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Understanding Smart Cities

The concept of Smart Cities has been used extensively in the past two decades by the scientific community and policy makers alike. Prior to defining what it is, which has its own intricacies, it is essential to understand the role that cities play in the future of mankind. Mori and Christodoulou (2012) explain that cities not only determine the social and economic aspects of the individual but they also have enormous impact on the environment. The United Nations’ World Cities 2018 states that urban settlements hosted as high as 55.3 percent of the world population in 2018.

The urbanization trend will only increase as time goes by as cities will house 60% of the world population in 2030 and 70% in 2050. 80 % of the population already resides in cities in Europe today. Energy consumption in cities is also significantly higher than rural areas, which is linked with their economic significance but also environmental deficiencies. According to the World Bank, cities consume as high as 80 % of energy while they account for 70% of CO2 emissions and the more densely populated the city, the higher these percentages. 

As the more recent of urban sustainability has centered on achieving social and economic growth through sustainable solutions (Turcu, 2013), high-quality urban services such as transportation has been deemed as indispensable to modern cities. In order to optimize these services, policy-makers throughout the world have sought answers in technologies, including Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in order to create “Smart Cities”.

Smart Cities

On a general note, the concept of Smart Cities which was originally used in the 90’s refers to the deployment of technology as an essential element in the modern infrastructure of cities. The divide within the scientific community in regards to the definition of Smart Cities resides in the manner and the extent the exploitation of ICT in urban areas, among other technicalities. Nonetheless, a largely agreed upon definition is Gartner’s (2011) that states:

  • “smart city is based on intelligent exchanges of information that flow between its many different subsystems. This flow of information is analyzed and translated into citizen and commercial services. The city will act on this information flow to make its wider ecosystem more resource- efficient and sustainable. The information exchange is based on a smart governance operating framework designed to make cities sustainable.”


One of the first institutions in the world to tackle the issue of making cities smarter using information technology was The California Institute for Smart Communities.

Smart cities are modern cities that try to enhance the quality of its residence through making interactions between them and their urban environment possible. Technology is thereby  integrated with infrastructure such as public transport via the Internet of Things (IoT) which is a technology that helps create a network where objects for instance are capable of communicating with each other intelligently. Through such network, your car for instance is connected with a data center and is able to feed you real-time information about the roads you take to cut down on energy consumption and traffic reports to avoid going to more congested areas. The economic and social impacts of this smart connection of objects and services in cities as it can predict and identify opportunities and risks before they present themselves, or in real time, thus enabling fullest possible exploitation and prevention.


Examples of Smart Cities :

Singapore launched a program in 2014 to become the world’s first smart nation. Lee Hsien Loong, who has served as Prime Minister since then called for the deployment of cameras and sensors throughout the entire country. These are collecting information about traffic, high-risk buildings, sanitation, criminal behavior and all aspects of Singaporean daily-life. Jupiter Research, a UK-based market research firm ranked Singapore as the smartest country on earth for endorsing laws and policies facilitating the use of technology as well as its wireless interconnectivity.

The Spanish city of Barcelona is a smart city which usage of a network of fiber optics has enabled it to set aside an annual fund of €75 million. The free high-speed Wi-Fi that it established in the city end-to-end supports the Internet of Things technology and allows a massive flow of information between the residents and the management systems of public water, lighting and parking. By adopting these smart technologies, Barcelona has also managed to create 47,000  job positions.