Feb 1, 2018

The Smart City Challenge: How To Create Your Smart City Plan

smart city applications

With a seemingly endless array of opportunities – where do you start building your smart city?

Smart city technologismart city global spending by 2020es and solutions have exploded onto the global stage, capturing both the attention and budgets of cities worldwide.

A report by Arup suggests the value of the smart cities industry is expected to be more than $400 billion globally by 2020.

When we start by asking the question, “what is a smart city?” we find a relatively simple answer…

According to the Smart Cities Council, a smart city uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance livability, workability, and sustainability. While smart infrastructure refers to the integration of smart technologies into the fundamental facilities and systems serving a city, country, or other area including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function.

That’s a pretty broad scope, but it provides a framework for better understanding.

When we dive deeper and start the conversation about how to build a smart city, that’s where the concept can become completely overwhelming.

Smart city applications span everything from arts and culture to work and employment – the applications truly are endless. 

So if you’re a city focused on enhancing livability, workability, and sustainability for your residents, yet you’re faced with a laundry list of possible application areas – where on earth do you start?

Follow the leader

Governments and organizations around the world are challenging their cities and municipalities to create smarter, more connected places to live, and in doing so, spurring massive contributions from the private sector to fund smart city projects.

Luckily, for cities wondering “where the heck do we begin?” there’s a wealth of data to help formulate your master plan.

A variety of reputable organizations are offering free resources, like the Smart Cities Council’s Smart City Readiness Guide or this Building Information Modelling playbook from Smart Cities Dive, aimed at assisting teams in the initial planning stages.

And there’s no shortage of opportunities to analyze the strategies of other cities and learn by example.

Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge: Ask the People

In November 2017, Infrastructure Canada launched its Smart Cities Challenge, earmarking $75 million for 4 winning cities and municipalities. Their strategy: ask the people what they want. From coast-to-coast, city councils are creating forums for their residents to pitch, vote, and suggest their ideas for creating a smarter place to live.

And the data is compelling…but more on that later.

US DOT Smart City Challenge: Brace for Impact

Back in 2015, The US Department of Transportation (DOT) launched their Smart Cities Challenge, committing $40 million to the winning city. The DOT was astounded at the volume of applications that came through. From Albuquerque to Providence, the challenge received a whopping 78 applications in total.

 “From automated vehicles to connected infrastructure to data analytics, technology is transforming how we move around our country, and some of the most exciting innovation is happening at the local level”

– Secretary Anthony Foxx

Even more noteworthy was the unexpected contributions to the projects from institutions and private organizations, who contributed an additional $500 million USD towards implementation.

Britain’s Future Cities Demonstrators: First-Mover Advantage

5 years ago, Britain launched its Future Cities Demonstrators project, with similar parameters to the 2 challenges outlined above; cities proposed smart city solutions to their widespread urban challenges. Glasgow won the competition, receiving £24 million UKP to implement its plan. Shortly after, the British government published 2 papers: Smart Cities: Background Paper and The Smart City Market: Opportunities for the UK. The former works through the opportunities that arose from a smart city approach to infrastructure, while the latter focuses on the utilization of cities as ‘proving grounds’ for testing new smart city innovations.

Since then, the British government established the Smart Cities Forum, a group of business, government, and research minds focused on developing plans to create smart cities across the UK.

“The new Smart Cities Forum will bring the best minds together on a regular basis to establish a clear plan to exploit the exciting technologies that we have at our disposal.

– David Willets

Like others, the UK is working to position themselves as global experts in the smart cities field and capture their share of the $40 billion pie. Video case studies of smart cities projects in both Greenwich and Birmingham can be found here, as well as additional information on the Smart Cities Council.

A Not-So-Surprising Link Among Smart City Plans

While digging through these case studies, planning resources, and current discussions, it seems there’s one common smart city application in particular that lays the groundwork for future integrations…

…and that’s smart city transportation solutions.

As stated in TechCrunch, “roadways are the arteries of any metropolis — they enable commerce, allowing cities to effectively conduct business, build and grow. A strong transportation infrastructure is the backbone of any city, and must be considered first and foremost as urban developers continue to combine massive construction projects with emerging ICT.”

Of the smart city ideas submitted by residents in both Edmonton, Alberta and Montréal, Québec, as part of Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge, 42% of Edmonton residents and 25% of Montréal residents pitched smart city projects directly related to improvements in urban mobility.

Not to mention the entire focus of the US DOT Smart City Challenge was innovation in the transportation sector.

And in terms of industries, manufacturing and transportation remain the highest spenders, reaching $178 billion and $78 billion, respectively (ZDNet).

Noticing a theme?

Smart city transportation technology and solutions have become so popular the topic garnered an entire section at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, NV.

“…we are excited to announce this dedicated program at CES as the perfect opportunity for companies operating in the smart city space to get together and discuss the future,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Technology Association.

Of the 21 conference sessions held as part of the smart cities conference track, almost half of them focused on mobility technology.

You can watch recordings of each session and hear from the expert lineup at CES here.


Just a few years ago, the term smart cities was more of an abstract concept that was just beginning to take shape. Today, smart cities are the focus of the global stage. Thankfully, alongside the growth in attention captured, we’ve seen a growth in resources, use cases, and concrete data to support cities around the world as they begin developing their own plans to create smarter, more connected places to live.