When the problem is simply too big

Last week I went for the first time to Mexico City to take part in a technical conference at the Universidad PanAmerica (UP). The USA newspapers have been full for many months with stories of murder and kidnapping and so I approached the trip with some apprehension. I am delighted to say that my expectations were enormously exceeded. No doubt there are many dangerous areas in Mexico City, but that is true of many cities around the world. As a photographer I was enchanted with the colours and the light in Mexico City and our hosts at the UP were amazingly well organized, gracious, and generous.

The one big problem we faced however was that of getting around in this city of 20 (25?) million people spread over some 2000 km2. The conference used a 20 seater van or a 50 seater bus on different occasions and we seemed to spend 2-4 hours per day crawling through the congested streets. More independent participants used the MetroBus, a very popular (and overcrowded) Bus Rapid Transit system, or walked. But mostly we suffered in the very nice van.

So it would be wonderful to wave a Smart City wand over this and magically solve these problems. Surely this level of congestion must be having some impact on Mexico City’s further economic development and it definitely has an impact on the quality of life of all economic classes. But transportation is only one of many substantial challenges that the city faces. Despite efforts by the city to prevent it, many (millions?) people live in unauthorised developments where they receive no services, including fresh water and sewage. And this in a city that has had repeated epidemics of Avian Flu.

I can barely imagine what it must be like to be a senior administrator in the city government who is confronted with these totally unmanageable and highly inter-connected problems. So what does GSS have to say about problems of this scale and complexity? Or can it only deal with the easy stuff, such as London?

Your thoughts?

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