What Is Needed To Build A Smart City? 

What Is Needed To Build A Smart City? 

Conversations regarding the nature of smart cities often convey a multitude of complexities, with a very distinct emphasis on technology. And while technology is widely regarded as the key enabler for the development of such cities, it is far from the only crucial element needed to create a robust and well-functioning ecosystem. The notion behind smart cities lies in their potential to enhance the lives of their residents and businesses through the application of advanced technologies and data-driven decisions and operations. A smart city applies an integrated approach to coordinate all essential services and provide them where needed. Among its main functions is the modernization of digital, physical, and social infrastructure so that the delivery of services can be optimized and all operations can become more efficient, innovative, equitable, connected, secure, and sustainable. 

We’re steadily heading into an era where two-thirds of the planet’s inhabitants are expected to migrate to urban areas throughout just one generation, so it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the transition to smarter cities and communities couldn’t be more urgent. Today we’re going to walk you through some key components that are needed to build a smart city and we’ll also briefly discuss some present obstacles and how cities can work toward overcoming them to build a better future for all.

System & Networking Architecture

The role of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the development of smart cities is crucial at every step of developing any smart city project. IoT enables the interconnection of various physical devices and sensors through the Internet, allowing them to collect and exchange data. Within a smart city ecosystem, IoT plays a pivotal role in establishing an intelligent infrastructure by allowing real-time monitoring, data analysis, and automation. It facilitates integrating and managing various systems and services such as transportation, energy, waste management, public safety, and others. IoT technology essentially promotes the optimization of resource utilization, improves efficiency, enhances citizen experiences, and enables sustainable development within a smart city. For instance, smart transportation systems, enabled by network connectivity, can provide real-time traffic monitoring, intelligent routing, and effectively reduce congestion and emissions. Network connections can also reinforce energy-efficient buildings, the safety and security of the public, along with citizen engagement platforms. 

Emerging technologies in the form of 5G wireless, edge computing, and artificial intelligence are rapidly transforming network connectivity in the development of smart cities. 5G networks can facilitate faster and more reliable connectivity for IoT devices, and enable real-time data processing and detailed analytics. Edge computing can further bring computing resources closer to IoT devices, reduce latency, and improve response times for time-sensitive applications. Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, can process and analyze vast amounts of data for comprehensive analytics, allowing cities to optimize operations and services. Other emerging technologies in the form of blockchain, quantum computing, and augmented reality are also being explored for their potential in smart city development. Adhering to available protocols and guidelines underlining how to properly engage in building a smart city network can be very helpful in the initial stages of development.

Smart Grids Will Power Cities In The Future

Grid modernization serves as the backbone infrastructure of smart cities aiming to enhance their connectivity. Grid modernization begins with the electrical aspect of systems, followed by layers of advanced telecommunications, mobility systems, and smart buildings functioning together as essential foundations for the city. The grid becomes something like a neurological center with nerves, supporting critical aspects required for the well-functioning of the city such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), electric vehicles (EVs), and others. These components essentially become hosts for sensor technologies that will allow the collection of data to support planning, management, and operations established throughout a city or a community, with privacy and data-sharing strategies intertwined with the infrastructure as it is upgraded or deployed.  

Giuliano Dall’Ò, a renowned professor of Building Physics and Building Energy Systems at Politecnico di Milano, predicts that the modernization of electrical grids used for the setting up of smart grids is necessary for secure and dependable integration of renewable sources, a non-programmable energy source, in our electricity grids. These technologies will make it possible to transition from a centralized electricity generation to the realm of an open generation system, in which consumers can also serve as producers of energy. This is the reason why the combination of smart grids and smart cities will be an inseparable component in the future planning of smart cities. The process of turning traditional grids into intelligent grids will be established through 5G, permitting the management of up to 1 million devices per square kilometer, creating longer battery life, and enabling the development of an entire generation of real-time services by reducing latency to near zero, which essentially facilitates faster more precise connections. It is believed that 5G will unfold all the potential of the IoT and become the driving force behind smart cities. The increasing number of interconnected objects will generate an unprecedented amount of data, which cities will be able to analyze if they have connections capable of supporting these immense quantities of data. 

Data Capture, Processing & IoT Connectivity

Smart cities require large amounts of data for analytical purposes and they usually store this data in several different locations. Cloud data systems use solid-state drives in their data centers, eliminate redundant data, and encrypt the transmission of data. Cloud-based solutions provide more flexible payment options than on-premise data centers. Edge computing allows cities to process data close to the source and it can be more cost-effective than streaming data to a remote storage location and then to relevant city authorities. Edge computing functionalities like artificial intelligence (AI) traffic management are already under development in many cities. Lastly, hybrid data storage systems combine all the benefits of cloud and edge storage. This makes it possible for cities to make informed decisions based on real-time alerts on conditions as well as rich data stores. In any case, securing Big Data in the cloud involves careful monitoring and securing of sensitive data. Security policies should be clearly outlined and predetermined from the start. 

