes advantage of technology to simplify people’s lives and business operations, but also goes beyond that by taking advantage of the new tools based on collective intelligence and collaborative social processes (SEDECO, 2016).

In November, it was revealed that the Nokia Smart city Playbook recognized that Mexico City has the infrastructure to become a smart city after receiving 3 out of 5 points in their assessment.

On the one hand, we have numbers that demonstrate a positive scenario as to the rate of growth in Internet users and digital inclusion; and on the other hand, we have a Government that is willing to position the city as a leader. Yet from the perspective of this humble servant, there are three important challenges for Mexico City that must not be forgotten and which we must remember so as not to get lost on this technological path.


Challenges for Mexico City

Despite the fact that the Inter-American Development Bank has set out a theoretical route for cities to become smart cities, I would like to offer three thoughts on the challenges facing Mexico City as its consolidation as a smart city is no minor issue.


Human Focus to Technology

To present this first challenge, I shall refer to the idea put forth by Media Lab Researcher. Luis Alonso from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who says that innovation has no direct relationship with technology, but rather it is about identifying the main problems and visions in each city. Mexico City is a reflection of the immense inequality found in Mexico. It is not only an economic problem as inequality is a part of practically all spheres of social activity such as education, healthcare, income, etc.

Citizen participation is a cornerstone that must not be left aside, as we, citizens, are the ones who are beginning this transformation and constantly evaluate the result of information integration

Overall, the promotion of a smart city must focus on the fact that network-based knowledge must improve the lives of those connected but also bring closer those who are not connected, calibrating public policies and never failing to see the problems of big cities and everyday citizens.

In the words of Enrique V. Iglesias, the former president of the Inter-American Development Bank, the use of technology is a means and not the aim in and of itself.


Legislation and priority inclusion in the government program

The road to consolidating Mexico City as a smart city must not depend on will. Despite the fact that Mexico City has laws that help promote connectivity, such as the Law to Promote the Development of Mexico City as a Digital and Knowledge-Based City–which was passed in 2012–and the Law to Turn Mexico City into an Open City, the leadership of this project must transcend the six-year term of the head of the government and be promptly and deeply reflected in the goals and lines of action found in the 2019-2024 National Development Program.

Legislators must understand the major implications of a smart city and, based on this, legislate in advance. For example, the issue of cybersecurity must be handled with mechanisms to protect all parties, so the system is trustworthy and does not breach the spirit of a smart city. There is no doubt that the legislative spirit must be an innovative one.


Citizen participation

Finally, we must not forget that the real objective of this major connectivity consolidation is achieving public value; in other words, not only meeting the population’s basic needs in an intelligent manner but also strengthening civic and democratic principles within society such as responsibility, transparency and participation.

Citizen participation is a cornerstone that must not be left aside as we, citizens, are the ones who are beginning this transformation and who constantly evaluate the result of information integration. Citizen satisfaction is the best step towards calibrating the performance of these cities.

We live in times of change where public administration requires deep and dynamic knowledge of the regions comprising society. In addition, the modification of the way governance is performed and, above all, new communication processes among the various stakeholders involved in decision-making will be decisive in consolidating Mexico City as a smart city.

It was only just 60 years ago, right in the middle of the Cold War, when the idea arose to create a network of computers which, exclusively for military purposes, could have access to this type of information from anywhere in the world. At the time, it was unconceivable to imagine just how far the project using only four computers nesting strategic information would go.

Perhaps at this time it is unconceivable for us to think just how far the potential of smart cities can go, and this is why it is time to reflect upon the ultimate purpose of technological integration, giving preference to human sense and citizen participation in the formulation of policies.

Moreover, we shall do all of this because we can create many benefits for our citizens:

  1. Less time used by citizens to complete procedures, this makes them efficient and simpler processes.
  2. It prevents subjective judgement and there is transparency in public administration, which generates trust among the intervening stakeholders.
  3. It facilitates a connection between the State and citizens, which creates public engagement.
  4. Lower operational costs.
  5. Continuous access and flow of information and closer relations with citizens.
  6. They use the greatest of technological elements and include automatic controls.
  7. It fosters participatory democracy through citizen participation.
  8. It helps improve the life quality of our citizens and reduces corruption.

The clock is ticking for Mexico City.

Alejandro Romero
Partner and CEO Americas at LLORENTE & CUENCA.
Ever since 1997 Romero has been at the forefront of the company's expansion processes in Latin America, starting operations in Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Mexico and recently, Miami. Romero has also recently led the communication processes in three of the ten most important M&A operations in the region: the selling of BellSouth operations to the Telefonica Group; SABMiller's acquisition of the Corporate Group Bavaria and; the selling of the Financial Group Uno to Citibank. In 20 years, Romero has managed to position LLORENTE & CUENCA as the leading communication network in Latin America. @aromerollyc [USA]
Arie Ellstein
Senior Director of the Public Affairs Area at LLORENTE & CUENCA Mexico
Previously, Ellstein was Chief Executive of Legix, a firm specialized in Legislative Affairs and has collaborated in the area of government and public affairs in companies such as MetLife and in international communication consultancies. Ellstein holds a degree in Political Sciences and Public Administration, as well as a degree in Psychology. Furthermore, Ellstein has a Master's Degree in Politics from the University of Essex and another one in Political Science and Political Economy from the London School of Economics. [Mexico]

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