ESI Smarter Cities 2025

10 pillars of a smart city

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Alice Cruickshank

Research by ESI ThoughtLab, a think tank, and partners, found several British cities are leading the way in smart city adoption, and that data is king when it comes to global smart city innovation.

ESI Phases Of Smart City Adoption

What is the current smart city climate?

ESI ThoughtLab conducted an in-depth benchmarking survey of government leaders in 136 cities around the world to understand their smart city perspectives, practices and performance results. They calculated a “smart city maturity score” for each city.

It was good news for British cities, with Edinburgh, London and Oxford all considered ‘leaders’; Birmingham, Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Cork, Milton Keynes and Newcastle upon Tyne all in a mid-level ‘transitioning’ phase. ‘Beginner’ cities who have a lot of growth to do in their smart city plans include Aberdeen, Bangkok, Galway, Lisbon and Vancouver.

ESI’s modelling and analysis found that as cities advance their smart city transformation, they are better able to reap the benefits of investments in new technologies and systems. The report details that with sound governance, adequate funding and talented workers, smarter cities can capitalise on investments in innovation to generate new revenue streams and cost efficiencies.

Research found that on average ‘beginner’ cities have the potential to increase GDP per capita by as much as 21% and population growth by 13% over the next 5 years if they can achieve their stated smart city plans. Transitioning and leader cities can potentially see additional GDP per capita and population increases as well, albeit at a slower rate.

ESI Pillars Of A Smart City

The pillars of a smart city

The report identifies 10 smart city pillars that work together to drive benefits to stakeholders:

  • Governance | Urban leaders must factor in the expectations of local citizens and businesses, and set a policy framework that encourages innovation and adoption of smart technologies
  • Economy | Smart city growth requires building an economic environment that attracts business and investment, fosters industry development, promotes e-commerce, and creates local and global trade linkages
  • Infrastructure | Connected well-maintained buildings, roads, electricity, sewerage, telecommunications, and water systems are crucial building blocks for smart city development
  • Talent | The most successful cities have built urban centres that cultivate academic partnerships, develop vibrant technology sectors, encourage entrepreneurs, and create a local cultural hub that attracts creative talent
  • Funding | To invest in these smarter technologies and services, cities will need to be more innovative in their funding techniques, sources of capital—including private-sector partnerships—budget approaches, and business models
  • Mobility | Smart cities are developing choices to meet the needs of residents from across generations, including ride-sharing, bike- and car-sharing, smart transit systems, real-time transit mobile apps, smart traffic signals and smart parking
  • Environment | ESI’s study found improving environmental sustainability, energy use, and resource allocation through innovative solutions is the number one challenge to smart city leaders
  • Public safety | Technologies can aid public safety through use of big data and AI, predictive policing, drones, acoustic sensors, body cameras, smart street signals and sensors
  • Public health | Smart cities are working with healthcare providers to promote the use of wearable sensors that monitor an individual’s physical activity and health, telemedicine that allows doctors to treat patients remotely, and street sensors that track air quality and pollution
  • Payment systems | More intensive use of smart payments, such as electronic bill payment and mobile apps, will help business reduce costs and can have significant benefits for government, improving transparency for stakeholders and enabling government to strengthen financial controls, minimise fraud, and increase revenue

ESI Roadmap For Smarter Cities

A roadmap to smarter cities

ESI’s research concludes with a call to action for leaders to increase their smart city capability. The report encourages local governments to start with a vision and roadmap to their smart city future, whilst outlining that smart cities need a strong foundation, strong infrastructure and adequate funding.

Finally, ESI’s report emphasises the significance of data, describing it as “the rocket fuel for smart city transformation”. The importance of data includes making it accessible to stakeholders and monetising its value. The report predicts that by 2021, almost all cities will draw on IoT and real-time data, and use of predictive data, which about 40% of cities already use, will rise in usage by 63%. Similarly, use of both geospatial and behavioural data will rise by 54%.

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