Smart Cities Index 2019

We set out to determine which cities are the best at adapting technology and highlighting the human experience; where collaboration thrives; and which cities remain true to their roots.

By Xische Editorial, July 9, 2019

Source: Valery Brozhinski/ Shutterstock

Source: Valery Brozhinski/Shutterstock

On an elemental level, smart cities aren’t that complex to investigate and understand. They deploy technology to improve the urban environment. What is confusing about that? Since technology can ease the burden of modern life by reducing bureaucracy and wasted resources (including time), it can assist the critical work of government while boosting economic competitiveness and increasing quality of life. We all stand to benefit if systems are deployed properly. But smart cities are about more than just technology. That’s what makes them so interesting. Smart cities are the culmination of a vision for the present and the future informed by the past. They showcase attempts to make the messy work of urbanism into something cleaner and manageable. 

Never before have officials had so many options to make cities more livable. Technology enables cities to put theories of human-centric urbanism into practice. From streamlining residents’ experiences at city offices to encouraging people to be healthy, smart cities are transforming the urban experience. But many cities still struggle to live up to their potential. To find out exactly what’s working and what needs improvement, we’re constantly debating, discussing, and thinking about which cities are getting it right (and wrong). The idea dawned on us recently that these discussions should be chronicled because, as someone once said, the journey is the destination. 

In this first attempt at a smart city index, we have set out to determine which cities are the best at adapting technology and highlighting the human experience in urbanism; where collaboration thrives; and which cities remain true to their roots. Collaboration is key. While we can highlight the latest innovations in urban design, without substantial collaboration inside a city and between cities, these innovations don’t mean much for the continued development of the sector. 

The same goes for adopting new technologies. Talk is cheap. We are attracted to cities that set high bars and then meet them. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are always on the lookout for cities that embrace their narratives. Cities are spaces of creative, economic, and intellectual energy. They are information by shared narratives of place, history, and future. Smart city developments should conform to those narratives and accentuate them. 

That is one reason this index looks beyond technology to spark a new conversation on the future of smart cities. Forgoing rankings, we have decided to highlight the cities getting it right and those that need some improvement. The pace of development can be dizzying and that means a standard ranking doesn’t do justice to the field of smart cities. Cities are spaces of collaboration. They grow together, learn from one and another, and thrive on lived experiences.

The Index

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AHEAD OF THE CURVE

Chicago

Not only is Chicago home to America’s first 5G network but the windy city has doubled down on a networked urban sensor project that’s deepening our understanding of cities and urban life. The Array of Things network is like a fitness tracker for a city. Through smart sensors deployed on over 500 streets, Chicago is gathering data about how residents use the city. This data will dictate how resources are allocated throughout the urban landscape. We tend to think of San Francisco and New York when it comes to smart infrastructure and innovation but Chicago is one of the most exciting spaces to watch in North America. 

Dubai

Cities that remain true to their story while staying nimble enough to embrace the latest tech innovation are hard to find except when it comes to Dubai. Our homebase is on the forefront of global smart city trends from blockchain technology in government to chatbots that assist drivers. With the world’s only Ministry of Artificial Intelligence, the UAE has made incorporating the best smart city developments a national priority. Dubai is where innovation meets reality and the sheer pace of advancements is a testament to life in the city of the future. 

Singapore

Remaining true to the roots of a city’s history is a critical and often overlooked aspect to smart city development. Internet infrastructure and technology that helps residents streamline their day is great. Without a firm narrative, these developments feel more like conveniences than part of a larger story. Singapore consistently gets this aspect of the smart city puzzle right. Authorities use technology to continue the magnificent story of the small city state. Smart city developments fit into a large narrative of a small country that consistently punches above its weight on the international scene. We could go on about the actual tech developments taking place in Singapore but the aspect that authorities continue to nail is using tech to tell the city’s story.  

Helsinki

Despite its small size, the Finnish capital is our pick for smart city innovation in Scandinavia. Through pilot programmes in various neighbourhoods, Helsinki tests a variety of smart city initiatives from automated waste collection to parking spaces with car charging facilitates. This commitment to continuous iteration is accelerated by Finland’s progressive educational approach. Finnish schools already feature data heavy curriculums designed to train the next generation of forward thinking urban innovators.

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ON THE RISE

Kigali

Less than 25 years since a horrific genoice ripped apart the country, Rwanda has made an incredible transformation led by savvy smart city investments in the capital of Kigali. With some of the fastest internet connections on the continent, Kigali is vying to be the Silicon Valley of sub-Saharan Africa. Aside from internet speed upgrades, Kigali authorities have built critical partnerships with countries like Singapore and the United States. Construction has just finished on a Kigali campus of Carnegie Mellon University, the university closely associated with robotics and self-driving cars. Inmarsat has also been developing IoT infrastructure across the city. These investments will result in Kigali’s dominance of African smart cities in the near future. 

Abu Dhabi

With a nimble legislative environment and an outstanding commitment to future innovation, Abu Dhabi is the Middle East’s engine of smart city advancements. On a national level, the UAE has created the right infrastructure to ensure that smart city (and governance) developments are deployed on the ground. Abu Dhabi has demonstrated a commitment to being an urban environment capable of fully transforming itself by leveraging emerging technologies to become truly interconnected and, naturally, smart in every sense. It does this by embracing the latest technology while remaining true to the city’s incredible narrative traditions. It is a flash point for collaboration across the Middle East and beyond. 

Montevideo, Uruguay

Following a distinct trend in South African smart city integration, Montevideo has just rolled out a new programme designed to monitor resources through IoT devices. The Digital Citizen Engagement Platform uses information gathered from IoT devices to monitor, manage and improve city services in real time. The project is making waves in neighbouring countries like Brazil.

Hyderabad, India

With an urban population of 377m generating an estimated 62m tonnes of waste per year, India knows all too well that rapid urbanisation creates trash. That is why some startups in India are coming up with their own innovative approaches of smart city development from the ground up. Hyderabad is the home to many of India’s cutting edge technology companies. Working with city authorities, Toter is an application that helps people recycle their trash. Users connect with recycling porters who come and collect rubbish and then get the refunds for dropping off the waste at recycling centres.

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CAUTIONARY TALES

Istanbul

At the meeting point between East and West, Istanbul has so much going for it. The government invests heavily in infrastructure projects ranging from a new airport (Europe’s largest) to a new bridge spanning the Bosphorus. The problem is the lack of technological innovation. From rubbish collection to parking tickets, Istanbul could benefit enormously from more technology in its governance. But a mix of Ottoman bureaucracy and fear of change has left it largely on the sidelines of the smart city revolution.

Medium-Size American Cities

From Baltimore to Lake City, Florida, several smaller US cities have been held hostage by hackers taking advantage of outdated city internet infrastructure. Baltimore lost access to most of its official email when hackers used an exploit called EternalBlue to hack aging databases. Lake City paid hackers $460,000 in Bitcoin after a similar hack. Smart cities aren’t just about the latest developments in techonology but also making sure systems are secure from hackers. Cities everywhere must be sure they are protected before investing in the future.