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Smart and Sustainable Cities: What Does It Mean?
Rocío Moreno29. March 20235 min read

Smart and Sustainable Cities: What Does It Mean?

The smart cities agenda focuses on improving citizens quality of life by enhancing a city's infrastructure using new technologies. Furthermore, we can think of sustainability as a long-term goal in which environmental, societal, and economic fields are balanced in the journey for life improvement. Therefore, smart sustainable cities are the way forward to not only improve the quality of life of a city’s inhabitants but also to confront a persistent problem of this era: climate change.

When Smart and Sustainable come together

Approximately 50% of the worlds population lives in cities due to more work and education opportunities to offer. According to data provided by the United Nations, these numbers are expected to grow to 66% by 2050; this is a problem since the consumption of resources, carbon emissions, pollution and social inequity will grow massively through the years. Thankfully, smart sustainable cities are presented as the key to overcoming the issues associated with the rapid urbanization of traditional cities.

How can a Smart City be Sustainable?

 The increase in technologies and rapid overcrowding of the cities combined with ecological awareness led to rethinking the use of technologies as a tool for sustainable development. Thus, “sustainable” and “smart cities” emerge as one to confront the social, economic and environmental challenges such as global warming, air pollution and trash in the ocean.

To make this possible, cities must implement smart technology solutions, which require initiatives from society, including the government, citizens, institutions, and many more. This is where the United for Sustainable Smart Cities (U4SSC) comes into play. Developed in 2016 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and also several UN programs, the U4SSC was born as an initiative in which a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) for Smart Sustainable Cities (SSC) are founded.

Thanks to the information and programs provided by this initiative, cities can bet on implementing their own SSC policies. The creation of smart sustainable cities is also possible thanks to the inclusion of innovative technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI). In addition, using these technologies would accelerate the generation of jobs since smart cities require skilled workers who can design, operate or maintain the infrastructures that make smart cities possible. This kind of system can stimulate economic growth thanks to the numerous business opportunities.

We find the best of both worlds: When technology and sustainable policies act simultaneously for the common good.

Sustainable urban development improves the quality of life

Smart cities can improve citizens quality of life thanks to data collection so that the needs of the inhabitants can be identified more easily. The innovative technology of smart cities combined altogether with the application of sustainable smart city policies would affect, in the first place, the area of energy by optimizing technology to save energy through sensors or the implementation of alternative energy sources such as solar panels. 

Secondly, smart metrics can be used to control water consumption and limit extensive water use. In social terms, the technology implemented would make cities safer thanks to sensors or cameras that can detect criminal activity immediately. These sensors can also perceive areas needing maintenance and thus avoid infrastructure failures.
To this, we can add the fact that mobility would be improved by reducing traffic jams, facilitating public transportation use and increasing walkability. At the same time, providing electric vehicles can also decrease carbon emissions.

In summary, thanks to the digital revolution, key sectors such as transportation, waste or energy, can be drastically improved[1].

The building of a Smart Sustainable City

Thanks to policies and technologies, today, it is possible to concretize the construction of a sustainable smart city. Nevertheless, it is not possible to achieve such a radical transformation overnight. To begin with, there must be an extensive collection and measurement of data that will lead to an understanding of usage. This obtained information will lead to the beginning of the big transformation: Replacing infrastructure such as old buildings, plumbing systems or services to fit the smart city.

Not only is a transformation of structures important, but there must also be an effort of adaptation and support from the inhabitants through the adaptation of small sustainable habits such as energy or water saving or even using public transportation instead of a private vehicle.

There are infinite possibilities when it comes to the making of a smart sustainable city; what is clear is that there should be a significant effort and disposition from the government, non-government and the inhabitants of the city.

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Smart Sustainable Cities Today: The transformation already began

The Smart Sustainable City transformation is a long but steady project. Nonetheless, nowadays, we can find cities already embarking on this journey; where did they begin?

Three positive examples of Smart and Sustainable Cities:

1. Smart City Zurich
Zurich started its journey in 2018 with the “Smart City Zurich” long-term project. The city improvements include the infrastructure, which has been digitized, public transportation and also features a Smart Building Management system to regulate energy consumption.

2. Smart City Amsterdam
On the other hand, Amsterdam’s embarkation towards a smart sustainable city began a little earlier. In 2009 the Amsterdam’s Smart City Program [2] was presented to minimize 40% of carbon emissions by 2025. Next to Amsterdam, Copenhagen is trying to reach this same objective.
Both cities want to implement technologies to improve the quality of life of their citizens by improving the transportation system. The consequence of mobility evolving is a decrease in CO2 emission and traffic flow reduction.

3. Smart City Songdon
Finally, in South Korea, a city was built from the ground up to be a sustainable smart city. Songdon started as a project in 2003 and not only promises a smart infrastructure, but the ecological aspect also plays a significant role: Energy is rigorously measured using panels; security cameras monitor the number of vehicles residing or entering and leaving the city to organize traffic flow; overall extensive green areas can be found in the city.

Conclusion for smart an sustainable cities:

The policies and measurements for the building of smart cities around the world are infinite and we could go into further discussion about them. The critical element is to comprehend that the smart sustainable city project is entirely feasible and bets not only on the welfare of people today but also on the well-being of future generations.

[1] Elgazzar R., El-Gazzar R: Smart Cities, Sustainable Cities, Or Both? A Critical Review and Synthesis of Success and Failure Factors. 2017

[2] Mora L., Bolici R: How to Become a Smart City: Learning from Amsterdam. Politecnico di Milano. 2017



Rocío Moreno

Rocío Moreno is a content writer and student of Social Communication at the University of Buenos Aires. In her writing, she likes to focus on the topics of smart cities, sustainability, interculturality and the development of Latin America.