- Singapore topped the Switzerland-based Institute for Management Development (IMD) and the Singapore University for Technology and Design’s (SUTD) third Smart City Index this year, followed by Zurich and Oslo, Norway.
- New York City was ranked as the smartest North American city, landing at the twelfth spot on the global list. Los Angeles (31), Washington D.C. (35), Seattle (43) and Denver (45) followed as the top U.S. cities.
- The report ranks 118 global cities based on citizen perceptions of how technology can improve their lives, in addition to economic and social data retrieved from the UN Human Development Index. The report surveyed 120 residents from each city and 15,000 global urban residents total in July 2021, asking 39 questions on how residents feel about their cities based on "health and safety; mobility; activities; opportunities (work and school); and governance."
Affordable housing is the top concern among cities worldwide, according to the report. Environmental concerns are also higher in wealthier cities, while access to better air quality and access to health services have also become higher priorities globally following the pandemic.
The report also noted that the pandemic highlighted the innovative potential of smart cities to sometimes better address certain challenges — such as organizing the distribution of protective equipment, the use of medical facilities and vaccination campaigns — compared to central governments. Strong tech cultures and digital infrastructure helped efforts throughout the pandemic, especially with contact tracing, the report states.
Singapore topped the list in part because it’s long been a supporter of introducing technology in the daily lives of its citizens, said Christos Cabolis, chief economist of the IMD World Competitiveness Center, in an email interview.
"Singaporeans are able to address challenges related to health, safety, or mobility easily and effectively," he said. "Singapore has strong institutions and its residents appreciate the opportunities with respect to work and school available for them. An important reason for success is also the high degree of social cohesion that characterizes the city-state."
Among the New York respondents, more than 62% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they are willing to provide personal data to improve traffic congestion. More than half of respondents in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Denver, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco also said they agree or strongly agree with the statement that they are comfortable with using facial recognition technology to lower crime.
Cabolis, who said the center defines a "smart city" as an urban setting that uses technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanization for its residents, noted that the pandemic has not altered that definition.
"If anything, cities that had incorporated technological solutions... were able to adjust to life during the pandemic more smoothly and receive and provide information more efficiently regarding how to best restrict the spread of the virus," he said.
For local leaders who want to help their cities become smarter, Cabolis advised that leaders listen to their residents.
"We have found that there is not a 'one-size-fits-all’ solution,” he said. "Leaders have to carefully ‘hear’ the residents of their cities to identify what are the important challenges for them to be addressed – and then consider technology that will provide solutions. In the end, it is not the technology that makes a smart city. It is the blend of technology balancing the culture, history and values of the urban setting that enhances the quality of life of their citizens."