Smart Cities – The Future of Urban Living Experience Here and Now!

Cities are home to nearly half of the global population, account for almost two-thirds of worldwide energy demand, and generate over 70% of energy-related carbon emissions. These shares are only expected to elevate over the foreseeable future. Therefore, a transformation of urban areas plays a pivotal role in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. Smart cities are driven by digital innovation and can become fundamental to achieving net-zero world targets.

What are Smart Cities?

The concept of a “smart city” initially focused on urban improvement capitalizing on digital and ICT innovations. However, lately, greater attention has been paid to the distributional effects of smart cities on people, places, and the planet. While digital innovation is still the basis for the concept, the need to spread the benefits across the different segments of society has been stressed. The OECD’s definition of smart cities describes them as initiatives or approaches that effectively leverage digitalization to boost citizen well-being and deliver more efficient, sustainable, and inclusive urban services and environments.

Components and Characteristics of Smart Cities

Smart cities around the world are quite diverse in terms of their characteristics, and requirements. Yet nearly all of them share 8 key components that are smart infrastructure, smart buildings, smart healthcare, smart technology, smart education, smart governance, smart energy, and smart citizens. The concept of a smart city features 4 key attributes of sustainability, quality of life, urbanization, and smartness across societal, environmental, governance, and economic dimensions.

Enabling technologies for Smart Cities

Smart cities leverage a variety of technologies to enhance resident experience. The selection of technology may vary from one city to another, factoring in their local needs, priorities, and available resources. However, most commonly smart cities are powered by:

  1. Internet of Things (IoT) – IoT devices are non-standard computing hardware such as sensors, actuators, or appliances. They connect to the network wirelessly and facilitate the collection and transmission of the data. The devices can include streetlights, waste bins, transportation systems, and many more. Eventually, IoT appliances can make daily activities faster, easier, and more convenient while also providing real-time data for broader use. This data gets analyzed to improve urban service delivery and optimize the use of resources.
  2. Big Data Analytics – as IoT devices generate very large amounts of data, advanced analytics is crucial to derive meaningful insights. Big data analytics can support city administrators and urban planners in making informed decisions regarding various aspects of city management. For example, these could include decisions regarding traffic flow optimization, energy consumption, or even public safety.
  3. Smart Grids – support more efficient and reliable energy distribution by monitoring and managing the supply and demand of electricity in real-time. Smart grids can play a vital role in optimizing energy usage and minimizing waste.
  4. Connected Infrastructure – allows the city to operate more smoothly, responsively, and efficiently drawing on coordination between different infrastructure components such as transportation, energy, waste, and water.
  5. Blockchain – multiple smart cities feature the technology of blockchain. It supports more secure and transparent transactions. Especially when it comes to identity verification and financial transactions.
  6. VR and AR – augmented reality and virtual reality technology have been successfully applied in urban planning and public engagement. Using this tech, city planners easily simulate the visualizations for proposed landscape changes.
  7. 5G technology- supports the connectivity needs of IoT devices to ensure smooth real-time communication between their systems.
  8. Smart Transportation – Intelligent traffic management systems, smart parking solutions, and connected public transportation significantly reduce road congestion, reduce emissions, and enhance mobility.
  9. Smart Buildings – Automated building systems optimize energy usage, lighting, and overall performance of the buildings.
Examples of Smart Cities

The 2023 IMD Smart City Index is dominated by Asian and European Economies. The list was topped by Zurich, Oslo, and Canberra respectively. Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Beijing also fall under the list of champions. We describe a few success stories briefly below.


The smart transformation of Zurich took off with its streetlight project. Lights were adapted to traffic levels using sensors. This project resulted in nearly 70% energy savings. Since then, a variety of technologies have been applied to collect environmental data and measure traffic flow. The Smart City Zurich strategy is the framework for the city administration to actively counter current and future developments in digital transformation. It aims to maintain and expand the high quality of life in the city, promote sustainable development, and strengthen Zurich as a location for innovation and business.


Since the launch of its Smart Nation Initiative in 2014, Singapore has been at the forefront of digital innovation. It deployed a wide range of smart technologies both in the public and private sectors. Contactless payments in transport, digital health solutions, and vehicle-free eco-smart city are just a few initiatives to name.


Oslo plans to go fully electric by as early as 2025 incentivizing the use of carbon-free vehicles via free parking, lower taxes, and tolls. The smart city initiatives to deploy zero-emission construction sites and retrofitting of existing buildings have caught the eyes of many across the world.


Utilization of electric garbage trucks, solar-powered bus stops, billboards, and lights, construction of floating villages, insulation of rooftops, dimming lights, and application of smart meters and ultra-low energy lights are just a few smart city initiatives that put Amsterdam among the leaders on the European continent.


Seoul’s smart city journey has only scaled up since it originated in 2014. It is home to Songdo, also known as the world’s first smart city. Here traffic flow, speed, and air quality are measured by sensors. 5G technology is used to boost mobility and transportation. Parks are outfitted with self-sustaining irrigation systems. Even homes are operated by cellphone apps that oversee everything from heating and air conditioning to artificial light levels. It is by far the most technologically advanced district that was constructed out of nothing, but the land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea. Songdo is a truly revolutionary place that has been conceptualized as a completely sustainable, high-tech city without cars, pollution, or overcrowded places.

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