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Perspectives of smart cities in Latin America: Chile

Updated: Dec 24, 2021

The implementation of the Smart City (SC) model in Santiago, Chile has not heralded any significant interventions in terms of scale, urban impact, amount invested, technological innovation or architectural design. Instead, material interventions have been small and have had little more than a superficial impact upon the perceptions of citizens.

Smart City (SC) model in Santiago, Chile

The significance of observing ‘Smart’ interventions in Santiago involves analysing their implementation under a provincialising lens in order to observe the way local experience transforms monist ways of thinking about SCs.

Based on ethnographic observation of an SC intervention (in Paseo Bandera, Santiago de Chile), four principles of intervention were identified: democratisation of the city, spatial appropriation by citizens, social and technological innovation and local and territorialised interventions.

Digitizing Government

As Chile’s capital and largest urban center, Santiago’s efforts go hand in hand with, and are supported by, the national government’s own digital transformation strategy. In 2018, Chile launched its 2018-22 transformation plan, through which it seeks a radical realignment of government processes, production, and delivery of services. “By 2022 we aim to position Chile as one of the 20 most advanced countries in digital government in the world,” says the strategy document.

The plan has several core elements:

Digitizing Government

ClaveUnica (Unique Key). This is a digital identity and authentication platform that serves as an on-ramp for citizens to access all government services and information online. At present, there are more than 5m users (out of a population of 19 million). By 2020, all government procedures will be accessible by using this identity and login.

Estado CeroFilas (Zero Queues). Government institutions handle around 3,200 procedures, of which only 40% are fully online. The remainder are done in person—equating to 14 million transactions annually, 31 million hours spent, and $168 million in opportunity cost. By 2022, the government aims to have 80% of transactions online.

Estado CeroPapel (Zero Paper). Public employees spend 70% of their time handling documents, equating to an estimated $1bn in cost. By 2020, all intragovernment communications will be online, and by 2022 50% of government records will be digitized. Estado Basado en Datos (Data-Based State). The aim is to optimize use of data, improve its quality, and make it more transparent for the public, partly by adopting AI and other emerging technologies.

Cybersecurity. In 2018 the government launched an effort to define a national cybersecurity policy, including new legislation, inclusion of cybercrimes in the penal code, strengthening of cyber personnel within the Interior Ministry and other agencies.

These principles help to identify the intervention as an urban placebo, which the article argues works through the fictions of effective interventions and urban image improvement that seek to participate in worlding practices whilst, in reality, very little is being improved or effectively addressed in the city. Paseo Bandera SC intervention presents a narrative of modern, sustainable and technologically advanced urban planning in the form of specific material interventions, when in fact it involves very little modernity, sustainability or technology, and is little more than a continuation and evolution of the neoliberal urban model that exists in Chile.

Smart city initiatives in Latin America aim to harness information and communication technologies to make urban service provision and management more efficient, transparent and user-friendly. Latin American cities have been relatively slow to adopt such initiatives, but there is inter- and intra-urban variety in the region.

We offer illustrative vignettes of Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and Medellín, which have experimented with different formats for smart city program design, implementation and management.

While top-down and flashier smart city projects in these cities reflect worlding aspirations on the part of urban elites, mixed and bottom-up approaches serve to provincialise and often informalise the initiatives in manners that destabilise elitism and more equitably distribute costs and benefits.

One of the biggest challenges these cities share in developing smarter initiatives is inequality, given that most interventions are located in or benefit higher-income areas and actors.

As instruments to provincialize the discourses and practices of smart cityness in the region, we propose that cities adopt the ‘6-Es smart cities framework’ (efficiency, economy, ecology, equity, education and engagement) and mobilise public–private–people partnerships within city plans and implementation processes.

2015 Evolution and perspectives of smart cities in Latin America: Chile

Santiago de Chile

In the recent report by the Fundación País Digital in Chile, devoted to

the progress of smart cities in Chile, Santiago reached the first position in the country in four out of the six evaluated components: mobility, government, economy, and society; it positioned itself in the third place in the two remaining components: environment and quality of life.

The study supports the results of the IESE Cities in Motion assessment, about Santiago de Chile falling behind in the introduction of Information and Communication Technologies for urban management.

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