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The Top 10 Smartest Cities In North America

Which cities are pushing the envelope of technology, sustainability, and better living conditions?

  • <p>The Top 10 Smartest North American Cities: 1: <a href="" target="_blank">Boston</a></p>
  • <p>2: <a href="" target="_blank">San Francisco</a></p>
  • <p>3: <a href="" target="_blank">Seattle</a></p>
  • <p>4: <a href="" target="_blank">Vancouver</a></p>
  • <p>5: <a href="" target="_blank">New York</a></p>
  • <p>6: <a href="" target="_blank">Washington</a></p>
  • <p>7: <a href="" target="_blank">Toronto</a></p>
  • <p>8: <a href="" target="_blank">Chicago</a></p>
  • <p>9: <a href="" target="_blank">Los Angeles</a></p>
  • <p>10: <a href="" target="_blank">Montreal</a></p>

Some cities are adding high-tech infrastructure. Some are implementing revolutionary sustainability plans. Others are fostering innovative business and science developments. But which city combines these qualities and others to be the smartest city? A few weeks ago, Co.Exist published a ranking of European smart cities (A global smart city ranking was published earlier this year). Now we are publishing the top 10 cities in North America.

Smart Cities Wheel.

The rankings are based on a device I developed called the Smart Cities Wheel, which contains six key components of smart cities and three key drivers for each component. The data sources used are included below. The only data source not currently publicly available is the U.S. e-governance rankings conducted by the E-Governance Institute at Rutgers University. I am grateful to Dr. Marc Holzer and his team for agreeing to forward me their latest rankings which have not yet been published.

The best rankings would involve a large scale effort to capture primary data directly from cities on more than 100 indicators. Resources do not permit that, so I hope these rankings still provide cities with some basis for comparison. Here, then, are the top 10 cities in North America

1. Boston. I recently wrote about Boston’s impressive entrepreneurial ecosystem, which is supported by the mayor through the city’s Innovation District initiative. Aside from having a world-class innovation system (as evidenced by things like New Urban Mechanics office, which "serves as the City’s innovation incubator, building partnerships between City agencies and outside institutions and entrepreneurs to pilot projects in Boston that address resident and business needs") Boston also has some of the smartest residents in the world. It helps that Boston is home to more than 70 universities and colleges, eight of which are dedicated research universities with $1.5 billion in annual R&D expenditures.

2. San Francisco. San Francisco is a vibrant city with a high quality of life and a thriving entrepreneurial economy. San Francisco has become a destination for technology and civic-minded entrepreneurs: Aside from the well-known tech-world heavyweights, it is also the home to numerous organizations like Code for America, which definitely bodes well for its smart future.

One of the areas where San Francisco really stands out is in its environmental leadership. In the Siemens Green City Index, San Francisco rated No. 1 of all North American cities. Out of 30 leading North American cities studied, San Francisco rated among the top three in several categories, including in energy, buildings, waste, and air quality.

3. Seattle. Seattle impressively scored in the top three in four of the six components of the Smart Cities Wheel. Seattle achieved top billing in smart governance, grabbing a No. 1 position in the e-governance ranking from the E-Governance Institute. Seattle has been a North American pioneer developing its first e-government strategy in 2004, and more recently using both RFIDs to track waste and Twitter to communicate about stolen vehicles.

Seattle has always done well on green rankings and showed leadership early by helping to establish the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The city also performed well on the Smart Economy component. In fact, Seattle had the highest economic performance rank of U.S. cities in this ranking (in the Brookings Institute study). Brookings measures economic performance as a function of GDP, employment, population, and income.

4. Vancouver. Vancouver has not yet built a reputation as a leading player in the smart cities arena, but it deserves to. Vancouver was second in North America behind San Francisco on the Siemens Green City Index. And along with San Francisco, Vancouver was the only other city to achieve a top-10 ranking in all nine index categories. With help from visionary Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver aims to become the greenest city in the world by 2020.

Vancouver has the highest quality of life in North America as measured by Mercer: Low crime rates, good education, temperate climate, and easy access to nature are among the city’s redeeming qualities, though increased cost of living is threatening the quality of life for locals. Vancouver is not yet a leading city in the use of smart ICT solutions, but it does have a thriving ICT sector so it is probably only a matter of time until it becomes one.

5. New York City. It is hard to separate the city of New York’s efforts from the individual efforts of billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been instrumental in growing the innovation economy, supporting the greening of NYC and striving for climate leadership and resiliency as the leader of the Clinton 40 Climate Initiative. This will probably come as no surprise to residents of New York (or to urban planners and transportation experts) but the city came in first in every one of the studies I used to rank smart mobility. It had the highest walkability score, the highest transit use, and the No. 1 position on the transit component of the Siemens Green City Index.

Aside from transit, New York also scored top honors in open data, an indicator of smart governance. New York’s 1,306 open data sets make it the clear leader in North America and Europe. In the future I hope to improve the indicators for open data beyond just the number of data sets, but NYC is clearly committed to involving the developer community as evidenced by its pioneering effort with its NYC Big Apps competition.

6. Washington, D.C. While D.C. did not lead in any of the six components of the smart cities wheel, it was amongst the top five in three (economy, governance, and people). D.C. is one of the top cities in the U.S. for transit use and e-governance (D.C. was 2nd amongst this list according to the E-governance Institute rankings). Washington D.C. has been a pioneer in the adoption of new technology, including the launch of a private cloud in 2010 and the early use of mashups to become a "GIS model city."

7. Toronto. Like Vancouver, Toronto scores high in Smart Living as measured by the Mercer Quality of Life index. Toronto was also rated as having one of the smartest populations among big cities in Canada according to Maclean’s recent ranking. Furthermore, Waterfront Toronto recently built and launched Canada’s first open-access broadband community network that uses fiber optics.

8. Chicago. Former Mayor Richard Daley helped usher in numerous innovations and was committed to greening the city, and under Rahm Emanuel, the city seems to be headed toward even more smart city improvements. For example, Chicago has committed to open data; it now has 851 open data sets. As part of an initiative first launched in 2007, Chicago’s Digital Excellence Smart Communities Program is working with five local communities in an attempt to close the digital divide for the elderly and lower-income residents of the city.

9. Los Angeles. This entry may come as somewhat of a surprise. Los Angeles is famous for its sprawl and traffic jams, which are reflected in a low rate of transit use (11.6%), the lowest by far of any of the cities in this ranking. However, L.A. is starting to break out of the box with increased density, growing its network of pedestrian and cycling paths and increased use of renewable energy. L.A. also is starting to create a thriving technology entrepreneurial ecosystem and is rated fourth globally in the inventive cities ranking.

L.A. is now home to dozens of technology accelerators and incubators, including Launchpad L.A., which funded and supported 23 ventures between 2009 and 2011. Nineteen of those ventures received funding of $80 million in total.

10. Montreal. One of the most "European" cities in North America, Montreal is also one of the more dense cities with high-quality public transit (ranked fourth among these cities in the Siemens Transit index). You may notice another trend: It has the third highest quality of life rating here behind its two Canadian compatriots (rated 22nd globally). The heat map from shows why Montreal is one of the best cities for cycling in North America. Montreal has plenty of room to improve as a smart city but it is on the right path.

All cities around the globe must work harder to improve quality of life—and equal opportunity for all—while reducing their ecological footprint, all in the face of reduced access to national funds and increased strain on infrastructure due to urban migration. These 10 cities have all demonstrated a willingness to begin the journey.

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