Smart cities
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This article has been written by Nivrati Gupta, a student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. This article talks about sustainable development with respect to smart and sustainable cities. 


Inhabited by over 7 billion people, our planet is in the midst of a massive ecosystem transition, climate change, tectonic plate movements and biological evolution. Among these, climate change is one of the most critical issues affecting our planet and is largely attributable to human activities. Climate change brings with it adverse effects such as threats to biodiversity and ecosystems, risks to human health, rising sea levels due to the accelerated melting of glaciers and ice caps, increased water stress and decreased agricultural productivity.

These issues are driving many economies and cities around the world to focus on mitigating greenhouse emissions to counter climate change impacts. Cities account for the bulk of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. As cities in most nations are drivers of economic growth, urbanization is projected to continue to increase in the near future. This will, in turn, drive the depletion of non-renewable resources and add to carbon dioxide emissions. Innovation and digital technology must be leveraged to tackle rising urbanization and climate change issues to minimize energy consumption and improve the quality of life. To address urbanisation challenges and ensure sustainability, innovation must be combined with energy, digital technology and information and communications technology. Sustainability encompasses not only the environment but also social equity and the economy. The globe is witnessing a shift in economic power corridors, as China and India are considered to be the most powerful economies to watch out for. These emerging economic giants need to take precautionary steps to avoid the devastating effects of climate change.

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Sustainable development 

It is well known that sustainability has become a much-needed goal, particularly given the recent rapid urban spread and the subsequent worsening of social, environmental and economic problems. Therefore, a lot of studies have been carried out to define sustainability and sustainable cities. Many of those definitions, however, suggest a range of contradictions, implying that sustainability achievement is elusive. The problem lies in establishing unreasonable definitions of sustainability and in the different contradictions with these definitions, making sustainability seemingly impossible to achieve. This special issue addresses the gap between the pipe dream and smart city practice, focusing on the social and environmental dimensions of real smart city initiatives, and the possibilities they hold to create more equitable and progressive cities. We argue that social equity and environmental sustainability are neither a priori absent nor de-facto in the technological designs of smart city initiatives, but must be made, nurtured and maintained as they materialize in specific places. That is the ‘possibility’ of which our title alludes, and where the special issue focuses on the difference between the smart cities’ pipedreams and practicalities.

The smart city pipe dream diverges from other urban utopias in two quite distinct ways. First, smart cities occupy mainstream politics and thinking, unlike utopian settlements of the nineteenth century which were countercultural by definition and limited to progressive colonial movements and model villages of industrial philanthropists. Second, smart city utopia is a product of a strong partnership between the national government and the private sector. The Corbuserian vision of country towers that influenced much twentieth-century post-war architecture, both East and West, was motivated by the government rather than industry.

Understanding “smart” and “sustainable” 

We’ve realized, as a country, that urbanization is real economic development. We have to view urbanization as an opportunity and not a challenge. It inevitably gives the national development of smart cities that are well-planned peripheral urban centres a thrust. We need to ensure that smart cities evolve from the existing urban conglomeration and that newly planned smart cities are also proposed. This needs to be done by going down the road of urban renewal, adopting environmentally sound measures that will also ensure that they become economically strong, financially viable and environmentally sound, ‘sustainable’ – not only for today but for the future as well. In order to understand the aspect of sustainable development vis-à-vis smart cities, we need to focus on the initiative of the Indian government, the ‘Smart City Mission’ which has been defined as an ‘urban renewal and retrofitting program’ with the mission of developing 100 smart cities across the country, making them ‘friendly and sustainable citizens.’ The agenda is sought to be achieved by providing financial assistance to these cities with tangible results between 2017 and 2022, planned by the central and state governments. Sustainable means reuse, recycle and replenish. 

Smart cities 

The term “smart city” is often treated as an ideological dimension in the field of urban planning according to which being smarter involves strategic directions.

Governments and public agencies at all levels embrace the idea of smartness in order to distinguish between their policies and programs aimed at sustainable development, economic growth, a better quality of life for their citizens and happiness.

Smart means creating “goods, services, and product-service systems in which Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a major role” and this concept is more focused on the means, rather than the end result. As Information and Communication Technology has begun to reshape our society and “the way we interact with our friends, communities, modalities of transportation, homes, offices and even our bodies” nowadays, smart words are often linked to the use of Information and Communication Technology, which provides a level of intelligence and information coordination around us through sensor-based technology. A smart city is a wide term for using information technology to manage the services, infrastructure and facilities of a city. The term relates to approaches such as omnipresent computing, big data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. The term smart is neutral in purpose. The idea of sustainability is often included in smart city initiatives but in some cases, this is not the focus. Smart city spending in many cases focuses on transportation, such as highways, police and security, city services, cost reduction, and infrastructure management.

Sustainable cities 

A sustainable city is a city that has embraced the dual goal of climate change and quality of life of residents. Quality of life is commonly measured as self-reported happiness. Sustainable city initiatives are often focused primarily on policies and physical initiatives such as green space, public transport, architecture, community facilities, blue infrastructure, streets and public space. Smart city technology typically plays a part in that context.

