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Smart Cities

Written by: Samantha Miller

Edited by: Richard Perron

Being labeled as a ‘smart city’ is an excellent branding tool in global cities, inspiring other cities to follow and join the growing phenomenon of forward-thinking. Although the term ‘smart city’ is difficult to define, the underlying concept highlights the importance of capturing and using rapidly evolving technologies to create smart economies, transportation, energy, and networks. Equally as important, smart cities work to make the city more efficient, sustainable, and can lead to long-term cost-saving (Karvonen, Cugurullo, & Caprotti, 2019). The difference between the definition of smart cities and other terms such as sustainable cities, green cities, etc., is that smart cities are wired cities using technology to provide services for different ways of living that also benefitthe environment. Common themes in trying to define smart cities include new approaches towards efficiency, and the ability to remain spontaneous and adaptable (Townsend, 2013).  


The emergence of smart cities is tied to the evolution of digital technologies including real-time data capture and transmission associated with advances in artificial intelligence. Telephones, traffic lights, surveillance systems, automatic doors, etc. continue to evolve to facilitate how smoothly the city runs, and how effortless it appears. Combined, all of these small local technologies can turn into integrated urban systems, advancing our understanding of how cities operate.


For thousands of years, inhabitants of rural developments have been slowly moving into cities where there seemed to be more jobs, ideas and opportunities. In 2008, the United Nations demographers predicted that within that one year, the world population would reach a landmark in which the urban population would equal the rural population, worldwide (Townsend, 2013). Cities were connecting people, pulling young and ambitious people to find success. The United Nations projects that by 2050, the urban population will expand to nearly 6.5 billion, a massive jump when compared to only 200 million urban dwellers in 1900 (Ibid.). Telecommunications, GPS, wireless networks, etc., continue to develop and displace the traditional technologies of the time. Large companies such as IBM and forward-thinking cities such as Singapore are advertising their technologies and city-wide infrastructure projects, influencing other cities across the globe to follow along, and keep up with the trends. Negre and Rosenthal-Sabroux (2015) provide six primary indicators, each with a list of characteristics that define a ‘smart city’: smart mobility, smart economy, smart living, smart governance, smart people and smart environment. 


‘Smart mobility’ refers to urban dweller’s access to safe, innovative, and efficient transportation. Smart mobility also means making an effort to re-design a city that encourages healthier systems of transportation for humans and the environment, such as biking, walking, and carpooling. It is crucial to make cities more pedestrian-oriented while creating efficient networks for necessary vehicle and goods transportation that do not create traffic jams and gridlock, which congest the city and create more pollution. “How to make it real in the digital age is all about connectivity, taking chances, and transforming constraints into opportunities” (Flügge, 2017). Sensor and navigation technologies, connected environment technologies (Internet of Things (IoT) and Internet of Services (IoS)), visualization techniques such as Augmented Reality, etc., allow us to foresee visionary mobility for the future, that should be applicable in any scale (Ibid.). 


Smart economies’ take advantage of rapid urbanization by remaining competitive with other countries or regions, being leaders in entrepreneurship and innovation, achieving high levels of production, increased broadband access, sustenance of business and using electronic business as much as possible. Cities dominate local and national economies because they are production centres for goods and services, human entrepreneurship, economic dynamism, and evolving multiculturalism, all through the use of changing technological processes. The economic development of cities can have huge impacts on how safe, resilient, and sustainable the city can be. Smart economies think locally, act regionally, and compete globally, they are competitive but also promote sharing economies, they are flexible and prepared for challenges. Smart economies also place great importance on the use of city inhabitants to be cooperative in striving for sustainable natural resource management, as well as looking to citizens for creativity and new ideas and offering diverse economic opportunities and flexible labour markets (Vinod Kumar, 2017). 


‘Smart living’ means that city inhabitants can have a vibrant downtown, high-quality public spaces, high-quality services and amenities, and can live in an ideal environment. More importantly, smart living means that the city places great value in expressing cultures, communities, art, and natural heritage through celebrations, events, and festivals so that inhabitants celebrate each other and all work toward enriching the aesthetics and quality of daily urban life (Vinod Kumar, 2017. Leaders in residential, hospitality, and mixed-use developments in smart cities all try to raise the bar to create a sense of community within their developments and a sense of simple luxury to increase daily pleasure (Rauen, 2015).


