By Emma Batha
LONDON, Sept 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Singapore,
Helsinki and Zurich are the world's smartest cities, according
to an index published on Thursday amid a growing debate on the
future of urban design for a post-COVID era.
From smart traffic cameras and car sharing apps to pollution
monitoring and free wifi for all, cities around the world are
racing to embrace technology, but researchers said the real test
was whether citizens felt the benefits.
"The world's 'smart' cities don't simply adopt new
technology, they make sure it truly improves citizens' lives,"
said Arturo Bris of the Swiss-based International Institute for
Management Development (IMD), which published the index.
The Smart City Index, now in its second year, surveyed more
than 13,000 people in 109 cities, focusing on how they perceived
the impact of technology in five areas: health and safety,
mobility, activities, opportunities and governance.
Others in the top 10 included Auckland, Oslo, Copenhagen,
Geneva, Taipei City, Amsterdam, New York, while Abuja, Nairobi
and Lagos ranked bottom.
The index, a collaboration with the Singapore University for
Technology and Design, showed that many countries are developing
smart secondary cities beyond their capitals.
The Spanish city of Bilbao ranked higher than Madrid, while
Britain's second city Birmingham has risen up the index faster
Bris, director of the IMD World Competitiveness Center, said
cities' priorities in using technology varied widely.
The Colombian city of Medellin - once notorious for its drug
cartels but now a posterchild for smart planning - has seen
crime drop after introducing free wifi, which made it easier for
people to report crime, he said.
Although many cities around the world have introduced car
sharing schemes in a bid to cut congestion, Bris said Moscow had
been particularly successful in persuading drivers to join them
after introducing free parking for users.
Experts say COVID-19 has accelerated a shift towards more
inclusive, greener, smarter cities.
Bris also predicted a growing trend towards smaller cities.
"I think we're moving to a world where we will be more
dispersed. We will be safer if we live in smaller cities," he
He said the survey underscored that megacities often found
it difficult to become smart.
"Smaller cities have an advantage," he added. "In the case
of Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich, their size allows them to
invest significantly in technology that reaches all citizens."
Although China is developing hundreds of smart cities
equipped with sensors, cameras and other gadgets that can crunch
data on everything from pollution to public health, they ranked
relatively low in the index.
Bris said this was because of their size but also because of
concerns about data privacy and surveillance.
(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens.
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