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Which cities are smart cities? 5 examples of smart cities around the world

According to TWI Global, “A smart city uses information and communication technology (ICT) to improve operational efficiency, share information with the public and provide a better quality of government service and citizen welfare. 

“The main goal of a smart city is to optimise city functions and promote economic growth while also improving the quality of life for citizens by using smart technologies and data analysis. The value lies in how this technology is used rather than simply how much technology is available.” 

Smart cities use digital technology to improve public safety, energy efficiency, sustainability, and overall quality of life. 

Technological breakthroughs are helping to change the way we live for the better. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a major game-changer when it comes to the rapid development of smart cities. By utilising the power of IoT, ordinary cities are turning into smart cities around the world. 

Why do we need smart cities? 

The United Nations predicts that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities and urban areas by 2050, meaning emissions and energy usage will continue to rise with every passing year. 

This means that over the next three decades, urbanisation will add another 2.5 billion people to cities around the world. 

This is placing an incredible amount of strain on our cities’ resources. Environment, social and economic sustainability are all struggling to keep pace with the rapid expansion, however, smart cities initiatives are helping cities to overcome these issues and provide a framework for a sustainable future. 

Sustainable Development Goals 

In September 2015, 193 countries agreed upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, otherwise known as the Global Goals and these were adopted by the United Nations. The Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030, all people enjoy peace and prosperity. 

The 17 SDGs are integrated—they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others and that development must balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability. 

Goal number 11 focuses on Sustainable Cities and Communities. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces. 

Making cities sustainable means creating career and business opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and building resilient societies and economies. It involves investment in public transport, creating green public spaces, and improving urban planning and management in participatory and inclusive ways. 

Smart Cities are playing a crucial role in helping countries and cities around the world to achieve the targets set out within the Sustainable Cities and Communities goal and many countries around the world have already embraced the benefits that smart city innovations can bring, helping to meet the targets set out in the SDGs. 

5 examples of the best smart cities around the world 

Many of the world’s biggest cities are already embracing the changes that are being brought about by the adoption of smart technology. Whilst some of the changes are things you might not necessarily notice, many of the improvements brought about by smart technology are having a positive impact on the way people that live in these cities around the world live their lives. 

Singapore, Zurich, and Oslo topped the list as the world’s smartest cities in the 2021 Smart City Index. The annual report, conducted by the Institute for Management Development with Singapore University for Technology and Design (SUTD), ranks cities based on economic and technological data, along with their citizens’ perceptions of how “smart” their cities are.  

Each year, more and more cities are added to the study, with Lausanne in Switzerland entering for the first time in 2021 and jumping straight in at number five on the list of smart cities. Other new cities on the list include Leeds and Glasgow in the UK, Bordeaux and Lille in France, Kiel in Germany, Medina in Saudi Arabia, Istanbul in Turkey, and San Jose in Costa Rica. 

Auckland continues to be New Zealand’s only entry in the 118-strong list of smart cities, placing ninth in 2021, down from fourth in 2020. The City of Sails continues to score well across the board, achieving A ratings for Structure and Technology as well as an overall rating of A. The highest rating is AAA and Singapore achieved this rating across all three aspects included in the study, the only city to achieve a AAA overall rating. 

Whilst this is an important guide to smart cities around the world, more anecdotal evidence suggests some cities are doing more to embrace the potential of smart technology, particularly the power of the IoT, although this is not necessarily reflected in this particular study. London, ranked 22nd on the 2021 list, Barcelona (#58) and Tokyo (#84) are all widely regarded as some of the leading lights in terms of the way they have implemented smart city technology, however, they are not ranked as high as some other cities around the world. 

Below, we take a look at five examples of leading smart cities around the world and the ways in which they have embraced smart technology. 

1. Singapore 

Singapore consistently tops the list of the world’s smartest cities no matter how they are rated. It was the only city in the top ten of the IMD’s rankings not to move position from 2020 to 2021 – an indication of the city’s commitment to smart technology.  

Singapore is widely regarded as being ahead of the curve when it comes to smart technology. The country has an ageing population, and the government is focused on digital technologies and initiatives to raise productivity in the country’s advanced economy. This has included a move to a digital healthcare system – normalising video consultations as well as introducing wearable IoT devices to monitor patients remotely. 

Singapore is the second-most densely populated city in the world and their Smart Nation vision aims to digitally collect information throughout the city using sensors. The sensors collect a massive amount of information about what citizens do on a daily basis and they can measure everything from how clean a certain area is to how crowded an event is. 

Singapore is also aiming to be the first country to develop a new eco-smart city that is entirely vehicle-free. To be located in Tengah in the western region of Singapore, the planned forest city will be home to five residential districts with 42,000 houses, as well as safe zones for both pedestrians and cyclists. 

Read more about Singapore’s smart city solutions

2. Oslo 

Oslo is a smart city that is focused on creating a sustainable, eco-friendly environment. Whilst sustainable cities and smart cities often share a lot of common goals, there is a difference between the two. A city can be sustainable without necessarily being smart. In this case, however, Oslo ticks both boxes. 

