Smarter Cities

Smart Cities International: Telecommuting Colombia, Enlightened Pilgrims, Greener Paris

Tam Ky, Vietnam
Tam Ky, Vietnam
Emily Liedel






As our cities become increasingly high-tech and crowded, efforts to create denser housing and to flood cities with sensors and smart technology often clash with historical preservation. Chinese cities are notorious for their eagerness to raze historic neighborhoods and to replace them with high-rises, often at the expense of both livability and tourism. In Europe, city planners have generally worked to preserve historic city centers and other monuments, but as populations grow, even European cities won't escape the pressure to alter their landscapes to accommodate more people.

In addition to other smart city news, this week we’re looking at a radical proposal to make Paris greener and denser. Further south, we’ll consider a project to bring modern lighting to Spain’s 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route.

— Emily Liedel


Medellin’s mayor recently signed a partnership with the Colombian Ministers of Telecommunications and Labor to promote telecommuting in the city, El Tiempo reports (Spanish). The program’s goals: to make better use of the telecommunications network, to reduce poverty, to improve mobility throughout the city, and to create jobs and facilitate self-employment.


“We have to change the culture throughout the country so that people can telecommute, and so that an employee isn’t valued by how long he or she is warming the seat, but by how productive he or she is,” said Diego Molano, Colombia Minister of Telecommunications, in reference to the possible challenges of promoting telecommuting.


As our cities are stuffed ever fuller with geolocation technology, some cities are developing even more sophisticated ways to gather location-related data, Journal du Net reports (French). In Stockholm, for example, taxis are equipped with sensors that collect real-time data about how long it takes to get from one point to another. The data is also used to better understand how to manage traffic during rush hour.


As Latin American cities such as Lima, Medellin and Puebla try to convert their reigning chaos into smarter and more sustainable urban models, they often focus on programs that more developed countries might find basic, Expansión reports (Spanish). Puebla is inaugurating its model for sustainability in 2016 with a focus on social programs, in contrast to places such as Madrid and Barcelona. Instead of smart lighting systems, Puebla has built three new hospitals and remodeled 800 schools in the past four years, both contributing to a better standard of living for residents.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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