Top 10 leading smart cities in APAC: Singapore to Sydney

Beijing is the third smartest city in Asia-Pacific
Along with Europe, APAC countries are leading the smart city charge, putting data and technology to work to make decisions and improve quality of life

With almost three years of lockdowns and strict social-distancing measures, the Covid-19 pandemic forced many cities – and especially those across Asia – to accelerate their digitisation efforts.

Cities everywhere are leveraging innovative technologies to address the challenges of citizens and help improve their quality of life and that of the planet. 

So where are the world’s smartest cities located today?

According to the The Smart City Index, cities in Asia-Pacific and Europe dominate the top 20 list of the 141 cities surveyed in 2023.

Published by IMD Business School, the Index ranks 141 cities on how they use technology to achieve a higher quality of life with more than 20,000 citizens surveyed.

“A new world is shaping up, and changes at the city level are a precious indicator of what the future may hold. Openness and inter-city collaboration may become key components of the next wave of globalisation,” says Bruno Lanvin, President of the Smart City Observatory.

Asian cities, in particular, have worked constantly over the last few years towards improving their performance, the Index finds. Asia cities make up four out of six of those top 20 cities considered so-called ‘super champions’ – including Singapore, Beijing, Seoul and Hong Kong.

Australia cities also dominate the top 20 with Canberra placed third worldwide – perhaps unsurprising given the country is moving full-speed ahead towards a digitally-driven society by 2030 as part of its national strategy.

1

Canberra, Australia

Population: 472,304

World smart city ranking: 3rd

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When it comes to being smart and sustainable, Canberra carries weighty credentials. Ranked world’s most sustainable city in 2021 by Uswitch, Canberra has now been listed the third smartest city in the world and number one in Asia-Pacific.

Under the direction of The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government, Canberra is quickly evolving into a smart and connected digital city with plans for 100% electrification across the city by 2045.

Canberra already has high levels of EV adoption (almost 19% of newly registered cars were battery EVs in March 2023) and recently unveiled a new smart ticketing system for bus and light rail to increase accessibility and encourage better use of urban spaces.

The city is also committed to using customer data to make public transport improvements.

Among other leading-edge initiatives, Canberra boasts one of Australia’s largest free outdoor public wifi networks and an integrated smart parking network. ACT worked with VINCI Energies to replace 50,000 LEDs in street lighting to achieve a target of 47% energy saving. VINCI also installed a smart monitoring system to track the streetlight network in real time.

2

Singapore

Population: 6.14 million

World smart city ranking: 7th

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This is the third time Singapore has ranked seventh worldwide and first in Asia on the list of smart cities. The city-nation impresses in the provision of medical services, Internet speeds, green spaces, and access to quality education.

Thanks to the country’s Smart Nation initiative, which launched in 2014 and was injected with a staggering US$1.73billion in government capital in 2017, Singapore has implemented numerous smart technologies across the public and private sectors. The Smart Nation app is designed to simply and streamline how citizens interact with the government, from renewal of passports to reporting maintenance issues.

Among pioneering initiatives, the city-state was one of the first in the world to trial autonomous vehicle testing has since rolled out an autonomous fleet to help the elderly stay mobile.

The government uses ‘open data’ to facilitate transport planning and make real change, such as reducing the rate of over-crowded buses by 92% and managing traffic congestion.

The hospital system has been digitised too, allowing patients to book appointments via HealthHub, offering video appointments and even monitoring patients’ progress in exercise via a sensor and transmits the data to therapists.

3

Beijing, China

Population: 21.84 million

World smart city ranking: 12th

Since announcing in 2011 plans to develop 'digital cities across China', as part of the 12th Five-Year Plan, China has earmarked significant funds and resources to developing innovation, including signing off a US$1.4 trillion fiscal plan in 2020 to support innovation and tapping into tech giants like Alibaba and Huawei for support.

The capital of China, Beijing is harnessing cutting-edge technologies to improve urban living. One of the city’s most popular smart city initiatives, the Citizen Social Service Card, stores individual identification and health documents, while public transport can all be paid for by smartphone.

The city is prolific in using data to deal with challenges. While a real-time simulation road network model analyses congestion points, smart technologies have been adopted to identify pollutants in the city and these are forced to close when not in use.

4

Seoul

Population: 9.42 million

World smart city ranking: 16th

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The largest city in South Korea and the capital, Seoul’s digital governance capabilities have repeatedly gained international recognition, earning the city top honours seven times including the Smart City of 2022 at the Smart City Expo World Congress for its outstanding initiatives and projects in urban transformation.

Central to this is AI-powered citizen engagement with Seoul’s Smart Seoul platform through which the Korean capital is actively promoting digital inclusion policies to guarantee the five basic digital rights – communication, mobility, education, safety and tech utilisation, as well as providing digital services tailored to the socially vulnerable. This is further backed up with free public wifi.

Another award-winning government effort, the multi-billion-dollar Metaverse Seoul platform also makes public services more inclusive – an impressive initiative that secured a place among the 200 best inventions of 2022 by Time magazine.

Among other smart city initiatives, an app that lets citizens monitor air pollution levels in the city, a subway system that delivers a real-time timetable, and a recently launched metro app where users can find station directions, real-time timetable and discover the degree of congestion in each car of the train.

5

Sydney

Population: 5.29 million

World smart city ranking: 18th

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As the capital of New South Wales and one of the largest cities in Australia, Sydney is pushing ahead with digitisation under its Smart City Strategic Framework – a strategy that uses data and tech to make informed decisions to improve the quality of life for all communities.

