Urban Planning Replicability – a case for Kaizen

By Henry Motte-Munoz

In the past few classes, we have focused on fascinating attempts to create cities where none existed before — be they tens of kilometers away (KAEC) or a present/future suburb (Phung My Hung in Vietnam). The idea is that existing cities cannot cope with the waves of rural emigration in Emerging Markets. I would argue that renewal of existing Tier 2 cities across these nations would be a more cost-effective, natural way of absorbing the influx. And for these cities, there is no need to rely on “new eco-city” findings — examples abound of successful transformations, including Medellin in Colombia and Curitiba in Brazil. To take a leaf from the Toyota Production Method, Kaizen, or continuous improvement, can radically improve the quality of life and population absorption capacity of a city.

Medellin has just been named the world’s most innovative city by the Urban Land Institute. It beat Tel Aviv and New York, on the account of its social mobility, efficient public transport system and investment in civic spaces, art galleries and libraries. Instead of spending billions trying to replan its poor neighborhouds or clear them, it built a giant escalator and a cable car for its residents to commute to the city centre to their jobs. The transformation did not happen overnight, nor is it complete, but it has allowed the city, once a byword for drug cartels, to cope with a doubling of its population since 1985 to ~3m.

Exhibit 1: Giant Escalator through low-income neighborhoods of Medellin, Colombia

Continue reading


Connectivity is Needed in Smart Cities

By Michael Landerer

In our class on Living PlanIT when we dove into what the actually characteristics of a smart city were, I was amazed by the omission of “connectivity”.    Further, in looking at definitions of “smart cities” defining them as cities that exhibit smart economy, smart mobility, smart environment, smart people, smart living, and smart governance, smart connectivity is hardly mentioned. [1]

Based on the way people live their modern lives, the first thing that I thought would be a characteristic of a smart city would be connectivity.  Connectivity at a basic level could consist of universal WiFi and superior mobile coverage.   Beyond municipal Wifi smart connectivity can include a wide array of features greatly enriching the lives of residents.

A great model for such connectivity is right under our noses, Harvard University.  Not only is the Harvard Campus wired, but Harvard has the ability to communicate easily with all of its students.  It is able to email students about upcoming events or contact them in the case of service interruptions or a power outage.

Related to connectivity, there are various other aspects of HBS that could be integrated into a small to mid-sized urban environment that could be greatly beneficial to citizens.   At HBS, we have Classcards that allow us to see who our peers are and connect with them.   Security concerns aside, a level of transparency into who the other residents of a city are could have the potential to enrich the lives of its residents.  It could allow people to identify relevant business contacts or find people who share an alma mater.

The Harvard Mobile Application also provides numerous tools that could be transferred to cities.  Real time transit updates and tracking, listing of community events, listing of hours of operations for various facilities, and providing news are all things city apps could do.

How have cities succeeded in being connected?  Various cities have made efforts in terms of connectivity.  Beyond municipal WiFi networks, a few cities stand out.  New York City’s Big App contest has provided city data to citizens in a contest to create apps that have the potential to improve city lives.[2]  Xinjiang, China, a remote oil town has made considerable connectivity strides.  People have access to considerable transit and traffic application providing exact arrival times of transit and video from city traffic cameras.  Homes are equipped with panic buttons for emergency response.  The government even knows real time employment information for citizens allowing quick response to economic needs.[3]

There are undoubtedly numerous aspects that can make a city “smart”.   To me however, a city cannot be smart unless it is connected.  A connected city runs intelligently and enriches the lives of its residents.


[1] Fast Company, The Top 10 Smartest Cities in North America http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680967/the-top-10-smartest-cities-in-north-america#1

[2] Fast Company, The Top 10 Smartest Cities in North America http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680967/the-top-10-smartest-cities-in-north-america#1

[3] Freshome, 10 Most Impressive Smart Cities On Earth http://freshome.com/2013/02/07/10-most-impressive-smart-cities-on-earth/