Baguio turns to data science, AI to support smart city objectives

By Aubrey Rose A. Inosante

THE CITY GOVERNMENT of Baguio said it is implementing Project MINERVA (Monitoring of Indicators for Efficient Redevelopment and Value Assessment) to address urban decay and promote smart city development.

“With the project’s ultimate goal of driving predictions and monitoring models for air quality, water quality, urban mobility, and tourism management, we’re able to use technology to advance our goal of becoming a truly smart city by 2027,” Baguio City Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong said during a turnover ceremony on April 15.

Mr. Magalong referenced a 2019 National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) commissioned study on urban carrying capacity, which identified urban decay in the city.

The study warned that if not addressed within 25 years, the effects would be irreversible. Urban decay refers to the city regressing to a lack of employment opportunities, infrastructure, and resources.

In 2014, the World Health Organization rated Baguio’s air, which had 49 micrograms of particulate matter (PM) per cubic meter, as the most polluted air in the Philippines.

Mr. Magalong said Baguio was the first city in the country to commit to reducing its carbon, greenhouse, and gas emissions by as much as 50% by 2050.

“With all these systems, we were able to significantly improve our air quality. Minerva gave us the confidence to continue the pedestrianization program of Session Road,” Mr. Magalong said regarding the criticized closure of a portion of Session Road during Sundays to ease pollution.

In a presentation by Project MINERVA Senior Data Scientist and Chief Data Specialist Christopher P. Monterola, he said almost all of Baguio’s barangays had safe levels of PM 2.5 in 2023.

The LGU (local government unit) can forecast the impact of pollution for up to nine days using cross-convergent mapping.

Mr. Monterola noted that the tourism index score of Baguio, the summer capital of the country, is 4.0, higher than the score of the Philippines, which is 3.7.

Baguio has a daytime population of 380,000, with 600,000 tourists and workers, totaling up to 1.2 million, he said.

Mr. Monterola also said that air quality is compromised every time there is a spike in events and holidays but does not affect traffic, according to the nighttime imagery from the satellite used in the daily resolution of the project’s urban carrying capacity in 2023.

Meanwhile, Mr. Magalong acknowledged the system’s failure to detect the January diarrhea outbreak, attributing it to incorrectly installed sensors.

“University of the Philippines (UP), together with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), was able to develop an improved sensor. We want to improve the air quality, the water quality so that our diarrhea outbreak will not happen again,” he said on the focus of Project MINERVA pending Phase two.

These are gathered through 588 sensors handled and attached to taxis, jeepneys, and volunteers spread across the city.

The Project Minerva utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) and data science. One implementation is its ability to detect parking violators, with cases ranging from 980 to 1050 on a daily basis.

“The inclusion of six local government units from the Cordillera Administrative Region, Lagayan in Abra, Santa Marcela in Apayao, Atok in Benguet, Tabuk in Calinca, Alfonso Lista in Ifugao, and Bapu in Mountain Province underscores our commitment of developing at least one pilot smart and sustainable community per province,” Department of Science and Technology (DoST) Secretary Renato U. Solidum, Jr. said.

Mr. Solidum said the biometric-secured command center will be monitored and operated by city administrators and data scientists, focusing on various aspects of the city such as traffic patterns, mobility, environmental data, emergency response, and rescue efforts.

The P25-million project was funded by the DoST Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technologies Research and Development and developed by the Asian Institute of Management.