7 priorities for smart cities

Tim Harrup

In the introduction to 'Smart City Market Report, 2020-2025' , Alberto Brügge, analyst at IOT Analytics, states that cities like Prague, Manchester and Melbourne use smart trash bins that notify (‘talk to’) waste collection centres when they are full and ready for collection. And connected streetlights that automatically dim on and off according to actual lighting demands have become a reality in Miami, Edinburgh and Jakarta.He says that the citizens of Los Angeles, Hamburg and Beijing can charge their electric vehicles while parked on the street. But despite these advances, global smart city development in 2021 is still at an infant level, with billions of urban populations not having access to many of these solutions. And cities are at significantly different stages of smart city development.

The seven domains which successful smart cities are set out by IOT Analytics as follows:

Holistic smart city development (rather than application-specific)

  Successful smart cities tend to exhibit a holistic approach towards smart city development, prioritising the integration of (new and legacy) city applications and infrastructure under the same system to gain a complete view of the city. Holistic “smart cities of the future” initiatives focus on developing a common IT infrastructure and platforms that can be further leveraged by multiple smart city applications. This contrasts with solely focusing on a particular application area (e.g. mobility, energy, governance), where solutions tend to work in silos limiting the potential reusability of the deployed IT infrastructure for additional use cases. Typically, these holistic projects involve using centralised management software.

Citizens-come-first mindset

  Successful smart cities of the future exhibit a citizen-oriented approach by developing infrastructures that connect and enable citizens to become co-creators of their future city. They set up IoT ‘living labs’ across the city where citizens, students, researchers and businesses can create and test smart city ideas and applications under real conditions.

These urban labs typically consist of a specific area within the city that is either equipped with IoT capabilities (e.g. Amsterdam IoT lab) or delimited for deploying and testing smart city solutions at a small scale without any regulatory restriction (e.g. Copenhagen Street lab).
Successful smart cities also develop participatory platforms that empower citizens to submit and vote on local policy proposals (e.g. Barcelona’s Decidim platform, Seoul’s mVoting platform).

Alignment with government initiatives

Successful smart cities tend to tie their initiatives into larger municipality or government initiatives in a smart city programme or plan. Compared to standalone smart city programmes, governments’ smart city initiatives typically are accompanied by policies and legislations that facilitate their development and implementation. As an example, in 2014, smart city initiatives in Singapore were included within the government’s Smart Nation programme to create a digital economy, society and government. To realise its nationwide smart city project, Singapore’s government has adopted several measures harnessing innovation and research.

Long-term vision

  Programmes for smart cities of the future exhibit long-term character. Implementing specific smart city solutions should not solely focus on addressing a particular goal (e.g. improving urban mobility) but should be geared towards realising an overarching smart city vision. An example of this is Copenhagen’s smart city strategy has five focus areas (health, mobility, energy, smart citizens, and smart learning) where numerous smart city projects and solutions are being developed with the overarching aim of improving citizens’ quality of life and making Copenhagen the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

Sustainability as top priority

Within their smart city programme, successful smart cities prioritise the development of specific smart city solutions that help them the most in improving environmental sustainability. IoT Analytics has observed that all the top fastest-growing smart city use cases have a direct impact in reducing cities’ carbon emission levels and improving the quality of life of their citizens. The list is led by EV charging management, followed by shared mobility, air quality/pollution monitoring, connected streetlights, traffic monitoring and management. For example, cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam have invested in extending and managing the charging infrastructure for their e-bus fleet for their smart cities of the future.


To overcome funding-related limitations, successful smart cities tend to encourage and facilitate collaboration (i.e. public-private partnerships (PPPs)) between the public and private sectors in the development and implementation of smart city projects. Compared to solely private or public funding, PPPs provide numerous benefits for smart city projects. They enable a more balanced sharing of risk, costs, and benefits between the public and private sectors, reducing city budget pressure. PPPs further minimise projects’ dependence on municipal budgets or political leadership changes, thus providing long-term investment opportunities to support the planning and implementation of more extensive smart city projects, among several other benefits.

Open, city-wide databases and platforms

Developing open, city-wide databases and platforms whereby various city-related datasets and platforms are freely available to the public constitutes another top priority in the agenda of smart cities of the future. Making city datasets freely available has been demonstrated to bring about many benefits for cities, including improving city services and government operations through citizen participation and the emergence of new data-driven business models. Additionally, open data initiatives are a crucial part of smart city development since they stimulate innovation by enabling citizens and businesses to leverage key data for creating smart city solutions.