Advanced facial recognition surveillance systems, drones buzzing overhead, and self-driving cars racing down neon-lit roads are no longer the stuff of science fiction movies. The smart city has arrived. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities around the world are already active and rapidly growing. But, what is a smart city?
Smart cities use ICT technologies to fuel smarter and more sustainable development practices, such as transportation networks, water supply, and heating, as well as promoting safer urban spaces, more interactive city administrations, and much more. We’re taking a look at the top 10 smartest cities worldwide to take a look at how the intersection between cutting-edge technology and urban planning is helping populations around the world.
Number 10: Chicago
With one of the world’s busiest airports, Chicago is a hub for connectivity and the city's plans for thinking big don’t stop there. The US’ third-largest city is using a variety of smart city technologies and strategies to continue their growth and development.
Its Open Data portal plans to address and overcome the digital divide, which has been heightened by the global COVID-19 pandemic, and its ‘Array of Things’ urban sensing network aims to address the city’s issues with poor air quality, congestion, climate change and pollution.
Population: 2.6mn (approx.)
Number 9: Boston
Boston was one of the first cities to experiment with smart programmes. The city’s long term plan is to create “participatory urbanism” centering on the use of mobile apps to help its population receive quick and easy information regarding things like parking availability, and allow them to more easily communicate with each other, as well as report city-wide issues and track public transport performance. Boston’s Innovation District was opened at its seaport in 2010 and its goal is to become the catalyst for further innovation in the city.
Population: 695,000 (approx.)
Number 8: Barcelona
As Spain’s second-largest city, Barcelona has often been overshadowed by Madrid. However, the Catalonian city has consistently been praised for its efforts to embrace and implement smart city technologies. In 2011, the city hosted the first ever ‘Smart City Expo and World Congress’. Since then, Barcelona has implemented various smart city innovations, such as LED light poles to monitor traffic and congestion, pedestrian activity, air quality and noise pollution. The streets are also lined with smart bins which work by vacuuming waste into underground storage tanks in a bid to reduce the need for excessive collection trucks and eliminate bad odours.
Population: 5.6mn (approx.)
Number 7: Copenhagen
Copenhagen is already famous for its strong focus on sustainability through the city’s environmental policies, but it is now becoming more widely known as one of the smartest cities in the world. In 2017, the Copenhagen Solutions Lab received an award for its system which monitors air quality, energy consumption, traffic, and waste management. As well as having this system, which also connects traffic lights, electric vehicle charging points and smart metering to a single platform in order to help deliver a more efficient automotive experience and delivery services, the city is also collaborating with The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop its intelligent bike system.
Population: 1.3mn (approx.)
Number 6: Hong Kong
In 2017, more than 70 smart city initiatives were launched by the government of Hong Kong, and in 2019, there was another huge push by the government to further accelerate the development of these smart city programs. This push was heavily focused on the development of ‘smart governments’ and ‘smart economies’. Not only has Hong Kong fitted its streets with smart lamp posts embedded with sensors, it has gone one step further and developed them for future 5G compatibility. You can also find smart city, mobile-friendly dashboards, which show the users images, maps and information relating to precipitation, temperature and parking availability in real time.
Population: 7.5 million (approx.)
Number 5: London
The city of London has set up a number of smart city initiatives over the past few years. For example, the Civic Innovation Challenge is an incubator platform to help startups develop solutions to the growing amount of urban issues experienced throughout the city. Another example is the Connect London program, which aims to provide 5G connectivity and fibre-optic coverage throughout the whole city. The iconic London lamp posts are also to be fitted with sensors and electric vehicle charging points.
Population: 9.4mn (approx.)
Number 4: Dubai
Dubai recently went through a seven year plan to digitally transform all government and economic services, including communications, urban planning, transportation and many more. Most of these services are now digitised and accessible to citizens through the DubaiNow app. AI is being utilised in the transportation sector and has helped significantly reduce fatigue related traffic collisions. Automation has been leveraged by the police, and the city already has three autonomous police stations.
Population: 2.9mn (approx.)
Number 3: Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s smart city initiative began in 2009 and promoted over 170 different projects. Transportation and traffic data is shared with developers, who can use the data to create mapping apps which can then be integrated into the city’s transportation system. Automation has also been utilised in Amsterdam in the form of delivery boats, called ‘roboats’. It’s not just delivery vehicles that have taken to the water; Amsterdam also has floating villages which have helped overcome overcrowding and promote a sustainable alternative to further construction inland.
Population: 1.1mn (approx.)
Number 2: Singapore
Singapore is also considered one of the smartest cities in the world. With an increasingly ageing population, the government is focusing on digital technologies and initiatives to raise productivity in the country's advanced economy. Smart technologies are already integrated throughout the country’s housing and, by 2022, the government's plan is to have energy-efficient lighting on all public roads, and solar panels on the rooftops of at least 6,000 buildings.
Population: 5.9mn (approx.)
Number 1: New York City
New York City launched a smart city pilot program which placed hundreds of smart sensors and emerging technologies throughout different districts in 2020. The collected data allowed the city to manage services such as waste management and collection more efficiently. Online charging stations are replacing phone booths to help promote and develop connectivity for the population. Various other smart technology initiatives include:
- The NYCx Challenges initiative from the NYC Mayor's Office of the Chief Technology officer encourages technology professionals and entrepreneurs to propose ideas to solve urban problems.
- LinkNYC provides free WiFi, calls, charging stations and a tablet to citizens, enabling them to access city services.
- The Midtown in Motion initiative from The New York City Department of Transportation helps manage congestion and is reported to have improved travel times in Midtown by 10%.
- Cyber NYC is an investment by the city to help take control of cybersecurity. The initiative is aimed at growing the city’s cybersecurity workforce as well as helping businesses create safe networks and drive innovation.
Population: 8.6mn (approx.)