Smart cities

What is a smart city?

A ‘smart city’ is widely understood to mean the use of technology and automation to advance a city’s functioning and capabilities.

The concept has captured the imagination of policymakers and tech corporations across the globe and the smart city market is projected to value US$2.46 trillion by 2025.

If you were to imagine a technology-driven smart city, you might think of:

  • An AI chatbot service managing public enquiries in Seoul
  • Embedded automated sensors monitoring pedestrian activity in Melbourne
  • Self-driving cars on the streets of London
  • A 3D ‘digital twin’ model to guide development in New York

These examples may seem futuristic, but they are already happening in these major global cities.

In recent years, however, the term has evolved away from a reliance on futuristic tech to become ‘smart’ in the sense of clever, reflecting the hope that new (or repurposed pre-existing) technologies can help make cities more sustainable, climate-resilient and responsive to the needs of their residents.

At the same time, some recent backlash suggests the widespread integration of technology into cities may be losing its lustre. Just last year the City of Toronto ended its partnership with the Google-affiliated Sidewalk Labs and is now seeking a less high-tech transformation for its waterfront.

Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the integration of data into municipal operations and exacerbated the associated challenges. Health data, visualisations and infographics became ubiquitous; new collaborations between governments, universities and businesses were initiated and many schools and workplaces shifted online.

The importance of data education and clear storytelling became ever more apparent as distrust and misinformation spread and governments had to manage widespread privacy concerns and digital exclusion.

As municipalities begin to think beyond the pandemic, how can they integrate rapidly advancing technology safely and effectively into their planning and operations, in a way that helps their communities rather than being technology-led?

This bundle and the 14 September Global Local Recap offer some answers, through thoughtful explorations of the potential of smart cities and digital integration, along with international case studies.

More information about the free, weekly Global Local Recap is available here.


Smart cities: exploring the concept


Is a ‘smart city’ a good city?

This briefing looks at the evolution of the smart city and suggests that its meaning changes depending on the context to which it is applied. Smart city development is discussed in South Africa through a series of themes that emerged at the recent World Cities Summit. Read our content here.

Data-driven cities: adjacent possibilities or giant leaps?

“Smart cities”, “responsive cities”, data-driven cities” are all terms that any city policy maker or planner is exposed to and expected to understand. They can, however, mean different things to different role players. This briefing analyses the shift across the local government sector and explores what makes the transition to data-driven cities effective. Read our content.

Why leaders need to understand digital – and what they really need to know

Folk in all sectors are being constantly bombarded with instructions to digitally transform their organisations, or calls to digitise services, and to make use of the cloud. But what do those in leadership positions at councils need to know to build ‘digital organisations’, and how can we build on the digital progress made during the pandemic? Read our content.

Smart cities: case studies and best practice from around the world


Nordic Smart Cities: Using data to improve population health

The pandemic has seen populations more open than ever to helping to collect and report their individual health data for positive collective outcomes. In this blog, we highlight innovation from the Nordic Smart City Network, where cities are using data from a range of sources to target health and wellbeing issues extending well beyond Covid-19. Read our content.

Improving liveability all around

Smart cities are more than just using tech. They are ultimately about using technology to improve the quality of life and happiness of our citizens. This collection of examples shows how across six dimensions of smart city frameworks. Read more.

Small and connected: innovation as the Faroe Islands lead the way with digital services

Talgildu Føroyar is a digital platform aimed at improving the efficiency of public services and modernising welfare systems in the Faroe Islands. The platform provides us with lessons for the digitalisation of local government services, making for a relevant briefing for officers and members reviewing council services in the context of an increasingly digital environment. Read our content.

Collaborating for innovation in smart cities

This blog draws lessons from Joining the Dots, an event in Limerick, Ireland, organised in partnership with Connecting Places Catapult, the British Embassy in Dublin and Limerick City and County Council to explore how the UK and Ireland can collaborate in various ways to successfully integrate smart city technology. Read our content.

How to transform a city: A look to Helsingborg, Sweden

The development of new and smart technologies to improve urban living continues apace. This briefing is on the developments in the City of Helsingborg and in preparation for a City Expo in 2022 to showcase what has been achieved. Read our content.

Viewpoint: Turning Denmark into a smart cities leader

Arup was commissioned by the Danish public authorities to complete a research study on the opportunity of smart cities for Denmark and the key next steps needed at a national level to bring the country to the forefront of the global smart cities market. This blog outlines the key findings. Read our content.

Swift Read: Best practice in data and evidence led governance

This briefing provides a summary of the What Works Cities Certification, which is an initiative that can help cities determine whether they have the right practices in place to put data and evidence centrally in decision-making. Read our content.

Smart cities and local goverment: what next after the pandemic?

LGIU’s Melissa Thorne and Kat McManus consider how smart cities can help to make cities more sustainable and responsive to the needs of local residents post-pandemic in this article for Government Business magazine. Read the article.


The 14 September 2021 Global Local Recap focuses on smart cities. This edition features recent innovation in Ireland, Australia and India, as well as policy, studies and guidance from the US, UK and beyond.

Complex global issues require local level action more than ever. Our free newsletter, the Global Local Recap, highlights inspiration and innovation in local government across the globe. Click here to find out more and sign up.