Why Brazil sees partnerships as key to solving urban problems

Editor's note: To learn more about city-level innovation, be sure to check out VERGE@Greenbuild, coming this fall to San Francisco, November 12-13, 2012.

How can Brazil be a leader for its deployment of renewable energy, boast a strong entrepreneurial culture, yet land near the back of the pack when it comes to innovation in sustainable business and technology?

In a country where a heavy dose of regulation can keep innovation at bay, key drivers to continued advancement in this sphere are public-private partnerships.

That was the conclusion of a group of Brazilian leaders from IBM, GE, World Wildlife Fund, academia and state government that recently converged in São Paulo at GreenBiz Group’s VERGE event to discuss how Brazil can continue to make sustainable advancements through a convergence of technologies including big data, next-generation buildings, cleantech and the smart grid. The event was co-produced with São Paulo-based sustainability firm Report Sustentabilidade.

It’s this integrated use of technology that defines the “smart city” -- a city that, according to IBM Brazil’s Chief Technology Officer Jose Carlos Duarte, “uses information to make insightful decisions” and “leverages its collective intelligence” through analyzing data. Information that’s extracted from the data can predict and better respond to acute events from traffic jams to landslides to floods.

“Real time for a city is too late,” Duarte said at the event. “We need to have information to anticipate…to use technology to predict problems to solve them before they happen.”

Brazil’s second-largest city, Rio de Janeiro, partnered with IBM to engineer a centralized operations hub fed by real-time data  aggregated from over 36 municipal agencies, including its health, water, energy and transportation divisions. The center has  been up and running for almost two years. It was established at the initiative of mayor Eduardo Paes, after about 100 people died from floods triggered by heavy summer rains three years ago, Duarte said.

Having such a system in place will be more useful than ever while Rio preps to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, major events that will create surges in the local population and require precise top-level coordination to boot.

The IBM model is applicable throughout the rest of Brazil -- as well as across the globe in a world that's experiencing a noticeable shift towards urbanized populations. City dwellers made up eighty-one percent of the country’s population in 2010. Duarte said that IBM can replicate Rio’s operations center in cities worldwide.

“It’s something we can package and sell again … we have to do specific adjusts for specific regions,” he said.

Barcelona and New York City are just two of the more than 3,000 cities that host IBM’s Smarter City” intelligent operation center projects via the platform it developed for the Rio data center, Duarte said.

Top: Photo of São Paulo at twilight provided by David Davis via Shutterstock

Right: Leaders from Brazil's public and private sectors converge at VERGE São Paulo on Oct. 16, 2012  (Credit: ESA)

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