3 Emerging SMART CITY Strategies

3 Emerging SMART CITY Strategies

This piece continues from the previous Smart City Framework theme, part of ArcInsight Partners’ ongoing research into smart city strategies. The author invites your thoughts, critique, feedback & new research pointers.

The first part of our global research (Read here: Smart City Pt.-1: A Framework For Intelligent Value Creation ) delved into the concept of smart cities, the drivers behind this new trend, and introduced some of their key components.  We made the case for smart city aspirants to align their smart city strategies with their stage of economic evolution in order to create economic value for itself, and deliver on expectations of higher quality services for its citizens.   We also pointed out three kinds of investments smart city aspirants must plan for in order to maximize this value relative to their distinct stages of economic evolution and (consequently) their priorities.



In this second part, we looked at a gamut of smart city related initiatives in flight around the world and identified a set of three distinct classes of underlying smart city strategies. We share our view on their sustainability, and their probability of achieving their goals towards achieving deployment of smart city principles at scale.

Before we get there, let’s revisit a basic premise of our ongoing research.

(a) Smart Cities Are About Data-Driven Insights;

(b) Smart Cities Are About Delivering Unique Contextual Citizen-Facing Services;

(c) Smart Services Do Not Exist In A Vacuum. They Depend On A Pre-Existing Infrastructure Linked to A History Of Goals-Driven Economic Investments.


STRATEGY A:  A Vertical Portfolio Of Widely Deployed Control-Systems            

The most common initiatives around the developed economies share common characteristics. They are all built around one or more core priorities for the city, and are predominantly technology driven. These cities have evolved economically and have ready technology infrastructure available for advanced initiatives to take off from.

What Drives This Strategy ? – Several pressing imperatives.      

  • Need to stretch tax dollars in the face of higher service expectations; Rising costs of providing basic services;
  • Demand for more transparency in governance.
  • Ageing Populations; Shrinking supply of service providers; Pressure to automate/digitize, Reduce human content;
  • Squeeze performance out of aging infrastructures;
  • Accommodate population growth & diversity; supporting goal of inclusivity for all firms and citizens.
  • Productivity; support aggregate economic growth and promote efficiency throughout the public and private sectors.
  • Sustainability; Ensure energy efficiency and city resilience from uncontrollable disasters. (More on this in Part -1)


NEW YORK’S Smart City Portfolio

  • Sensing City: Across 270 city blocks in Midtown Manhattan, 300 wireless microwave sensors, video cameras and EZ pass readers monitor traffic congestion. In Staten Island and the Bronx, traffic signals are set to automatically detect the approach of a city bus, through wireless sensors, and extend a green light to speed its passage.  10,000 curbside transmitters use New York’s obsolete pay phone network to operate the world’s largest and fastest free municipal Wi-Fi network that offers free 1Gbps broadband service, free voice and video phone calls, and direct access to a variety of city services, such as 311 and 911 hotlines.
  • Resource Optimization:  817,000 wireless water meters transmit readings and leak reports from homes and businesses as often as four times a day. To better handle the 10,000 tons of garbage that New Yorkers throw out every day, the city has installed 700 solar-powered trash cans on street corners that compact litter and wirelessly alert sanitation workers when they need to be emptied.
  • OpenGov: The city made more of its own data public than any other city in the world. As of 2015, it posted 1,350 data sets of city records online, covering subjects from school attendance, pothole work orders and fire department safety inspections, to noise complaints and construction permits.
  • Integrated Behavioral Insight:  The city systematically rewired the city’s management systems, linking hundreds of older computer networks in 30 city agencies and utilities. The pooled data leverages algorithms to speed emergency services, uncover tax fraud, detect landlords illegally harassing tenants and target buildings most at risk of fire. Its free public WiFi network pays for itself va ad revenues and sale of aggregated, anonymous usage-behavior data and expects to generate $500 million in revenues for the city during its first 12 years of operation.


CITY OF LONDON’S  Smart City Portfolio

  • Sensing City: Transport for London (TfL), the organization that runs the Underground, uses network-enabled sensors in their CCTV (security camera) systems, escalators, PA loudspeakers, air conditioning systems, and subway tunnels to allow central systems to manage, monitor, and automate individual tasks to identify & pre-empt mechanical issues throughout the system, and to deploy maintenance teams, track equipment problems, and monitor goings-on in the massive, sprawling transportation system.
  • OpenGov:  The London Dashboard is a centralized data repository is organized around key public services, and Londoners are encouraged to develop the raw data into new datasets, apps, websites, etc. The centralized information about public services and city data encourages transparency and better management by city authorities, and allows entrepreneurial individuals to use the data to develop new apps and services. The service is available to Londoners free of charge.


