The Top 10 Smart Cities On The Planet

In case you’re not familiar with the term a smart city uses information combined with technology to improve quality of life, reduce environmental impact, and decrease energy demand.

This list of the smartest cities on the planet takes those factors into consideration, as well as the ‘smart’ plans the city might have for the future.

San Francisco

The city of San Francisco constantly ranks at the top of North American cities as one of the best places to live. They have been working to make the city smart for the past few decades and the smart grid employment sector has grown 130%. The city has very ambitious goals to decrease their carbon footprint by increasing power from renewable energy and the grid is currently powered with 41% renewable energy.

There is an emerging infrastructure for electric vehicle charging with 110 public charging stations, the highest per capita of any city. The city has also vastly improved it’s public transportation system which includes more buses and trains, as well as apps to show bikers and pedestrians the best routes through town. They’ve also developed apps for visually impaired citizens to navigate public transportation.

They currently have a goal to achieve zero waste by the year 2020. To do this they have extensively expanded their recycling system making recycling just about anything you want achievable. So far they’re making great progress. The city’s current waste diversion is 80%!

To achieve their lofty goals the city has opened up city data to software developers and startup companies to help the city innovate. There has already been more than 60 software apps in public transportation alone. How many public transportation apps does your city have? The current mayor Ed Lee, and former Mayor Gavin Newsom, have shown great leadership in bringing San Francisco to the forefront of smart cities.


Amsterdam has partnered with big-time companies to go green and it is working. Companies like Phillips, Cisco, IBM, and dozens of smaller companies are all working with the city to help them innovate into a hub for smart city technology. Amsterdam has become a role model for the rest of European cities striving to become smart city savvy.

Some of the projects the city is done in the past few years have helped make this city very green. Take a walk down ‘Climate Street’ and you’ll see some of the technology in use. Trash is collected by nonpolluting electric trucks. City bus stops, billboards, and lights are powered with solar energy. Thousands of households and businesses have had their roofs retrofitted with energy efficient insulation cutting down energy costs, and these concepts are spreading like wildfire from Climate Street to the rest of the city.

In other parts of the city river going vessels can hook up to electrical power outlets to recharge their batteries rather than using high polluting diesel generators. Many thousands of homes have been upgraded with automatically dimming light switches, automatic shutting off appliances, smart meters connected to cell phones for realtime analysis, and ultra low energy LED lights are in use in thousands of applications. Billions of euros have been invested over the past three years into these smart technologies which will save the city many more billions of euros over the decades to come.


Japan’s biggest companies are behind the Smart city revolution taking place around the globe and are using Tokyo as their proving ground. Panasonic, Sharp, Mitsubishi, and many other big names are working very hard to infuse smart technology into this massive city. After months of rolling blackouts due to lack of nuclear power, the need for the Japanese to innovate has never been greater.

In 2006 Tokyo started aggressively greening up its city. The Imperial Palace is currently considered a Green Island in the Tokyo urban jungle, but that might change when all utility poles come down and are replaced with trees by 2015. The goal is 1 million trees in the city which might make Tokyo itself a green island. They are also aggressively pushing solar energy, renewable wind sources, and electric/hybrid cars by providing appetizing incentives to pocketbooks for businesses and household who are going green.

A few miles outside the main part of the city lies and eco-village built by Panasonic. The zero carbon emission village focuses on using renewable energy and ultra high efficient appliances. The home automation system looks at weather forecasts and determines the best time to perform the laundry. LED bulbs are installed throughout the home using 1/6th of what incandescent bulbs use, and next-generation fuel cells combined with solar power generators actually create electricity autonomously. Telecommuting is highly encouraged from these eco-homes which saves millions of CO2 emissions annually. Other companies in Japan are doing the same type of sustainable home living innovation creating prototypes for the rest of the world to follow.


This remote oil town in northwest China is quickly becoming infused with the worlds best smart technology. The leadership of Xinjiang have a philosophy which is that information-technology should be integrated with every aspect of the city resident’s lives. Being a smart city in China is less about infrastructure and more about information integration and processing. Here’s some of the things they are doing.

Every bus station in the city is equipped with a electronic screen displaying bus arrival information. Mobile devices are of course connected to the bus system and the screens so checking the exact arrival time from mobile apps is possible. The city is connected with a web of public traffic cameras and all are accessible via mobile phones. This makes real-time traffic monitoring a reality, thus avoiding congestion. According to Chinese reports the mobile phone infrastructure in the city is at 170%, making the city very connected to the smart hub.

Homes are equipped with panic buttons which if pushed by an elderly person will automatically alert emergency response personnel. There is also a Social Security system which tells city officials if there is a growing number of unemployed persons. The government knows in real-time the occupation and unemployment status of the city residents. Again the Chinese smart theme, information technology integrated into life. These systems free up government workers so they don’t have to attend so many meetings and can work more efficiently.


Seattle constantly ranks very high for smart cities across the globe. They do an exceptional job when it comes to looking out for environmental issues. One of the big reasons for this is they offer huge tax breaks for businesses and residents who purchase and utilize green technology. If you can’t afford upgrading to green technology don’t worry. Residence who meet income qualifications get free green weatherization services. These services include insulation in attics, walls, pipes, windows, and more. A wonderful way for residents of the city, who could not otherwise afford these upgrades, the chance to save lots of money on utility costs. Ultimately saving the city money on wasted electricity.

