Report spotlights world’s most active smart cities

New research equips city leaders around the world with best practices and recommendations as they plan what daily life will look like for their citizens tomorrow and decades to come.

The smart city movement is young but maturing fast.

A new report released by London-based firm Machina Research called The Smart City Playbook offers detailed analysis of 22 cities along with best practices and recommendations. The report, sponsored by Nokia, reveals the global smart cities movement as both experimental and ambitious. Some cities have dozens of smart city projects underway, but many are in planning or experimental stages. Leaders bold enough to pursue these projects have yet to see their full potential.

The 88-page document provides overview and analysis for each of the cities, with smart city projects filed into three categories: sustainability, safety, and smart living. Cities are scored based on the level of activity in each project area. Evaluation of performance, maturity and impact is not included in the scoring.


“Sustainability” proved the leading driver of smart city initiatives. With a score of 100 indicating maximum activity in a given project area, the average activity level of “sustainability” projects for cities was a score of 62 — compared to 47 for “safe” projects and 55 for “smart” projects. Bangkok, Thailand, was an exception to this tendency, with no projects focused on sustainability.

Here is an overview of the nine of the most active smart cities from the report:

Barcelona, Spain

With more than 100 projects, including smart waste collection, smart lighting, smart grid, traffic management, connected healthcare, environmental monitoring, and open-government programs, Barcelona is a world leader in the smart city space.

Researchers showcased the prominence of strong leadership, public/private partnerships, and open data in the city’s pursuit of open data.


In 2015, the city began building a “city OS” to manage smart city operations across its many projects. With projects in smart lighting, energy monitoring, Wi-Fi, connected CCTV, environmental monitoring, open government and smart waste collection, Barcelona is highly representative of the kinds of projects smart cities are pursuing today.

Cleveland, Ohio

Though the majority of Cleveland’s smart city projects are in the planning stages, the report noted a large number of them. Some areas of focus: traffic management, self-driving vehicles, smart kiosks, fire and environmental monitoring, bike sharing and CCTV.

The report notes that Cleveland’s economic strategy is centered around the establishment of a health care sector to offset losses from the manufacturing sector. The smart city projects planned now are intended to draw new investments that will bolster the city’s communications infrastructure and encourage further smart city projects.

Researchers noted a shortage of citizen engagement from Cleveland, however.


Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Researches noted a “rather wide” range of projects tested and launched in Dubai, including public Wi-Fi, smart lighting and environmental monitoring, smart traffic management, and the Dubai Data initiative data portal.

Researchers saw that Dubai ties many of its smart city projects to key infrastructure sites that have their own funding sources, making it easier to unlock capital investment. The city also operates dedicated testbeds for smart city applications to allow for controlled experiments before projects are launched at full scale.

Researchers also observed the benefit Dubai enjoys in sidestepping some of the typical bureaucratic barriers embedded in government.

“Its achievements show what can be done in a city-state where the resources of local and central government are overlapping, and where project champions do not have to contend with the difficulties of negotiating a path across the electoral cycle,” researchers wrote.


Mexico City

The 1985 earthquake that killed at least 5,000 people and caused more than $3 billion in damage drives much of the thinking behind Mexico City’s smart city projects, researchers concluded. Traces of emergency response, resilience and environmental referendums can be seen throughout the city’s work.

Disaster monitoring systems, a smart grid, traffic monitoring, traffic incident detection, crowdsourced transit data, bike sharing and a data platform are some of the capital’s smart city projects.

The key lesson to be learned from Mexico City, researchers wrote, was that coalitions are needed to allow projects to mature. Departments are focused on their daily duties and can not allocate resources to new smart city projects without formal motivations in place.

New York City


New York’s highly-active smart city efforts center around an ambition to be the most environmentally sustainable city in the world. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg committed to a carbon emissions reduction of 80 percent by 2050. Mayor Bill de Blasio is continuing this mission, committing to a Zero Waste in landfills by 2030 initiative that aims to reduce the number of plastic bags used.

New York City maxed out on the researchers’ activity scale. Smart city projects include LinkNYC kiosks, a DataBridge program that seeks to collect all city data into a single analytics platform, gunshot detection sensors, public building retrofits aimed at energy management, smart grids, environmental monitoring, smart traffic lights and smart waste programs.

In studying the city, researchers observed the importance of transparency, the rewards of coordination between departments with public-sector partners and the value of focusing on areas with the most potential impact.

Researchers also noted that technology needs to take into account the human element. The city’s gunshot detection systems, for instance, are only effective if officers are properly trained in interpreting the captured audio.



With projects in the areas of bike sharing, traffic measurement, parking reservation, public Wi-Fi, environmental monitoring, open data and smart energy, water and waste, Paris is one of the most active smart cities in the area of environmental sustainability.

Paris reinforced several key observations about smart cities. A dedicated Smart City Office provided focus and dedication to drive projects onward, an open-data platform enables the city to encourage creation of new projects by third parties, and the visibility of the city’s bike sharing program lends support to less visible activities that fall under the smart city mission, like environmental monitoring.

San Francisco

San Francisco began its smart city efforts with an emphasis on daily life of its citizens, focusing on natural disaster resilience, environmental sustainability and transportation.

DataSF, the city’s data portal, provides a starting point for smart city projects like waste management, smart lighting in about 43,000 city streetlights, smart water meters, a mobile app for bus tracking called NextBus, and a smart street parking program called SFPark.


Researchers saw in San Francisco that success is contingent on alignment of smart city projects with political agendas. Mayor Ed Lee’s platform centers on homelessness, police and housing, and so smart city projects that hope to find traction will have to be oriented generally around one of those areas.

The report also showed that dedicated innovation teams in the city’s public health and transportation departments may find freedom from the daily grind to pursue new kinds of projects and collaborate across agencies.


Like many cities, Singapore’s smart city efforts are oriented around environmental initiatives, but the city takes an approach that also corresponds with the city-state’s unforgiving governance style.

Alongside smart parking sensor networks and smart lighting are behavioral monitoring programs that use networks of sensors and cameras to spot people littering or breaking the city’s public smoking rules. Those who are identified can be punished by public humiliation — their images printed in newspapers alongside images of the crime.


The nation’s Smart Mobility 2030 initiative is intended to deliver a transit system that accommodates the individual travel patterns of city dwellers.

Self-driving vehicles; a 3-D map of the entire nation that will be included in a Virtual Singapore app; smart waste and water management; and a Safe City Test Bed for cross-sector collaboration and machine-learning integration all comprise the nation’s vision for smart city living.


The Austrian capital’s reasons for pursuing smart city projects, the researchers wrote, are to “radically” reduce carbon emissions and to enable a “socially balanced” quality of living.

Key smart city projects in Vienna include Transform+, a research project aimed at identifying new ways to reduce air pollution, a smart mobility project, a smart road maintenance program, and Aspern.mobil, a long-term Internet of Things project covering 20,000 new buildings that seeks to deliver recommendations informed by big data and powered by sensor networks.


Researchers found that Vienna’s government leaders found success where they cut across departments to eliminate work silos. To fight institutional inertia, the city also found success in building incentives around innovation and ideas that come from outside city government.

The report lists six high-level conclusions and recommendations based on the findings of the cities studied:

The cities covered by the report:

  • Auckland, New Zealand
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Bogotá, Colombia
  • Bristol, England
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • New Delhi, India
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Mexico City
  • New York City
  • Paris
  • Pune, India
  • San Francisco
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Shanghai, China
  • Singapore
  • Tokyo
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Wuxi, China

The full playbook can be downloaded free from Machina Research.

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