What Comprises a Smart City?

table800pxAs many cities around the world seek to become smart cities, how can we define and even rank a smart city? What are the indicators? Several smart city indexes (e.g., A.T. Kearney Global Cities, the Global Power City Index (GPCI), etc.) help make those determinations.

Let’s take a look at the smart cities index prepared by the IESE Center for Globalization and Strategy, called “The Cities in Motion Index” (CIMI). CIMI takes into account 10 categories: economy, technology, human capital, social cohesion, international outreach, environment, mobility and transportation, urban planning, public management, and governance. The table shows the top 15 cities and their ranking according to the 2016 CIMI. To see the complete ranking of the 181 cities included in the index, click here.

In the table, seven American cities are listed in the top 15: New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. New York City is ranked first on the overall ranking due to taking first place in the economy category, third place in technology, and fourth place in the human capital, public management, governance, international outreach, and transport categories.

NYC’s Smart Approach

The fact that New York City ranks first on the overall ranking doesn’t mean that there’s no room for improvement, though. For instance, it ranks quite low in the categories of social cohesion (161) and in environment (93). The city is trying to improve those areas through different initiatives, which include:


3. The DCUs forward the information directly to the utility through Ethernet connections to the city’s NYCWiN wireless system. (Courtesy of SILive.com)

Smart Indoor Lighting: The city of New York created the Accelerated Conservation and Efficiency (ACE) program to help decrease New York City’s energy bill and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in city agencies. The numerous facilities of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), for example, operate 24/7 and could be one focus area for significant energy savings. The ACE program installed smart-lighting solutions (including LED upgrades and advanced lighting controls), reducing energy use by an estimated 3 million kilowatt-hours and eliminating gas emissions by approximately 520 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent annually.

Wireless Water Meters: New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has installed an advanced Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) system comprising more than 800,000 water sensors distributed throughout the five boroughs (Fig. 3). The DEP system uses a combination of Aclara’s STAR Network meter transmission units (MTUs) and data collector units (DCUs) to read meters and transmit data back to the utility. The MTUs read the meter and forward the data on an FCC-licensed wireless channel at customer-specified intervals.

Responsive Traffic Management: The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) established “Midtown in Motion,” a smart-city approach to traffic management. Midtown in Motion uses microwave sensors, traffic video cameras, and E-ZPass readers to measure traffic speeds and spot congestion to remotely adjust traffic-signal patterns in the Midtown area of Manhattan, which covers an area of 270 blocks approximately. The data from the sensors and cameras is transmitted wirelessly in real time to the Traffic Management Center (TMC) in Long Island City, where engineers make constant adjustments to traffic signals. Current traffic data is captured by TransCore’s RFID readers and other sensors, and then transmitted via NYCWiN to the TMC. Midtown in Motion not only manages the traffic, it also helps the environment by reducing greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles sitting idle in traffic.


4. Sunlight is transmitted onto a reflective surface on the distributor dish underground, transmitting that sunlight into the space. (Courtesy of the Lowline)

Smart Waste Management: The Department of Sanitation collects more than 10,500 tons of residential and institutional garbage and 1760 tons of recyclables every day. One of the most deployed smart waste and recycling systems in New York is the Bigbelly. The containers, equipped with Qualcomm chips, use the integrated wireless sensors to detect trash level in real-time, alerting sanitation services to empty the bin.

The Lowline: The goal of this unique project is to build an underground park using innovative solar technology to illuminate a historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of New York City, below Delancey St. The solar technology would transmit the necessary wavelengths of light to support photosynthesis, enabling plants and trees to grow (Fig. 4). In the end, the Lowline will create more public spaces with green areas that New Yorkers will gladly welcome. The ongoing project will not open until at least 2021.