CITY OF BARCELONA’S  Smart City Portfolio

  • Sensing City: The city considers senior/elder care as one of its key priorities.  One in five inhabitants of Barcelona is currently over 65 years old. Around one hundred thousand inhabitants are over 80 and a third of those who are over 65 live alone. Nearly 2,000 flats (apartments) in Barcelona are fitted with sensors that detect possible water and gas leaks, as well as a lack of movement in that home. If any anomalous situation is detected, social services are able to contact the service’s user.  Residents over 75, who live alone, and who feel isolated and those that require support of professional social or health, diseases chronic dependency services are connected by an award-winning senior care service that runs on a digital platform accessible through a touch tablet for the elderly and from mobile devices by other members of the network. Family, friends, public sector employees and volunteers are connected with each other and with the user.  The elderly target audience for this care-service required deep attention to detail on design of user-interfaces, and an intuitive app design with simplicity as its governing design-principle. While the program extends the network of municipal support for the elderly, its main innovation is that it combines public and personal care.


City of PALO ALTO’s  Smart City Portfolio

  • Sensing City: When the City of Palo Alto’s dynamic new CIO took on the role he discovered the need to balance several conflicting citizen expectations. Additionally, exponential growth in this heart of Silicon Valley posed new challenges that had immediacy, and visible impact on the overall satisfaction and quality experience for its citizen stakeholders.  His first step upgrading the city’s decades-old electromechanical traffic light controllers to a computerized system. The transition enabled our traffic signals located close to their 44-mile fiber network to become Internet-enabled, becoming nodes at the edge of the city’s network.  Palo Alto has also begun installing occupancy sensors in street parking spots throughout the city. The sensors, embedded into the asphalt, communicate to gateways transmitting parking occupancy data.  This data integrates to additional apps that can direct drivers to locate the closest available parking spots in Palo Alto. The system has additional capability to support the city’s active biking population by monitoring biking & pedestrian traffic patterns. Looking ahead, the city’s vendor also plans to push the data to  aggregators working with automotive manufacturers as part of connected vehicle networks.

STRATEGY B:  Showcase Non-Scalable Experimental -Designs           

These are newer built-by-design experimental cities with big ambitions, driven entirely by new smart technologies and using smart cities process design principles.  We observe two common themes underlying these experimental cities – (a) Business and national aspirations tend to push ahead of economic realities while launching these projects. (b) They tend to ignore the classic “Build It & They Will Come” technology-trap that have stymied other past innovations in achieving their goals.

What Drives This Strategy?

  • Validate models conceptualized by academic & design research.
  • Demonstrate proof-of-concept for technology vendors.
  • A national vanity to participate in sponsoring bleeding edge projects.
  • A “build it and they will come” mindset.


The QATARI Smart City Experiment:  Masdar is a master-planned city development in Abu Dhabi relying only on solar and other renewable energy sources to power the city. Smart elements of the city include: • Reducing buildings’ energy and water consumption by 40 percent through intelligent design • An  integrated smart network of transportation options, including a driverless point-to-point personal rapid transit system, an electric vehicle ride-share program, and a centralized zero-carbon automated public transportation network Masdar also serves as a testing ground for new renewable energy innovations. Masdar is a mixed success so far, and remains underutilized as a smart city.

The SOUTH KOREAN Smart City Experiment: An example of a city built from scratch with smart technology integrated from the ground up. Based on land reclaimed from the sea, 40% of the city is designated as open green areas, still leaving room for 80,000 apartments and 500 million square feet of office space. The city has been designed with sensors to monitor temperature, energy use and traffic flow.  Every home and office will have a built-in terminal connecting it to the systems monitoring the public infrastructure, and a smart energy grid will monitor and regulate supply and demand. Songdo was a mixed success, and remains under-utilized as a smart city.

The JAPANESE SmartCity Experiments:  Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, a “smart city” development designed by Panasonic and 18 other companies 30 miles outside of Tokyo. Fujisawa represents the technocratic vision of the urban future that Cisco, IBM and other technology giants have sold to governments and developers around the globe.  With limited entry points and cameras in public space to monitor every movement of citizens, the development will ultimately realize the concept of a ‘virtual gated town’.  A similar experiment is now underway in Colorado.

The INDIAN Smart City Experiments: Early experimentation with building privately funded smart cities projects in India had mixed results. Few of these projects ever managed to achieve their planned vision, many have since been abandoned. A more recent group of so-called smart city developments target towards narrow economic interests of India’s elite populations and builders geared to serve them exclusively. The current perceptions about these experiments are that they were envisioned to be more walled “fortresses than places of heterogeneous humanity”. One class to be served, the other to be surveilled and contained.

