The world’s smartest cities 2019: what expats should know about living in a smart city

Published 2019-10-08 15:17

The Smart City Index 2019 was published last week. It ranks the smartest cities in the world. But what exactly is a smart city? And how much should “smartness” weigh in the balance when choosing what city to settle in?

While many cities may claim to be the most technologically advanced in the world, new research from The IMD World Competitiveness Center has officially ranked the smartest cities globally.

IMD’s Smart City Index 2019, published in association with the Singapore University of Technology and Design, found the world’s smartest cities to be Singapore (1st), Zurich (2nd), and Oslo (3rd). Also featuring in the top ten are Geneva (4th), Copenhagen (5th), Auckland (6th), Taipei City (7th), Helsinki (8th), Bilbao (9th) and Dusseldorf (10th).

Amongst the slow starters are cities including Kiev (92nd), Cape Town (93rd), Manilla (94th), Athens (95th), Rio de Janeiro (96th), Abuja (97th), Bogota (98th), Cairo (99th), Nairobi (100th), Rabat (101st), and Lagos (102nd).

One-hundred-and-two cities were ranked on their smart city credentials, in what is considered to be the first global analysis of the impact of this type of technology. Cities were analysed over five sectors: Health and Safety, Mobility, Activities, Opportunities (Work and School), and Governance. Significantly, the rankings were determined largely through citizens’ opinion on how well their city was embracing innovation, showcasing the everyday impact of the vague ‘smart city’ terminology.

What is a smart city?

IMD’s Smart City Index is based around local governments’ efforts to embrace smart city automation, which includes Internet of Things (IoT) devices like smart street lights, and other innovations including traffic management systems and pollution monitoring technologies.

The term may sound complicated, but much of the tech that falls under the ‘smart city’ remit is in fact simple to use by everyday citizens, and already commonly adopted. These advancements include city guide and travel apps, online portals for citizens to contact local authorities, and prioritising IT education in schools. 

Being classified as a top smart city means more than just bragging rights for the global leaders: IMD’s rankings focused heavily on how technology improves the life of citizens, and actively connect local government with the people they serve.

Top ranking city Singapore’s smart technology usage includes:

  • An air pollution monitoring app
  • An online platform where residents can propose ideas to improve city life
  • Car-sharing apps to reduce congestion
  • Online reporting of city maintenance problems to provide a speedy solution
  • Free public wifi 

What does living in a smart city mean for expats?

It might sound like something from a sci-fi or horror movie, but smart city technology holds great potential for expats, and should be embraced rather than approached with caution.

The slew of new digital innovation designed to improve city life is already helping to make expats relocation process easier, from job availability to digital processing of visa documents, and city guide apps.

Right now technology companies and local governments are eager to hire the best digital talent, regardless of their country of origin. Cities including Amsterdam (ranked 11th by IMD), Sydney (ranked 14th by IMD), Toronto (ranked 15th by IMD), and Madrid (ranked 21st by IMD) offer a wealth of opportunities for expats with tech skills, as well as the growing digital sectors in IMD’s top ten smart city leaders. Front and back end developers, AI experts, and expats with sustainability tech experience are in particularly high demand. 

Once you reach your new home city, smart technology promises to assist in your day-to-day life. Common adoption by cities globally includes purchasing travel tickets and interactive public transport maps via an app, online portals to pay local authority taxes and other bills, and free public wifi to make contacting friends and family back home more affordable. 

Ratings such as IMD’s should feature in expats’ decision to relocate to a new city as much as property prices, average salaries, and quality of life. After all, as IMD’s research shows, all of these factors are connected by technology adoption more than ever before.