The challenges in implementing Smart Cities in Brazil

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Smart Cities are a relevant and current theme. Cities increasingly need creative solutions to the challenges of population growth, which is increasingly urban (a little more than half the world’s population is already urban). The idea of the Smart City presents itself, in view of this, as an innovative concept to support overcoming these challenges.

Conceptually Smart Cities go through human, technological, and especially institutional elements in terms of public governance, especially a participative and collaborative governance model.

All these elements are in line with people’s quality of life, that is, observing sustainability and its axes. The most appropriate, consequently, is to realize that we are talking about sustainable smart cities for people. Cities that seek a balance in a systemic way in the social, economic, and environmental aspects and, for this, count on the help of new technologies.

The idea of Smart Cities has already been consolidated in the global discussion on urban development and is responsible for moving a global market of technological solutions. Several cities around the world follow and adapt themselves in this direction, especially in terms of technological innovations, such as, for example, cities in China, Japan, Germany, and the USA. 

In Brazil, the theme is also hot. Many startups focused on solutions for Smart Cities have emerged in recent years. The House of Representatives is already working on Bill 976/2021, which should establish the National Policy for Smart Cities (PNCI). The development of Smart Cities initiatives throughout the country is also pointed out, according to the Connected Smart Cities ranking of 2021, composed of 100 cities, São Paulo (SP), Florianópolis (SC), and Curitiba (PR) are, respectively, the smartest Brazilian cities.

The case of Curitiba is emblematic. The city is highlighted for its aptitude in technology, industry, public wi-fi throughout the city, applications that offer online services, urban planning, the attraction of tourists, and income generation. Of special note is the Vale do Pinhão project, which aims to strengthen and enhance innovation through entrepreneurship, creative economy, and technology.

We realize, therefore, that the idea of Smart Cities is advancing in Brazilian municipalities. However, there are still several obstacles to its due realization. Brazil, famous for its inequalities, lives the paradox between excellent technology parks, incubators, and research centers, at the same time that it must deal with basic issues for human development.

More generally, as barriers, the traditional challenges of Brazilian municipalities, for example, poor access to financing and quality housing solutions; inadequate access to basic services; socio-spatial disconnection; risks and disasters resulting from climate change; unemployment, low budget, discontinuities in public policies between mandates, slow and sometimes impeding bureaucracies.

More specifically, based on a study of municipalities in the state of Paraná that we understand can be extended to the country, we can divide the reality of Brazilian municipalities into different development groups as to infrastructure and resource management to achieve the benefits of Smart Cities: (1) Dependent (cities in metropolitan regions that depend on the infrastructure of large hubs); (2) Indifferent (large and rich cities that have the infrastructure, but do not care about offering e-services to citizens); (3) Resourceless (small and poor cities without any infrastructure); (4) Well organized (small and reasonably poor cities, but that have achieved, with few resources, access to the Internet, virtual services and digital inclusion); and (5) Potential smart cities (Curitiba, the capital, with the best infrastructure and services, but that does not transfer its advantages to the surrounding cities).

The possible solutions are many. One important example is partnerships with the private sector since the business sector can and should contribute to the development of Smart Cities by aligning itself with local governments. 

This can be done through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), for example, in the management of urban mobility, street lighting, traffic control, and health services. However, partnerships between public and private entities are not restricted to infrastructure, but may have several themes as their object, or even vary in “intensities” of partnerships. In addition, other partners can be added, which is excellent, such as Universities and Civil Society Organizations.

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