Smart City Initiatives

Leading examples of smart cities across the globe

How Smart City Initiatives Are Changing Urban Environments

Smart cities around the world are using technology to improve city services, address environmental issues, and raise their residents’ quality of life. Advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT) and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are driving the change, making cities more efficient and safer. 

With close to 66 percent of the world population predicted to be living in urban environments by 2050, cities will need to tackle issues such as congestion, resource management, and pollution. Enhanced city operations and new solutions will bring benefits such as improved safety, clean air, water conservation, energy efficiency, and mobility.

Read on to learn what makes a city “smart,” how smart city technology can benefit residents, and see examples of new smart city initiatives and urban planning.

In this article you'll learn about:

What Is a Smart City

What makes a city smart? A city is smart when it leverages technology to improve city services and increase the quality of life of its residents. City governments can use the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect data from citizens, devices, and assets. They can make use of this data with the help of technologies such as machine learning and data analysis, which can help authorities improve resource management and public services.

Smart cities aim to use technology solutions to address issues such as air and water pollution, sanitation, and public safety. The initiatives often focus on areas such as energy and water conservation, with cities incorporating smart street lighting and automated water meters.

Cities use software solutions to improve transportation issues, monitoring traffic flow to prevent congestion, and managing public transport schedules to attend to citizens’ demands in real-time. Multimodal mobility solutions, including ride-sharing and micro-mobility programs like bike-sharing, are also common in smart cities.

Smart cities often apply technology solutions to improve public services such as waste management. One example is the BigBelly project in New York, consisting of smart trash cans that optimize waste collection and recycling.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) plays a major role in smart cities

Cities apply ICT solutions to improve efficiency in city operations. Through e-participation, city halls engage local governance and launch initiatives such as London’s open innovation challenge. City authorities use ICT solutions to monitor urban activities, connecting with communities and the city infrastructure. 

To improve traffic or environmental conditions, smart cities need data to track them. IoT sensors and devices can gather data on weather and traffic patterns, as well as water usage. For example, smart sensors allow street lights to dim according to the number of pedestrians looking to cross the road. Other sensors measure air quality in highly populated areas.  

Benefits of Smart Cities

The demand for more efficient city management solutions is growing at a rapid pace. More cities are implementing smart city projects, with investment in smart city solutions expected to increase to $224.5 billion in 2021. 

Cities leverage smart technologies to improve sustainability, governance, environmental management, and transportation. Some of the main benefits cities derive from implementing smart technologies are:

  • Effective decision making—city officials can address issues quickly, by getting the data processed in real-time. For example, cities can predict the crime rate in high-risk areas and distribute police officers using big data applications. 
  • Improved transportation—cities use traffic management solutions to optimize public transit and manage traffic flow, through intelligent traffic signals. Other technologies such as mobile applications enable citizens to track public transport options in real time and even to pay fares online. 
  • Efficient utilities—cities use smart sensors to conserve water and electricity. New York implemented smart water meters that track water usage and alert authorities to leaks and damage, reducing waste. Smart street lighting helps cities avoid energy waste by adjusting the light intensity according to usage. 
  • Economic growth—the implementation of smart city projects attracts talent, generating a fertile environment for the growth of tech companies. In addition, investment in smart city technologies is associated with an increase in economic growth. A report from ESI Thought Lab, covering 136 cities, found that smart city initiatives can increase economic growth as much as 21 percent. 

Smart City Projects

Around the world, governments and private companies are changing urban environments. 
Some governments and enterprises are taking a bold approach and building new cities from the ground up. By designing smart cities from scratch, they can take full advantage of new technologies. 

These are three examples of new smart cities:

Songdo, South Korea

This energy-efficient, highly digital, and heavily surveilled city is benefiting its 50,000 residents with features such as:

  • A city plan that prioritizes public transport and bikes.
  • Green areas covering 40% of the city’s area.
  • Tunnels connecting homes directly to waste processing centers.

Belmont, Arizona, U.S.A

Developed by a private investment group, Belmont will consist of some 80,000 residential units plus commercial and open space. Some of the key points of the new city include:

  • It is designed for autonomous vehicles, including self-driving cars.
  • The entire city will use sensors to optimize resources.
  • The plans include high-speed digital networks and data centers in the city .

Masdar, UAE

This planned work community focuses on sustainability. 