‘Smart governance’ revolves heavily around concepts of E-Governance, E-Government, and E-Democracy, which all employ techniques of web presence, transaction web, integrative and transformative web, and smart city governance web (Vinod Kumar, 2015). Electronic governance is a shift toward ‘government online,’ where they can deliver services, programs, information and create an easy and accessible communication with citizens, especially as citizens are beginning to demand more transparency and effective governance (Ibid.). Cities with smart governance have clear sustainable urban development strategies that are transparent, practice participatory planning or policymaking, and use big data and geospatial technologies. Smart governance emphasizes communication with its citizens, ensuring that they feature effective and people-friendly urban management, efficient public service delivery, accountability, and responsiveness (Vinod Kumar, 2017). 


‘Smart people’ is often considered the fundamental building block of defining a smart city system, consisting of many crucial attributes. Smart people excel in their professions, have a high Human Development Index (index of life expectancy, education, per capita income, etc.), are highly flexible and resilient, are cosmopolitan, open-minded, hold a multicultural perspective, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and are actively involved in sustainable development (Vinod Kumar, 2017). Cities that have smart people integrate its universities and colleges into aspects of daily life, attract high human capital, maintain a high Graduation Enrolment Ratio, encourage creativity and unique problem solving, and promotes lifelong learning and e-learning models (Ibid.). Smart people are crucial to the smart city system because their participation and cooperation are crucial to functioning and efficiency. 


‘Smart environment’ try to create a human-centered system through the use of perceptual and reasoning capabilities combined with technologies and embedding them in a physical space (Cook & Das, 2005). Smart devices and systems should work together to make inhabitant’s lives more comfortable, whether that means aiding in making spaces safer, reducing the cost of maintaining environments, or automating tasks that would typically be performed by the environment itself (Ibid.). According to Vinod Kumar (2017), some essential characteristics of cities with smart environments are that they protect and live with nature, they value natural heritage and unique natural resources, biodiversity and environment, they efficiently and effectively manage natural resources, it as a clean and green city with adequate public and accessible green spaces. Smart cities should have vibrant neighbourhoods and sense of community, a strong sense of place, and should have an outdoor living room. More in terms of sustainability, smart cities with smart environments should have integrated smart systems to manage water resources, wastewater, etc., focused on water conservation and treatment. They capitalize scenic resources without harming the ecological system, they should have efficient systems in place for disaster risk reduction and response, resiliency, management of recycling, hazardous waste, etc., and should create a low-carbon environment with focuses on energy efficiency and renewable energy. 


Smart cities aim to integrate and align the city through the use of technology and new techniques, but they can sometimes cause gaps in the city with opposite effects such as misalignments, friction, and contradictions (Karvonen et. al., 2019). “smart cities are places where information technology is wielded to address problems old and new…. but smart cities can adapt on the fly, by pulling readings from vast arrays of sensors, feeding that data into software that can see the big picture, and taking action” (Townsend, 2013). Cities are susceptible to many forms of disturbance (from natural disaster to socio-economic shifts). Adaptability and resiliency are aspects crucial in current and future successful smart city design (Ercoskun, 2012).


Cook, D., & Das, S. (2005). Smart environments technologies, protocols, and applications. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.


Ercoskun, O. (2012).Green and ecological technologies for urban planning : creating smart cities. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.


Karvonen, A., Cugurullo, F., & Caprotti, F. (2019). Inside smart cities : place, politics and urban innovation. London: Routledge.


Flügge, B. (2017). Smart Mobility – Connecting Everyone Trends, Concepts and Best Practices. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.


Negre, E., & Rosenthal-Sabroux, C. (2015). Smart Cities. In Handbook of Research on Social, Economic, and Environmental Sustainability in the Development of Smart Cities (pp. 61, 78)


Rauen, S. (2015). Smart living.(perspectives: trends: lifestyle development). Hospitality Design, 37(9), 53,55.


Townsend, A. (2013). Smart cities : big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia(First edition.). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


Vinod Kumar, T. (2015).E-Governance for Smart Cities. Singapore: Springer Singapore


Vinod Kumar, T. (2017). Smart Economy in Smart Cities International Collaborative Research: Ottawa, St.Louis, Stuttgart, Bologna, Cape Town, Nairobi, Dakar, Lagos, New Delhi, Varanasi, Vijayawada,        

Kozhikode, Hong Kong. Singapore: Springer Singapore.

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