What is a
smart city?

Today you hit the streets of Smartville to explore what it takes to build a successful smart city, how climate resilient and environmentally friendly infrastructure and technologies are being implemented, and how actors in the global development community are working together towards engaging local communities in an inclusive way.



Increasing incomes combined with urban sprawl have spurred the growth of motorized transport. The resulting traffic congestion has given rise to a horde of economic, health, and environmental problems. Today, the transport industry accounts for 13 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, or GHGs. To counter this, smart cities are creating more sustainable, efficient and affordable ways to get around. Choose a way to get to work.

Bike sharing schemes are intended for quick inner-city trips and to complement other forms of public transport. Bike sharing is a low-cost way of improving traffic congestion, reducing GHGs, and encouraging physical activity. Over 1,500 cities around the world are using or are in the process of implementing bike sharing.

Walk: Your city has detailed signs throughout its downtown area showing how easy it is for citizens to get around on foot. Unlike other public transit options, it's free, leaves no carbon footprint and improves traffic congestion during rush hour. Like London, your city also utilizes maps, apps and kiosks that allow you to compare your route through several modes of transportation at once across many different factors: price, time, calories burned and the amount of CO2 emissions your trip will generate.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems save travel time, reduce GHGs and local air pollutant emissions, improve traffic safety and increase physical activity. For example, BRT commuters in Johannesburg save an average of 13 minutes each way during their daily commute — an estimated 73 million hours between 2007 and 2026.

Car: A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of CO2 per year. Along with leaving a higher carbon footprint than public transit, driving contributes to congestion, and traffic jams. Though the transportation industry is making strides to lower emissions with the advent of hybrid and electric cars along with catalytic converters and unleaded fuel, driving to work is currently still less sustainable than using other public transit options — including electric trams and light rails — that allow cities to grow while minimizing their climate change footprint.


Smart cities use technology to communicate, generate and gather ideas from the community. You pass an underserved, low-income community, on your way to work. Like in Nairobi, Kenya and Les Cayes, Haiti, your city is using technology to capture ideas from residents on how to improve its public spaces. For example, a videogame that allows residents to build simple 3D models of their community in order to communicate their wants, needs, concerns and visions for future development, is an effective way to gather feedback from all residents — even those that may not be able to read or write.


Your morning meeting is about data accessibility and data-driven decision making, both of which are critical to efficient and sustainable service delivery, emergency management and climate adaptation projects, among others. Smart cities gather data from anywhere they can, including an often untapped resource — citizens. Choose a crowdsourcing platform to invest in.

Smart Citizen Kit: A low-cost environmental sensing kit, which lets people measure their local environmental data, such as humidity, noise and air pollution. Once set up, the kit streams data over WiFi to SmartCitizen, an open platform where data from kits is shared, creating a crowdsourced map of environmental information from cities around the world.

Wheelmap: Crowdsourced city maps for wheelchair accessibility not only help citizens determine how they will get around but also provide valuable data to smart cities that are looking to create more accessible spaces.

Open Source Flood Map: Share real-time flood information through Twitter using its geolocation feature. Upon verification, the information will be added to a crowdsourced map that is updated in real-time.


It’s time for lunch! There are four options near your office, what do you choose?

The Corner Bistro has a green roof, which helps improve air quality, mitigate urban heat island effect and reduce the amount of stormwater runoff (a major cause of water pollution in urban areas), among other things. Climate-smart cities use green infrastructure, such as green roofs, rain gardens, vegetated swales and porous pavements, to build resilience, manage wet weather impacts and reduce GHGs. It's a cost-effective approach that also provides many community benefits.

The Green Café is powered by renewable energy. From solar, to wind, to thermal, to hydropower, smart cities are exploring ways to become more energy efficient and reduce GHGs and reliance on fossil fuels.

The City Diner is located in a building that has been retrofitted to reduce energy consumption and includes sustainable initiatives, including an organic vegetable garden and rain-water harvesting containers. The building is now cheaper to operate, has fewer environmental impacts and will last longer. Existing buildings comprise the largest segment of the built environment. Instead of focusing solely on new development, smart cities enact strategies to increase the efficiency, adaptability and durability of existing buildings while lowering maintenance costs.

Eazy Burger isn’t just bad for your waistline, it’s also bad for the environment. While there's been a rise in sustainably sourced produce, improvements to food labeling and consumer indexes that allow for more informed choices, the meat production process for the brand's signature dishes contributes to deforestation. On top of that, Eazy Burger’s to-go containers are made out of Styrofoam, a non-biodegradable material made from petroleum.

Private Sector

It’s a beautiful day so you choose to move your afternoon meeting outside. Thanks to a public-private partnership between District Improvement, Inc. and your local government, there is free WiFi available throughout the park right across the street from your office. Leading smart cities are implementing public-private partnerships to extend the range, accessibility and speed of internet connections in public spaces. This encourages creativity and collaboration for residents, employees and visitors.


After work, you attend the town hall meeting in your neighborhood where the city council will introduce some of its new e-governance initiatives. Choose one of the apps to download for a trial run:

The CityFix app allows residents to report potholes, damaged street signs and other local problems. The app uses GPS to recognize your location and allows you to upload pictures to accompany your request, and residents can track the status of reports they or other members of the community have submitted.

The EasyPay app allows residents to virtually pay water, phone and electricity bills. It also provides information on where and how to pay in person or through the mail.

The TransitAid app lists the city’s public transit option along with the routes and times for each.

None of the above, I prefer to interact with people. Though it plays a big role, the success of a smart city is not reliant on technology alone; often, low-tech solutions are equally fitting and successful. Citizens who attend town hall meetings, learn about and take advantage of city services and actively participate in community dialogue play a vital role in creating smart cities.


Tomorrow is trash day; taking your rubbish bin to the curb is part of your evening chores. Like in Quito, your bin has a sensor on it as part of a citywide pilot testing whether trash truck routes can be optimized by only sending them to full bins. The city estimates that the system could save 10 percent on waste disposal. Smart cities around the world are experimenting with the Internet of Things, a concept in which all objects are embedded with sensors that give them the ability to share data and information (typically over WiFi) with people and other objects.

Join the

You’ve spent the day thinking about all the various aspects of your city that are ushering in future.

What sector will have the next big innovation in smart city development?

Share your opinion: I think transportation will have the next big innovation in smart city development. Explore Smartville through @Devex and share your vision of the future by tagging #SmartCities. SHARE ON TWITTER!
Share your opinion: I think clean energy will have the next big innovation in smart city development. Explore Smartville through @Devex and share your vision of the future by tagging #SmartCities. SHARE ON TWITTER!
Share your opinion: I think infrastructure will have the next big innovation in smart city development. Explore Smartville through @Devex and share your vision of the future by tagging #SmartCities. SHARE ON TWITTER!
Share your opinion: I think mobile technology will have the next big innovation in smart city development. Explore Smartville through @Devex and share your vision of the future by tagging #SmartCities. SHARE ON TWITTER!

Do you have another option in mind?