Here are my top recommendations for the best smart destinations for tech-savvy travellers in 2021.
What is a Smart City?
A smart city is defined based on its technological capabilities and how these benefits it citizens and visitors. Smart destinations are usually built on a framework predominantly composed of advanced technologies aimed to develop, deploy and promote sustainable practices which address the growing challenges resulting from rapid urbanisation.
Smart cities embrace innovative, digital and energy-saving approaches to living. They should aim to respond efficiently to both the old and new demands of the world’s rapidly-evolving urban populations. These smart destinations utilise the latest technologies to to support diverse communities, regulate the flow of citizens and visitors, encourage sustainable practices and make the best use of data. Cities that pride themselves on this forward-thinking behaviour are often hotbeds of creativity and innovation, giving them the ability to benefit the quality of life of their citizens.
The overall aim of smart cities is to improve resource management, increase competitiveness and enhance sustainability through the use of technological innovations and activities.
The Growth of Smart Cities
Our cities are changing – fast! With the global population increasing exponentially, the demand to improve and enhance the way cities are run and managed is clear. As more people surge into urban areas around the world, the swelling population strains infrastructure and services. Global cities now account for more than half of the world’s population, and the UN projects that the number will expand to 68% by mid-century. The need for these cities to take notice of and do something about this explosion is abundantly clear. How will they provide energy, water, sanitation and other basic needs to both their residents and visitors? The answer – by leveraging the latest technology and evolving as a more efficient, safer and digitally aware smart city!
With so many obvious benefits to smart cities, it is unsurprising that many destinations are working hard to up their technological game. Many popular tourist destinations experience the dilemma of catering to huge numbers of visitors from across the globe, as well as those who already reside and work there. Innovations in the smart technology sector are transforming the ways in which these locations are managed.
Smart city projects are already underway in destinations all around the world. Below are just a handful of examples of how cities are embracing smart technology, making them my top smart destinations for the tech-savvy traveller to visit.
Singapore is the world’s second most densely populated city, with a whopping 8000 people per square km. Faced with an ageing population, the Singapore government is embracing technological advancements in order to raise productivity in an already advanced economy.
Its Smart Nation initiative was launched in 2014 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and aims to digitally collect information from throughout the city using sensors linked to aggregation boxes. The data collected, such as traffic volume or pedestrian activity, is then sent to the appropriate agencies for analysis and to put a more efficient service into action. The main goal of this data collection initiative is to create a smart city powered by digital innovation and technology that responds to citizen’s every-changing needs.
This advanced smart city also has the National Research Foundation which is the leading the development of Virtual Singapore, a dynamic three-dimensional city model and collaborative data platform. This smart tech feature has been made available to both public and private sectors in order to aid the development and testing of efficient concepts and services. Given that 80% of Singapore citizens live in public housing, government agencies have teamed with private firms to test smartphone technologies, including home energy and water management systems.
Dubai is relying on a whole host of high-tech projects to transform itself into a model smart city. Launching over 100 smart initiatives and more than 1000 smart services, Dubai has certainly improved its status as a must-visit smart city in the last few years. In this same time period, Dubai has recorded a 3% increase in happiness across the city.
The Smart Dubai 2021 strategy is the city’s answer to embracing innovation and creating a better quality of life for its citizens. The city is in the middle of a seven-year plan to digitalise all government services, including transport, communications, infrastructure, electricity, economic services and urban planning. Already, almost ninety government services are digitalised and are now accessible through the DubaiNow app.
Dubai has recently made use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create a smart monitoring system for bus drivers. This has been successful in hugely reducing traffic accidents caused by fatigue. The city also has three police stations where people can pay fines or report incidences without even talking to a human person.
Oslo is often featured as one of the world’s smartest cities and the main reason for this is its city-wide efforts to address climate change. Oslo is leading the way in green and inclusive smart cities. This eco smart city has the ambitious goal of cutting emissions by 95% by 2030.
In order to achieve this goal, the Norwegian capital has developed a wide range of smart city projects, from testing electrical buses, circle-based waste management and green energy systems to developing zero-emission construction sites and retrofitting existing buildings. Oslo is also seizing opportunities to develop electric vehicles, a smart grid and EV-charging technology.
To top things off, this smart city has recently announced plans to build a 260 acre sustainable smart city near to the airport to encourage technology-driven communities. This sustainable city will be powered solely using renewable energy, with any excess being sold back into the grid. Sensor systems will be used to operate automatic street and building lighting along with waste management and security. Only electric vehicles will be permitted in this new smart city, although planners eventually aim to have self-driving vehicles.
Copenhagen is taking the smart city scene by storm. The Danish capital is intelligently combining smart developments with its own ambitious environmental policies. Copenhagen recently received the prestigious World Smart Cities Award for its innovative ‘Copenhagen Connecting’ plan. It has been said that Copenhagen has the put together the best plan in the world for collecting and utilising data to create a greener city, a higher quality of life for its citizens and better business climate.
Using existing technology in novel ways, Copenhagen Connecting offers a unique digital infrastructure. This smart city project will consider city features including water, energy, traffic flows, crowd control and many more. This data-driven initiative pools information from a range of systems and sources to enable cross-cutting analyses and services that better target end-user needs.
One example of how the benefits of this smart city technology is trickling down to residents can be seen by cyclists; of which there are many in Copenhagen. With half of the city’s residents choosing to bike to work, they have developed a smart app that guides them through the city streets and tells them how fast they need to pedal in order to make the next green light. A similar app plans cyclist’s routes, using feedback from users to improve recommendations. It also measures distance cycled and calories burned.
