Smart Cities of the Future

The term “smart city” was coined in the early 2000s as major technology firms such as IBM and Cisco worked to leverage connectedness for greater urban productivity, efficiency, and sustainability. Since then, cities worldwide have used data science to implement at least some features of the smart cities of the future.

To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Data Science program.

Information on smart cities of the future, including examples, how they run, and pros and cons.

What Is a Smart City?

Although no universally agreed-upon definition of smart cities exists, experts usually describe smart cities as cities that incorporate interconnected sensors, the Internet of Things (IoT), automation, data collection and analysis (data systems), and information and communication technology (ICT).

Smart cities of the future will use technology to more efficiently facilitate services such as transportation, water, waste disposal, utilities, and crime detection. In addition to improving efficiency, smart cities aim to improve equity and quality of life for inhabitants.

Smart City Data Cycle

The data cycle of a smart city is a circular model involving data input and analysis, automated decision-making, data sharing, machine and human adjustments, and more data gathering. Beyond intentional human interaction and responses to automatically assigned tasks, everything’s automated.

Data input comes from multiple sources. Automated machine and human sources include sensors, cameras, and smart devices. Intentional human sources, such as application program interfaces (APIs), apps, the internet, and terminals, also contribute. Once data is received, the data cycle of a smart city moves to data integration, modeling, analysis (often using artificial intelligence and machine learning), decision-making, and decision-sharing (to machines and humans via ICT).

AI in Smart City Technology

Sensors, smart devices, and other input methods in smart cities generate far more data than could ever be efficiently analyzed and acted on by humans alone. AI’s ability to digest and integrate massive amounts of data in seconds makes it a key component of smart city systems.

AI can be particularly useful in the following systems: intelligent transportation systems using connected and autonomous vehicles and traffic management systems; building energy systems with whole-building analytics and automation and grid-interactive efficient buildings; electric power grids using demand response and generation forecasting and optimization; and city operations, such as waste management and demand pricing for utilities.

Examples of Smart Cities

Many cities have implemented some of the technologies considered part of a smart city. Below are three global metropolises that are at the forefront of smart city technology.


Singapore began its smart journey in 1980 with a national computerization plan, in which it automated and computerized government functions and trained more than 4,600 information technology (IT) workers. Since that time, the city-state has used ambitious national plans to:

  • Move 99% of government services online
  • Connect 95% of homes and businesses to national high-speed broadband
  • Provide national digital identities (Singapore Personal Access, or Singpass) to 97% of citizens and permanent residents
  • Launch a fleet of autonomous vehicles to transport the elderly 

Singpass uses technology to connect all citizens, even those without smartphones, with government agencies and businesses. It includes the following:

  • App with facial recognition and two-factor authentication
  • Digital ID card with scannable barcode
  • Document wallet for digital government documents
  • Inbox for government notifications to reduce phishing attempts
  • Personal data storage to fill out digital government and business forms automatically
  • Digital signature


Citizen-centered policymaking is a key smart city component, and London, England, aims to be the best in this regard. To that end, it’s:

  • Become home to 46,000 tech companies
  • Targeted net zero carbon status by 2030
  • Committed to having 80% of travel in the city occur by foot, bicycle, or public transportation by 2041
  • Targeted high-speed broadband availability for all public housing

The U.K. capital has used the following technological innovations on its way to smart city status:

  • Nine next-generation network towers
  • Average broadband speeds of 82.7 Mbps
  • An app to help drivers find low-pollution commutes
  • 10,400 electric vehicle (EV) chargers citywide
  • An open platform for access to all the data the city collects

New York

A panel of civic and industry leaders reimagined solutions to big issues such as transportation, housing, safety, and employment equity in New York. The changes include the following:

  • Establishing five core employment hubs to drive growth
  • Increasing the transit system’s budget, expanding service, and improving walking and cycling opportunities
  • Identifying and addressing barriers that keep poor people, disabled people, and people of color from full workforce participation
  • Requiring large buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050
  • Connecting with surrounding regions to create innovation hubs

Technological improvements include the following:

  • Installing smart trackers on city buses for on-time tracking and traffic signal coordination
  • Converting old phone booths into Wi-Fi hotspots and charging stations
  • Improving technology available at libraries to facilitate remote work opportunities
  • Using solar-powered trash and recycling bins with sensors that alert city workers when they’re full
  • Employing smart water meters in more than 800,000 buildings to track usage and notify users of leaks

The Case for Smart Cities

Smart cities have their supporters and detractors.

Supporters cite pros such as reduced pollution, less traffic congestion, greater public safety, improved energy efficiency, better service delivery, and efficient resource usage.

Detractors, however, cite cons such as a greater dependency on technology, a greater digital divide, higher property values, greater impersonality, increased citizen privacy concerns, and larger investments.

Many cities have employed some smart city features, but the true smart cities of the future will weave technology into all aspects of daily life. Those cities will fully employ every smart city tool listed above as well as the ones still evolving in developers’ imaginations.


With the goal of using data and technology to drive efficiency, equity, and sustainability, smart cities will continue to seek improvement and find new and better solutions for their citizens.


The Agility Effect, Could London Be the Best Smart City

Built In, “We Were Promised Smart Cities. What Happened?”

Built In, “Why Smart Cities Aren’t the Future”

Data Science Central, “Smart Cities of the Future Powered by IoT”

European Commission, Smart Cities

Greater London Authority, Digital Access for All

Hello Lamp Post, Smart City Technology Benefits and the World’s Top 10 Smartest Cities

Information Age, “IBM, Cisco, and the Business of Smart Cities”

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, “How Congress and the Biden Administration Could Jumpstart Smart Cities With AI”

IOT Analytics, “IoT 2021 in Review: The 10 Most Relevant IoT Developments of the Year”

IOT Analytics, “Smart Cities of the Future: 7 Things That Successful Cities Do”

MIT Technology Review, “We Need Smarter Cities, Not ‘Smart Cities’”

National Geographic, Smart Cities

New York City Economic Development Corp., Making New York Work for Everyone

Smart Cities Connect, “What a Smart City Is … and Is Not”

Smart Cities for Technological and Social Innovation, “Chapter 2 — Smart Cities as a Platform for Technological and Social Innovation in Productivity, Sustainability, and Livability: A Conceptual Framework”

Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, Digital Government

Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, Singpass Singapore’s National Digital Identity (Factsheet)

SmartCitiesWorld, London and Austin Ranked Top for Smart City Potential

Transport for London, Delivering the Mayor’s Transport Strategy 2021/22

TWI Global, What Is a Smart City? — Definitions and Examples

We Build Value, Hi-Tech London, Or the Making of a Smart City

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