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Smart Cities International: Bogota Blooms, E-Deliveries, LGBT Signs

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In Santander, Spain
In Santander, Spain
Emily Liedel

You know that friend or coworker with the very latest smartphone who winds up only using it ... to make telephone calls? Just because technology grows more advanced does not mean that the end users will make full use of its potential. Experts in smart cities — especially in Europe — stay busy reminding the public that our cities can never be smarter than the citizens who live in them.

This month, in addition to other smart city news, we'll look at a city beautification project in Tanzania that went awry because too many citizens weren't educated about basic tenets of environmental protection. Along the way we'll also look at water issues in Uruguay and Kenya and see how a German company is trying to make deliveries to grocery stores more sustainable.

— Emily Liedel

THE PROBLEM WITH HIGH-RISES

In a new section of Munich, developers want to build several 13-floor apartment high-rises against the wishes of those who already live in the neighborhood. In several meetings, the area's residents have said they don't want any buildings over eight stories, Süddeutsche Zeitungdaily reports (German). The controversy is making Munich officials rethink exactly how much citizen involvement is best for the city to both move forward and keep current residents happy. Or to twist around an old saying: "Democracy isn't always smart, but it's the least stupid of all the other systems."

CHINESE-KENYAN COOPERATION IN WATER

As demand for water has risen constantly over the past several years, the Nairobi Water Company has struggled to meet needs. But as part of a partnership with the Shanghai-based Tongji University, the water company is going to get training and technology that should both improve the quality of Nairobi's water and reduce the amount of chemicals used in water treatment, All Africa reports.

GAY CROSSING SIGNS

As part of a campaign to promote tolerance, the Austrian cities of Vienna, Salzburg and Linz have installed a number of unusual crosswalk signs. Instead of the traditional walking man showing that it's time to cross the street, these crosswalks have either two men or two women holding hands as they walk. But not everyone is happy about the unique crossing signals: After an election brought a more socially conservative government, the new leadership in Linz has decided to remove the privately-funded signs from the city, Kurier reports (German).

QUALITY VS. QUANTITY

Generally speaking, Uruguay does not lack for water. Still, the country's big cities should not take it for granted: Several recent water crises have shown that an abundance of the wet stuff does not necessarily translate to enough potable water, and in fact the drinking water supply seems to be reaching its limit in the capital of Montevideo, as well as in the coastal city of Maldonado, El Observador reports (Spanish) . The problem is likely due to agricultural chemicals running off into rivers, which has contributed to algae blooms that render the water unsafe for human consumption. It is a reminder that cities must rely on natural resources that may be sourced far away.

CLEAN STREETS / DIRTY AIR

A campaign to clean up the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the national independence day was largely successful, but with one hitch: While participation was high, many residents of the nation's capital chose to get rid of the garbage on the streets by burning it — including tires and plastic, The Citizen reports. The smoldering garbage wound up covering certain neighborhoods in toxic smoke and rancid odors. The unintended consequences of the clean-up campaign highlight the importance of education, since some residents simply didn't know that burning the garbage was bad for the city.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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