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Smart Cities International: Berlin Swim, Snapchat Traffic, Temporary Mega City

Here is a preview of our exclusive newsletter to keep up-to-date and stay inspired by Smart City innovations from around the world.

Lyon's Hikari development project
Lyon's Hikari development project
Emily Liedel

Cities depend on having just the right amount of the important things. That includes demographic growth. In places with stagnant or even declining populations, city leaders worry. As human populations peak and then start to trend downward, the city's very future is put into question.


But all too often, too much growth is the primary concern. This month, in addition to other smart city news, we'll compare the challenges confronting Chinese cities and African cities as they deal with different kinds of growth.

— Emily Liedel

COUNTING PEDESTRIANS

In Vienna, 2015 has been touted as the "year of walking," and the city has been flooded with publicity campaigns about how healthy, safe and modern it is to travel on your own two feet. So why is it that the city's pedestrian mode-share has actually decreased since 2010, Die Presse asks? (German) Some say part of the problem lies in the way things are counted: First of all, anyone who takes public transit has to travel part of the way by foot, but that portion isn't counted. And perhaps more importantly, most of the city's efforts to promote walking have taken place in the city center, where walking is already a preferred mode of transit. In the outskirts, on the other hand, pedestrianism has been almost totally neglected as mobility planners focus exclusively on where to put new subway or bus lines.

SMART PORTS

Many of the world's most important cities acquired their status because they were (and are) ports. But what does it mean to be a smart port city? According to La Tribune and France's Smart City Channel, a smart port is equipped to get cargo in and out without getting stuck for too long at any one point. Smart city tools are best applied in port systems when they manage to connect all of the actors, both on water and land, so they are better able to work together and move an ever-increasing volume of goods quickly into and out of their docking.

VERBATIM

"Cities compete among themselves ... They compete for talent, capital and tourists," explains Spanish economist Montserrat Pareja in El Periodico. According to Pareja, building high-tech smart city infrastructure is one way for individual cities to try to stand out in the competition.

AFRICAN CITIES NEED MORE DEMOCRACY

As more and more Africans move into cities, there are clear signs that urbanization is unequivocally good for the continent, increasing growth and reducing poverty, Quartz reports. Unfortunately, African cities do not have a strong history of sharing the benefits fairly among all their residents; and the trend towards car-dependent cities divided into slums and gated communities has barely slowed. So what does Africa need to do to build more equitable, sustainable cities? Start requiring urban development plans to pass democratically elected government bodies — in most places, there is virtually zero public input into urban planning policies — and reduce political corruption.

SNAPCHAT TRAFFIC?

Would you plan your commute differently if you had instant access to all of your city's traffic cameras? In Montreal, the city has chosen to make that information available to any motorist who wants to see what the freeways look like in real time, CNW Telbec reports (French). Montreal has cameras at around 250 intersections around the city, and they are now open for viewing to anyone. However, in an effort to protect individual privacy, the videos themselves are available only in real time and are not recorded.

NUMBER OF THE WEEK: 51 %

Like many African nations, Ghana has seen rapid urbanization in the past 30 years. Now 51% of Ghanians live in cities, with the number of urban dwellers having more than tripled in the past three decades. Over the same time period, the World Bank found that the poverty rate in the capital has dropped by 20% and the country's average annual GDP growth rate stands at 5.7%.


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Economy

Russian Diamonds Are Belgium's Best Friend — But For How Much Longer?

Belgium has lobbied hard for the past year to keep Russian diamonds off the list of sanctioned goods. Indeed, there would be a huge impact on the economy of the port city of Antwerp, if Europe finally joins with the U.S. and others in banning sale of so-called "blood diamonds" from Russia. But a 10th package of EU sanctions arriving this month may finally be the end of the road.

Photo of a technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

A technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

Wang Xiaojun / Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

Since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to nine different packages of sanctions against Russia. With the aim to punish Moscow's leadership and to cripple the war economy, European bans and limits have been placed on imports of a range of Russian products from coal, gas and steal to caviar and vodka — were successively banned over the past 11 months.

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Still, one notable Russian export is a shining exception to the rule, still imported into Europe as if nothing has changed: diamonds.

Russian state conglomerate Alrosa, which accounts for virtually all of the country's diamond production (95%) and deals with more than one-fourth of total global diamond imports, has been chugging along, business as usual.

But that may be about to change, ahead of an expected 10th package of sanctions slated to be finalized in the coming weeks. During recent negotiations, with 26 of the 27 EU members agreeing on the statement that ALSROA’s diamonds should no longer be imported, the one holdout was not surprisingly Belgium.

The Belgian opposition to the ban is explained by the port city of Antwerp, where 85% of the rough diamonds in the world pass through to get cut, polished, and marketed. There are estimates that 30,000 Belgians work for Alrosa.

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