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Smart cities – how intelligent cities around the world work

Smart cities are cities that are trying out new ways to improve the lives of their inhabitants. Around the world there are already many such approaches – whether they be online platforms to enable citizens to have a say in construction projects or technologies to improve public transport. Here we will present how these projects can work.

In light of rapid urbanisation worldwide, there is an urgent need to design cities in a sustainable and inclusive manner. The term “smart city” is often equated with networked or intelligent cities. The strategy aims to link technical and social innovations together and create more green and more efficient cities.

For the most part, smart cities apply digital technology – for example when a waste bin sends a signal to the waste collection services as soon as it is full. What is the advantage of this? Waste collection vehicles don't have to be dispatched at all to empty half full bins. That avoids costs, saves fuel and reduces emissions of climate damaging greenhouse gases, because less vehicles are in use. Being smart can also mean that citizens, for example in San Francisco, can check their electricity consumption in real-time or that municipal authorities involve local people in construction projects. In this way, people work together with the municipalities to plan how inner cities should look and whether there should be more sports facilities, more libraries or day care facilities.

Bhubaneswar – smart city in India

Bhubaneswar (also spelt as Bhubaneshwar) is one of the world’s smartest cities. The city, which is in eastern India about 400 kilometres from Calcutta, discovered that women, children and older people were experiencing various disadvantages, for example long distances between their homes and work locations and too few pedestrian paths. But now that is due to change. “Bhubaneswar geared its urban structure to favour mobility and child friendliness,” explained urban scientist Mani Dhingra from India.

Using an online platform, inhabitants chose the city centre as the “smart district” that was to be the first area transformed into a smart city. Since then, the city's appearance has changed dramatically: its core was restructured so that the distances between jobs, leisure activities and homes is short. In addition, new day care facilities, accommodation for the homeless and vocational training centres have been created, which will help boost the sense of community. New footpaths and pedestrian bridges have also been built, making public playgrounds easily accessible.

Video: How smart city technology is connecting Europeans

Smart participation of civil society in Medellin

In Medellin, second-largest city in Colombia, all its several million inhabitants can help design the city using the online portal “Mi Medellin”. They are asked to provide their views on how life in the city can be improved, be it through new car-sharing services or improved air quality in the city centre. Key questions include: “How should your neighbourhood look in 2030?” or “What suggestions do you have to ensure that your neighborhood is safer, more enjoyable and a better place to live?”. In addition to the online portal, regular meetings are held with citizens to discuss ideas.

Access to the online portal is simple, even for inhabitants who cannot actually afford the technology. There is free Wi-Fi at many locations in the smart city, and public buildings provide free access to computers. “Medellin is a great example of how technology can be applied in urban development,” says Rosaleda Reynoso, an architect from the Dominican Republic.

Video: Masdar,the Worlds First Eco city

Smart innovative projects in Kyoto

Kyoto, a city in Japan with millions of inhabitants, is building an extensive network of pedestrian paths. Major traffic routes through the city centre are being removed and will be replaced by pedestrian paths. At the same time, the public transport system is being expanded.

Kyoto worked with experts from IBM to formulate a plan to become more pedestrian friendly. For three weeks, experts collected data and developed strategies as part of the “Smarter Cities Challenge”. The result: special streets exclusively for cyclists and buses will be built and aesthetic corners will be established where pedestrians can relax and sit together.

How “smart” is your city?

Cities in transition

Villages grow into cities, cities into metropolises, which turn become megacities. Did you know that more than half of the world’s population lives in cities? And the coming decades will see a drastic increase in city-dwellers.

This is one of the reasons why our cities are undergoing continual, complex changes. But how does this change take place and what special part do cities play in our globalised world? For instance, how can resources be saved despite progressing urbanisation?

Do you know of other examples of smart cities (in your own country)? Then tell others about it in the comments below.

Author: Greta Hofmann
FLMH Labor für Politik und Kommunikation GmbH

August 2017

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Alumniportal Deutschland Team
26 June 2019

Dear Jose Buendia,
Thank you very much for your kind comment. Sorry for the wrong information about Medellín. We have corrected this mistake meanwhile.
Keep following us and kind regards!

Jose Buendia
26 June 2019


I would like to correct a mistake made about Colombia. The capital of the country is Bogotá, not Medellín as the article named in bold letters.
More than that, thanks for sharing the knowledge about smart cities. I consider it is an immediate goal that urban planners should put in the national agenda of every land when is possible.

Best regards,

david mbuvi
23 January 2019

Nothing can put a limit to Human Mind innovative Ideas. Thus education and mentorship coupled with passion and motivation, will see the world ever transforming for the better. You better be part of the story otherwise will always be catching up...bit too late!

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