Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich top index of world's smartest cities

The new ranking comes amid growing debate over the future of urban design for a post-Covid era.

Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade in Singapore
A man wearing a mask in precaution of the coronavirus looks on along the Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade in Singapore. Image: Reuters/Edgar Su

Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich are the world’s smartest cities, according to an index published on Thursday amid a growing debate on the future of urban design for a post-Covid era.

From smart traffic cameras and car sharing apps to pollution monitoring and free wifi for all, cities around the world are racing to embrace technology, but researchers said the real test was whether citizens felt the benefits.

“The world’s ‘smart’ cities don’t simply adopt new technology, they make sure it truly improves citizens’ lives,” said Arturo Bris of the Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development (IMD), which published the index.

The Smart City Index, now in its second year, surveyed more than 13,000 people in 109 cities, focusing on how they perceived the impact of technology in five areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance.

Others in the top 10 included Auckland, Oslo, Copenhagen, Geneva, Taipei City, Amsterdam, New York, while Abuja, Nairobi and Lagos ranked bottom.

The index, a collaboration with the Singapore University for Technology and Design, showed that many countries are developing smart secondary cities beyond their capitals.

I think we’re moving to a world where we will be more dispersed. We will be safer if we live in smaller cities.

Arturo Bris, director, IMD World Competitiveness Center

The Spanish city of Bilbao ranked higher than Madrid, while Britain’s second city Birmingham has risen up the index faster than London.

Bris, director of the IMD World Competitiveness Center, said cities’ priorities in using technology varied widely.

The Colombian city of Medellin - once notorious for its drug cartels but now a posterchild for smart planning - has seen crime drop after introducing free wifi, which made it easier for people to report crime, he said.

Although many cities around the world have introduced car sharing schemes in a bid to cut congestion, Bris said Moscow had been particularly successful in persuading drivers to join them after introducing free parking for users.

Experts say Covid-19 has accelerated a shift towards more inclusive, greener, smarter cities.

Bris also predicted a growing trend towards smaller cities.

“I think we’re moving to a world where we will be more dispersed. We will be safer if we live in smaller cities,” he added.

He said the survey underscored that megacities often found it difficult to become smart.

“Smaller cities have an advantage,” he added. “In the case of Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich, their size allows them to invest significantly in technology that reaches all citizens.”

Although China is developing hundreds of smart cities equipped with sensors, cameras and other gadgets that can crunch data on everything from pollution to public health, they ranked relatively low in the index.

Bris said this was because of their size but also because of concerns about data privacy and surveillance.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.

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