Green jobs are an abundance for this city with more than 300 companies employing thousands of people. Seattle is a national leader for innovative green building practices. The demand for energy efficient construction has never been higher. For all their efforts Seattle has the lowest electricity rates of any comparatively sized city in the nation. They also have some of the lowest carbon emissions per capita in the United States. Seattle has built a strong roadmap for the future and will continue to lead the way with their version of a smart city.


Copenhagen is one of the smartest cities on the planet. Perhaps it’s due to the ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by the year 2025, which has accelerated it’s green technology revolution. Denmark has almost one hundred years experience in urban planning. In 1925 they held their first urban planning commission, so they are definitely no stranger when it comes to planning urban spaces for the future.

Copenhagen has attracted many innovative companies to use its city streets as a testing ground for green technology. For example, they have created a eco friendly smart neighborhood which houses 40,000 residents, created a similar amount of jobs for them, and is a model for green living.

They have taken a practical approach to sustainable living. When there’s no traffic on the streets the street lights turn off. The city has integrated air-quality meters in lamp posts throughout the city to monitor pollution trends. The intelligent street lighting, solar panel powered public areas, and public transportation systems are revolutionary in Europe.

The city has opened up it’s data to innovators and they are making lots of headway into sustainable living. Things like apps for finding available parking spaces throughout the city, smartphone connected smart electricity meters four homes, and and incredible network of shared bicycles all make Copenhagen very cutting edge.


In 2010 the European Commission named Stockholm – “Europe’s Green Capital of 2010”. This beautiful Northern European city has implemented many practical solutions to achieve their noted green success. Providing tax relief for companies who install motion sensors in their businesses in order to turn off lights when buildings are vacant is just one example.

Part of what makes this city so smart is it’s transportation network. The city sits strategically on Sweden’s southern coast and has multiple ferries connecting various international destinations. They also have high-speed trains connecting major cities, close to 2000 public buses in the city, and more than 1000 local trains and trolleys to move people around efficiently.

The city is also very green, as in bushes and trees green. There are 1000 parks (30% of the city space), seven nature reserves within the city, and residents annually recycle almost 100kg of waste per person. 90% of the city residents live within 300m of some green space. There are also two large water wastewater treatment plants where biodiesel is produced for public buses, from waste-water mind you. Even excess heat from sewage water is reused in residential heating applications. If all of those ‘green’ factoids aren’t enough the city has almost 3000 clean tech companies working to green up the city even more.


Vienna is a growing metropolis with more than 1.7 million residents. They’re one of the greenest cities in the world and are aiming to be the greenest. They’re currently at 14% renewable energy use for the city. The Mercer survey has named Vienna the city with the highest quality of life, both for Europe and globally. Quality of life is one of the major factors when it comes to ranking a city smart or not.

Vienna has placed a lot of resources into green energy. Europe’s largest biomass powerplant provides 75,000 residential and public buildings with heating. The city is currently on track to have 300,000 m² solar panels installed by the year 2020. That is a lot of solar power which will be connected to a smart grid.

Transportation around Vienna has never been easier or more accessible. More than 90% of the city’s population has easy access to public transportation. The city has a smartcard system which automatically calculates use fees for any mode of transportation automatically, and it’s a good thing too, because the public transportation system handles more than 1.3 million passengers every day.

New York

New York has created a very clear vision of what the future smart city will encompass, and they are working quickly to achieve their goals. One way this is happening is Cisco and city24/7 have collaborated and launched an interactive platform which strategically places smart screens throughout the city to report news, events, and coupons. They are doing this by converting the old and underused public phone system. This is part of the city’s plan to bridge the digital divide and provide Internet access for all of its residents. These smart hubs will have NFC technology as well as Wi-Fi capability.

The city has granted access to software developers with more than 1300 open data sets. That is a lot of data to work with if you are a smart city entrepreneur. They’ve also set up a challenge which offers $50,000 in cash and prizes to the best apps which utilize New York City’s open data sets annually. Browsing through reveals dozens of very innovative applications that help make New York City smart. These entrepreneurs, investors, and New York City are creating a hub of smart technology.


Rounding out the list is the large Chilean city of Santiago. We are giving Santiago a spot on this list because Latin America deserves some recognition for the efforts they’re putting forth to create smart cities. This city’s population is expected to swell over the next decade, which means if they don’t innovate now rapid growth could potentially create an urban slum.

Santiago is taking examples from around the world, as well as advice from major smart companies like IBM, and creating a smart eco friendly city. Electric public transportation through electric buses running on a closed city circuit with multiple charging outlets for private cars and taxis is being built. The city is also focusing a lot of attention on home automation systems. Systems which fuse together solar energy and optimal energy use. To make it work the city will integrate a new smart grid into the infrastructure.

Smart city entrepreneurs should look to South America for business opportunities. Cities like Santiago Chile are actively seeking long-term relationships with new ventures to innovate and execute smart city programs. And with cities like Santiago growing more than 5% each year there are numerous opportunities for smart city innovation. South America has more than 380 million people, many of whom will be moving to cities like Santiago in the coming decades.