There is a project that could see the town of Arima being turned into a smart city with the use of 5G technology, urban renewal and improved opportunity for burgesses of the borough.
Speaking at a recent event to discuss the initiative, IDB country representative for T&T Carina Cockburn explained that “Connected Arima” is an urban regeneration objective to create a smart community where digital technologies are used optimally to meet the needs of citizens and businesses.
This includes enhanced digital connectivity in the economy, governance, environmental management, and social interactions, among other spheres of life.
She noted, technology will be a critical enabler for the growth and development of these sectors as part of “Connected Arima” and serve as a model for other areas of T&T.
Cockburn further explained that it is expected to be financed by the existing Urban Upgrading and Revitalisation Programme being executed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
A trust fund financed by the Republic of Korea is also expected to contribute to preparatory work for the initiative.
“Connected Arima is based upon the smart city concept where technology is typically used to improve operational efficiency, share information with the public and provide a better quality of government service and citizen welfare,” Cockburn said.
The main goal of a smart city, she added, is to optimise city functions and promote economic growth while also improving the quality of life for citizens by using smart technologies and data analysis.
According to Cockburn, in Latin America and the Caribbean, Santiago, Chile was the leading smart city based on 2019 data while Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic was the leading smart city in the Caribbean.
“But this is not just about being smart, the idea is that the Connected Arima project will leverage technology as part of a broader urban regeneration and revitalisation effort,” she explained.
Cockburn also noted that studies have shown that such efforts yield significant benefits ranging from 2.5 to 7.9 times the investment made.
She also advised that the transformation of Arima cannot be done without its citizens including the First Peoples, and even those who will visit for leisure and to do business.
The IDB’s Vision 2025 promotes sustainable and inclusive growth through the reactivation of the productive sector, the promotion of social development, and the strengthening of good governance and institutions.
One of the pillars, Cockburn added, is digital transformation, which supports building digital economies and productivity, hence Connected Arima falls squarely within this focus.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Planning and Development, Deputy Permanent Secretary Marie Hinds said Connected Arima is expected to be a pilot for a broader smart city and community connectivity agenda being planned by the Government.
a smart city
Robin Rajack, IDB senior sector specialist, Housing and Urban Development, who spoke to the Sunday Business Guardian from Barbados explained that Connected Arima is part of a US$50 million ($338 million) loan to improve the living conditions of low-income households and invest in urban spaces in T&T.
“It is a six-year loan but about US$15.5 million of the $50 million is assigned for urban regeneration,” Rajack further explained, adding that the money will also be spent on multiple projects not just on Arima.
He also emphasised that there’s no revival without economic activity, arguing that many other things follow when this happens.
Additionally, Rajack said, there needs to be more dedicated consultations with the business and indigenous communities and the users of public transportation, to enable the borough to develop into a thriving hub for business and tourism.
“Even the use of technology by business is a big factor to understand to what extent are they using electronic payment, etc” Rajack added.
The other part of Connected Arima entails the preparatory phase which would examine its deficits and what are needed to bridge those gaps in the most feasible and cost effective ways including addressing technological and physical infrastructure needs, he added.
Rajack said the IDB is hoping by the end of the year the diagnostic studies would be completed as well as a reasonable draft of the designs for the infrastructure. Following which there could be the bidding process for work.
“As funding becomes more materialised, we’ll know for sure if there’s any shift in that timeline.
“Typically, we’ll hire consulting firms, local or international to come up with some of the assessments and the designs,” Rajack said.
While it is not yet determined how much Arima’s revitalisation effort will cost in total, Rajack said there might also be private sector and NGO investments.
He also noted that the Ministry of Digital Transformation is also a key partner as developing a smart city entails efficient and effectively connectivity.
“At the heart of the urban regeneration approach is a digital transformation element. It’s not the entirety of it.
“The overall objective is urban regeneration, which is really a people centred development but technology plays a key role. And in all likelihood, 5G connectivity will be part of that,” Rajack added.
As part of the preliminary scoping exercise for the project a survey was conducted in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the Arima Borough Corporation between December 2021 and January 2022 . Over 1,100 people completed the survey with about one third coming from Arima.
According to its findings, the area has good potential to become more vibrant with only one per cent of those from Arima saying it has little to offer and cannot realistically become vibrant again.
It also found that people mostly visit Arima to shop or do business, with almost half (49 per cent ) choosing one of these two options as their primary reason for visiting the borough.
Further, most respondents picked the same general area as their preferred choice to begin urban regeneration.
According to the survey a combined 63 per cent of respondents indicated their top choice for redevelopment in Arima as the market and bus terminal area with 37 per cent opting for the velodrome.
Additionally, the survey found that more culinary, cultural and recreational activities are strongly desired.
“A food court/ food-truck area was the most popular choice followed by more cultural and heritage activities. Each was chosen by about one third of all respondents. Parking and open public spaces were also very popular,” the survey indicated.
Free public WiFi, the survey also noted would be a major draw to the area as 54 per cent of respondents chose that.
When is a city
According to Deloitte, a city is smart when it invests in economic growth, such as human and social capital, infrastructure and technology, in sustainability and in a high quality of life.
The key to developing smart cities is combining the changing human behaviour with the use of data and innovative technology—where the citizen always stays at the centre. Furthermore, a successful smart city works on solutions with an ecosystem that create value at multiple levels for different stakeholders. The city looks from a public, private, and individual perspective and should actively try to find solutions to societal, business, economic, and research issues.