Beijing, Seoul, Singapore and Sydney made it to the top 10 of the recently released Digital Cities Index 2022, which ranked 30 global cities across four thematic pillars: connectivity, services, culture and sustainability.
The four Asia Pacific cities are joined on top of the list by Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London and Paris in Europe and New York and Washington DC in the United States.
According to Ritu Bhandari, manager for policy and insights at Economist Impact, smart cities will be safer, cleaner and more inclusive urban landscapes, where citizens enjoy better public health and services, more efficient transport and major economic improvements to be shared as public goods.
“The index highlights how outlier cities are leveraging technology to improve quality of life for millions of citizens around the world. While we see strong leadership from cities in Western Europe, the table is led by major cities from a wide geographical spread. The most significant improvements were delivered against tightly defined goals – a critical success factor for urban digital transformation,” said Bhandari.
A peek at the top performers
Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Beijing, London and Seoul performed the best, with successful open data projects and major strides in smart technology-powered sustainability projects like utility management.
Cities with very defined goals realised the greatest benefits: European cities ran highly impactful traffic management systems, while Beijing made progress using applied digital technologies - tackling air pollution, optimising its utilities and promoting its sharing economy. The Atlantic nation cities led in open data innovation with a boom in travel and mobility apps.
Sustainability was the biggest impact area highlighted by the White Paper, with leading smart cities realising major gains in air quality through smart utility management. Sustainability brought the highest overall scores, with Copenhagen, Seoul and Toronto scoring highest for their use of digital technology to support urban sustainability.
Copenhagen and Singapore were the most connected cities, followed by Zurich, Beijing and Sydney. Singapore’s strategy for developing digital connectivity is built on the premise that AI, 5G and cyber security will drive the country’s growth and innovation post-covid. Smart cities are anticipated to drive economic growth: 5G alone will enable an estimated US$660 billion global mobility and transportation market by 2035.
Internet services impact smart city goals
According to the index, unaffordable, unreliable or inaccessible internet services impact other city level goal, with half-a-million households reportedly lack a reliable internet connection in New York City, for instance, disadvantaging low-income children for remote learning.
By contrast, Washington DC has offered low-cost or free services and devices to families unable to afford a broadband subscription and Paris has the most affordable mobile data of all the cities analysed.
Digital technologies enable progress in public health
Since the pandemic, digital technologies have enabled real progress in public health. In Asia, apps were central to managing COVID-19, while telemedicine and real-time remote monitoring of chronic patients has marked digitisation everywhere. In New York, for instance, a diabetes-prevention initiative for adults has reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes in high-risk individuals by 58%.
Singapore, São Paulo and New Delhi ranked the highest for their delivery of digital municipal services. New Delhi ranks high in part because of the success of Aadhar, India’s ground-breaking national digital identity scheme. In Korea, Metaverse Seoul, announced in November 2021 by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, will provide citizens with access to government services via the metaverse.
The index also noted that involving citizens in the design of smart city schemes underpins meaningful inclusion, a critical success factor for smart city projects, along with delivery against tightly defined goals.