4 mins

World's top 8 smartest cities

Fitted with futuristic technology and with the gumption to go green, Holly Gurr unearths the smartest and most tech-savvy cities in the world


1. Copenhagen

With the aim of being carbon neutral by 2025, this northern European hotspot leads the way as one of the greenest and most 'livable' cities in the world.

Visitors to the Danish capital need not fear urban pollution spoiling the tableau of regal and historic architecture as the streets are quietly kitted out with smart technology. Public areas are solar powered, while lamp posts that line the cobbled streets and beautiful water ways have integrated air-quality metres. They monitor pollution trends, and when there's no traffic, they switch off.

It's easy to feel part of Copenhagen's sustainable initiatives, simply make use of one of the many eco-friendly and accessible transport systems. If you've hired a car, there are mobile apps to help you find a parking space, or the two metro lines run every six minutes and traverse the city in a tidy loop, with buses being just as efficient.

It couldn’t be easier to soak up the sights on two wheels, as Copenhagen is home to a vast network of shared bicycles while 40% of its residents commute by bike.

2. Vienna

Vienna is crammed with both contemporary and historical culture interlaced with the mellifluous tones of Beethoven and Mozart, but is also one of the greenest cities in the world. With a score of grand palaces and museums, the city is often characterised by its monumental past and excellent cuisine, but also as a destination that has its eyes firmly set on the future. It is currently at 14% renewable energy use and houses Europe's largest biomass plant supplying thousands with heating.

Any worries about a thick cloud of smog cloaking the skyline of beautifully baroque architecture and modestly climbing steeples can be abated as the centre aims to have 300,000 m² of solar panels installed by 2020.

For tourists and residents alike, the smart city way of thinking means public transport is at its best. Used by 1.3 million people every day and easily accessible to 90% of residents, the system automatically calculates usage fees for any mode of transportation – fussing with coinage is a thing of the past.


3. New York City

As one of the most recognisable destinations in the world, it may not be surprising that this mega metropolis has a smart city status, but perhaps more so, it is on its way to becoming one of the most eco-friendly too.

In a bid to meet Federal standards for ozone levels, the Big Apple has added 50 electric vehicles to its municipal sea of iconic yellow cabs, while wind power and renewable sources power the city grid. The mayor's office is pushing for a ban on plastic-foam food packaging and is eliminating all trans-fat food additives across Manhattan.

Whether a resident New Yorker, or a traveller looking to stand in awe of the Empire State Building, the city is scattered with smart technology to make getting around easier. Old and underused public phones are being converted into interactive platforms that will broadcast news, events, and coupons, while modern smart-phones can browse a catalogue of NYC specific apps. Finding a perfect place to eat, childcare, and even a place to throw  your compost, are accessible to all via mobile phones.

4. Masdar, United Arab Emirates

Though still under construction, Masdar, which literally means 'source' in Arabic, has been billed as a city of tomorrow and soon to be one of the most sustainable on the planet. This shiny Abu Dhabi region is not quite the vista of flying cars or teleportation devices that is often associated with the urban future, but after parking your electric car in a charging area, residents and visitors will explore the area via a network of driver-less pods.

Each home is sustainably built and uses recycled industrial waste water that, in time for the morning shower, is cost-efficiently heated over-night. As an 'open data city', flat screens will be found in every house and will be fed by maximum bandwidth internet. Each will have a neighbourhood menu on which you can compare your daily energy usage with other houses, top up an all-purpose travel card, or confirm a webcam appointment with a doctor.

Though not yet a tourist destination in its own right, Masdar is revolutionary in the field of renewable energy and smart technology. Its futuristic and innovative architecture rivals that found in the nearby tourist hotspot, Dubai.


5. Amsterdam

With the aim of being the most sustainable city in the world by 2020, Amsterdam is stepping up to the competitive platform of smart metropolises. The green-mindedness of the Dutch capital goes hand-in-hand with charm, as carbon emissions are naturally cut by the rife bike culture and canal boats that traverse the meandering water ways.

Across the cultural core of 17th century architecture and urban flair, all billboards, bus stops and lights are powered by solar energy and companies such as IBM and Philips have launched a set of green initiatives in partnership. Take a walk down 'Climate Street', where rubbish is collected by non-polluting electric trucks and 'BigBelly' waste bins have in-built rubbish compactors.

Thousands of buildings have also been fitted with smart meters, ultra low energy LED lights, appliances that automatically shut down, and automatically dimming light switches – just make sure you keep moving to avoid getting caught in the dark!

6. San Francisco

With plans to install a wind turbine taller than the Empire State Building and 77% of city waste recycled, San Francisco is the greenest city in North America. Previously famous for its haze of smog, it has been working hard to decrease its carbon footprint and is currently powered with 41% renewable energy.

San Fran's smart initiatives are good news for tourists as well as citizens. Public transport has been vastly improved after a replenishing stock of trains and buses and, like New York, the city has developed no less than 60 apps to make getting around a breeze. These include help for the visually impaired to navigate traffic and tips for bikers and pedestrians in picking the best route.

What's more, the eco-friendly traveller can avoid any inward guilt concerning emissions and hail one of the many electric taxis that operate in the Bay area.

When getting caught up in the metropolitan bustle, it will be hard to choose a single place to eat as most food is sourced locally and organically. With healthy supplies from the nearby Wine Country, the right bar can also be a pressing matter...


7. Songdo

Much like Masdar, Songdo, South Korea, is to be built from scratch and widely considered to a be a model for high-tech cities of the future. This $35bn project was started in 2005 and is being developed on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land along Incheon's waterfront, 40 miles from Seoul.

Characteristic of modern metropolises, it is to be a 'wired city', meaning all services are connected via high-speed WiFi. From highlighting a leak in underground pipelines to seeking evening entertainment, everything in urban life will be network connected.

As well as a vast central park, transportation in Songdo may also seem an attraction in itself. Across the city are sensors that monitor energy use, traffic flow and temperature, and will also send an alert when your bus is due.

Part of the package when visiting a world city is acclimatising to a chaotic atmosphere of noise and smog. However, with the intention for all vehicles to be electric and an underground network that sucks rubbish directly from kitchens to a treatment centre, this may be something strangely absent when construction is complete in 2015.

8. London

In recent years, the UK capital has secured its status as a smart city with a host of green initiatives and pioneering technology, and as one of the most visited cities in the world, it seems to be doing a world of good. Whether roaming the tourist attractions or commuting to Canary Wharf, the Oystercard is part of London's enviable transport system that makes tubes, buses, river taxis, and trains all accessible with a simple swipe of a smart card. 368 of London's iconic fleet of red buses are diesel-electric hybrids, and alongside the city's congestion charge, the bid to go green is as impressive as it is sustainable.

The Mayor of London's office is fitted with a wall of iPads that stream live data about how the capital is performing, including pollution levels, traffic cameras, bike availability, how happy the city is feeling, and even what is trending on Twitter. It's a fine example of how information and communication technology is used in partnership with citizens, but is also a handy tool when planning a visit to London. It can be found here: citydashboard.org/london/.

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