City Readiness Hub: Spotlight on San Miguel de Allende

One of the distinctive features of our Smart Cities Weeks is that the events are largely about bringing cities together to share knowledge, helping them to accelerate their smart cities efforts. They provide a giant shortcut, allowing you to borrow winning ideas from people who have been there and done that.

We recently introduced a new feature at Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley: the City Readiness Hub. In each of these unique sessions, we paired two cities that are at different stages of their journey. Each of these sessions was like a conversation between friends, one mentoring the other.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to share highlights from each of these sessions. Today, we begin with San Miguel de Allende, a nearly 500-year-old city in Mexico that’s looking to smart cities solutions to help it cope with rapidly expanding tourism while preserving its rich history. Its mentor was Las Vegas. Watch highlights below.

Want to participate in a future City Readiness Hub? A great way is to participate in our Readiness Challenge. Step one: Go to our website and create an account if you don’t have one already, making sure you add the Readiness Challenge as an interest. — Kevin Ebi

San Miguel de Allende has a rich 475-year-old history in Mexico’s central highlands — and now hordes of tourists have discovered it. Some two million visitors came last year, nearly double the number from just two years earlier.

“We’re a very old town,” said Zonia Torres, the city’s economic and tourism director, “so we have a lot of strain.”

One constraint: San Miguel de Allende is a World Heritage Site. It can’t just expand roads and tear down buildings. It has to preserve its history. And the city also really has two different groups of people to serve: its residents and its visitors.

Lessons from Las Vegas
While it’s a much younger city, Las Vegas knows a lot about delivering a great experience for visitors. The city, a winner of a 2018 Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge grant, shared some advice.

Don Jacobson, Las Vegas’ business partner for innovation, says even though his city is young, it’s had its own struggle with cars. Ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber have helped quickly add transportation capacity, taking pressure off taxis. Today, more people are vacationing in Las Vegas, although fewer are arriving by car.

He says when developing your smart cities roadmap, the first step is to take inventory of the resources that are available to you. Then you can use your guiding principles to figure out how to best deploy them to deliver meaningful results.

Early progress in San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel del Allende is already making progress. It discovered 70% of its street parking is taken up by people who leave their cars in the spot all day. Parking meters are on way.

In terms of new construction, it’s building parking facilities outside the historic city core and will leverage transit to get people to where they want to go. It already offers free Wi-Fi for visitors throughout downtown. An app will help guide people.

Civic engagement, civic engagement, civic engagement
Jacobson said in any city, it’s critically important to listen to the public. Las Vegas allows people to interact with the city on any platform they choose and often replies within the hour.

“Civic engagement is not a project,” he said. “It doesn’t follow election cycles, or at least it shouldn’t. It doesn’t have a beginning point and an end point. It is 24/7.”