              Palava City, a self-described smart city across 3,000 acres of Mumbai’s northeastern exurbs aspires to mimic the vision that brought Singapore and Dubai into being. It promises “essential public infrastructure” such as 24×7 electricity, immaculate wide roads, public transport, malls, multiplexes and luxury housing. To make sure that no one trespasses on its immaculate privatopia, Palava plans to issue its residents with “smart identity cards”, and will watch over them through a system of “smart surveillance”.’ In other words, a walled-city closed to the average citizen.

Gujarat International Finance Tec (GIFT) City –  Gift City, attempts to models itself after financial hubs Canary Wharf in London and Paris’s La Defense. This smart city idea is based on a fairly comprehensive proposal that covers urban design and architecture that includes mixed use building architectures. It also proposes futuristic concepts for transportation, water & waste management, surveillance & security, logistics-support hubs, captive power generation, centralized cooling, high-speed connectivity and a transparent system for public data-sharing.   It remains to be seen whether the project will follow the familiar walled-fortress strategy, delivering exclusivity for its residents (keeping out the average population) and propagating the common theme of creating two-tier societies in the country.

UAE’s Proposed Smart CityTheSmart Dubai initiative has a mission to integrate its public and private systems – to increase communication between residents and Dubai’s institutions, and to foster access to information. It plans to ensure access to provide the smartest transportation system in the world through development of traffic systems , transportation , and creation of a unified control center. It also hopes to accelerate creation of a smart electrical grid to encourage owners of houses and buildings in Dubai to use  solar energy and sell the surplus to the government. Its too early to examine outcomes from this initiative, given Dubai’s experiments ultimately create a smart city without considerations for vast differences in quality of life among its residents (permanents and transients).


STRATEGY C:   A Smart-City Label To Energize Infrastructure Investments

India’s 100 Smart-Cities Initiative:  India recently embarked on a journey to create 100 smart cities. Based on early analysis of proposals (assuming it can mobilize capabilities to execute through to the target vision), this may well be the single largest and possibly the most complex undertaking managed by the country (or anywhere in the world).


What Drives India’s Smart City Strategy ?:     

Imperative A Ticking Demographic Time-Bomb        

A fourth of humanity is now young (ages 10 to 24). A quarter of India’s population are younger than 15. Every month until 2030, nearly a million Indians will turn 18 – coming of age, raring for more education, looking for work, registering to vote and making India home to the largest number of young, working-age people anywhere in the world. Already, the number of Indians between the ages of 15 and 34 (422 million) is roughly the same as that of the combined populations of United States, Canada and Britain.



 Worldwide, two out of five young workers are either not working or working in poorly-paid jobs insufficient to escape poverty, according to recent ILO figures. Youth unemployment is especially striking in richer countries. Across Europe, youth unemployment is 25 %, not just because of a sluggish economy but because many young Europeans don’t have the skills for the jobs available. In the United States, nearly 17 % of those between the ages of 16 and 29 are neither in school nor working.

Imperative Inadequate Infrastructure Situation –  Test Case Of Bangalore’s Notorious Traffic Congestion:

The vehicle population in Bengaluru has grown at an alarming rate of 700 % in a span of 40 years – from just 100,000 (in 1976) to 6M(in 2016) while roads capacity remains stagnant. Average vehicle speeds dropped from 20 kmph (2010) to below 9 kmph (2016). While two-wheelers vehicles form a higher proportion of the vehicle population (4M), there are 1.1 M light motor vehicles (primarily passenger cars). Considering that almost 3,000 vehicles are registered every day, the vehicle speed may go down further to 5 kmph, almost equal to walking. Half of Bangalore’s commuters depend on 6,500 municipal buses, the remaining half uses more than 5.4 M vehicles. The solution to traffic congestion lies in improving efficiency of public transport.  A better taxi-hailing or ride-sharing app will not solve this problem. If Bangalore is to be a smart city someday, fundamental and drastic ideation may be necessary to change the transportation paradigm here. This paradigm must include changes to public commute routines (staggered work hours), a culture of telecommuting, encouraging/enforcing rideshares, public transit and bicycles, perhaps even moving technology hubs to smaller satellite locations, and many others others.

The City of Pune Test Case:                                                                                   An educational and industrial hub south of India’s commercial capital Bombay, Pune is spread over an area of approx. 250 sq. km and targets a population of over 3 M residents. The cosmopolitan city is home to much of India’s IT enterprises, education research institutions, a large military base and many innovative companies in the traditional industrial space serving automotive & transportation, defense, manufacturing, chemical process and  specialized components. The city targets a set of key challenges for its Smart City solutions, including:

  • Management of daily generated 1700 Tonnes of municipal solid waste
  • Poor management for natural and man-made disasters.
  • Low penetration of health related facilities and awareness amongst citizens.
  • Improvement of traffic-management and transit system to support growing populations in the city.
  • Development of road infrastructure to meet ideal road density norms.
  • Improving distribution of water supply, especially to fringe areas of the city.
  • Management of land and assets for infrastructure development
  • City gas distribution
  • Smart electricity grid

 The Looming Water Crisis :  

Fresh water reserves have been steadily depleting all over the world.  The situation is reaching alarming levels due to several reasons.  (a)  Inefficient, Deficient, Often Poorly Maintained Water Infrastructure. 55% of  used household water supplied is lost from the system – never recaptured or re-used; (b) Serious Need For A Nationwide Water Conservation & Educational Initiative In Developing Nations.

