What is a Smart City? 5 Leading Cities Give Their Definition

Urban SDK
November 16, 2023

In the last 15 years, the concept of a Smart City has become a focus of public attention as an answer to emerging needs and challenges of urban areas. Fueled by the potential of ICT (information and communication technologies), cities around the world are adopting a variety of strategies to improve economic competitiveness, sustainability, social and capital attractiveness and most importantly quality of life for everyone. 

There is a wide spectrum of strategies that cities can put forward to become smarter but it is not always that obvious to select those that fit their specific needs and ambitions. Decisions are often the results of important trade-offs and identifying the right balance requires cities to be fully aware of their forces and weaknesses.

There seems to be an agreement that additional literature is still welcome with respect to Smart City processes and strategies, namely to provide more guidance to cities in-search for answers in their complex task of developing their smart mobility strategy. 

This White Paper builds on existing literature by providing insights on the development of smart cities collected through in-depth interviews with 5 key smart cities highlighted at the Montreal ITS World Congress 2017: 

  • Columbus (USA),
  • Singapore
  • Copenhagen (Denmark), 
  • Christchurch (New Zealand)
  • Montreal (Canada)

What is a Smart City? 

Being labelled as a Smart City has definitely become a current trend among public organizations. However, a relevant question to ask is whether this labelling has the same meaning for all those organizations and cities around the world. The literature review and study of the 5 case studies are used to define the components of a Smart City.

Here's what a few leaders had to say:

Christchurch -
“A Smart City is one who is responsive to his community needs in real time,
engages with the community and enables the community to engage with it.” 
Columbus -
“A Smart City is a city that makes data driven decisions to enhance its residents
and visitors’ life.”
“A Smart City is a city which is very good in using data but a Smart City is also a
city which is using the infrastructure that they always added. So, this is not only
about the 0 and 1 but it is also about the physical structure of a city.” 
Montreal - "A Smart City is a community that uses technologies and social innovations to
improve the life quality of all his citizens." 
Singapore - “A smart nation is one that honors the technologies to improve the lives of the

While the definition of a Smart City still varies by the objectives and administration leading the way, a few consistent themes are prevalent.

  • Community Impact - how can we improve the quality of life of our citizens?
  • Technology Role - how can new technology change or improve our operations?

Check our the full smart city research and white paper from ITS America to read more about each of these communities have begun to re-define their role in the development of ways to plan the future of our communities.

Related Blogs

Sign up for a demo & data trial

Sign up to access a trial account and demo with our team.