The city has over 650,000 LED lights that are all connected to processing stations and these lights can intelligently adjust the amount of lighting based on current needs. 

Oslo has also gone all-in on electric vehicles, committing for all vehicles in the city to be electric by 2025. Oslo is not a small city. With 670,000 citizens, that is a huge commitment to both smart technology and sustainability and they are currently on track to achieve that goal. 

They already have incentives in place for zero-emission cars including free parking, the use of bus lanes and lower taxes and toll prices.  

Traffic is an area the city is working hard to improve. As well as introducing all-electric vehicles by 2025, they also currently monitor cars using small licence plate detectors to understand traffic flow around the city and develop a data-driven way to improve traffic congestion. 

Learn more about Oslo’s smart city bike lanes

3. New York 

Whilst New York does not feature as high as you might expect on the IMD list of smart cities, it is widely regarded as one of the smartest cities in the world. Hundreds of smart sensors have been placed throughout the different districts of New York City as part of its smart city pilot project in 2020. 

The programme collects huge amounts of data to help manage essential services around the city including waste management and collection more efficiently. 

The city is also improving connectivity for citizens, replacing phone booths with charging stations that are also WiFi-enabled.  

Car sharing has been popular in the city for a number of years, and this continues to grow and evolve. Car sharing helps to reduce emissions in and around the city as well as helping to manage traffic congestion. 

The police department has tested web-based software from HunchLab that uses historical crime data, terrain modelling, and other information to predict and respond to crime. The test produced a marked decrease in violent crime, and now other city agencies are interested. 

Read more about New York’s Smart City Pilot

4. London 

London is another city that surprises people when it comes to the adoption of smart city technology. The city has set up a number of smart city initiatives over the past decade and this is driven by the Office of Technology which is committed to making sure London is a smart city. 

Their Civic Innovation Challenge is one example. The challenge is aimed at helping entrepreneurs and start-ups to develop solutions to the growing number of urban issues experience throughout the city. 

Connect London is another smart city project that aims to provide 5G connectivity and fibre-optic coverage throughout the whole city. The iconic lampposts that dominate the skyline will also be fitted with sensors and electric vehicle charging points as London also aims to reduce emissions and cut traffic congestion. 

To achieve their goals, London has a Smart City Plan that includes strategies for how to implement technology in a city that’s expected to grow to 10 million people in the next decade or so. The plan includes key areas including healthcare, transportation, and energy management, all of which could benefit from smart city solutions. 

Learn more about Westminster’s SmartPark project.  

5. Copenhagen 

The Danish capital, Copenhagen, came seventh in the IMD’s list of smart cities in 2021, down one place from sixth in 2020. Like Oslo, Copenhagen is taking a sustainable approach to its smart city developments.  

In 2017, the Copenhagen Solutions Lab received an award for its system which monitors air quality, energy consumption, traffic, and waste management. The system also connects parking systems, traffic lights, buildings, smart metering, and charging systems for electric vehicles to direct traffic in real-time. 

The city is working towards bringing all these smart technologies into a single platform to deliver a more efficient automotive experience in the city as well as being able to collect all that data in one once place. In addition, the city is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop an intelligent bike system in the city. 

Learn more about Copenhagen’s EnergyLab Nordhavn

There are of course many more examples from around the world of cities embracing smart technology and turning into smart cities. 

Are New Zealand’s cities getting smarter? 

It is great to see Auckland once again featuring in the top ten smartest cities in the world and whilst the city did drop down the rankings this year, competition is hotting up around the world with more and more cities turning to smart solutions to improve the overall quality of life for citizens. So, is New Zealand doing enough to keep up? 


In late 2020, SPARK partnered with Auckland Transport to install an IoT-enabled infrastructure in the Wynyard Quarter which included smart city applications including connected lighting, smart parking, smart benches, and smart bins. 

SPARK’s deployment of 5G in downtown Auckland enabled the implementation of these smart city technologies and the deployment in the Wynyard Quarter is a demonstration of what the future could look like for the city’s wider central business district. 

Read more about Auckland’s smart city solutions


Christchurch is another of New Zealand’s cities working towards creating a smarter city thanks to its Smart Cities Programme. The city is exploring new technology and approaches to help make our city a smarter, safer place in which we live, work and play. 

Being a “smart city” will also bring many other benefits for Christchurch, such as better planning and decision making, attracting international talent to the city, and creating new business opportunities.  

All smart city projects are grouped to fit in with the Council’s priorities and are designed to create a better Christchurch for everyone. 

In November 2020, NEC New Zealand  signed a long-term agreement with Environment Canterbury and the Christchurch City Council to evolve the current bus network into a smart transportation network. It is initiatives like this that put transportation at the heart of smart growth for a modern city. 

Read more about Christchurch’s Smarter Cities Programme


The world’s biggest cities are getting smarter, and this is a trend that is going to continue into 2022 and beyond. More and more of the world’s cities are now turning to IoT-powered smart city solutions to deal with growing urbanisation, as well as tackling issues with traffic congestion and environmental issues. 

This is great news for citizens of these cities as well as international visitors to those destinations and with the rapid advancement of IoT-powered technology, we can expect to see some exciting projects rolling out around the world. 

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