81 Latin America and the Caribbean (LACAR): Urban Geography II – Smart Cities


In 2012, scholar Boyd Cohen designed the Smart City Wheel to examine the features of the modern digital city.  In this context, “smart” does mean intelligent, but especially in the sense of using technology to produce safe, productive, and transparent environments for those who dwell in these cities.  Let’s consider Cohen’s model and look at his rankings for Latin American cities, for he did consult for cities and countries in LACAR regarding urban life. We can note the worldwide context too. In addition, let’s look at other reports ranking cities worldwide and see how well cities in LACAR fare.

Though Boyd Cohen created the Smart City Wheel, he is not a graphic artist, so his design was a bit crude. Thankfully, a colleague Manuchis redesigned the model in a visual appealing form. Here — https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-Smart-city-wheel-by-Boyd-Cohen_fig3_317269039

The Smart City Wheel had six main dimensions, all addressing elements of a modern technological city.

1 – Smart economy

An element of the smart economy is the digital startup company.  Often these companies are dynamic elements of the modern economy and when successful are a boon to any urban area.  In 2020 for the Global Startup Ecosystem ranking of cities for their economic climates open to digital startup companies, Sao Paulo, Brazil, at #30 was the only LACAR city in the top forty. In the related Emerging Ecosystem ranking of cities,  only Santiago, Chile (top 81-90) and Curitiba, Brazil (top 91-100) were in the top 100.


2 – Smart environment

In this dimension, the city needs to be green.  This includes smart buildings that meet LEED standards.  City government uses big data and GIS in urban planning.  The city’s resources are developed and expended in efficient and fair methods.  Vienna, Austria, is looking to use blockchain technology in managing renewable energy.


3 – Smart government

A modern smart city government utilizes the efficiencies of online services.  Bureaucratic snarls and red tape are reduced as digital forms and online processing speeds procedures.  Government reports and meetings can be viewed online, so that transparency of urban politics reduces corruption.

4 – Smart living

Through improvements in health and safety, quality of life is enhanced.  Healthier and safer people are more capable of utilizing their own human capital to create more successful and happier lives.  In 2020, we look to emphasize how transparency in police work is beneficial for urban populations.


5 – Smart mobility

Transportation geography is served well by big data and GIS, developing efficient transportation networks, setting up variable cost toll roads, and integrating different modes of transportation.  Pairing with the smart environment dimension, smart mobility includes green public transportation that runs on electricity or natural gas.


6 – Smart people

Education is essential for smart people.  Social sciences, like Geography, promote inclusive societies that understand that creativity and synergy multiply when the ideas, talents, and skills of diverse populations are encouraged and rewarded.

Furthermore, Cohen views smart cities as moving in phases – 1.0) technology-driven, 2.0) technology-enabled, city-led, and 3.0) citizen co-creation.  In 3.0, Medellin, Colombia, stands out as the Urban Land Institute’s Innovative City of the Year Award in 2013.

Although difficult to measure these dimensions statistically, in 2013 Cohen did list the top eight smartest cities in Latin America.  These were:

            1 – Santiago, Chile

            2 – Mexico City

            3 – Bogota, Colombia

            4 – Buenos Aires, Argentina

            5 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

            6 – Curitiba, Brazil

            7 – Medellin, Colombia

            8 – Montevideo, Uruguay,

The multinational consulting firm Mercer annually ranks cities worldwide in terms of quality of life. For the tenth year in a row, their 2019 report placed Vienna, Austria as the #1 city.  For LACAR, the highest-ranking city was Montevideo, Uruguay, at #78.

            78 – Montevideo, Uruguay

            91 – Buenos Aires, Argentina

            93 – Santiago, Chile

            113 – Monterrey, Mexico

            118 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

            129 – Mexico City

            228 out of 231 cities ranked – Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

It makes sense that there is some overlap between the best LACAR cities on these two ranked lists.

These are challenges that urban geographers love – ranking, modeling, and explaining urban forms and activities. While LACAR cities do not rank near the top of worldwide standards in many urban measures, the high urban percentages in LACAR cities combined with a drive to move from the economic periphery to the economic core of the world propel many of this region’s cities to noteworthy smart gains.


Did You Know?

In 2014, Cohen listed these 25 cities as the smartest in LACAR. São Paulo, Rio De Janeiro, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Medellin, Curitiba, Monterrey, Brasilia, Bogotá, Panama City, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Puebla, Recife, Cordoba, San Salvador, Porto Alegre, San Jose (Costa Rica), Guadalajara, Valparaíso, Caracas, Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Montevideo, Santiago, Lima.

Also in 2014, the mayor of Barcelona, Spain, created the Fab City Global Initiative, challenging cities by the year 2054 to produce everything they consume.  The Fab City Network now includes Santiago in Chile, Mexico City, Puebla, and the Yucatan region of Mexico, and Belo-Horizonte, Recife, Sorocaba, and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

For 2019, Mercer ranked Vancouver, British Columbia, tied for #3 in the world for quality of life.

The European Digital City Index in 2016 ranked London as Europe’s most attractive city for digital entrepreneurs.  Tallinn, Estonia – see Chapter 61 – was ranked #18 out of 60 noted cities.  In the startupgenome.com survey of the top 100 emerging ecosystem regions for startup companies, Estonia ranked #14.


Cited and additional bibliography:

Chaiwong, Manthana. n.d. Green City by Manthana Chaiwong from the Noun Project. Accessed June 30, 2020. https://thenounproject.com/ppanggm/collection/smart-city/?i=3078176.

Cohen, Boyd. 2012. “What Exactly Is A Smart City?” Fast Company. September 19, 2012. https://www.fastcompany.com/1680538/what-exactly-is-a-smart-city.

———. 2015. “The 3 Generations Of Smart Cities.” Fast Company. August 10, 2015. https://www.fastcompany.com/3047795/the-3-generations-of-smart-cities?cid=search.

———. 2018. “Blockchain Cities and the Smart Cities Wheel.” Medium. May 6, 2018. https://medium.com/iomob/blockchain-cities-and-the-smart-cities-wheel-9f65c2f32c36.

Genome, Startup. 2020a. “Startup Genome.” Startup Genome. 2020. https://www.startupgenome.com/article/rankings-top-100-emerging.

———. 2020b. “Startup Genome.” Startup Genome. 2020. https://www.startupgenome.com/article/rankings-top-40.

“Smart Cities Council | What Is Your Smart City IQ? These 100 Cities Will Soon Know.” 2014. Smartcitiescouncil.Com. July 11, 2014. https://smartcitiescouncil.com/article/what-your-smart-city-iq-these-100-cities-will-soon-know.


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The Western World: Daily Readings on Geography Copyright © 2020 by Joel Quam and Scott Campbell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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