Smart city projects from around the world: The ecosystem perspective

There are numerous reviews on smart city plans and projects that allow understanding what cities do to implement the smart city model. This is the case, for instance, of the book Technology and the city: Systems, applications and implications authored by Tan Yigitcanlar and published by Routledge (2016). Tan reviewed ten cities in Asia, Europe, Middle East, USA, and Oceania that implemented smart city strategies and projects, and outline the diversity of solutions and innovations that were introduced:

  • Songdo, Korea is part of the national programme of economic development, focused on broadband networks, sensor-based solutions for smart living, offering a test-bed for RFID, and R&D on smart technologies.
  • Tianjin, China, developed a smart city masterplan based on 26 KPIs, and solutions for eco-city ICTs, intelligent building management systems, and sensing technologies.
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands, focused on ICTs for a better urban environment and reduction of CO2 emissions, ICTs for user engagement, and smart city projects for mobility, living, working, public space, and open data. Dominant is a retrofitting approach implemented through a series of physical-digital projects.
  • Barcelona, Spain, has the area 22@Barcelona as a flagship innovation district; Sant Cugat for testing sensor-based parking, traffic jam avoidance, garbage collection, environment monitoring, street lighting; and solutions for smart buildings, smart grid, and smart metering.
  • Mazdar, Abu-Dhabi, focused on the creation of a global clean technology cluster, electrified mass transit system, and energy metering systems. Also the MIST science and engineering research university was located, developed in collaboration with MIT.
  • Istanbul, Turkey, focused on ICTs for transport, the use of dynamic intersection signaling, and traffic data analytics; also, ICTs for earthquake monitoring with real-time alert and gas distribution control in case of earthquake events.
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. IBM installed an Intelligent Operations Centre with dozens of control systems for electricity, water, oil, gas, transport, traffic, smart meters for energy saving; a safety and emergency response system for crime prevention and policing using cameras and real-time analytics.
  • San Francisco, USA, developed ICT solutions for sustainability, zero waste, recycling, CO2 reduction; and applications for sustainability such as energy mapping, energy use challenge, honest buildings, open data, and living labs for energy optimisation.
  • Auckland, New Zealand, focused on ICTs for innovation in the sectors of energy, transport, waste, buildings, food, agriculture; digital learning and skills development, enterprise development, entrepreneurship of innovation-led companies.
  • Brisbane, Australia, gave priority to ICTs for growth, knowledge-based development, knowledge precincts, and the Brisbane knowledge corridor; it also developed ICTs for sustainability that reduces energy consumption, CCTV cameras for road intelligence, traffic signals, and open Wi-Fi in parks and libraries.

There is great diversity in strategies and projects in the above ten cities. It appears that major concerns of smart city initiatives are growth, the creation of knowledge and innovation districts, clusters, and digital environments for business support. Very strong too is the attempt to develop sustainable city infrastructures, improvement of energy efficiency, use of renewable energy, water savings, waste management, and green transportation. These core orientations are coupled with projects for better living, e-health, education, safety, and security. All projects require good broadband infrastructure and in many cases sensor networks for data collection and real-time solutions.

A recent is book Smart City Emergence: Cases from around the world edited by Leonidas Anthopoulos and published in the Elsevier Smart Cities series (2021) makes a step further. The book has collected and presents information from several cities around the globe with regard to their Smart City development. It presents how different cities have approached the Smart City; the vision that they defined for their SC and the problems they wanted to solve with the corresponding smart solutions; the projects that were launched and the timeline for their development; the corresponding budgets and the implementation methodologies, etc. But mainly is a book about the projects that were designed and implemented.

Following a chapter on project management, 20 city reviews are included in the book that highlights how different cities have organised their smart city process in terms of smart city projects. 45 authors contributed to the reviews and the cities are from all the continents. While some projects and initiatives are relatively simple, others require complex efforts of articulation between the public sector, private sector, and citizens, digital and non-digital systems. Renovation of urban areas, smart lighting and traffic lights, solutions for the development of a creative economy, coworking spaces, and projects for start-ups are among them.

An overview of the cities, projects, and their domain is given in this Table. All cities have implemented also projects related to broadband networks, wi-fi, and open wi-fi. Broadband together with cloud computing forms the basic infrastructure on which all other projects and services operate. Among the many conclusions that we can draw from this Table what stands out is the organisation of projects by city ecosystems. We can identify 16 ecosystems that fall into three groups:

  • Area-based ecosystems: district renewal, hub district (port / rail / airport), university campus, housing.
  • Activity-based ecosystems: startups and innovation, safety, living, health, education, tourism and hospitality, shopping, governance.
  • Network-based ecosystems: broadband, mobility, energy, environment, water, circular economy, recycling, wast

These three types of ecosystems have quite different locational behaviour: area-based ecosystems cluster spatially to form city districts, activity-based ecosystems spread throughout the city, and network-based ecosystems locate along with the urban axis and transport networks.

The ecosystem perspective in the making of smart cities derives from the system of (eco)systems understanding of cities. Challenges, problems, stakeholders, and activities differ from one ecosystem to another. Ecosystems define the context and the dynamics of change. Usually many projects, independent or integrated, are needed to change an ecosystem. Still, the smart city implementation landscape is fragmented in vertical markets (energy, mobility, governance, real estate, etc.) with little interoperability and exchange. Smart city projects follow this fragmentation, and the ecosystem of reference defines the type of intervention, the solutions and know-how available, and the potential for change.

The next generation of smart cities should deal with this fragmentation, developing platforms with higher interoperability and common solutions across city ecosystems. There are forms of intelligence, optimisation, and innovation that cross smart city ecosystems and it is feasible to develop platforms that are ecosystem-agnostic offering important economies of scope.