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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

JOURNALISTIC EXCELLENCE · TRANSLATED INTELLIGENCE
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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

LIGHTS FOR BUENOS AIRES

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.

NUMBER OF THE WEEK: 1.1 BILLION

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.

SMART ARAB CITIES

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’S NEW SMART CITY

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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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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