The 2020 Smart City Index measures citizens’ perceptions of the impact that technology has on their lives, surveying them on areas such as governance, health and safety, mobility and opportunities.
Singapore has topped the Institute for Management Development (IMD) Smart City Index for the second consecutive year, followed by the Finnish capital Helsinki and Swiss city of Zurich.
The ranking, launched last year, is based on citizens’ perception of the impact that technology has on their quality of lives as well as economic and technological data.
This year, the IMD, in collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design (SUTD), has included key findings on how technology is playing a role in the Covid-19 era. The index shows that those cities with better technology are handling the pandemic better.
Citizens from 109 countries were surveyed in April and May 2020 for the index and asked questions on the technological provisions of their city across five key areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance.
Auckland in New Zealand occupies fourth position, while the Norwegian capital of Oslo is ranked fifth. Copenhagen (6), Geneva (7), Taipei City (8), Amsterdam (9) and New York (10) make up the rest of the leading 10 cities.
Brisbane (14) is the highest ranked Australian city, ahead of Sydney (18) and Melbourne (20). After New York, Washington DC (12) is the highest placed US city with Los Angeles (26) and San Francisco (27) next.
This year saw many European cities drop in the rankings, including Vienna, which is down eight places to 25 and Prague, which dropped 25 places to 44.
“Smart cities closer to the top of the rankings seem to deal with unexpected challenges of the devastating pandemic with a better outcome”
It seems that cities have differing approaches to technology as managing the pandemic has become increasingly important in local politics.
IMD’s professor Arturo Bris, who led the work as the director of the World Competitiveness Centre at the Swiss management institute, said the impact of Covid-19 “cannot be ignored”.
“Those with better technology manage the pandemic better. Smart cities are not the solution, but technology helps,” he said.
The health crisis has also widened inequalities between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to connectivity, both among and within cities.
“Smart cities closer to the top of the rankings seem to deal with unexpected challenges of the devastating pandemic with a better outcome,” added professor Heng Chee Chan, chairperson of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at SUTD.
The index also demonstrates the ability of some countries to develop cities beyond their capital. For example, Bilbao (24) fares better than Madrid (45). In the UK, Birmingham (40) improved by 12 positions whereas London jumped just five to fifteenth.
“Look at France. The Paris region accounts for a sizeable part of the economic activity of the entire country,” said Bris. “But then look at the US, China, Australia or Taiwan, and second cities have become more important, sometimes more so than the capital.”
“The American city of Boston is a good example of how management of its city by its mayor makes a big difference”
“As a signal of a country’s development, it’s important to develop those cities,” he added, recommending that policy makers promote competitiveness of second cities to improve the overall economic health of a country.
City economies like Hong Kong and Singapore, and to some extent the UAE, may be at a disadvantage because they are less able to develop second cities, he said.
In general smart cities help citizens more, the researchers concluded, but cities have widely different infrastructures to start with. For this reason, in cities that are already highly developed, such as Zurich or Amsterdam, technology plays a marginal role as there is little to improve. By contrast, in cities such as Bogota (92) or Mumbai (93), technology makes a big difference.
Therefore, the biggest changes in the ranking from year to year happen in the least developed economies as it doesn’t take much for citizens to perceive great improvement.
The researchers said African cities at the bottom of the raking such as Abuja (107), Nairobi (108) and Lagos (109), would do well to prioritise its implementation.
Those who compiled the index also highlight that "smart" is a relative term. “Different cities use technology for different things. That might be preventing traffic, in the case of Paris, or improving citizen participation through offering free wi-fi in Ramallah,” said Bris.
Chicago (41) has an ambitious technology plan based on hyper-connectivity; Abu Dhabi (42) has an eco-friendly project and Birmingham is one of cities in the UK ranked best for mobility.
“Those with better technology manage the pandemic better. Smart cities are not the solution, but technology helps”
This is why we see vast differences in the smartness of cities within the same country. They differ in terms of their economies, inequality levels (for example, access to health) and policies.
“Countries are no longer economic units,” said Bris. "Mayors and local authorities increasingly have the power to improve the wellbeing of citizens by implementing technology.
“The American city of Boston (36) is a good example of how management of its city by its mayor makes a big difference.”
The index and full report can be downloaded at 2020 Smart City Index
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