Ranked 18th worldwide, the highest the city has ever reached, Sydney is harnessing tech to improve roads and air quality, to conserve water and tackle urban heat. 

Among recent smart projects, the NSW Government’s M4 Smart Motorway Project secured IDC’s ‘outstanding smart city project’ award for transportation. Technology is leveraged to help drivers navigate the road by monitoring traffic volumes and displaying different signs.

Sydney has invested in a range of digital infrastructure projects, including the rollout of reliable and fast internet connectivity throughout the city. With a net-zero emissions target of 2050, the city is installing solar panels on public buildings and has implemented a smart lighting system that uses sensors to adjust streetlight brightness based on traffic.

The city uses data and analytics to optimise garbage collection routes and schedules and has launched an open data platform providing citizens and businesses with access to data including real-time traffic and weather information.  

Among founding partners of the Transport for NSW Future Digital Accelerator, Mastercard is helping to make life easier and cheaper for people to commute and explore the city with innovative solutions like the rollout of contactless transit payments.

6

Hong Kong

Population: 7.49 million

World smart city ranking: 19th

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For the first time Hong Kong made the top 20 ranking, up from 33rd last year, and is among just six ‘super champions’ in the top 20 found to have consistently improved performance since 2019.

This is thanks largely to the city-nation’s increased use of technology in healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic, when enforced and continued lockdowns pushed residents into relying on smartphones for everything.

Among some of the smartest strategies, the iAM Smart programme and Covid-19 tracing apps, which have demonstrated just how smart city concepts can be part of everyone’s lives. While the Hospital Authority’s HA Go app means residents can book appointments and pay bills. 

Along with telemedicine, Hong Kong excels in employment services and traffic congestion information via mobile phone, and in its offer of free public wifi pretty much everywhere.

Hong Kong rolled out the Smart City Blueprint 2.0 in 2020, committing around USW$116 million to develop digital infrastructure and smart city initiatives with more than 200 outlined in six areas, including mobility, living, environment, people, government and economy.

Focused on smart building technologies and efficient waste management, the government has reduced its electricity consumption by 7.8%, carbon footprint by 35%. 

7

Auckland

Population: 1.67 million

World smart city ranking: 22nd

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Named the world’s most liveable city in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2021 Global Liveability Index, Auckland is focused on making New Zealand’s largest city the happiest and most convenient place to live.

Which explains why the city is delivering big on green spaces, an initiative that has led to the capital city being named world’s ‘spongiest city’ by engineering consultancy Arup – thanks to its high percentage of green apace and permeable local soil that absorbs rainwater.

In late 2020, SPARK partnered with Auckland Transport to install an IoT-enabled infrastructure in the Wynyard Quarter which included smart city applications including connected lighting, smart parking, smart benches, and smart bins. The implementation of 43,000 streetlights converted to LED will also deliver a saving of NZ$36 million over 20 years.

SPARK’s deployment of 5G in downtown Auckland enabled the implementation of these smart city technologies.

8

Wellington

Population: 422,000

World smart city ranking: 23rd

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Ranked first in the world for liveability and non-pollution by Deutsche Bank in 2017-18, New Zealand’s capital city is as sustainable as it is smart.

Driving the city to smart heights is Smart Wellington, a tech-enabled local government programme that uses ML and analytic processing to create insight into city issues. A flexible IoT backbone makes the installation of sensors simple, while VR engagement platforms make the data accessible and useful.

Collaborating with Buildmedia, the City Council has created a digital twin of the city using smart city technologies with real-time data to provide transportation statistics, air traffic visualisations, cycle sensor data and car park availability.

9

Brisbane

Population: 2.5 million

World smart city ranking: 24th

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The third Australian city on the list, Brisbane has a vision to be a ‘smart, connected’ city and is realising this through collaboration with citizens businesses and researchers to explore new ways of living sustainably by using data.

Via the Brisbane Smart Poles project, the city has installed various location-specific sensors and equipment – these collect data on lighting, air quality, noise, and climate, which uncover how people use key areas in Brisbane.

And with Brisbane set to host the 2032 Olympic Games, Queensland is accelerating ‘smart’ and ‘green' infrastructure projects – among these, sensor-triggered street lights, automated air conditioning and watering of parks, robots for cleaning, and the Brisbane Metro project which is being tested to potentially supply 60 electric buses to supplement the city’s existing fleet.

In what may well be a first for Australia, a new system is being introduced that will sluice garbage from chutes through underground vacuum pipes.

The city has also invested more than US$5 million in a startup to train students in coding and release datasets and resources as a way to develop smart solutions.

10

Shanghai

Population: 29.21 million

World smart city ranking: 25th

Shanghai has long been recognised as a smart city, securing the World Smart ranking the world’s number one among 50 cities last year in Juniper Research’s index, large thanks to its use of technology to deliver benefits that really work.

Taking centre stage in Shanghai’s smart city success is Citizen Cloud, a public service all-encompassing data platform that provides residents with a one-stop solution for more than 1,200 different services, from personal information to healthcare, transportation to community life, legal services to education.

Used by more than 10 million, residents can also use the platform to store personal identification documents.

Not just that, in 2020, Shanghai won the World Smart City Award for its ‘Smart Shanghai – People-Oriented Smart City’ digital infrastructure project, which achieved full 5G coverage in the downtown area and fibre coverage across 99% of the city.

The city also has in place nearly 2000 solar electronic station signs providing accurate arrival times of public transport (from real-time data).

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