Sensors along with internet-connected devices can communicate with each other and send data to management systems. Smart cities use IoT to collect data and solve different urban issues. Sensors, on the other hand, can collect different types of information such as light pressure, temperature, number of vehicles, and residents. One of the biggest opportunities for IoT sensor networks is to enhance efficiencies and better manage natural resources. Connected sensors enable the capturing of data while advanced analytics reveal key insights. Long-range connectivity is crucial as sensors are mostly present in outdoor and harsh environments. Furthermore, low-power wireless sensors powered by batteries or solar cells can provide key data for such IoT networks, whether for water supply, electricity, smart buildings, or logistics. Battery-backed sensors can be installed in various locations to supply as much data as possible and low power wide area networks (LPWANs) offer a long-range link with a long-lasting battery life of decades, reducing the cost of rolling out a network for monitoring and removing the need for regular battery replacement cycles. 

Financing & Governance

Allocating funding for any smart city initiative along with proper governance is essential for the future outcome of any project or initiative within a smart city ecosystem. Many countries are often met with a series of challenges and obstacles when it comes to both so striking the right balance of knowledge and execution is not always easy. Funding investments in smart city infrastructure and technology requires not only heavy upfront investment but also long-term, creative funding or financing plans. Experts argue that despite tight budgets, substantial smart city investments need to be made to build up digital infrastructure and equip employees of municipal areas with the knowledge of how to use new technology, systems, and data that will be used to support these initiatives.  

Furthermore, the rapid development of smart city technology has surpassed existing legal and regulatory frameworks, leading to a lot of obscurity and uncertainty. Policymakers need to develop comprehensive regulations that address the unique challenges posed by technologies present in smart cities, such as data privacy, security, and ownership. These regulations should communicate clear guidance for stakeholders while reassuring them that innovation and development will not be hindered. By creating the right balance between regulation and innovation, policymakers can pave the way for the successful development and governance of smart cities. 

Policymaking & Partnerships

A smart city should focus on and invest in partnerships that are long-term since some projects can require years or even decades of collaborative work. Some steps that can help in building lasting partnerships with trust and positive outcomes include establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities, aligning goals and values, and establishing expectations at the start of every project. This can be done through regular open communications between parties as well as the reinforcing of policies, agreements, and various contracts that can help participants adhere to set standards. When searching for a suitable long-term business partner, smart city planners should consider ones that offer value, reinforce their organizations, or complement and advance business goals and capabilities.  

Some suggestions for policies include public procurement guidelines that are reformed to ensure procurement based on results, including lifecycle costs and benefits of projects. It’s further recommended that innovation procurement is reinforced by promoting a two-stage process, consisting of a clear outline and notions and ideas, funding requirements, and capabilities as well as scaling propositions and practices. The second stage should be followed by selecting more than one project and encouraging collaboration among different entities, authorities, and stakeholders. Robus standards should be installed in procurement, otherwise, the evaluations of project proposals will not be based on realistic indicators. Additionally, projects for smart cities should have a robust monitoring protocol in place that includes precise specifications for the planning, installation, and operation phases of the monitoring system. This includes providing a common and reliable set of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). 

Collaborating To Build Scale and Sustainability 

To be successful, smart cities cannot simply adopt digital technologies in silos. It is important to leverage the strengths and diverse experiences of industry collaborators to combine innovations with user-centric operating strategies and scale up digital platforms. This will help realize the full benefits of managing multiple smart city verticals for various entities ranging from buildings and estates to city-wide deployments. Municipal authorities may lack the resources, expertise, and funding to undertake such massive projects on their own. Partnering with private sector consortiums and technology solutions providers can be an effective and faster way to build scalable digital platforms that can steer a city towards more sustainable outcomes, reduce operating costs, and deliver more efficient and seamless operations with optimized user experiences. 

An example of a case of public-private partnerships (PPP) that are helping massive smart infrastructure projects take off is Rio de Janeiro’s Public Lighting project. When deployed fully in 2024, it will serve as one of the world’s largest introductions of a city-wide, public smart street light control initiative. It’s believed that the project will allow the city to benefit from energy savings of up to 70%. PPP and other forms of collaboration will most certainly act as a catalyst for smart cities to further their rapid pace of expansion. As we look forward to the next stages of development for smart cities, we can expect to see more municipal authorities emphasizing smarter and greener mobility ecosystems. This will drive collaborations with industry partners to test new technologies and set the way for new innovative solutions in the transport sector, a landscape well-known for its multi-party collaborations. 

