When it comes to smart cities, Europe is the model for the rest of the world to learn from. European cities tend to be denser, have better public transit, larger commitment to cycling and walking, a stronger focus on sustainability and low-carbon solutions, and perhaps most important, a culture and citizenry more engaged in the journey towards more sustainable and smarter cities. Of course this is a generalization: this series of regional ranking reports has demonstrated leadership from cities across the globe.
But, as I wrote in our rankings of North America’s smartest cities, our urban centers “demand 21st-century solutions to accommodate their growing populations in ways that not only maintain the quality of life, but also improve it. In short, smart cities are innovative cities.”
Without further ado, here is the top 10 smart cities for Europe in 2013 (and here’s more about how we ranked them).
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city known for its sun, architecture, and lively streets. Yet, Barcelona has been building a rather impressive portfolio of smart city initiatives over recent years. The city has taken a unique position of not only advancing its own initiatives, but trying to provide support for the global smart cities movement. This has been manifested in a few key initiatives. One, Barcelona holds the premier global event for smart cities stakeholders, the Smart Cities Expo World Congress. Pilar Conesa, the city’s former chief technology officer, is the director of the congress, and with her support, Barcelona has actually expanded this initiative to other parts of the world. This year, they co-hosted a smart cities expo in Bogota to serve the Latin American region. Barcelona is the driver behind the City Protocol initiative which seeks to connect global cities in pilot projects to address common challenges.
But for those living in Barcelona (or visiting) there is a lot going on in this space. Barcelona was an early player in testing e-mobility. They have an excellent bike-sharing project with more than 6,000 bikes, although last I visited, only residents could use them. Barcelona has also been testing all kinds of sensors on everything from noise and air contamination to traffic congestion and even waste management. Barcelona’s 22@ innovation district is also an impressive mix of smart urban planning and entrepreneurial innovation. This sector of the city has been transformed into an innovation home attracting local and international entrepreneurs to set up shop. The district has been so successful that it has inspired cities like Boston and Buenos Aires to follow suit. With all of their innovations and strong quality of life, perhaps it is no surprise that the life expectancy in Barcelona is among the highest of cities I have studied (83 years).
Not surprisingly, London earned first place in the smart economy category. It has long been considered the financial capital of Europe, but it has also emerged as a leader in entrepreneurship. The Startup Genome project rated London the 7th best entrepreneurial ecosystem, number one in Europe.
Of course London made waves with its congestion zone which generates additional income for the city while reducing traffic in the urban core. London also took strategic use of the Olympics (like Vancouver before them) to help make the city greener while also focusing on economic development. London’s Royal Docks emerged from the Olympics planning as a regenerated, sustainable commercial and residential area. This area is already home to one of the greenest and smartest buildings in Europe, the Crystal, built by Siemens to showcase smart city technologies.