The Top 10 Smart Cities On The Planet

Crunching a list of variables about innovation and sustainability, we rank the world’s smartest cities, from New York to Hong Kong (and with an unexpected winner)

Last year, I spent considerable time researching best practices for climate resilient cities—an endeavor that culminated in what I believe was the first ever global ranking of resilient cities. Now, after extensive research on smart cities initiatives around the globe, I have developed what may be the first ever global rankings of smart cities.

The term "smart cities" is a bit ambiguous. Some people choose a narrow definition—i.e. cities that use information and communication technologies to deliver services to their citizens. I prefer a broader definition: Smart cities use information and communication technologies (ICT) to be more intelligent and efficient in the use of resources, resulting in cost and energy savings, improved service delivery and quality of life, and reduced environmental footprint—all supporting innovation and the low-carbon economy.

Here, then, are the top 10 smart cities:

1.) Vienna. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as going into the research I had not heard much about Vienna as a smart city. But Vienna was the only city that ranked in the top 10 in every category: innovation city (5), regional green city (4), quality of life (1) and digital governance (8). Vienna is establishing bold smart-city targets and tracking their progress to reach them, with programs like the Smart Energy Vision 2050, Roadmap 2020, and Action Plan 2012-2015. Vienna’s planners are incorporating stakeholder consultation processes into building and executing carbon reduction, transportation and land-use planning changes in the hopes of making the city a major European player in smart city technologies.

2.) Toronto. The highest rated smart city in North America, Toronto also scores pretty well across the board. Recognizing its importance in the movement, IBM recently opened a Business Analytics Solutions Center in Toronto. Toronto is also an active member of the Clinton 40 (C40) megacities, which seek to transition to the low-carbon economy. The private sector in Toronto is collaborating too, creating a Smart Commute Toronto initiative in the hopes of increasing transit efficiency in the metro area. Toronto also recently began using natural gas from landfills to power the city’s garbage trucks. That’s smart closed-loop thinking.

3.) Paris. As is typical of sustainability-related rankings, Europe fared well. Paris was highly rated in several categories including innovation (3), green cities in Europe (10), and digital governance (11). Paris was already on the world map for its highly successful bike sharing program, Velib, and just last month, the mayor launched a similar model for small EVs called Autolib, which currently has 250 rental stations.

4.) New York. New York scored higher than most other cities in the ranking in all of the categories outside of quality of life, where it ranked a miserable 47th. New York partnered with IBM in 2009 to launch the IBM Business Analytics Solution Center to address "the growing demand for the complex capabilities needed to build smarter cities and help clients optimize all manner of business processes and business decisions." In New York, IBM is already helping the city prevent fires and protect first responders as well as identify questionable tax refund claims—a move that is expected to save the city about $100 million over a five-year period.

5.) London. The UK capital also scored relatively high across the board. London has been well-recognized for some of its sustainability innovations (i.e. congestion tax) and its robust transit system. The city will soon be home to Smart Cities research center housed at Imperial College, which will leverage transport, government, business, academic and consumer data in hopes of making the city more efficient and innovative. Just the other day, London announced a partnership with O2 to launch the largest free Wi-Fi network in Europe.

6.) Tokyo. Tokyo is the first Asian city on this list, scoring well in the innovation (22) and digital city (15) categories. Last year, the city announced plans to create a smart town in the suburbs. In partnership with Panasonic, Accenture, and Tokyo Gas (among others), the eco-burb will contain homes that integrate solar panels, storage batteries, and energy efficient appliances all connected to a smart grid. Tokyo is also focused on promoting smart mobility solutions.

7.) Berlin. Berlin also performs well across the board, with good scores in innovation (14), green-ness (8th in Europe) and quality of life (17). In collaboration with Vattenfall, BMW, and others, Berlin is testing out vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies in the hopes of creating a virtual power plant from electric vehicles.

8.) Copenhagen. Lately, it seems Copenhagen has been doing a lot right. It was rated number one on the green scale in Europe by Siemens and also achieved number one ranking in my global resilient cities ranking last year. All with good reason: Copenhagen is taking a real leadership role on sustainable innovation. The city has committed to carbon neutrality by 2025 and 40% of its citizens regularly commute via bicycle. Furthermore, I was quite impressed with the way their mayor, Frank Jensen, recently articulated the role of cities as growth engines and the potential to stimulate the economy through cleantech innovation.

9.) Hong Kong. Hong Kong scored quite well in key areas, including the digital governance ranking (3). However, its quality-of-life score (70) dropped the city down to ninth in my ranking of smart cities. Hong Kong is experimenting with RFID technology in its airport, as well as throughout the agriculture supply chain. The city has also been a leader in the use and adoption of smart cards, which are already used by millions of residents for services like public transit, library access, building access, shopping, and car parks.

10.) Barcelona. Barcelona was recently ranked the number two smart city in Spain in the IDC report, and with good reason. The city is a pioneer in smart city and low-carbon solutions. It was among the first in the world to introduce a solar thermal ordinance about a decade ago, recently launched the LIVE EV project to promote the adoption of EVs and charging infrastructure, and the city also recently announced a major partnership to develop a living lab for smart-city innovation.

There were many other strong candidates which are runners-up in this first ranking, including Amsterdam, Melbourne, Seattle, São Paulo, Stockholm, and Vancouver.

