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Smart Cities – Lessons from Smart City Developments around the World

09 May 2018

Smart Cities elicit images of skyscrapers, satellite dishes and high tech gadgetry coupled with large scale broadband infrastructure, wireless networks and mobile devices. But a Smart City is much more than just technological networks; it is actually how a city uses new technologies for the benefit of its citizens and becomes more efficient in the process.

It’s clear that to be successful it has to be somewhere people want to live. This article takes a look around the world for lessons in creating successful smart cities. Asia has its fair share of cities considered to be Smart Cities with Singapore ranking highly. Elsewhere, examples include Barcelona, Oslo, San Francisco, Amsterdam and London. Cities become Smart Cities by incorporating smart technologies into transport infrastructure, water systems, power supplies and government services. One thing is clear; the interplay between data and how a city becomes ‘Smart’ is key.

Barcelona is often held out as an example of a Smart City that innovates progressively, using new technologies to bridge the gap between the city and its citizens. The city has integrated each innovation seamlessly, with the focus on improving the mobility of its citizens, encouraging communication and improving quality of life, the environment and the economy. The “lessons learned” from Barcelona are (1) identify areas for improvement that require innovation and prioritise them; (2) plan ahead; (3) involve citizens in the process; (4) understand the local area; and (5) work with local companies.

In 2016 Amsterdam won Europe’s Capital of Innovation Award and has become known as a model for what it takes to become a Smart City. Amsterdam’s journey began in 2009 and the key lessons that other cities on the path to Smart City innovation can take away from it are: (1) private sector data is critical to Smart City development and innovation; (2) a central point of coordination is required for the data and a chief technological officer should be appointed; (3) realistic timetables for delivery of projects are crucial to avoid over promising and under-delivering; (4) take an inventory of your existing data-sets; (5) experiment in pilot projects; and (6) encourage citizen input.

Barcelona and Amsterdam have developed and progressed their Smart City features relatively successfully but this hasn’t been the case for all. Songdo in South Korea is essentially a purpose built Smart City. Songdo is within 25 miles of Seoul and is considered to be the world’s first Smart City built to accommodate more than 300,000 residents, with a car free design and 40% of green space. Songdo boasts all the latest innovations in technology including their waste disposal system which collects waste from an apartment, separates it and sends it to a sorting facility, televisions in apartments which allow video calls to be made, and a high speed metro system with wifi. These innovations all seem impressive; however, the citizens of Songdo are less impressed as South Korea is a country where technological innovations tend to develop at a fast pace anyway. When coupled with the fact that the citizens and the ‘culture’ of a city are what makes it somewhere that people want to work and live in, Songdo pales in comparison to other Korean cities. The conclusion is that a purpose built Smart City such as Songdo will take a lot longer to establish itself than an existing city which tries to become ‘Smart’.

Comparing Amsterdam and Barcelona with Songdo reveals that the best short term results are likely to be generated in existing cities which already have an established culture. So will purpose built Smart Cities will ever really be a thing? The jury is out.

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