Do we really need smart cities?

Our cities are not the same places they were. They’re not the same as they were one or two years ago, let alone 10 years ago. Even before the pandemic hit, cities worldwide were already beginning to feel the aches and pains of old age.

Transport, employment, retail and housing set-ups with roots dating back to the last century, if not the one before. Rising urban populations, piecemeal development, economic downturn and the effects of climate change. When faced with such a complex set of challenges, it’s unlikely that approaching them in the same old ways is ever going to be the best solution.

Instead of stuck in their ways, smart cities are innovative. Instead of disjointed and siloed, smart cities are connected ecosystems. Instead of hard places to live, smart cities are healthy and liveable. Instead of wasteful, smart cities are sustainable.

Crucially, one benefit of smart cities that underpins all of the above is the win for economic growth. The positive impact of smart city technologies on economic development could see cities locking in incremental growth of almost 3% by 2026 and driving more than $20 trillion in additional economic benefits up to 2028.[1]

What makes a smart city smart?

It could be easy to think that ‘smart’ in this context refers solely to digital connectivity and networked devices. Of course, that’s a crucial part of what makes smart cities smart, but it’s not just about consumer-facing technologies. In cities that are truly smart, digital tech is harnessed to help cities function in an optimized and intelligent way across the board.

There are generally eight recognized aspects of how a city functions across which smart initiatives can be integrated: mobility and transport, healthcare, water, energy, waste, security, engagement and community, and economic development and housing.

Across these sectors, there are three layers that need to work together to ‘make a smart city hum.’[2]

  1. A technology foundation including high-speed networks of connected devices and sensors.
  2. Smart applications to analyse the stream of raw data to enable efficiency, insights and action.
  3. Adoption and usage by the public that can lead to behaviour change and benefits for all.

Smart city examples

So where are the cities already reaping the economic rewards of signing up to the smart way?


This city-state renowned for evolving and staying ahead of the global curve has a Smart Nation vision that puts open data and digital technologies at the heart of governance. Since 2014, Singapore has been pumping huge amounts of investment and expertise into safeguarding a bright future for its citizens when faced with the challenges of an ageing population, labour shortages and very few natural resources.

On transport efficiency, a trial using open data collected from fare cards, vehicles and sensors across the city has reduced the rate of over-crowded buses by 92%. On health, the entire healthcare system has been digitized enabling video consultations and physio sessions when in-person appointments aren’t possible. A Smart Elderly Alert System also keeps up with people’s routines and can alert a caregiver when something out of the ordinary happens or urgent care is needed – a reassurance when 47% of Singapore’s population will be 65 or over by 2050.

New York

It’s perhaps no surprise that the city that never sleeps regularly tops lists of the world’s smartest cities. For almost a decade, the city’s open data law has been driving innovation thanks to open access to information from city agencies.

With a population of over 8.5 million, conserving resources has long been a top priority. New Yorkers consume one billion gallons of water per day but an advanced meter reading system with 817,000 sensors means real-time water usage data can be used to increase efficiency from usage and billing to leak notification. It’s already delivered more than $73 million in savings.

Smart monitoring in conjunction with wide public buy-in is also delivering big results for lighting, waste collection, air quality, traffic congestion, and crime reduction.


It’s this Catalonian city’s use of smart technology that is credited with reinvigorating its economy after its textile and other manufacturing industries took a downturn in the 1980s. Since hosting the world’s first Smart City Expo and World Congress in 2011, smart systems are now embedded into services across the city.

LED lamp posts house the sensors that monitor traffic, air quality, pedestrian activity, and noise while also dimming or switching the lights on or off to save energy. Smart bins and a bike-sharing system have also contributed to transport efficiencies, decreasing trips taken by waste collection trucks and reducing the number of cars in the densely populated city centre.

If you want to talk about your ideas for smart projects with people who know smart inside out, get in touch.

[1] Role of Smart Cities for Economic Development

[2] What makes a city “Smart”?