Japan’s intelligent cities are an example for their Brazilian counterparts

Leitura de 6min

Japanese technology and innovation can contribute to the development of more sustainable and intelligent cities.

Innovation and sustainability are concepts now firmly incorporated into the strategies of companies operating in the most varied sectors of the economy. Their importance, however, has grown in recent years to the point where innovation and sustainability are two fundamental questions for the future growth of the world’s major metropolitan regions. This means that the subject of smart cities has become a matter of current debate. Going forward, how will it be possible to manage, with maximum efficiency and quality of life, places that are inhabited by millions of people?

Recent data from the World Bank give an idea of the size of the problem. They show that the number of people living in cities has increased significantly, by an average of 65.7 million more every year. Forecasts by the United Nations (UN) suggest that through the next 30 years, cities will add another two billion people, growing from the current 3.9 billion to about six billion people. Investments and the search for more effective alternatives are related not just to transportation but to security, housing, energy, sanitation and health, among others. It all adds up to a challenge for governments, but an opportunity for business. What’s more, the major centers of technology have come to the fore in this field. In Brazil, several projects are leaving the drawing board and beginning to be put into practice.

One example of this is the Yellow Line of the São Paulo Metro (subway system), which has a driverless fleet. This enables remote operation of trains and reduces platform waiting times. In 2010, Rio de Janeiro inaugurated the Rio Operations Center – a data facility that uses 400 cameras to monitor the city. Something similar was introduced in Porto Alegre. Technologies such as these have been inspired by intelligent systems that are now found in major world cities like New York and the principal European centers.

Japan, a benchmark for global technology, is also a leader in the design of smart cities. Tokyo is one of the cities to have benefitted most from the modern systems that the country has developed. And despite the climatic and demographic differences, Brazil has much to learn from Japan in this regard. Architect Emerson Kodama, who is projects coordinator within JLL’s project management and development area, is well versed in this subject. After winning a scholarship financed by the Japanese government to study construction technology at the University of Chiba in Chiba City – part of metropolitan Tokyo – between 1999 and 2001, Kodama returned to Japan in 2008 to conduct research into sustainable buildings at the University of Tokyo.

The city is one of the most populous in the world, and it is fully optimized. In addition to the efficient transportation system and dynamic spaces, Tokyo is a place with cutting edge technology to deal with difficult situations,” he said.

What’s more, Kodama said, Japan was already demonstrating its vocation for sustainability at the start of 2000, by implementing recycling practices. And by 2008, this concept was widespread and much improved. “I noticed significant technological progress in the systems to protect against earthquakes. Buildings now have shock-absorbing systems that can withstand major quakes. And with respect to sustainability, the air conditioning ducts, for example, use alternative materials such as cardboard,” he said, adding that everything is now developed with the aim of minimizing environmental impacts.

Another interesting point Kodama noticed is that underground buildings are very common in the metropolis. Aware of the need to reduce power consumption, the city has adopted systems to capture and make use of sunlight. And with an eye for detail, the Japanese also showed that sustainability should join forces with good neighborliness and hospitality. During the 2002 FIFA World Cup, all road signs and tourist attractions were carefully signposted in English, so facilitating the traffic of both the local population and tourists.

This is something that Brazil could take as a reference. Another, I think, is Japanese parks. Because there aren’t many communal areas in Tokyo, these places are very clean and well kept. It’s something that involves creating popular awareness, and that attracts tourists every year,” Kodama said.

Specifically with regard to traffic, which is one of the main bottlenecks in metropolitan São Paulo, Kodama points out that efficient, functional public transportation significantly reduces private car use in Japan “Not only is there an efficient and modern system – which avoids the risk of breakdowns during the journey – but there’s also a commitment to and respect for schedules. So if the user has been told that his or her train will arrive at 17h04, there won’t be a single minute’s delay. This can certainly be considered an example of an intelligent city that respects its citizens,” Kodama said.