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

Tam Ky, Vietnam
Tam Ky, Vietnam
Emily Liedel

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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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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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