By 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will be living in cities – producing an ever greater share of the planet’s economic output. It is in cities that the most critical decisions and actions relating to resource consumption and carbon emissions will be taken.

Urban populations are growing and rural populations declining, and cities will play the pivotal role in the world’s achievement or otherwise of most of the UNDP Sustainable Development Goals. However, in order to maximize their potential as positive agents of change, cities need to:

Become digitally smart – effectively deploy information and communication technologies to execute governance, stimulate citizen action, and share learnings across institutions and among cities;

Become physically smart – transform infrastructure and processes for flows of energy, materials, services and financing to catalyse sustainable development, resilience, and a higher quality of life; and

Become economically smart – establish local ecosystems through which citizens and businesses can share assets and resources, and collaborate to meet specific goals.

The modes of ‘smartness’ apply pervasively: extending from municipal services, transport, energy and healthcare, to the choices that citizens make as consumers, to the physical space (for example, resource-efficient buildings).

Cities tend to be benchmarked on various criteria cutting across three dimensions: liveability (quality of life, urban mobility); workability (income equality, working environment and economic productivity); and sustainability (e.g., resource and energy efficiency, pollution and environmental protection). Smart cities excel in how they improve on all three dimensions



The need to improve the efficiency and sustainability of flows of water, energy, food, materials and people through urban conglomerations is perhaps the key driver for cities to become smarter – digitally, physically and economically.


Accounting for some 70% of global GHG emissions, and with 360 million urban residents living no higher than 10m above sea level, cities are a focal point for climate change mitigation and adaptation.  Oslo, Norway, has pledged to reduce emissions by 50% by 2020 relative to 1990 levels. This demands close collaboration between citizens, businesses, organizations, national and city governments.


Optimizing the complex operation of city functions requires a digital sense-process-respond system. In addition to wired and wireless channels connecting computers and mobile technology, such a system relies on sensors and monitoring devices connecting the digital and physical world, and an advanced software infrastructure enabling remote operation of geographically distributed systems.


Creating resource efficient, low carbon, well-functioning and digitally operable cities requires policies and regulations tailored to mobilize citizen action and stimulate investment in transformative technology and solutions.

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Urban mobility programmes focus on technology that can help to broaden consumer choices and reduce travel time, congestion and pollution.

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This often requires re-directing city spending from increasing road and highway capacity towards alternative mobility models and services. Many cities are paving the way for this transformation by digitalizing their public-transit systems and allowing citizens to use mobile apps to book and pay for any trip by any mode of public transport in one click. Other apps deploy real-time data to guide drivers to available parking spots or provide on-demand point-to-point bus services (variable start and end-points) optimizing pickups, drop-offs, and routing based on demand.

This wave of e-mobility apps is also spurring an emerging collaborative mobility economy. Some apps connect car drivers with potential passengers, or allow people to borrow a car from another city resident. Collaborative arrangements are also occurring in the business segment. E-mobility service providers are partnering with technology providers to power their businesses, and manufacturers are interacting with, for instance, insurance firms to develop new products for autonomous vehicles.



City resilience – the provision of a safe, secure, and reliable environment for both businesses and citizens – is a central objective for city governments, and key to attract new businesses.

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This objective is frequently being put under scrutiny by extreme weather events and increasing urban agglomeration.

Infrastructures are also becoming more complex and more interconnected, so that disruptions of one infrastructure, like power lines, may lead to cascading effects and bring down other critical infrastructures like water, transport, food and waste.

The creation of city resilience requires smart governance through adoption of a systems perspective – an understanding interdependencies between digital and physical infrastructures and the cities’ ecological, social and governance systems.



The Amsterdam metropolitan area has an innovation platform called “Amsterdam Smart City”

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It challenges businesses, residents, the municipality and knowledge institutions to suggest and apply innovative ideas and solutions for urban issues. Since 2009, Amsterdam Smart City has attracted in excess of 100 partners who are actively involved in more than 92 innovative projects. These projects run on an interconnected platform through wireless devices to enhance the city’s real-time decision making abilities.

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Institute has been established to innovate on topics like water, food and energy. The institute brings together the Universities of Delft (NL), Wageningen (NL) and Berkeley (USA) to work with industry and the municipality of Amsterdam. One of its pilot projects uses gaming to engage youths to save energy by raising awareness and changing behaviour. Another recent initiative is the 3D Print Canal House, a dramatic demonstrator project in which an international team of partners has joined forces with local scientists, designers, the construction industry and other members of the community to 3D print a canal house at an expo-site in the very heart of Amsterdam.



Singapore is reaching beyond the ambition of becoming a smart city; it intends to become a ‘Smart Nation’.

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Its government is keenly aware of the need for anticipation of and taking early action on the megatrends that will impact Singapore, and the world. The two most important trends for Singapore are those of an ageing population, and an urban density of nearly 8,000 people per square kilometre – compared with 350-400 in countries like Japan and The Netherlands.

Singapore is pulling together its universities and medical facilities, research and development (R&D) investments, a fast-growing community of tech start-ups and investment capital in a remarkable collaborative effort. The government is powering these innovation efforts by putting in place standards to support innovation, establishing an island-wide high speed 1Gbps broadband access and wireless broadband infrastructure, making available some 11,000 governmental data sets, and hosting a ‘living lab’ to test new ideas and solutions for a smart energy infrastructure, using sensor networks and big data and analytics technologies.

Examples of innovation initiatives include the trialing of a tele-health rehabilitation system enabling home therapy sessions and opening of a road network for autonomous vehicle trials. The government’s Smart Energy Community test-bed is part of the Eco-Campus programme based on experiences of the ‘PowerMatching City’ in the Netherlands. It will demonstrate customers’ use and business cases to enhance energy efficiency, maximise renewable energy integration, and develop new electricity market policies for Singapore’s future energy system.

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