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Ecology Updated: 16 Feb 2016

Smart cities in Latin America: sustainability and progress together

Sustainable cities are those that, through using their own resources, are able to maintain considerable progress in all their discharges by minimizing the impact it may have on the environment. Cities such as Santiago de Chile, Montevideo and Bogota have launched initiatives in this direction.

One of the biggest controversies regarding pollution and the progress of a city is transport. Therefore, cities such as Santiago de Chile or Montevideo have created different projects to promote cleaner transport and, therefore, improve not only air quality but also the flow of vehicles in the capital.

In Chile, a country with more than 18 million people, it was estimated that there were more than four million vehicles at the end of 2015. This represents an increase of 330% over the past 25 years with an average of 300,000 new cars each year. Initiatives such as that popularly known by the name of Santiago Respira intend to promote the use of cycling with the construction of 300 kilometers of cycle lanes. In fact, an investment of 2,063 million Chilean pesos (just over 2.68 million euros) will be made in this project during 2016, building 13 new kilometers and benefiting 257,000 inhabitants in the Chilean capital. Similar projects were started in Bogota in 1974, where 121 kilometers of streets are cut off to traffic every Sunday of the year and several public holidays to promote cycling.

Picture of cycle lanes santiago de chile cycling

Another major initiative on urban sustainability and means of transport is the Bogota TransMilenio, also present in other Latin American cities like Santiago de Chile (Transantiago), the macrobus in Guadalajara, Mexico, or BusCaracas in the Venezuelan capital, among others. This is a mass transport system that is nearly 18 years old and is considered the largest in the world within the category of Rapid Transit Bus (although the original was the Integrated Transport Network in Curitiba, Brazil). The TransMilenio consists of large buses that stop at exclusive and fixed stations, which ensures that more people can be transported in less time. It is also really cheap; the highest price is 1,800 pesos (about 50 cents) at any time slot.

Picture of Transmilenio Bogota colombia mass public transport

Elsewhere, such as Puebla (Mexico), they have managed to monetize the waste we produce thanks to the so-called ‘Eco wallet’. This program consists of depositing our waste in the collection center in which it is weighed and we receive a proportional amount of money to the marked weight. This eco money, called “pecos”, is redeemable at numerous affiliated establishments. With this project 12,500 trees, 7,500 barrels of oil and 60,000 cubic meters of water have already been saved, and 14,600 tons of CO2 has avoided being emitted.

Also in Mexico, although in this case in the country's capital, the Green Plan has been developed where the local government wants to invest 1 billion dollars in 26 strategies and 113 specific actions over the next 15 years to improve the sustainability of the City of Mexico. Some measures include restoring soil conservation, improving public spaces and controlling atmospheric pollutants. Up to 21 departments or secretariats, including that of Tourism, Health and Finance, have been involved in this program.