7 minute read 17 Aug 2022

How emerging technologies and stakeholders grow smart cities

By EY Greater China

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

7 minute read 17 Aug 2022

Smart cities use emerging technologies to benefit their citizens, but require cooperation between stakeholders to develop successfully.

wo-thirds of the world’s population is expected to be living in urban areas by 2050, according to estimates from the United Nations1. Projections show that the gradual shift of people from rural to urban areas, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population, could add another 2.5 billion people to our cities by 2050. Close to 90% of this increase is expected to take place in Asia and Africa.

This dramatic pace of urbanization presents a unique set of challenges in the areas of governance, organization, and technological advancement. Although emerging technologies are bringing benefits to urban citizens, cooperation and long-term investment are needed to create smart cities that implement these technologies on a wider scale.

What makes a city “smart” and what benefits does it bring?

Broadly speaking, a smart city is one in which data and technology are put to work to improve the lives of citizens and visitors. There is no universal definition of smart city while the concept varies by city and country, depending on the level of development. At the same time, it is also determined by the willingness and aspiration of citizens and governments to implement change and reform.

At the forefront of a smart city’s development is the adoption of advanced technologies to improve urban efficiency. Artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and 5G are examples of technologies that can bring about large improvements to the quality of life.

The Chinese government is a keen supporter of smart city initiatives. In additional to significant technological advancements in recent years, in November 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping endorsed blockchain and the opportunities the technology presents. The endorsement from the top is expected to drive China’s public and private sectors to speed up setting the standards for the application development and adoption of blockchain technologies.

Emerging technologies are being used to power smart cities across the globe while their applications are already being put into practice in real-world scenarios. In Amsterdam, a GPS data platform was developed to help traffic controllers use real-time data to improve the flow of vehicles around the city2. This is an example of smart mobility that benefits citizens and facilitates the flow of people.

Another benefit of smart cities is the use of data to run city operations on a larger scale and more efficient than ever. By utilizing 5G and data, and by installing smart infrastructure, cities can build a network that supplies useful urban information, such as energy readings and weather data. For example, Barcelona has installed nearly 20,000 smart meters to measure energy consumption and improve efficiency.

In South Korea, mobile operator KT has offered augmented reality glasses to help first responders connect directly with doctors and assist them with providing emergency treatment at a disaster scene. However, digital divide is an issue that becomes more pressing alongside a faster rate of urbanization. Narrowing that divide is about ensuring all citizens have access to the services the city provides, while building digital capacity to open up more opportunities for people. The good news is 5G can bridge the gap by connecting people with the city.

Urban population projected at


By 2050

Key factors in developing a successful smart city

Several key factors are driving the digital transformation of smart cities so they can make full use of these technologies.

  1. Establish strong leadership and support from the top
    Backing from the political establishment and the presence of leaders who act as “spokespeople” for urban development are crucial for smart cities. The development of a smart city requires time, perseverance, and public support, and leaders are needed in order to cultivate a long-term vision.
  2. Grow the talent pool
    Attracting and retaining talent is key to applying emerging technologies. Without a strong talent pool, it is difficult to generate innovative ideas and implement new technology solutions.
  3. Keep stakeholder needs at the forefront
    A smart city initiative needs to consider the needs of its people and stakeholders. While data can drive new efficiencies, to maximize its potential it is important to communicate effectively and meet the specific needs of various stakeholders.
  4. Emphasize “proof of concept” projects
    Running a broad range of “proof of concept” projects makes it possible for citizens to see the benefits that a smart city initiative provides, while giving project leaders the opportunity to gather valuable feedback. It also brings people together for collaboration.
  5. Build effective alliances
    Private sector collaboration plays a key role in collecting and analyzing data, assisting with creating effective campaigns for the city authorities to implement. Smart city initiatives are implemented on too large a scale for any single party to tackle alone.

The success of a smart city is determined by the willingness and aspiration of citizens and governments to implement change and reform. By using emerging technologies, smart cities can bring benefits to their citizens.

Smart city planning: six considerations

Aside from these key factors, developing infrastructure will require special considerations from urban planners. These considerations are also relevant to business.

  1. Define the concept of a smart city
    Since the concept of a smart city varies, it is important to agree on a common definition from the outset. This will set the scope and focus for what will be a complex journey of transformation that requires a high level of collaboration from all stakeholders.
    Developing a collective vision for the future of a city is an enormous task. It also entails a collaborative act of creativity by the city’s key stakeholders. The vision must take into consideration the city’s unique character, the needs of its inhabitants, the challenges it faces, and its strengths – to name just a few. 
  2. Engage citizens
    Today, the way forward in smart city planning is a community-driven approach. It is important to engage the local community in order to understand what matters most to them. Engaging the city’s inhabitants is essential, since improving citizen welfare is the end goal. Knowing what people need and want makes it easier to plan and to achieve buy-in when the project needs to be implemented.
  3. Examine your resources
    To determine the city’s capability to deliver on the established vision, it is necessary to bring the private and public sectors together to identify the best resources. For example, partnerships between academic institutions and the private sector can assist cities with funding and expanding resources.
  4. Assess current technology
    Smart city technologies help cities get more out of their assets, whether they have extensive legacy systems or they are starting from scratch. There is no getting around the need to invest in physical assets and maintenance, but smart technologies can add new capabilities as their core components are upgraded.
  5. Financing
    Smart cities require major reinvestment in and modernization of infrastructure – a daunting cost proposition for any city. It is necessary to identify business models to help attract private financing that will turn a city’s vision into reality. A strategic plan should capitalize on a project’s strong points, offering clear socioeconomic impacts and innovative financing structures for investors. 
  6. Create a customized plan
    There are two dynamic components of a smart city plan. The first is the governance framework for program delivery and the data collected. Program governance establishes processes and structure for communication, implementation, monitoring, and ensuring that policies and best practices are followed. It also includes plans for reviewing the structure upon reaching certain milestones. The other imperative component of a smart city plan is a data governance framework. This will shape the plan’s philosophy on data acquisition, data management, and data archiving. 

By understanding the key development role that each stakeholder in a city plays, the potential of a smart city can be realized. Digital transformation through the use of emerging technologies is creating benefits for citizens, and the private sector and urban planners have a major role to play in supplying the expertise and technology required to make smart cities a reality.

Today, the way forward in smart city planning is a community-driven approach. It is important to engage the local community in order to understand what matters most to them. 


Planning for a smart city requires a tailored and holistic approach. This involves defining what “smart” means for your city, and not just engaging with your citizens but also keeping pace with their evolving needs. Smart technologies help cities get more out of their assets. As cities look at ways to become smarter in the future, innovative business models are also essential for translating vision into reality.

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By EY Greater China

Multidisciplinary professional services organization