Top Smart Cities in the world today

Source: Creative Commons

According to Frost & Sullivan, the global Smart Cities market is projected to reach US$1.56 trillion by 2020. With rapid urbanization and ageing populations, cities are facing increasing strain on infrastructure, transportation, energy and healthcare resources. To address these urban challenges, governments are embracing the concept of the smart city and looking to apply new technologies to improve sustainability, liveability and quality of life for citizens. We take a look at some of the leading smart cities from around the world and their initiatives:

Barcelona was named European Capital of Innovation in 2014 by the EU and hosts the annual Smart City Expo World Congress. It has more than 100 active smart city projects ranging from smart traffic lights, telecare services and electric cars to ubiquitous public Wi-Fi. Barcelona’s smart city platform, known as the Urban Platform, brings together data from the open-source Sentilo sensor network, the city’s information systems, as well as social networks and web 2.0, allowing it to solve urban challenges across silos.

The city is a global leader in its extensive use of IoT. Smart LED streetlamps activate only when movement is detected, producing 30% energy savings, and are equipped with sensors to collect data from the environment. Over 70,000 elderly and disabled are connected to the city’s Telecare service that proactively checks on residents. Sensors monitor rain and humidity to determine how much water is needed to irrigate parks. Municipal smart bins monitor waste levels and are cleared only when they are full, optimizing waste collection operations. Digital bus stops provide bus arrival times, free Wi-Fi and USB charging ports, while a smart parking system guides vehicles to available parking spaces, reducing congestion and emissions.

Considered to be the greenest capital city in the world, Copenhagen is a centre for clean technology innovation and is committed to being carbon neutral by 2025.  Since 1995, Copenhagen has reduced carbon emissions by 50 percent. One billion DKK have been invested in bike lanes and super cycle highways and 45 % of residents bike to work or school every day. An intelligent traffic management system optimizes traffic flow and remedies road congestions, while a dynamic RFID-based road pricing system is used to nudge citizens towards green transportation.

Copenhagen sends less than 2% of its waste to landfills. Half of the waste is recycled and most of the waste is used to generate heat for the city's district heating network. Its highly efficient district heating system connects 98% of all households, while in the summer months, a district cooling system relies on cold seawater abstraction to save 70% of energy compared to traditional air-conditioning.

The city state of Singapore aims to be the world’s first Smart Nation, leveraging on one of the highest mobile and broadband penetration rates in the world. Its centrepiece is a Smart Nation Platform that brings together data from a nationwide sensor network. Ready-made Above Ground (AG) boxes are being deployed to supply power and connectivity to sensors, reducing the need for unnecessary groundwork.

Collected data will be fed into an open data platform, as well as a dynamic 3D “Virtual Singapore” model that will allow city planners to test-bed concepts, analyse traffic and pedestrian flows and run simulations such as crowd evacuations during an emergency.

98% of government services are accessible online, and an in-house Digital Government Services team has rolled out several citizen-centric mobile apps for transport, health and municipal services. While Singapore adopts a largely top-down approach to Smart Nation development, few countries can match its singular layer of government will to technologically transform the country.

Frequently appearing in top smart city rankings, London is a global centre for entrepreneurship and is known for pioneering the use of open data to create innovative solutions and solve city challenges on the ground. Launched in 2010, the London DataStore is one of the first open data platforms in the world. With 50000 visitors every month, its 500 datasets have resulted in transport apps, interactive maps, population and demographic projections and urban planning projects.  Almost 400 smartphone apps were created after London's transport data was released to the public.

To address London’s chronic congestion woes, the city has implemented congestion charging through number plate recognition, smart parking systems and intelligent traffic lights that prioritize public transport.


South Korea’s tech savvy capital is known for incorporating cutting-edge technology in every aspect of city life.  OLEV (Online electric vehicle technology) was successfully developed and deployed – allowing electric public buses to be charged as they move across road surfaces. Electric cables under the road create magnetic fields which can be converted to electrical energy by OLEV devices installed under vehicles. For the disabled and elderly, Seoul’s U-healthcare service provides telehealth check-ups and medical consultation through remote-controlled medical equipment and smart devices. Smart work centres equipped with groupware and teleconferencing systems allow 30% of government employees to work closer to their homes.

Adjacent to Seoul’s airport is the futuristic city experiment known as Songdo, built from scratch on reclaimed land and equipped with ubiquitous Wi-Fi, sensor networks, eco-buildings and IoT enhanced smart homes. Household waste is sucked into underground pipes to a processing facility, where it is automatically sorted, recycled or burned for fuel. While it has been slow to attract residents and businesses, Songdo has provided a useful test-bed for companies to test out and refine new smart city technologies.


The capital of Finland pilots its smart city projects through its Smart Kalasatama district, a city innovation platform where new solutions can be developed and tested in a living urban environment.  Agile development and co-creation are core concepts in Kalasatama – residents are testers and initiators of smart services and new technology. The vision of Kalasatama is to become so efficient that residents will gain an extra hour of time every single day.

Some projects include an automated waste collection system that reduces garbage truck traffic by 80-90%, smart grids and real-time energy monitoring to reduce energy consumption by 15%, and parking spaces with electric car charging. Commuters can subscribe to Mobility-as-a-Service packages with an app that plans ideal travel routes using all available modes of transport.

Helsinki is also very strong in the field of open data innovation - over 1200 data sets have been published on the Helsinki Region Infoshare platform and numerous hackathons and open app competitions are held annually. Helsinki’s schools are known for their forward-looking education systems, shifting away from traditional pedagogy to an inquiry-based learning approach.

See also:
6 innovative mobile apps for citizens