Sustainability, Efficiency and Intelligence: What Makes a Smart City “Smart”?

With more than 7 billion people populating the earth and with half of that number living in cities, urbanization is growing and its cities need to meet this growth.

According to Sarwant Singh (@Sarwant), engineer, thought leader and contributor to Forbes, “This (growth) is expected to accelerate to 60 percent before 2025, globally; with the Western, developed world reaching an 80 percent urbanization level during this time frame.”

Cities like Seoul, Bogota, Brussels, and countless others now contribute more than 40 percent to their national GDP, making them significant to the vitality of the whole country – and to the lifeblood of the entire world. Urbanization has created a trend whereby the UK has instituted a ministry role known as the “minister for cities,” whose job is to foresee a city’s economic potential and try to engage and empower them to reach their targets. This is why “smart cities” are becoming key to urbanization: with more and more people moving to major world hubs, these great cities must be able to absorb and cater to the demands of a growing population. They must be efficient. They must be sustainable. They must be intelligent.

In a single word, they must be smart.

But what efforts, initiatives and policies make a city smart, efficient and sustainable?

Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let’s first take a look at some of the smartest cities in the world to see what makes them so smart.

Smart Cities Around the Globe and How They Smarten Up Your Lifestyle


When it comes to being eco-friendly, Amsterdam is one of the “greenest” headliners. With an overwhelming number of cyclists amongst city dwellers, 67% of traveling is done without emitting carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere (ie, by foot or bike). The pedestrian population also limits vehicle congestion, making it less frustrating to get to and from work in the city. Moreover, Amsterdam is active in their initiatives to become smarter. They’ve put together a public private partnership, called the Amsterdam City Project, with its primary objective being to improve the quality of life of the city’s citizens by creating open standards to share data to be used for transportation, governance and energy consumption.

More than forty projects have been put into action by this catalytic collaboration, including a smart parking project to enable storage for the city’s huge bike population. As Feargus O’Sullivan (@FeargusOSull), contributor to CityLab, outlines: “The city has just announced a plan to excavate a 7,000-space bicycle garage under the Ij, the former bay (now a lake thanks to the construction of the Afsluitdijk barrier) that forms Amsterdam’s waterfront…Stacking a total of 21,500 new bike spaces around the station by 2030, Amsterdam also plans to create two new floating islands with space for 2000 bikes each. Add this to the 2,500 spaces already in place and you have what will comfortably be the largest bike parking accommodations in the world.”

By creating an avenue by which to support, fund and implement such projects, Amsterdam is actively mobilizing private participants, the city government and the EU to jointly fund these initiatives, following a 50:50 public-private model. This level of engagement to smarten up a city has been unheard of…but other cities are following in Amsterdam’s footsteps.


Like Amsterdam, Vienna is focused on creating a better quality of life for its citizens, initiating many smart city projects by creating a public private entity, called TINA Vienna. This entity co-develops strategies and solutions to city problems. The “Citizen Solar Power Plant” is one of the projects being developed, for which a goal has been set that 50% of the city’s energy will be renewable by 2030.

TINA Vienna has partnered with the local energy provider, Wien Energie, and together, they’ve created a crowd-funding model from which a percentage of the individual investment will be returned annually.

Wien’s smart city site,, outlines the initiative: “Citizens can buy whole or half panels at a price of EUR 950 or EUR 475 respectively. Wien Energie rents the panels from the individual purchasers, who then receive an annual profit of 3.1 per cent on their investment. The annual ‘rent’ is paid directly to their accounts once a year. Once the service life of the plant ends after approximately 25 years, Wien Energie repurchases the panels, and the amount originally invested is returned to the citizens.”

Vienna is churning out a number of other smart city projects, including renovating a slaughterhouse into a science and technology district and developing a comprehensive, digital information service platform called

Taipei, Taiwan

Heading over to Asia, you’ll find one of the most ambitious smart cities in Taipei. As reported by the BBC, “’In 2010, Taiwan’s government adopted a zero landfill policy, encouraging recycling and promoting sustainability,’ says Prof Hsiao Kang Ma, of the National Taiwan University.” This lively city set a lofty goal to accomplish “zero landfill, total recycling” and, in doing so, Taipei has become very creative with their green initiative; they’ve incorporated plastic bottles into the making of bus stops and have encouraged the processing and recycling of the island’s electronic waste.

The BBC quotes lead entrepreneur, Arthur Huang: “‘We want to take recycling to the next level’… ‘Not only will this factory do the usual e-waste recycling, extracting gold and copper from your discarded computers and smartphones, but it will be built completely out of recycled materials. It will have the highest environmental standard of any recycling factory in the world.’”

The commendable innovative policies of this city are implemented in both the private and public sectors, with recycling and composting plants being built, residents adhering to a “pay-by-the-bag” trash collecting policy, and an all-around communal effort to reduce and recycle waste. Taipei has seen the fruits of their labor, with the volume of trash reduced by more than 60%.

Horizontal vs. Vertical Approach: Nine Key Definitive Aspects to a Smart City

As more and more people are building their lives in cities, smart initiatives and policies – like the above described – are becoming essential to a city’s organic growth. Without smart initiatives, pollution, congestion and chaos will consume our cities. If cities are left to their own devices without accommodating this growth, efficiency and the environment will suffer. Eco-friendly cities that run effective energy, transport and waste management programs are becoming the new models for expanding urbanization the world over.

Singh’s team on Forbes, Frost & Sullivan, identified eight key aspects after running through a number of Smart City initiatives and projects around the globe. They found the following key parallels to be the defining aspects of a Smart City: “smart governance, smart energy, smart building, smart mobility, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart healthcare and smart citizen.”

“We eventually defined Smart Cities as those that have at least five out of the eight ‘smart’ parameters listed above,” Singh said. “Those cities that are only implementing a couple of these are what we define as eco-friendly cities, like Nice in France…In 2025, it is expected we will have around 26 global Smart Cities which will feature five of the eight aforementioned parameters. Around 50 percent of these will be located in North America and Europe.”

Additionally, the market potential for segments of healthcare, energy, infrastructure, transportation, building, and governance has a “potential of $1.5 trillion globally,” Frost & Sullivan says, which is comparable to the GDP of 2014 Spain, making Smart City markets the 12th largest in the world.

In the end, however, these eight aspects that define the smart city – smart governance and smart education, smart healthcare, smart building, smart transportation, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart energy, and smart citizen – must be catalyzed in an engaging way. 22 CityLink has identified another component to smart cities, which is called Smart Engagement.

Your city must not only come up with great ideas, but must know how to effectively and efficiently implement them – and that takes a certain insight into the character and infrastructure already established. This means that a city’s culture must be able to embrace these initiatives; and with smart engagement, this becomes obtainable. Compelling and “call-to-action” type communication – through events, the press and social media – are what will actively engage citizens and businesses, alike, to participate in the process of smartening up your city.

When you speak of experience with the business, retail or home, what is important is not the device or the feature it supports, but how the end user is engaged. What tangible gains in overall quality of life are made whether through simplicity, automation, predictive analytics or other cognitive tools, is what really matters. If the smart city saves one of the most precious resources we have, time, then it will be successful.

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