CULTURAL ISSUES

Smart cities need to be smarter

The coronavirus has become, oddly enough, an eye-opener. Among other weaknesses, it demonstrated that large cities today are fertile grounds for pandemics. More than half of the world’s population is exposed to a high risk of infection due to increased urban density.
Due to different policies over the last decades, only 4% of the surface of the planet is inhabited by humanity. Before the coronavirus, investments were aimed at even greater concentration, reducing human habitat to only 2% of the planet’s surface.
The migration from the countryside to the city that has been going on for decades has been brought about by different structural breaks. For instance, the impact of the new rural production model has left people outside the system, who were then left with no alternative but to migrate. As a result, each country has empty villages with idle, unused infrastructure while, at the same time, decaying cities are growing.
At a global level, no solution has been found at the origin of the problem. On the contrary, budgets have been diverted away from rural investment, transport, infrastructure, diversified economic development, and towards the creation of ‘smart’ cities.
According to projections by international experts in a Citigroup report, investment in ‘smart cities’ will be $40 trillion over the next 20 years. This despite the already strong warnings and evidence of major problems such as pollution, traffic, lack of jobs, inefficiency, and, in the developing world, huge areas of poverty and marginalization with lack of basic infrastructure.
Until now, international organizations have made smart cities a priority and are not promoting any investment outside of urban areas. Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic is now forcing us to ask ourselves: how ‘smart’ is it to live in large overcrowded cities? The time has come to rethink whether this pattern should continue to be encouraged.
We can even go a little further. If we take action now during the coronavirus and look at the world as a whole, surely most of us will agree that we are faced with profound social, economic and environmental imbalances that threaten our ecosystem.
So, what will we do with our prevailing models of coexistence? Currently, there are many voices proposing expansion, domination, inequality. Will we continue to support them?
Today, population density and the imbalances that we generate give back floods, droughts and also
acute vulnerability to the pandemics that bring everyone and everything, in both cities and rural areas, to a standstill.
Globalization also unites us in positive ways. As thinking beings, and in our current state of emergency, we can surely reflect on all these imbalances that we generate. Let us hope that in the global quarantine we realize that each individual action will impact the whole. For the sake of humanity and the world, which is the home we all inhabit.

Cintia Jaime is the Founder and Managing Director of the ES VICIS Foundation