A smart city uses the information and communication technology to manage a city whereas sustainable development of a city aims in the overall growth, equality and protection of the city. A smart city focuses on Information Technology whereas a sustainable city focuses on the sustainable growth of technology, transport and architecture. Everythings in a sustainable city from city planning, cultural and heritage restoration works on the principle of sustainable growth. The focus is on blue infra, resilience and neighbourhood character. 

Sustainable, with reference to smart cities, is ideally about projects that implement the concepts of ‘green building’ within an existing city. Being an eco-friendly and sustainable township also involves recycling garbage to form compost for gardens, creating methane gas to power utilities, harnessing wind and solar power to supply some of the power demands. It also involves charging the water table through rainwater harvesting, as well as sewage treatment that provides treated sewage in the form of water for gardening purposes and construction/cleaning. It is about smart architecture that ensures that wind and natural light resources are in sync, thereby reducing the load on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning and luminaires. That’s the best way to make sure new corporations turn out to be smart cities. It is important to focus on areas such as air and water pollution control, sewage disposal, connectivity that ensures low road pollution emissions, a maintenance and management system that includes e-governance and online citizen-based solutions, and also using ‘eco-friendly’ building material that should not create ecological imbalances.

The smart city concept is relatively recent and can be seen as a replacement to information cities, digital cities and sustainable cities. However, it was frequently used, especially after 2013, when it exceeded a frequency of other terms including sustainable city citations. It was frequently used, especially after 2013, when it exceeded a frequency of other terms including sustainable city citations. Despite the discussion over recent years about its concept, there is a lack of consensus on what a smart city is. While a number of authors have the conceptualisation difficulty, these definitions are not contradictory but partially overlapping.

Measurement of performance 

While a number of authors have the conceptualisation difficulty, these definitions are not contradictory but partially overlapping.

The most key factors of the smart cities that emerge from this table are:

  • The networked infrastructure of a city allowing for political efficiency and social and cultural growth. Emphasis on economic development driven by companies and innovative strategies to encourage sustainable growth.
  • Social integration of diverse urban populations and social capital as a strategic dimension for the future of urban sustainability of the natural environment.

Measures of performance, different methods and measurement indices have been developed so far according to the several meanings of the concept of smart city reviewed in previous sections. Rating systems through synthetic quantitative indicators are receiving increasing attention among city managers and policymakers to decide where to focus time and resources, as well as to communicate city performance to citizens, visitors, and investors. One of the values of these systems is the capacity to represent a metric of comparison, which overcomes self-proclamations of being a smart city. This section aims to report, through a description of existing rating systems, the indicators that are currently used to assess smart city initiatives. Moreover, at the end of this section, some notes about the use of these systems for city rankings are reported.

An evaluation metric was developed by the University of Vienna to rate 70 medium-sized European cities. This metric uses specific indicators for every of a smart city’s six identified dimensions. Smart mobility, for example, is divided into local accessibility, international accessibility, ICT infrastructure flexibility and sustainable, stable transport systems. The Intelligent Community Council has established another rating framework, which names cities named as Smart 21 Communities annually. This measure is focused on five factors: internet access, a professional workforce, digital inclusion, creativity, and advocacy and marketing.

More recently, Zygiaris created a measuring framework, defining six levels of a smart community: 

  • the community layer, stressing that smart development ideas must be rooted in the sense of a region;
  • the green city layer, influenced by modern urbanization theories of urban environmental sustainability; 
  • the interconnection layer, referring to the city-wide diffusion of green economies.

The instrumentation layer, underlining that smart cities require real-time device responses to infrastructure from smart meters and sensors. The open integration layer, underlining that smart city applications should be able to communicate and share data, information, services and knowledge. The application layer, which is useful for smart cities to replicate real-time city operations into new layers of smartly responsive activity and the layer of innovation, emphasizes that smart cities create a fertile innovation environment for a new business opportunity.


Only the most-cited contributions were considered, there were fewer elements available for consideration (which could have been useful to mention). Also, the recent insights acquired by the scholars have not been analyzed in detail because the relevant number of citations has not yet been achieved. In addition, the novelty of the theme, with a special reference to “sustainable city,” led to a relatively small number of contributions, at least in terms of carrying out a study based essentially on literature review. However, the focus of the authors has led to a concentration on these most influential contributions to stimulate the theoretical debate about what smart cities and sustainable cities are. This article thus highlighted the key factors in the scholarly debate and sought to shed light on the major differences between the two concepts. The notion that the two concepts can not be regarded as contrasting was emerging from the implications. In fact, they retain many commonalities. The attention given to social, environmental and economic issues framed the sustainability debate and converged in the definition of a smart city and of course in the notion of a sustainable city.

In addition, apart from identifying the key elements of the two conceptions deriving from the meta-theoretical analysis, the study identified the relevance of each element and the relationships between them: identify the tools, provide guidelines and suggest a new approach and new philosophy be adopted in order to achieve sustainable urban development. Further research focusing on empirical evidence obtained by analyzing documents provided by local administrations and international institutions, as well as by interviews with key actors and cities.


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