Collaborations with future cities

Brasil Observer - May 17 2016
São Paulo- SP- Brasil- 27/06/2015- Ciclovia da Avenida Paulista, que será inagurada amanhã (28/06). A via será interditada a partir das 10:00 horas da manhã, com previsão de liberação a partir das 17:00 horas de domingo. A ciclovia possui 2,7 km de extensão, foi construída no canteiro central, entre a Praça Oswaldo Cruz e a Avenida Angélica. A ciclovia tem 4 metros de largura. A ciclovia foi elevada e fica a uma altura de 18 cm em relação às faixas de rolamento em suas laterais. Na foto, detalhe do semáforo para os ciclistas que utilizarem a via. Foto: Rafael Neddermeyer/ Fotos Públicas
Under Fernando Haddad’s administration São Paulo went through major changes such as an extensive network of cycle lanes (Photo: Rafael Neddermeyer/Fotos Públicas)

(Leia em Português)


Despite the current crisis, Brazilian smart cities sector continues to produce very interesting and innovative ideas


By Guilherme Johnson

The future is urban, without a doubt. For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Cities are drivers of economic growth. They are also at the forefront of tackling international crises that national governments struggle to deal with, such as climate change. With around 85% of their populations living in cities, Brazil and the UK face similar challenges to make their cities a better place to live, work, and foster innovation.

With that in mind, a delegation of 11 UK companies – mainly SMEs – participated in a Mission to Brazil at the beginning of April. The trip was organised in a partnership between UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and Future Cities Catapult – the UK’s smart city centre of excellence. Sir David King – Chair of the Future Cities Catapult and also UK Envoy for Climate Change – was the Mission leader. The Mission received support from the UK’s Prosperity Fund, which aims to promote sustainable global growth. Future Cities Catapult has been present in Brazil since last year, supporting the city of Belo Horizonte to develop smart infrastructure policies, mainly related to urban mobility.

Companies taking part in the mission ranged from a variety of smart city-related sectors such as security, intelligent transport systems, and smart data. Six of the participating companies were UK small and medium enterprises whose participation was supported after they won a competition run by Future Cities Catapult. For most of the participant companies’ representatives, it was their first trip to Brazil.

Mission participants first had the opportunity to visit Curitiba, which is internationally recognised as a progressive, and in many ways, sustainable, city. Curitiba was the first city in the world to implement a Rapid Bus System (BRT) back in 1974 when prioritising public transport was considered as radical. Nowadays, more than 100 cities around the world such as Bogota in Colombia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil followed Curitiba’s example. The city is also known for its environment policies and it was a pioneer in Brazil on waste recycling. Currently, more than 70% of the waste produced in the city is recycled.

In Curitiba, Mission delegates had the opportunity to take part in the Smart Cities Business Americas summit. The event gathered around 900 delegates from the public and private sector from 9 different countries. It was a great moment to exchange information and expertise with the Brazilian smart cities sector, which, despite the current political and economic crisis, continues to produce very interesting and innovative ideas. UK and Brazilian companies met at dedicated one-to-one sessions, and partnerships are being established from it. UK-created expertise such as supporting the police to use technology intelligence on crime prevention was very well regarded by Brazilians. In turn, apps created by Brazilian companies to engage citizens on reporting city infrastructure problems to the local authority were equally seen as very interesting by UK visitors.

During the visit to Curitiba, Future Cities Catapult’s Chair, Sir David King, met with Curitiba’s Mayor Gustavo Fruet to discuss innovative solutions for urban challenges and also with former Curitiba Mayor and internationally recognised urbanist Jaime Lerner. The former Mayor and Sir David agreed that innovation plays a major role in improving the quality of life in cities. Furthermore, behavioural change is also critical and should be promoted alongside courageous public policies such as the introduction of the congestion charge in London, which reduced the number of cars in the city centre. According to Jaime Lerner “cars always ask for more infrastructure”. Jaime Lerner added by saying that “people should be encouraged to live closer to work”. For Sir David King “European cities have the advantage of being built at medieval times where all amenities needed to be reachable at walking distance. Right now there is a renaissance of the idea to live in a compact city”.

After spending 3 days in Curitiba, mission delegates went to São Paulo. Brazil’s first-time visitors were amazed by the magnitude of the city which was confirmed by a rather frightening landing at Sao Paulo’s central airport (Congonhas) amid a very low flight over a forest of giant skyscrapers followed by a very short runway to land. As the largest and richest city in Brazil, Saão Paulo is also known for recently developing new and innovative public policies such as opening its transport data to allow mobile app designers to create applications to improve users’ experience of public transport. As a result of that, citizens may now using their phone to see exactly when their next bus will arrive. This may seem nothing new for London, but in São Paulo people are used to going to the stops without any idea of if and when a bus would come. The amount of time and stress saved by this new technology is enormous.

In São Paulo, the delegation took part in a workshop at the UK’s Consulate General to interact with representatives from the local and state governments and other cities such as Campinas and Sorocaba. With a great number of high tech industries and research centres, Campinas region is often referred as Brazil’s Silicon Valley. With a clear vision to become a reference for innovation and hosting one of the largest technology parks in Brazil, Sorocaba is equally a very open city to test innovative technologies. Mission delegates were again impressed by how advanced and open these Brazilian cities were. There are definitely opportunities to be explored.

An important highlight of the visit to São Paulo was Sir David King’s meeting with City Mayor Fernando Haddad. Under Haddad’s administration the city went through major changes such as the creation of an extensive network of cycle lanes and exclusive bus lanes. These policies have been heavily criticized by the local elite, which has seen individual transport as the only and best socially accepted means of transport for years.

According to Haddad, “in addition to improve public transport and encourage the use of bikes it is also necessary to change the mentality of people who still sees public transport as a mean of transport of the poor and unsuccessful”. The UK has equally gone through a similar situation, as Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have said in 1986: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure”. Currently in the UK, although the car still has fans, in cities such as London have become very expensive to own, which has contributed to a change in mentality.

For the mission companies, the last day was dedicated to meetings with possible local partners and also other government departments from São Paulo City and State. It was also time to return to London after a very intense and productive week. It became clear that Brazil and UK have many similarities on the challenges its cities face to became more sustainable and smart, and much to learn from each other. The Rio Olympics, which will follow the successful London games will also represent an opportunity to strengthen this partnership further.


  • Guilherme Johnson is International Partnerships and Projects Manager at Future Cities Catapult