Water is lost due to leaks in pipes and other infrastructure which go undetected or are never fixed. A significant amount of water is lost due to over-irrigation of farms or poor farm practices. Clearly both could use data-driven smart city insights.    The story isn’t very different in many other developing nations with deficient infrastructure.  Clearly the path to creating real smart cities will be long and tenuous here.



A panel of experts identified the first 20 cities to get funded. Initial ground work to identify and prioritize areas within each city to roll-out smart solutions is currently underway. This is being carried out based on feedback from citizens. Each proposal had two parts—an area development plan and a pan-city initiative based on the particular needs of each city.  The 20 cities account for a population of 35.4 million people, with a distribution ranging from 258,000 (New Delhi Municipal Council) to 5.578 million people (Ahmedabad). The redevelopment expects to cover over 26,735 acres of land.

Each of the selected cities has identified core problem areas and serve as solution prototypes for other regions – Housing (elimination of slum-dwelling), Solid waste management, Sustained supplies for electricity and water, Traffic management, Parking, crowd management during festivities, are common ones. Most intend to focus on improving transport links, continuous metered water and electricity services apart from building sewerage systems as their primary targets for smart solutions.

The government proposes to invest $7.6 B in these cities over a five year period, with additional funding raised from private companies and through monetization of land & services.  80% of the initial amount ($5.78 B ) targets spend on land development and the remainder 20% $ 1.8 B towards 56 common infrastructure-related (“pan-city” solutions).  Ten of the 20 cities also plan to raise $ 1.27 Billion through public-private partnerships.

Governance Mechanism: The selected cities expect to set up special purpose vehicles (SPVs) to obtain funds from the Centre and the state. Private sector companies and financial institutions can also be equity partners in the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) that will be formed to create the smart cities, provided the state government and local body are majority stakeholders. Each SPV plans, appraises, approves, implements, manages, operates, monitors and evaluates the respective project. The SPV will be headed by a full-time CEO and have nominees of the Centre and the state on its board. The entities are allowed to enter into joint ventures with other entities to raise funds. These will be autonomous bodies accountable to the city, with majority ownership held by government agencies.

Partnerships: Several countries have proposed sharing technical expertise. They include Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Australia, Spain, Germany (residential housing, efficient water supply, waste water management and renewable energy, with a focus on Bhubaneswar in state of Odisha, Kochi in state of Kerala, and Coimbatore in state of Tamil Nadu), China, Spain, France (focus on Nagpur and Puducherry), the United States (focus on Ajmer, Vizag and Allahabad) to offer assistance and funding where required.

The Test Case Of “Aadhar” Universal ID for Citizens – An Infrastructure Initiative Paying Rich Dividends For India:   Perhaps the most ambitious infrastructure project to bring India into the mainstream of smart city aspirations. The national initiative began in 2005 with a goal to bring visibility for a vast rural and under-served populations on the radar of government and state run benefits system.

The need for a universal identity was laid out as a critical necessity considering the following facts. Many of those who are entitled to government handouts live in one of the 600,000 Indian villages with no banking facilities. This has been a very expensive exercise serving a citizenry in a country where 59% of births are not registered, and many recipients can’t read their listed benefits. Not surprisingly, it is claimed only 17% of subsidies reach the right people.  A patchwork of rival ID schemes, from driving licences to ration cards, electoral rolls and tax-registration numbers, did not serve the purpose of making each and every citizen visible to the state.

The Aadhar Universal ID has transformed the way many citizens interact with the state. It now allows the government to pay benefits directly to over 200m bank accounts linked to its database, so cutting out layers of corrupt and inept middlemen. Clearly the potential to offer unique services for citizens via this initiative is vast, even though it remains in the realm of speculation at this time.



We began this series of analysis with a single premise.  A universal paradigm/design-template is neither realistic nor practicable for smart city design..

  1. A close evaluation of contextual realities of a city and their stage of economic evolution are critical aspects of design in which smart city aspirations must be proposed.
  2. In the ultimate analysis, citizens & a clear development objectives make cities tick. Not urban designers, not planners, certainly not the government. Technology (also among these factors) must accept its role as an invisible enabler. Any efforts to design a smart city with priorities chosen in reverse order of priority are recipes for failed initiatives.