The Smart City Trailblazers

Our cities are getting smarter, and those who inhabit or visit major metro areas can expect major changes in the coming years

However, cities have differing priorities, infrastructure, and capabilities, and future smart cities might look vastly different from each other. Here are some of the world’s smartest cities and what makes them stand out.


Measuring just over 720 square kilometers, Singapore is one of the world’s rare city-states. Despite its small size, Singapore is home to 5.6 million people, and managing such a large population in such a small space demands efficiency and planning. According to a number of lists outlining the world’s smartest cities, Singapore comes out on top, and it’s among the world’s leaders in terms of mobility. By relying on data and smart analysis tools, Singapore planners are better able to track movement and deliver solutions residents need. Doing so reduces demand for vehicles, helping keep the roads clear for tasks other means of transportation can’t supply. It may be difficult for other nations to replicate Singapore’s adoption of Internet of Things technology and other elements of smart cities, as the geographically small yet urban city makes coordinating changes easier. Furthermore, its government, dominated by a single political party, is more centralized than the liberal democracies found in many other large cities. However, Singapore will prove to be a valuable testbed for new technologies other cities can learn from.



Could smart canals ever become a reality? If so, Amsterdam is likely to lead the charge. As an early investor in smart technology, Amsterdam first hired a chief technology officer back in 2004, at a time before some of the foundational concepts of smart cities had terms we would recognize today. As with many smart cities, Amsterdam has long focused on transportation, and the use of satellite navigation technology and other sensor-derived data has provided a more pedestrian-friendly cityscape. The success of these transportation improvements is clear. The city had to update their traffic information in 2016, as the previous data, gathered in 2011, was already obsolete: In that time, the number of cars dropped by 25 percent, and the number of more efficient scooters rose by 100 percent. Amsterdam’s unified approach toward smart technology better enables it to combine both private and public efforts, leading to a cohesive approach that’s already paying off. Although not a small city by any means, Amsterdam is smaller than many other cities cited as leading smart cities. The city’s approach to adopting smart technology may make it an example for mid-sized metros to follow, and it’s little surprise that Amsterdam is one of the most popular smart cities to research.


It may seem surprising that Tokyo doesn’t receive as much smart city hype as some of its big-city counterparts. Part of the reason, however, may be due to the fact that it’s long been a quiet leader in seamlessly adopting new technology. Tokyo’s long focus on using energy efficiently makes it, by many measures, the greenest large city in Asia. Furthermore, Tokyo has always been among the first to adopt mobile devices and other smart technology, providing a robust data foundation for planning and discovering innovative uses of smart technology. Public transportation has been a strong point for Tokyo as well. Even though 38 million people live in the Greater Tokyo area, the region boasts perhaps the most dependable trains in the world, and the region has been quick to adopt new technology to offer better speed and efficiency. There’s perhaps no city in the world better able to adapt integrate new technology, and even though Tokyo’s adoption of new technology might seem more incremental than its counterparts, the city is posed to remain a leader in smart technology for the foreseeable future.


After hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, London focused on a new goal: Become one of the leading smart cities. One of the greatest challenges for the city was based on the diversity of its 33 boroughs, which average 250,000 residents. Gathering data, and presenting it in a manner that’s accessible for government officials and technology entities while respecting privacy, provided a framework for planning a top-tier smart city. With more than 700 open data sets, the city is prepared to enter a new five-year phase of smart development, which will focus on connecting the tech community with the needs of residents. In addition to addressing the ever-present concerns of transportation, London is also focusing on how the National Health Service can better provide for those who use it while becoming more efficient and better integrated with other social services. Although it’s already home to more than eight million people, London is still growing, and smart technology well help ensure a better quality of life for new and future residents.

New York City

The largest metropolitan area in the United States, New York City must manage a large population spread across a large geographical area. In some ways, New York has an edge on most other cities aiming to become smarter: Its famous subway system provides a robust and efficient backbone for public transportation, and generous tax revenues provide funding other cities simply can’t match. The Big Apple is focusing on using smart technology to gather more accurate data, helping planners provide even more efficient transportation. New York is also moving to smart lighting, which cuts back on wasted electricity and relies on more efficient lights. Furthermore, smart water metering offers valuable information for planners and inhabitants alike. Progress is slow in a city as large as New York, and upgrading aging infrastructure is a lengthy process. However, the city’s new focus on smart technology is leading to a safer, more efficient, and more connected future.



The Catalonian capital shows that a city doesn’t need to boast an imposing skyline to rank well as a smart city. As with other leading smart cities, Barcelona focuses on mobility, and it’s been able to merge both historical public transportation with more contemporary options to provide a thorough and convenient means to get around. Perhaps Barcelona’s most intriguing public transportation innovation comes from their public bicycle system, which allows users to rent a bicycle at more than 400 stations throughout the city. Efficient energy usage is a cornerstone of smart cities, and Barcelona has emerged as a world leader. Taking advantages of its plentiful sunshine, Barcelona requires all large buildings to produce their own hot water using solar power, and its investment in clean energy makes Barcelona’s move to smart technology a sustainable one.

San Francisco

Although home to only 800,000 people, San Francisco is the hub of the 12th largest metropolitan area in the United States, and its relatively recent history of “anti-Manhattanization” means the city is poorly equipped to deal with the constant and steady stream of new people wishing to call the Bay Area home. In recent years, however, the city’s smart infrastructure has become more worthy of a place where wealth is fueled by technology. LEED’s certification is the norm in San Francisco, and all new buildings must dedicate at least 15 percent of the space to solar panels, which leads to far better energy efficiency despite the city’s well-deserved reputation for cloudy days. Smart parking scales demand for parking spaces to availability, leading to less congestion and better use of limited space while encouraging people to use its increasingly cohesive public transportation. Smart traffic signals will further improve driving efficiency, and pilot programs are seeking to make the ubiquitous smartphone the only tool needed to use the city’s varied transportation options.