How to know how smart a Smart City is

Beatriz Sanz Baños    7 September, 2016

Forbes illustrates the clear cut contrast bigger cities face. On one hand, cities are responsible for generating 80% of the world’s wealth but compared to other geographical spaces they need to overcome complex economic, demographic, social, and environmental challenges at all levels. 70% of the World’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050. Developing cities so they meet the quality of service that citizens demand in an efficient and sustainable way is key to ensure the future of cities (and the entire planet).

Technology becomes a core component of urban spaces as towns expand to become cities and citizen demands become more sophisticated. Thus, every city has a natural tendency to become a Smart City to efficiently answer these demands.

Smart Cities are one of the main economic motors of IoT but they are also one of the biggest technological challenges societies have to tackle. Not every Smart City shares the same level of development and not all of them deploy digital transformation processes with the same efficiency.

There are different methods to gauge and rank Smart Cities but we are going to focus on two renowned institutions as a reference. The annual IESE ‘Cities in Motion’ Index takes into consideration 77 factors in 181 key cities around the world. These factors cover 10 dimensions: Economy, Human Capital, Technology, Environment, International Outreach, Social Cohesion, Mobility and Transportation, Governance, Urban Planning, and Public Management. Other findings, like Juniper Research’s report, are based on two overarching benefits of smart cities: efficiency and sustainability in five key areas for cities: Technologies, Buildings, Utilities, Transportation and Road Infrastructure, the Smart city itself. To maintain the five areas in balance three downsides must be taken into consideration: energy consumption, waste and congestion.

These different ways of measurement are not, in fact, divergent but much on the contrary converge towards a set of common concepts that ever Smart City quality measurement system takes into consideration. The three dimensions that are central to these (and other) systems for determining the quality of a Smart City are

  • The city elements
  • the public and private actors involved in the Smart City
  • The way citizens’ lives are improved

There are two negative factors that ever Smart City has to strive to keep as low as possible to improve efficiency and sustainability:

  • Energy consumption
  • Waste generation

A way of checking proper development of Smart Cities is by referring to the Ten Best Practices for Smart Cities form Telefónica, PWC and the IE Business School’s joint whitepaper:

  1. Have a long term Smart City plan, involving every actor
  2. Clearly determine resource priorities and scope
  3. Designate the Mayor as the leader of Smart City initiatives
  4. Favour any required transversal technological changes
  5. Seek collaboration from other City Councils
  6. Foster a legal framework that favours digitization
  7. Create a mixed model that involves private corporations and generates new business models
  8. Digitized vertical services must connect horizontally to exploit common synergies
  9. Opt for open, standard and interoperable platforms that create innovative ecosystems
  10. Share open data that creates value for citizens and developers working on new services

As the name of the IESE Index – ‘Cities in Motion’ – clearly mentions, Smart Cities are changing urban spaces of digital transformation. The index also shows us how relevant different combined factors are in order to offer the best public services possible to citizens. This process must be seen as a cycle in search of constant improvement and an ongoing project as bustling as the city itself.

To conclude we should mention that cities are not only developed through internal efforts but sometimes receive external stimuli. It is quite common for countries to establish digital strategies that benefit certain regions (or cities) over others. Transforming a small or medium city into a Smart City is a means to rebalance wealth. Not surprisingly, governments become involved in designing regional or even countrywide digitization projects. Bigger cities normally have enough autonomy, and industrial momentum through private companies to improve the efficiency and sustainability through technology.

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