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May 21, 2015

Among the challenges of designing smarter cities is how to integrate existing infrastructure and architecture into a new, more intelligent design. Each smart city initiative must be carefully customized to the specifics of the location, bearing in mind not just climate and sun exposure but also existing buildings and cultural practices. Even though this process can be time and labor intensive, it is almost always preferable to destroying historic cities in the name of progress.

Part of the allure of planned smart cities, such as the one in Songdo, South Korea, is that they aren’t burdened by history. Yet these top-down cities are rarely as attractive to real residents in real life as they are in computer simulations and promotional videos.

Occasionally, there are projects that offer a middle ground, when a location has proven appeal but the infrastructure isn’t worth preserving. This week, in addition to other smart city news, we’ll look at a project in Cyprus that aims to turn an abandoned seaside city into a model eco-town after 40 years of neglect. We’ll also tell you about Chinese Internet speeds, Mexican bike vests and smarter electricity networks.

— Emily Liedel
In Newcastle, England, a pilot project with Siemens has outfitted all of the city’s ambulances with displays that communicate with traffic signals and give each vehicle customized recommendations about how fast to drive, so that they can get to their destination as fast as possible. The program director estimates that it has led to a 10% reduction in travel time, Hamburger Handelsblatt reports (German). In the future, similar technology could be used to help mitigate traffic for all vehicles in the city.
“Cities should also learn from each other,” German smart cities researcher Joerg Firnkorn said in an interview with with (French). Toward that end, he recommends Citymart, a platform that allows cities to share best practices with one another.
A group of students in Mexico has developed Safe Ride, a smart vest for cyclists. The vest is outfitted with LED lights that are illuminated when the biker moves his or her arm to indicate a turn, as well as with regular lights for visibility, Dinero En Imagen reports (Spanish). There is also a sensor that can detect when the bike experiences a change in acceleration — in the case of an accident, for example — and notify through Twitter those who are hooked into the program .
The Cypriot city of Varosha was once the “pearl” of the island, with white sand and crystal clear water. But in 1974, when Cyprus was invaded by the Turkish army, Varosha was sealed to the world and its residents were evicted. After 40 years of neglect, the city is deteriorating. One former resident, though, wants to see it rebuilt as a model eco-city, i24 News reports (French). The idea is to create a smart city that takes advantage of the island’s natural resources and uses thoughtful design to avoid many of the mistakes in urban planning that were common in Cyprus.
Sekondi, Ghana, is the only African city selected to participate in this year’s IBM Smart City Challenge, during which the technology company will send experts to help 16 chosen cities improve their municipal services. Sekondi is on Ghana’s coast and has attracted mass migration from all over the world since oil was recently discovered off its shores.
During the Tech Summit of Puerto Rico last week, San Juan's Department of Economic Development and Commerce chief said that Puerto Rico is counting on technology to revitalize its economy, El Heraldo reports (Spanish).
As the world becomes more urbanized, it is also expected to become more energy hungry. Luckily, if smart grids are correctly used, experts predict that we can meet growing energy demand while actually reducing our energy usage. One example for how to build a smart grid is on display at the Milan World Expo, which is hooked up to a smart energy system developed by Siemens and the Italian electricity company Enel, Hamburger Handelsblatt reports (German). The Expo's electricity needs are equivalent to a city of 100,000. Each pavilion’s energy use can be checked with a smartphone. Amsterdam is also experimenting with smarter energy networks. The city is creating mini-networks of 1,000 households each to share electricity from solar panels within neighborhoods, distributing the electricity where needed.
The average Internet speed in South Korea is 25.3 Mbps, the highest in the world, according to the State of the Internet report. In urban South Korean homes, 100 Mbps service is standard.
Although China has the largest number of Internet users in the world, its average connection speed is frustratingly slow, and the government wants to change that. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, homes in China should have connection speeds of 100 Mbps by 2017, Caixin reports (Chinese). The average Internet speed in the United States is only 11.5 Mbps.
Have a complaint about Cairo’s Metro system? Just send a text, photo or video message to the Metro authority over WhatsApp as part of a new service intended to improve the quality of service in the Metro system, Mada Masr reports. The new complaint service received more than 2,000 messages on the first day, many of them about either vendors or the ongoing closure of the Sadat Metro stop. The Sadat stop is a major hub underneath Tahrir Square and has been completely closed since August of 2013.
Understanding individual personal space requirements should inform not only our interpersonal interactions but also how we construct cities and buildings, according to this piece by Clarin/Worldcrunch.

Check out our special dossier of articles from Worldcrunch's news partners around the world, translated into English.

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