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Smart Cities International: Montreal Ideas, Arab Voices, Buenos Aires Lights

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

Montreal by night
Montreal by night
Emily Liedel
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Hello City Folk!

Technological innovations do not exist in a vacuum. A city can have the most advanced transport grid or water-management system, but real intelligence begins by being engaged with local residents and providing ways for them to have a voice in the plans for the future. Or put another way: A city can't be truly "smart" if the fundamentals of democracy are missing.

This week, in addition to other smart city news, we’re looking at how cities across the Arab world are trying to develop using "smart city" technology, but are still struggling to find ways to include citizens in the process. We’ll also look at how Montreal has become one of the "smart" leaders precisely because it has focused on ways to involve citizens in the decision-making process.

— Emily Liedel

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The Argentine capital has finished changing all of its 90,000 traffic lights to LED bulbs, La Razon reports (Spanish). This seemingly simple change will reduce the city’s energy usage for traffic lights by approximately 90%, and is also expected to increase road safety.


According to a study by Gartner, smart cities will use 1.1 billion different "smart," interconnected objects by the end of 2015. Homes and commercial buildings account for 45% of that total.


With 330 million inhabitants, a 3% annual increase in population and high rates of rural exodus, the Arab world is looking at both opportunities and challenges when it comes to developing its cities. And according to a recent round table organized by the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, many Arab cities are approaching this challenge from a "smart city" standpoint, La Tribune reports (French). There are automated metro lines in Dubai, and Algiers and Casablanca have both recently opened state-of-the-art tram lines. Dubai also has a smart electricity grid, while Riyadh is taking steps to build public transportation and move away from private vehicles. Nonetheless, participants at the forum insisted that cities throughout the Arab world still need to work on one other key pillar of a truly smart city: citizen engagement and input in the development of urban spaces.


India is planning to build its first top-down smart city on the site of a former Special Economic Zone in Haryana, The Times of India reports. The site in northern India is about 800 acres and is part of a recent push to increase the number of smart cities across the country.

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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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