In the world today, more than half of people live in urban centers and the UN projects that number will grow to 68 percent by the middle of the century. On top of this, political, environmental, and social pressures are redefining how cities are designed and managed.
Innovative city leaders worldwide are investing trillions of dollars into intelligent solutions to these pressures. In this article, we take a detailed look at some of the most advanced applications of smart city technologies and their impact on citizens' quality of life.
Which Smart City Index will be used for comparison?
We recently answered the question What is a smart city? in more detail, but in this article, we will use the European Commission's definition of a smart city as 'a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its inhabitants and business'.
We have also investigated several smart city indices to discuss each of their relative strengths and weaknesses. In this article, we will focus on the IESE Cities in Motion Index (2019). The index studied 174 cities graded according to their performance in the nine dimensions of smart and sustainable cities.
These dimensions were:
- Human Capital
- Social Cohesion
- The Environment
- Mobility & Transportation
- Urban Planning
- International Projection
London: rebuilt from the internet up
London came out on top as the 'smartest city' - having achieved the highest ranking across the nine dimensions in the study. London is home to more software developers than any other city in Europe. This wealth of talent and thirst for innovation has spilled over into the urban planning and city management space, with no shortage of impressive companies developing smart technology (such as artificial intelligence) to improve public services in the capital.
5G connectivity has been available since 2019 throughout the city, and you can connect your mobile device to any number of open-access Wi-Fi points in public spaces.
As part of the Mayor's Smarter London Together plan, work is underway to get 4G signal into the deepest stretches of the Underground metro infrastructure too.
Other smart city solutions in this great city include:
- 85 data centers,
- intelligent mobility solutions at Heathrow airport,
- intelligent road network systems to alleviate traffic congestion,
- a smart city initiative to reuse waste heat from underground chambers.
New York: connected vehicles + city mobility
New York leads all smart cities worldwide in the dimensions of economy, urban planning, mobility, and transportation. The USA's strength in autonomous vehicle and electric vehicle research is reflected in the vision for its capital city. New York already has an Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan, and in April 2021, the state passed legislation that will ensure all cars manufactured after 2035 will be 100% electric.
Recently, the city started a program that places smart sensors in hundreds of business districts. The city has also incorporated an Automated Meter Reading system, which helps to monitor water consumption and smart waste bins that follows the waste level. The city of New York works in collaboration with its citizens to promote equal access to free Wi-Fi and clean water.
Paris: tackling air pollution with pedal power
This European city ranks third place on this list of global smart cities primarily to attain sustainable means of transportation. The city has incorporated the Grand Paris Express, which is expected to run for 204 kilometers of automated metro lines.
It also introduced about 14,000 bikes into the community to reduce congestion and pollution. Little wonder it comes second in the mobility and transportation dimension. The city plans that in the next three decades, its fleet of cars will be fully electric.
Tokyo: urban development for social justice
Tokyo is the highest-ranking city in the continent of Asia. As the hosts of the 2020 Olympic Games (rescheduled to 2021 due to the pandemic), it plans to before the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, the city intended to use face recognition technology to beef up security. Nonetheless, Tokyo continues to set the pace in environmental policies. The city has recently added to its smart city capabilities using technology to resolve social issues.
Reykjavik: energy innovators
Next is a leader in the aspect of environmental innovation, Reykjavik. It was the first to implement total dependency on renewable energy with an energy company that harnesses geothermal energy to power millions of homes. Through its Reykjavik Fibre Network, city officials have increased connectivity and internet speeds to 500 megabits per second. Reykjavik has also implemented a smart city application that optimizes bus routes and making buses more attractive to its citizens.
Copenhagen: clean energy leaders
Another city that has earned a place amongst the smart cities of the world is Copenhagen. In 2015, the World Bank published a seminal white paper on building smart cities, which included a recommendation for the development of 'Urban Innovation Labs.'
Copenhagen then introduced their own incubator for smart city solutions, the Copenhagen Solutions Lab, which was awarded for creating an application that tracks air quality, waste management, and traffic. The city ranked second in the index for its progressive environmental and active transport policies (read more about that in our Copenhagen cycling article.
Berlin: smart infrastructure pioneers
Over the years, this German city remains one of the major smart cities in the world. Berlin is most notable for its performance under the mobility and transportation dimensions, although it has some shortcomings in its economy. In April 2015, the Berlin Senate approved the Smart City Berlin Strategy. By 2050, this strategy aims to achieve climate neutrality and resource efficiency. Berlin takes its citizen's benefits seriously and has used technology to facilitate climate protection and conserve resources while driving sustainability.
Amsterdam: ditch your vehicle, get a bike
The international projection dimension happens to be Amsterdam's strongest point, which comes as no surprise considering that it is a tourist haven. The city has committed to becoming the first zero-emission smart city in the world by 2025, and more than 90% of its citizens are cyclists. Despite falling five places from the 2019 rankings, the city retains top positions in multiple dimensions.
Singapore: traffic control though technology
Singapore is navigating the world of smart city development through its Smart Nation initiative launched in 2014. Singapore is a well-known pioneer in the space, having rolled out many advanced technology solutions, including this pilot study for driverless taxis as early as 2016!
Ranking high in technology adaptation, Singapore has systems that determine when a person is littering the city or when a person is smoking in "no-smoking" zones. They also use this to monitor vehicle movement, traffic, and crowd density in real-time. Singapore's Parking Guidance System gives information on parking space availability, earning it its place as one of the prominent smart cities of the world.
Hong Kong: business hub in the heart of Asia
Scoring highest in the technology dimension, Hong Kong has remained in top position as one of the world's smartest cities. In 2019, the city launched its Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint initiative. This program aimed to utilize technology and innovation towards making Hong Kong one of the world's smartest cities. The city is known for its technology-friendliness and its use of smart infrastructure to solve urban challenges.
It should be noted that this article provides a shallow review of ten of the leading smart cities in the world. However, the scene is changing rapidly, cities are investing heavily, and new technologies are being developed every day.
Smart city solution development can seem slower than traditional technology solutions because of the layers of complexity involved in their development. From regulation to privacy to engaging a diverse group of stakeholders, these unique challenges are what makes smart cities so exciting.