Pundits and industry insiders expect smart cities to become a sizable market, with projections of nearly $40 billion spent on smart-cities technologies by 2016. And real estate experts predict that smart cities will in the future be attractive to the educated work force and will therefore become real-estate gold. All reasons enough to get on the smart-city bandwagon. Who knows? Maybe next year your city could crack the top 10 rankings.

Add New Comment


  • UWSdoc

    Boston is #1 in North America but not top 10 in world? I know which website isn't on the list of 10 smartest.

  • Singapore is No.2 is Asia Pacific list and ranks above Tokyo and Hongkong but it is not in top 10 in planet list.

  • Ivan Perez

    This ranking is a joke.Toronto isn´t even a smart city,man.Toronto is just the typical American hub of misery.Smart cities have to be livevable: Barcelona,Munich,Viena....

  • Mckwezi

    Hi Mr. Cohen, I´m very interested in your smart city ranking since am writing my masters thesis on this subject. I would like to know what aspects were added in your methodology that the ranking changed from  then one you did last year. Would be helpful if you got me some information on your methodology.

  • Teshome Alemu

    Hi Mckwezi, I've just started my to write my thesis on smart city. I hope by now you have done with your thesis. Are you willing to share your experiences?

  • bmjhnson

    I am also doing my Masters of Architecture Thesis on this subject matter.. I know you guys have posted long ago, but always worth a shot to reach out for assistance.. If you get this please email me at bmjhnson@siu.edu to share your experience and such :) thanks

  • Aavante

    Dear Dr Cohen :

    It seems that Lobbying and benchmarking  are serious scientific fact …..
    just for you.

    "....IBM recently
    opened a Business Analytics Solutions Center in Toronto...",
    ..."....The private sector in
    Toronto is collaborating too, creating a Smart Commute Toronto
    initiative in the hopes of ......."

    Did you heard that former Mayor Rob Ford announced (december
    2010) an end to both the Transit City light rail plan and the “war on cars.”? ……….
    What a smart city !!

    Do you know that here in Canada we have two official
    languages? (english and french)

    So, I think is very important that canadian-french speakers
    knows a bit about your « article ».


    Il semble que le Lobbying et le benchmarking  sont des faits scientifiques …… juste pour

    « ..IBM a recemment ouvert un centre d’analyse
    de solutionsd’affaires à Toronto … » , « … Le secteur privé à Toronto
    est aussi en train d’y collaborer, en créant une initiative pour le
    Transfert intelligent à Toronto dans l’espoir de …. »

    Avez-vous entendu parler que l’ancien Maire de Toronto
    Robert Ford annonça (en décembre 2010) une fin autant pour le plan du SLR que
    pour la « guerre à l’auto »? ……….. Quelle ville intelligente !!

  • Frances

    How does Toronto make No. 2 on 'The Smartest Cities on The Planet'?  On 'The Top 10 Smartest Cities in North America'  Boston is (1), San Francisco (2), Seattle (3), Vanouver (4), New York (5), & Washington DC (6)   -  Toronto is (7).

  • Esteve

     i think you're making a big mistake considering Paris as one of the top smart cities... have you ever been there ? Did you use the subway system ?

  • Rick

    Toronto currently has the best economy in Canada.  In fact the Financial Post described it as being 'On Fire' (in a great way).  It's a fantastic city.

  • Marcel Bullinga, futurist

    You are the first one that I know of to aggregation all by himself. Cool. I did it as research for my book "Welcome to the Future Cloud - 2025 in 100 Predictions". I made a "Happy Countries Ranking". 
    You can find the Excel here: http://www.futurecheck.com/ima... appreciated!Kindly,Marcel Bullinga, futuristwww.futurecheck.cominfo@futurecheck.nl 

  • Marc Brenman

    Hong Kong as a smart city?  Too bad there was no criterion for freedom of thought.  Guess the compilers forgot that HK is completely dominated by the Peoples Republic of China...

  • Gregorywlloyd

    Well, that shows how ignorant you are fool! Hong Kong has its own form of government, it is an SAR there is freedom of thought, ownership and information.
    - Hong Kong Permanent Resident

  • Robert Latchford

    Surprised you didn't mention Seoul , Dubai , Stockholm or Singapore. The weighting seems very Euro centric. Maybe you should expand it to a Top 50. Mercer have done their QOL rankings for a few years now and Cities like Auckland and Melbourne rank favourably.

  • ah123abc

    Toronto is your #2 in the world? You've got to be kidding me, right? And this was done by, as you said, "objective ranking based on aggregation of secondary data from other benchmarking studies"?

    Has the fact that OECD ranked Toronto one of the worst commutes, even compared to NYC and LA, in North America been factored in? That the city's public transit is crippled by decades of no or insignificant expansion compared to rapid development, a lack of a national transit plan, and a highly dysfunctional municipal debate that has been raging for the past few years over whether to have above or below ground extension into the suburbs of the existing line?

    A mayor that got his council cronies to vote for removal of bike lanes that cost $59,000 to put in but $200,000 to erase? A population that voted this mayor in based on the fact that he loves cars and hates bikes and public transport that impedes on the right of the driver?

    We in Toronto are currently arguing about budget cuts based on a simplistic mayoral campaign promise of eliminating "gravy" that suburban idiots fell for and now must face reality. What's on the chopping block? Anything that the mayor thinks is wasteful or not ideologically compatible. Libraries, public pools, daycare, gay Pride funding, arts, senior shelters, bus routes, etc. This for a city ranked for so-called quality of life and delivery of services

    Smart is not how I would describe Toronto or Toronto voters out in the burbs.