Citizens of Medellín among the most accepting of smart city technology in Latin America

22 June 2018 4 min. read

The city of Medellín in Colombia may not be at the forefront of smart city technology adoption. The city lags behind its Latin peers when it comes to the deployment of overall applications of smart city technologies and has a below average level of infrastructure to facilitate the transition. But what Medellín lacks in established digital infrastructure, it makes up for in digital citizen experience. 

Medellín has the highest level of public adoption in Latin America, according to a new study done by McKinsey & Company. Citizen experience was named as one of three drivers for smart city progress in the consulting firm’s article ‘Smart Cities: Digital Solutions for a More Livable Future”, and is the combination of three attitudes towards smart city transition; awareness, usage and satisfaction. The other two drivers are a city’s technology base, and the applications which it has introduced.

The consulting firm ranks Latin cities including Medellín, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and São Paulo in their smart city journey. Whilst the firm states that the list is not exhaustive, the assessment is aimed at showing a full sweep of activity globally in terms of smart city practices and implications to spur on momentum in the field. 

Each city on the list has shown great interest in promoting or adopting smart city technology and are independently ambitious in this goal. For instance; Mexico City has been previously ranked as the Latin city with the greatest potential for smart city adoption and Medellín has recently opened the doors of its Ruta N tech complex in aspiration of building on smart city technology.  

In Latin America, the percentage of people living in urban areas is set to rise dramatically and by 2050 approximately 90% of Latin citizens will live in cities. This number is significantly higher than the global average and is set to cause a number of management, planning, governance, security and mobility issues. Although these challenges cannot be dealt with by technology alone, Latin cities can be optimised by smart city technologies.

Citizens of Medellín are some of the most accepting of smart city technology in Latin America

Globally, the report states that cities in Europe, North America, China, and East Asia have the most developed technology bases, while those in Latin America, Africa, and India lag behind, particularly in installing the sensor layer. As the technology base is the most capital-intensive element of smart city adoption, high-income cities are leading the way. 

According to McKinsey, Asian cities are champions when it comes to public adoption of smart city technologies. Digitally native and open to change, Beijing and Shanghai top the list. “Given the shift toward more people-centric smart cities, it is important to take stock of how residents feel about the technologies already at work in their environment.”

A score out of 30 was given to each city analyzed and comprised of three elements including awareness, usage and satisfaction in regards to the smart city applications implemented in their cities. In Latin America, Medellín topped this list with a score of 17.8, followed closely by Santiago de Chile (17.3) and Mexico City (15.9). 

Medellín scored roughly the same for smart city public adoption and citizen experiences as New York City and digital natives Hong Kong and Singapore. Colombian smart-city rival and big brother Bogotá scored 15.5 which is on par with Cape Town and Barcelona, and bringing up the rear in Latin America was São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

The attitudes towards the technology and applications already available, even though less encompassing than elsewhere, ranked higher in Medellín than anywhere in Europe, where Moscow topped the list at 16.8 points. This indicates that while there may be a correlation between cost heavy digital roll-out and applications available, attitudes towards smart cities are not determined by high or low income.

Public adoption of smart city technologies sets a base for further technological investment as well as application roll-out. The results are based on a survey by McKinsey which asked respondents about their interactions and connections with smart city technologies, with the report concluding that “positive adoption and awareness appear correlated with having a young population.”

“While it is impossible to generalize about age, it seems that a greater share of the young population not only accepts a more digital way of doing things but expects it—and demands a seamless experience. Overall, people are most aware of and most likely to have used mobility applications, while applications related to utilities have less visibility.”