Smart Cities: What are they, where are they and is South Africa ready for them?

Posted On 2017-12-20

Smart cities. Everyone is talking about them. But, what does the term ‘smart city’ mean? And, what makes a city smart? We take a look at what the stand-out smart cities are doing right now and what this new industrial revolution means for designing a better world.

What is a smart city?

There are many components to a smart city but the overarching aim is to give its citizens accessibility to services through sustainable and advanced technology, enhancing their lives whilst being good to the environment. A smart city aims to be environmentally sustainable, economically sustainable and equitable. Automation, machine learning and the internet of things can be some of the ways a smart city is achieved.

What does this mean for design?

Smart cities force industries to keep up by being innovative in their design and execution. This need to create better, smarter products will open up opportunities for many businesses, as well as increase employment.

On a more personal level, smart cities mean people are more connected and have more access to data and information about the cities that they live in. In turn, this will only encourage individuals and communities to contribute more smart ideas to their city.

What are smart cities doing?

Our Baker Baynes experts have labelled Barcelona, Singapore, New York and Vienna as 2017’s stand-out smart cities. So, here’s a quick look at what innovative things these cities are doing:


As a city, Barcelona has been thriving in the smart city world! Francesca Bria is Barcelona’s chief technology officer and digital commissioner and she is tasked with evolving this smart city with the citizens’ needs and wants first. With a sophisticated network in place, which includes 500 km of optical fibre, free WiFi routed via street lighting and sensors to monitor air quality, parking spaces and waste bins, Barcelona’s citizens are certainly receiving improved services and the environment is benefiting. For example, with sensors in the city’s parks, the amount of water use is being dramatically reduced and a car free and more walkable zone has also be implemented to reduce traffic and encourage the use of public transportation.


Again putting its citizens at the heart, Singapore has developed Smart Nation, a master plan for building a smart city that supports better living, stronger communities and creates more opportunities for all. This is particularly impressive given that Singapore has to utilise the small amount of space it has whilst still having open public spaces. There are numerous initiatives going on to support this Smart Nation plan, which spans the health, living, mobility and service sectors, all of them are pretty smart and well worth exploring!

New York

After winning the 2016’s smart city award, New York is still taking great strides in the race to be the smartest city. This year they are shifting their focus to user experience by ensuring all smart and connected infrastructure systems work together to give the user a flawless experience. Given New York has a number of innovations going on at once this is an exciting challenge.


Vienna is top of the leaderboard in the 2017 Smart City Index, and from their clear framework strategy it’s easy to see why. The term smart city for Vienna means ‘resource protection, innovation and quality of life.’ And, they look to achieve this through consuming less resources, protecting the climate, improving quality of life through innovations, social inclusion and becoming a ‘city that belongs to all.’ Vienna’s vision is to be:

  • A city of codetermination and social justice
  • A city of green spaces and renewable energy
  • A city of equal opportunities for all generations
  • A city for young people from all over the world

What’s not to love about that!

The future: Smart cities in Africa

Bringing smart cities closer to home, Africa is the second fastest urbanising region in the world, which means it’s the perfect time to put smart city plans into action. And, according to a 2016 report by Deloitte, African cities are the ideal candidates for the adoption of smart city tech due to its rapid urbanisation, growing young population and lack of complications from legacy infrastructures, which means the country can start afresh.

Cape Town is already racing ahead in smart city terms with public WiFi, CCTV that consists of 560 cameras across the city, an open data portal that gives anyone access to the city’s data and an array of smart grid pilots. But, Cape Town is taking this smartness further with its initiative Future Cape Town. This looks to expand public access to urbanism to promote a visionary and inclusive city. Calling themselves an ‘independent think-tank’ Future Cape Town have recently announced that they will be participating in the C40 Reinvesting Cities Programme, which is a worldwide competition that asks the private sector and communities to come up with carbon neutral development proposals for five different sites. To all those architects and designers out there, it’s time to start thinking smart cities!

While technology is key to smart cities and efficient and advanced design, technology for the sake of technology is not the answer. At Baker Baynes, we specialise in helping businesses design a better world through the adoption of the right technology – let us help you with moving your business into the future – get in touch.

Smart Cities: What are they, where are they and is South Africa ready for them?

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