Breaking Down Silos & Building Bridges 

Many experts agree that for a city to become truly smart, it needs to break the existing silos which are often observed between different city departments, as well as those present between public and private entities. Let’s look at a practical example. Currently, most surveillance systems in cities are operating as silos, where different components are not directly linked to each other. What this means is that there are potentially hundreds of cameras for traffic, just as many for surveillance, and probably hundreds more at retailers’ public transportation networks, with very limited scope of cooperation between these silos. Surveillance in an area that can serve as a feasible platform for a city to truly unfold its potential in becoming smart when selected data is shared across multiple stakeholders. By eliminating barriers between the individual silos, multiple benefits can be gained – for cities, for private entities, and for the citizens of those areas.  

Cooperation between parties will allow the cost of efficient and high-quality surveillance installations to be divided among participants, saving money and resources, without a loss of coverage. Such collaborations will also allow law enforcement to monitor larger areas and respond more efficiently to any potential issues occurring in cities. By removing existing silos between private and public institutions, a city’s network surveillance system can be drastically expanded. The sharing of video footage between various entities offers great possibilities to improve operational efficiency and collaboration between multiple stakeholders. It further serves as a good example of how breaking down silos can aid an entire host of organizations in improving citywide efficiency. Some of those benefits can result in the management of traffic, the enabling of various services for quicker response time in the case of incidents, and providing citizens with a lasting sense of security.

Facilitating Trust & Engaging Communities

The widespread adoption of smart city technology is largely dependent on the trust of citizens, as their willingness to accept and engage with these innovations and systems is directly influenced by their confidence in the technology’s security, dependability, and potential benefits. Trust plays a pivotal role in determining the success of smart city initiatives, as citizens are more likely to embrace technologies that they perceive as reliable and of value to them.  

Consequently, integrating trust-building measures into developing and deploying smart city technology is critical to ensuring ultimate success. When cultivating trust in any smart city technology, it’s essential to offer a transparent disclosure of its functionality, objectives, and benefits. Educating the public about the technology, and involving citizens in decision-making processes, can play a fundamental role in fostering trust. 

In Long Beach, California, there is a Smart City initiative with designated teams that conduct “data walks”. They stroll around neighborhoods with residents and discuss smart city technology and infrastructure that can be seen from the sidewalk, such as traffic cameras and induction loops. This allows community members to gain awareness of the technology that is already there while also providing them a space to share their input on how these solutions affect them in the public realm.  

Data Privacy & Security 

Information security plays a major role in any smart city ecosystem, protecting the higher levels of confidentiality in services along with the availability, integrity, and stability of these offerings. City planners, authorities, and organizations need to support sustainable and livable smart environments that are safe and secure. The connected systems, sensors, and devices that account for what makes a smart city and our lives easier are also highly susceptible to potential cyber threats. To counter these risks, government officials, urban planners, and other key stakeholders must reinforce strict security protocols as well as cybersecurity principles as an integral part of their smart city’s governance, design, and operations.

Digital Platforms 

Smart cities perform a variety of functions, including analytics, remote asset monitoring, performance management, and decision-making support. It is recommended that smart city platforms include policies regarding the management of data, visualization, and the application of execution and various operational processes. The platform should encompass cybersecurity measures, device and network management, application development, information systems, mobility networks, reporting tools, and back-office functionalities. Managing contextual relationships between people, devices, and systems is critical. Platforms should be designed to allow cities to identify, authenticate, and authorize individuals and devices with an adaptive, behavior-based security feature. 


When designing a smart city, the concept of privacy should not only be a priority for architects but also carefully incorporated throughout every process, system and technology solution. The ultimate goal of privacy-by-design is to protect citizen’s privacy and allow them to have control over who has access to their data on the network. Let’s look at health care, for example. A patient can gain access to personal medical records online, and then choose which practitioners can have access to them. The records are then viewable by a doctor or nurse, but cannot be saved in any instance. This enables a patient to revoke access at any time they see fit. Other privacy principles by design include restricting the collection of personal data, employing stronger encryption protocols, and anonymizing personal data using technologies such as blockchain.  

The Institute for Defense and Business has established specific programs that educate on the best practices and techniques to help avoid potential threats and risks associated with the rapid digitization of the world. Their IU-IDB Cyber Risk Management Program is designed to introduce participants to a variety of multifaceted cyber risks with an emphasis on harnessing the benefits while mitigating any risks of new and emerging technologies. 

Building a smart city is certainly no easy task but in time and through advancements in technology, innovation, collaborative efforts, and experience, the world will be able to create truly smart, sustainable, and highly livable urban environments that benefit everyone.