What Makes a City Smart?


Shorter commutes, fewer crimes, reduced health burdens, and lower carbon emissions— smart city technologies provide residents with innovative technology, utility, and mobility for ease of living, economic growth, and sustainable development. An often-cited report by McKinsey Global Institute finds that  “smart cities” can improve essential quality of life indicators by 10-30%.

A smart city uses the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and other data-gathering technology to help it run more efficiently. All smart cities have multiple layers working together. For example, a technology base consisting of sensors and smartphones connected to high-speed networks can produce raw data, which computers then process to provide insights and give alerts.

The Idea of a “Smart City” Is Evolving

Until recently, smart city technologies were primarily tools to increase efficiency behind the scenes. After more than a decade, it was recognized that intelligent “smart city” strategies start with the needs of the people, not the available technology. A July 2022 Harris Poll found that the overwhelming majority of 3,185 respondents (87%) thought it was important for their city to invest in emerging technologies. However, priorities will vary, and not all residents will value certain smart city technology. It’s critical to first consider which technologies will have the most positive and widespread impact. As demographics change, economic growth shifts, and problems evolve, municipalities must adapt to use technology to create better solutions and deliver a better quality of life.

Thus, the focus on smart cities has shifted toward incorporating smart technology into existing cities rather than starting from scratch. “It’s essentially become a matter of private entities operating with the permission and support of city or state governments,” according to Ellen Goodman, a professor at Rutgers Law School. “It’s using technology, in a way, to improve the provision of services.”

There are many cities at the forefront of this evolution. Barcelona adopted smart trash bins that signal when they are ready to be emptied. On traffic poles across Chicago, nearly 200 IoT devices analyze trends in noise pollution, climate, and traffic to inform proactive policies. Portland, Oregon, is reportedly on track to be the smartest U.S. city by using data to solve city-wide problems, such as cyclist traffic safety.

How Can Emerging Technologies Be Used in Cities?

By using smart technologies, cities could ultimately connect and integrate their various services and sectors—such as utilities, energy, healthcare, transportation, governance, and security—onto digital platforms. There are numerous ways to upgrade city services with intelligent technologies, including:

  • Traffic Management: Smart systems can resolve congestion by informing drivers about roadblocks and delays. These systems can use Deep Learning algorithms to predict and reduce traffic, which will help lower carbon emissions.
  • Environment Conservation: Artificial intelligence (AI) can analyze data on energy usage in order to decide where best to implement renewable energy sources. AI can also predict pollution levels which will help authorities make decisions best suited for the environment.
  • Healthcare: Patient monitoring systems can detect chronic conditions in advance for better preventative care. Chatbots can provide medical assistance, informational support, and schedule appointments. Lessening the amount of unexpected or emergency visits can help free up local hospital resources.
  • Waste Management: AI can distinguish between different waste types and monitor how many waste containers are filled, preventing overflows. AI can sort recyclables much more efficiently and quickly.
  • Security: AI-enabled cameras can detect criminal behavior and instantly report it to the authorities. Drones can recognize human faces and compare them with a database to trace their identity and authenticate a person entering the city or restricted areas. However, this use case does raise ethical concerns with citizens.

Shape the Future of Cities

What smart cities will look like in the next ten years is being built right now. Technology professionals must evolve with it. A five-course training program from IEEE, Smart City Technologies: Transformation of Cities, will provide insight into how smart technology is altering levels of services in areas such as healthcare systems, transportation, energy distribution, and secured data communication.

What’s covered:

  • Fundamentals of city transformations
  • Role of smart healthcare in smart cities
  • The need for smart city transportation systems
  • Smart city energy distribution and its management
  • Data privacy and security as applied to technology integration

Contact an IEEE Account Specialist to get organizational access.

Interested in the program for yourself? Visit the IEEE Learning Network.



Bocigas. Antonio. (24 October 2002). Smarter cities, smarter future. TechRadar.

Glover, Ellen. (4 November 2022). We Were Promised Smart Cities. Built In.

Islam, Arham. (15 October 2022). Understanding the Role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Building Smart Cities and Top Startups Working on it. Marketechpost.

McCarthy, Dan. (1 November 2022). These 5 charts show what US city residents think about smart city tech. Emerging Tech Brew.

Nordli, Brian. (26 September 2022). How the Array of Things Project Is Making Chicago a Smart City. Built In.

Qin, Sherry. (5 October 2022). Portland wants to be America’s most prominent smart city. Morning Brew.

Weotzel, Remes, Boland, et al. (5 June 2018). Smart cities: Digital solutions for a more livable future. Mckinsey & Company.

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2 Responses to What Makes a City Smart?

  1. Vasudevarao Vadoothker February 9, 2023 at 8:20 pm #

    AI is mandatory. Million residents, the floating population,by passers are to be considered. 2 million independent computers are , same number heterogeneous parallel computation. Can we compete with present technology.?More automation , more responsible not approximation. Crime detection to prevention is more important. The semantic web of city is more important.providing a language, that expresses both data and rules, for reasoning.. the ontology. Third waste management is to researched.

  2. Martin Kizito Waidhuba March 26, 2023 at 10:31 am #

    From a developing country perspective – the availability, reliability, and affordability of utility supplies remains a key concern, these include (1) Electricity, (2) Water, (3) Communications network coverage (fixed & wireless), (4) A genuine intent by the regulators and local government to see through this change. Moreover, the right implementation of the smart city concepts would benefit development efforts of any country for example on Revenue Tax Collections, Crime Prevention, Law Enforcement, and to serve as a sure means to enhance national security due to the readily available datasets to facilitate investigations.

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