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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.

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