Smart cities: what they are and examples

What exactly is the term smart city? Check out the top 10 smart cities in the world.

smart cities
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With 70% of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050 (up from 56% today), the development of smart cities is becoming essential.

What are smart cities?

Smart cities can be defined as interconnected and complex systems that, through the use of new technologies, manage different aspects of daily life, such as public and private transport, the efficient use of water and energy resources and the management of public spaces.

In short, a smart city is a city that uses the potential of ICTs to efficiently and sustainably promote the improvement of the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Characteristics of smart cities

Some of the main features of smart cities revolve around issues such as efficiency, sustainability and security.

In general terms, smart cities can, with the help of technologies such as IoT, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence or Blockchain:

  • Measure traffic in real time. With this measure, traffic can be decongested with the consequent savings in both time and fuel, with a reduction in pollution levels.
  • For public transport, these measurements can also be used to fine-tune timetables and routes.
  • Waste management. Intelligent sensors can measure the fill level of different types of waste collection and thus better plan collection and vehicle routes.
  • Remote management of lighting. On the basis that between 40% and 70% of local authorities’ bills relate to street lighting, the integration of IoT devices can help to manage it more efficiently. The basic pillars on which this issue is based are devices and actuators, connectivity and data processing. 
  • Warnings in the event of inclement weather of a certain magnitude, such as the one experienced in Madrid on 3 September 2023 in the face of the arrival of a DANA.
  • Measurement of pollution in order to be able to act accordingly and thus be able to warn the population and take the appropriate decisions.

Examples of smart cities

According to the Smart City Index 2024 of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), Zurich, Oslo and Canberra lead the world ranking of smart cities this year, in a ranking in which three Swiss cities appear among the top seven.

By continent, Europe accounts for 70% of these top 10 positions: in addition to the three Swiss cities mentioned above, there are three Nordic capitals and London, in a ranking that we have already covered on previous occasions in this blog.

The index offers, according to its own website, a balanced approach to the technological and economic aspects of smart cities along with their human dimensions, such as quality of life, environment and inclusion.

As the organisation itself explains, ‘in this fifth edition, readers can draw on reliable time series (over five years) to make meaningful comparisons between the performance of specific cities over time’.

Smart City Index 2024: top 10 Smart Cities

  • 1. Zurich. Since 2020, the Swiss city has topped this ranking, having come second in the first edition in 2019.
  • 2. Oslo. Like Zurich, the Norwegian capital has not changed its position since 2020, although in this case it is in second place, having moved up one step in that year from third in the first edition.
  • 3. Canberra. As in 2023, the Australian capital completes the podium.
  • 4. Geneva. From eighth place in 2020, Geneva has climbed up to fourth place.
  • 5. Singapore. The first Asian city in the ranking climbs up from seventh place between 2020 and 2023 to fifth place, although in the first edition, that of 2019, it was in first place.
  • 6. Copenhagen. The Danish capital has slipped from third place in 2020 to sixth place now.
  • 7. Lausanne. The third Swiss city in the ranking has also slipped from fourth place in 2021 to seventh place now.
  • 8. London. Despite rising to third place in 2021 from tenth a year earlier, the British capital has slipped back down to eighth place.
  • 9. Helsinki. From fifth place in 2020, the Finnish capital has slipped to ninth.
  • 10. Abu Dhabi. The capital of the United Arab Emirates has climbed from 14th position to reach the top 10.

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