  • The entire city is powered by renewable energy, such as solar and wind. 
  • High-performance buildings allow for a 40% reduction in water and energy usage.
  • The city boasts a network of autonomous vehicles connecting the business district.

However, most people live in long-established cities, which were not designed for efficiency or sustainability. Many major cities are incorporating the IoT into the existing urban infrastructure.. Since they cannot rebuild the city, big metropolises are deploying smart city projects such as smart traffic lights, interactive kiosks for wi-fi, and autonomous vehicles.
These are examples of established cities that are implementing smart city initiatives: 


The city launched a smart city program in 2009, implementing 70 different collaborative projects to improve the economy, environment, government, living standard, and mobility. Some key projects include:

  • Renewable energy: taking advantage of projects like GridFriends for sharing energy and installing solar roofs on metro stations.
  • Smart mobility: using car-sharing platforms and an autonomous transportation line that carries approximately 2500 passengers every day.
  • Reuse, recycle: initiatives include a project that incinerates garbage to produce electricity, and the use of sewer water to produce natural gas.


The city is gathering data from sensors and processing it through an open-source platform, Sentilo. Barcelona is applying smart technologies for uses such as:

  • Smart street lights that adjust to traffic volume.
  • Home waste management solutions that direct the garbage to designated underground collection spots, reducing garbage trucks.
  • Optimizing transportation with multimodal mobility options.


The city has launched over 20 initiatives with the goal of becoming the smartest capital in the world. With a model based on digital collaboration between public and private stakeholders, big data analytics are promoting economic growth and tech development. Some of the initiatives include:

  • Smart lamp posts: with sensors to monitor air quality.
  • The Heathrow pod system: a fleet of autonomous vehicles connecting the airport terminal 5 with the car park.
  • 5G wireless connection: installing 5G cells across the city.
  • London datastore: a free and open data-sharing portal with more than 700 datasets of city information.


The city won the U.S Department of Transportation smart city challenge in 2016, and since then is developing several projects to connect neighborhoods, improve public safety, address environmental concerns and engage community members.
Some of the projects include:

  • Smart Columbus Operating System: a free-access central hub for data collection, and processing for all the city smart initiatives. 
  • Connected vehicles: to improve public safety, prioritize emergency teams and manage traffic. 
  • Smart mobility kiosks: self-service travel kiosks that provide the citizens with mobility options, displaying real-time transportation data of multiple transportation modes. 
  • Connected autonomous vehicles: shuttles in the Easton neighborhood connecting passengers from the central station to areas with heavy employment concentration.

What’s Next?

With new cities being planned and others being refurbished, the future of smart cities looks bright. Residents can benefit from a greener environment with cleaner air and water, the use of renewable energies, an improved transportation system, and better opportunities. 

Smart cities are attracting talent, investors, and companies, turning into a hub of technology innovation. The new technologies and initiatives implemented around the world are turning smart cities from a futuristic dream into a reality. 

Learn More About Smart City Initiatives

There’s a lot more to learn about smart city initiatives. To continue your research, take a look at the rest of our blogs on this topic:

Los Angeles Smart City: Data and Sustainability

Los Angeles is facing challenges to urban functionality, such as congestion, climate change, pollution, and the threat of natural disasters like earthquakes. To deal with these challenges, the city has adopted smart city solutions and is a testing ground for urban technology. The city is teaming up with universities and tech companies to improve services and help clean up the environment by facilitating recycling and waste disposal. 

Read more: Los Angeles Smart City: Data And Sustainability

Barcelona Smart City: By the People, for the People

Barcelona was one of the first European cities to implement data-driven, smart city technologies to improve its services. The city invested heavily in infrastructure, including smart transport solutions, environment, and sustainable energy, and sensor networks. 

Read more: Barcelona Smart City: By The People, For The People

Amsterdam’s Smart City: Ambitious Goals, Collaborative Innovation

Amsterdam’s smart city promotes partnerships between authorities, businesses, research bodies, and citizens, who jointly initiate and lead smart city projects—this model has come to be known as Smart City 3.0. Amsterdam manages over 70 smart city projects with more than 100 partners.

