Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

I get this question all the time—“What is a Smart City?”—and I like to start with an official answer. Cities are “smart” if they cover at least five out of these eight smart parameters:

  1. Smart Energy
  2. Smart Building
  3. Smart Mobility
  4. Smart Healthcare
  5. Smart Infrastructure
  6. Smart Technology
  7. Smart Governance and Education
  8. Smart Citizens

This is not the only definition of a Smart City, but it’s a good place to start. Its creator—Frost & Sullivan—is one of the biggest consulting firms in this area.

According to these principles, there will be around 26 Smart Cities in 2025, 50% of them in North America and Europe. The value of their market is estimated to reach $1.56 trillion by 2020.


To make sense of this cold hard number, let’s imagine that Hollywood decided to make a movie set in the near future where smart cities declare independence—an era of City States such as Sparta and Athens, but with modern technologies.

In this scenario, the market size of the smart cities would be the 12th largest GDP in the world, sitting above primary nations like South Korea and Australia, and double that of Saudi Arabia.

Smart Cities London - Future Cities the Book
London, a powerful mix between the past and the future


  1. United States $17.42 trillion
  2. China $10.38 trillion
  3. Japan $4.62 trillion
  4. Germany $3.86 trillion
  5. United Kingdom $2.95 trillion
  6. France $2.85 trillion
  7. Brazil $2.35 trillion
  8. Italy $2.15 trillion
  9. India $2.05 trillion
  10. Russia $1.86 trillion
  11. Canada $1.79 trillion
  12. Smart Cities $1.56 trillion
  13. Australia $1.44 trillion
  14. South Korea $1.42 trillion
  15. Spain $1.41 trillion
  16. Mexico $1.29 trillion
  17. Indonesia $0.89 trillion
  18. Netherlands $0.87 trillion
  19. Turkey $0.81 trillion
  20. Saudi Arabia $0.76 trillion

The complete list by the International Monetary Fund includes 188 countries.


Having an appropriate number of parameters makes your city “officially” smart, however your life may still be miserable. From the point of view of citizens like me and you, what really matters is the quality of life.

In the next five years many cities are going to embrace smart technologies. They will not be “Smart Cities”—not officially—because many parameters require the intervention of the government, and five years is a short period of time for any bureaucracy.

Yet we are going to see many changes from bottom to top. Citizens will use existing technologies to organize their neighbourhoods. Startups will develop platforms and small home hardware products that have a direct impact on our lives. Your building might still be dull, but your flat could be very smart!


Shaping cities has always been a governmental game. Citizens can’t decide to build a defense wall or a water system; this was a matter for kings and other powerful figures.

This is why the official definition of “Smart City” encourages a passive attitude. We—the citizens—can’t build smart infrastructure by ourselves. Our city can be smart or not. Rich or Poor. With a good transport system or a bad one. This is the world we are used to living in.

Well, this bipolar world is over.

The new goal is to improve the quality of life one step at a time.

In business, this attitude has generated the concept of the Lean Startup. It is not simple with a city, but this is the trend. Citizens can directly impact two to three parameters of a Smart City.

I’m not saying that it’s easy to be part of the change; I’m just saying that it’s worth it.

If you ask me, “What is a Smart City?” may be the wrong question. “What smart changes do you want to see in your city?” is definitely more interesting.


  1. Frost & Sullivan
  2. Complete list of countries by GDP (by Wikipedia)

Images by Whiz-ka and Sam Valadi.

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