Boston was one of the very first cities to experiment with smart city initiatives. The city introduced its Innovation District at its seaport in an effort to publicly catalyse innovation. Over the last few years, this dedicated, 1000 acre waterfront district has already added over 5000 new jobs and has facilitated the creation of 200 start-ups.
Boston’s smart city master plan largely focuses on ‘participatory urbanism’, using a collection of apps for citizens to feel connected. The App Showcase is a selection of smart apps that enable citizens to leverage. For example, Boston residents can receive parking information, report service issues or communicate with each other easily. The city’s flagship app is the award-winning BOS:311, an app that allows residents to report potholes, graffiti and other issues from anywhere in the city.
Similarly, Boston has developed a video game simulation, called Participatory Chinatown, which aims to engage the community in the planning and development of this smart city. For instance, a campaign to ease Boston’s traffic provides real-time information on buses and trains as well as bike-shares, car-shares and other transport services. Smart sensors will link the microhubs with networked traffic signals in well-known congested areas across the city.
Amsterdam is another smart city that is enthusiastically embracing new technologies and innovative concepts. The city is among the top 20 for sectors including economy, technology, urban planning, international outreach and transportation.
The city’s smart platform is based upon a rapidly growing community of 400 organisations and more than 5000 individuals, including a number of start-ups. For example, a public-private smart city project is creating a small smart grid in a housing development, where power is distributed and stored based on demand. A similar smart grid project being developed used carbon dioxide to generate electricity.
Amsterdam has also developed the smart initiative of a ‘Circular City’. Moving from a linear to circular economy means minimising waste and pollution by reducing, recycling and reusing. Meanwhile, the City-Zen project was presented as a roadmap for the transition to sustainable energy, as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. The city anticipates that they will no longer have Co2 emissions by 2040 and will be able to meet its own energy needs.
#7 New York
As well as being the world’s most important economic centre, New York is pioneering the way in smart city technology. Home to almost 7000 high-tech firms and standing our for its integrated technology services, it is not a surprise that New York is up there for must-visit smart cities.
As part of its smart city initiative, New York has launched a pilot programme that has placed hundreds of smart sensors and a low-power wide area network throughout several business districts. The data collected using these smart sensors will be used to help manage activities such as rubbish pickup and waste container disposal. The police department has also also tested web-based software that utilises historical crime data, terrain modelling and other important information to predict and respond to crime levels in the city. This initiative has already resulted in a marked decline in violent crime within this smart city.
London’s reputation as a smart city is long established and well-deserved. The capital city leads the world in designing and implementing creative and ambitious civic innovations. London hosts more start-ups and programmers than almost any other city in the world.
The Civic Innovation Challenge is a platform for setups to develop solutions for a wide range of urban issues. This smart city project aims to make public data as open as possible to encourage collaboration among public, tech and academic sectors. The open data platform, referred to as London Datastore, is utilised by more than 50,000 individuals, companies, researchers and developers every month. Smart technologies and data-sharing have helped London improve their air quality through new Ultra Low Emission Zones and smart districts across the city. London’s iconic lampposts are also being fitted with smart sensors and charging points for electric vehicles to minimise carbon emissions in the city.
Similarly, Connected London is the city’s programme to provide 5G connectivity to the entire city. One idea to make this initiative work is to use drones to spot unused space where cellular antennas can be installed. Another plan aims to provide open access to WiFi in public buildings and on the streets of the city.
Barcelona consistently draws praise for its use of smart technology and this praise is largely credited to its invigoration of an economy that saw massive deterioration during the 1980s when its textile industry collapsed. Nowadays, Spain’s second-largest city is saturated with smart technology and initiatives that are transforming the it into one of the best smart cities to visit.
Barcelona has documented a long history of using new, digital technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve municipal processes for the benefit of its residents. The city has incorporated smart sensors and big data analytics into everything from parking and transportation, to trash collection, air quality monitoring and parkland irrigation. Across the entire city you will find LED lightpole mounted sensors that monitor traffic, air quality, pedestrian activity and noise, and which can dim or switch off on demand. Smart bins around the city are fitted with vacuums that suck waste into underground storage, minimising odours and reducing the number of collection truck trips.
However, Barcelona has recently taken its smart city projects to the next level, attempting to make data available to citizens on demand. First, Barcelona developed a new data infrastructure consisting of three components; Sentilo, an open-source data collection and sensor platform; CityOS, an open-source platform that analyses data; and a selection of user-interface apps which enable easier access to the data. The next step was to make all this valuable data available to citizens, private companies and other interested parties. However, the city and its people would retain complete ownership over the data and constituted the terms under which it is used.
#10 Hong Kong
At the start of 2019, Hong Kong’s secretary for innovation and technology announced a major government push to increase its smart city services. This new push covers what the office calls ‘smart government’ and ‘smart economy’.
One smart city initiative being rolled out in Hong Kong is the development of a more connected community using 4G and 5G service. The 55km-long Hong Kong Shuhai Macao bridge connects mainland China to Hong Kong and Macao. Opened in 2018, this smart bridge is fitted with 4G service and is being readied for 5G. In addition, Hong Kong itself features 400 smart lampposts which will host a 5G test roll out in four neighbourhoods.
Another attractive smart feature of Hong Kong is a new mobile-friendly city dashboard screen. This smart city technology utilises data collected from various different government departments to show real-time images, maps, icons and information charts showing things like traffic speed, temperature, rainfall and parking availability.
The perfect smart city doesn’t yet exist and each and every one of the technologically advanced smart destinations on this list has a long way to go before they can claim to have truly and fully embraced smart technology for the benefit of its residents and tourists. To keep improving and building on this smart technology, city managers and planners must develop a long-term view that prioritises a sustainable future.