I. Introduction

These days, everything is becoming smart. From our phones to our watches and even our fridges. The time has come to take the trend of making smart devices a step further. Let us build smart cities!

II. Three definitions of smart cities

The term smart city has been used in several meanings in the last decade. Therefore I will mention the most important ones and point out the one I like the most (and will use in the upcoming article about smart grids – stay tuned for that one!). According to Wikipedia’s page on the subject, one can distinguish three main types of cities which have been marked as smart.

  • The first category denotes cities which are smart concerning their infrastructure, which benefits a wide range of sectors and aspects of city life. This usage is “centered around the utilisation of networked infrastructure to improve economic and political efficiency and enable social, cultural and urban development. The term infrastructure indicates business services, housing, leisure and lifestyle services, and ICTs (mobile and fixed phones, computer networks, e-commerce, internet services etc). It brings to the forefront the idea of a wired city as the main development model and of connectivity as the source of growth”. Another common definition for this kind of smart city is intelligent city.
  • The second definition emphasizes the socio-economic aspect of a city. This leads to an “underlying emphasis on business-led urban development“, creating business-friendly cities with the aim of attracting new businesses. The good working economic apparatus would ensure a thriving society.
  • The third definition is the one I like the most, defining a smart city as inclusive and sustainable. “Here, a smart city will be a city whose community has learned to learn, adapt and innovate. This can include a strong focus on the aim to achieve the social inclusion of various urban residents in public services” and strong emphasis on environmental sustainability. I will use this – still very broad – definition when I use the term smart city later on. One can argue that environmental sustainability can also be included in the business-led development model, as it refers to a wise use of the available sources the planet is offering us. And in the end it’s the businesses and factories who convert this sources into consumer products.

It’s clear the term smart city is everything but consistent. Many city governments and companies have used the term as a selling trick, as it invokes an idea of sustainable and trustworthy urban development. Always pay attention when you hear or read this kind of buzzwords!

1. The many aspects of city life – all of them should be taken into account when developing a (smart) city


III European smart cities

As Europe is a densely populated continent, the European Union is working on a model for smart medium sized European cities (population between 100,000 and 500,000 – of which there are many). The project European Smart Cities started in 2007 and launched the third version of their European Smart City Model earlier this year. The project uses the following definition of a smart city.

A smart city is well performing in 6 characteristics, built on the ‘smart’ combination of endowments and activities of self-decisive, independent and aware citizens

2. The six fundamental characteristics of a smart city

Each characteristic is defined based upon three to six key aspects. For example: to determine if a city has smart people, one can look at their level of qualification, lifelong learning trajectory, ethnic plurality and open-mindedness. Each aspect is given a point and when summed up we get an overall grade of the characteristic. After evaluating all the characteristics based on their according aspects, the values are standardized and aggrageted. It is then possible to compare the results. This particular research group ranked 77 European medium-sized cities. They also created a visual tool to compare three cities of the ranking. It’s fun to play around with if you know at least a little bit about the cities you are comparing. It is however more interesting to consult the city profiles as they list the awarded points on all the characteristic key aspects.

3. Comparison of three medium-sized European cities with the benchmarking tool

Unfortunately, the website offers no more information on the figures. Why Coimbra’s people are -0.355 smart but their government is worth a 0.401 on the standardized scale is guesswork. The project is a first step though. To develop smart cities we need to define clearly what we mean with smart and how it can be measured objectively. Scales as the one handled in the European Smart Cities project, serve as the perfect guiding tool for governments and urban developers who are building future proof cities.


Wikipedia on smart cities

European Smart Cities