Read more: Amsterdam’s Smart City: Ambitious Goals, Collaborative Innovation

Columbus Smart City: Technology in Support of Social Opportunity

Columbus, Ohio has a vision for a healthy, prosperous, beautiful city for everyone. The foundational plans of Columbus smart city address, data, investments, and innovative solutions that address the needs of its citizens. Columbus’s smart city projects include connected vehicle environment, multimodal trip planning system, smart mobility hubs, prenatal trip assistance, parking management, and connected electric autonomous vehicles.

Read more: Columbus Smart City: Technology In Support Of Social Opportunity

Chicago Smart City: Shaping the Future With Data

Chicago is implementing a data-focused strategy to create smarter infrastructure and resources for both government and citizens. Chicago is using initiatives like World Business Chicago, Array of Things, and smart mobility, which will make Chicago smarter and greener and will provide a better quality of life for its citizens.

Read more: Chicago Smart City: Shaping The Future With Data

London Smart City: Tackling Challenges With 20 Initiatives

The growing population of London, estimated to reach 10 million by 2030,  is putting pressure on transport, energy, healthcare, and pollution management. To address this issue, the mayor of London is turning to smart city solutions and is developing projects in collaboration with startups, academics, and residents.

Read more: London Smart City: Tackling Challenges With 20 Initiatives

Singapore Smart City: A Holistic Transformation

The Singapore Smart City initiative also known as “Smart Nation” is a nationwide approach that encourages the use of digital technology to drive sustainability and liveability. The government promotes innovation in the private and public sectors, including legislation and assistance for co-creation and research to drive growth across the board, including the public sector, so to ensure that all levels of society can use and benefit from these technologies and innovations.

Read more: Singapore Smart City: A Holistic Transformation

Smart City New York: Cooperation to Innovation

New York City is using smart city solutions to help solve issues like water quality and conservation, waste management, and public safety. The city strives to be an equitable city, where all residents have access to facilities, like free wi-fi coverage, clean water, and the waste management system. The city government has developed smart city projects, in collaboration with residents and companies, to achieve this aim.

Read more: Smart City New York: Cooperation To Innovation

Dubai Smart City: Paving the Way With Innovation and Technology

The city of Dubai launched the Dubai Smart City project in 2013 to transform Dubai into a leading hub of innovation and sustainability. Dubai Smart City covers a range of initiatives to integrate advanced communication and internet of things (IoT) technologies into the physical infrastructure and services of the city. 

Read more: Dubai Smart City: Paving The Way With Innovation And Technology

Smart City Challenges: What Stands in the Way of Smart Cities?

Smart city projects are enormously complex, and suffer from numerous challenges, at the implementation level, at the governance and administration level, and at the level of cooperation between citizens, private organizations, and city governments. This article explains why smart cities are so compelling, what challenges stand in the way, and the key element that will define smart city success or failure.

Read more: Smart City Challenges: What Stands in the Way of Smart Cities?

The Biggest Smart City Security Challenges in 2019

Smart cities can’t function without IoT devices, which rely on information security. Unfortunately, IoTs are notoriously vulnerable. Today’s threat actors can launch sophisticated attacks to breach smart cities and cause critical damage.

Read more: The Biggest Smart City Security Challenges in 2019

See Our Additional Guides on Key Mobility Topics:

We have authored in-depth guides on several other mobility topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of smart city initiatives.

Smart Mobility Guide

Smart mobility is the reorganization of new and existing transport methods to reduce fatalities, reduce congestion and pollution, and improve the urban economy.

See top articles in our smart city initiatives guide:

Smart City Technology Guide

Discover how smart cities are leveraging technology to improve services and living costs. See how IoT and Big Data form the base of the smart city model.

See top articles in our smart city technology guide:

Smart Transport Guide

The smart transport revolution is taking the world by storm. This guide focuses on the technologies from autonomous cars to smart roads that take traditional aspects of transportation and make them smart.

See top articles in our smart transport guide:

Travel API Guide

Learn about travel APIs that can assist travelers in planning and booking their trip—Global Distribution Systems, flight APIs, hotel APIs, and car rental APIs.

See top articles in our travel API guide:

Travel Technology Guide

Travelers are no longer willing to tolerate long lines at the airport or rely on paper travel guides. They want travel to be as easy as any other modern service. Travel providers understand this and are working to make travel a seamless digital experience, allowing customers to explore and book travel at any time using any device.

See top articles in our travel technology guide: