Abu Dhabi climbs in global smart-city ranking to lead the Middle East

UAE capital jumps 14 positions to rank 28th in the IMD Smart City Index

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Abu Dhabi climbed 14 places to rank 28th out of 118 cities in a global ranking of smart cities. The UAE capital city also led the Middle East region for the third consecutive year in the use of technology to improve the quality of life for residents.

Singapore, Zurich and Oslo ranked as the top three smart cities globally in the 2021 Smart City Index by the Institute for Management Development (IMD) and the Singapore University for Technology and Design (SUTD). This is the third edition of the IMD-SUTD Smart City Index report.

Taipei City and Lausanne rounded out the top five smart cities globally based on their citizens’ perceptions of how technology can improve their lives, as well as on economic and social data taken from the UN Human Development Index, according to the report, which polled 15,000 city dwellers in July.

Covid has changed the ways in which leaders and citizens of smart cities view the challenges ahead
Arturo Bris, IMD’s professor of finance

The respondents were polled on how their respective cities are doing across five areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance. They were also asked how technology is helping to address specific urban challenges.

About 54 per cent of UAE residents expect Covid-19 to accelerate the development of smart cities, a report by Mastercard, Smart Dubai and Expo 2020 revealed in March. Environmentally friendly business practices, paperless government services and fast, affordable, city-wide internet connectivity are some of the features residents expect from a smart city, the report found.

Urban populations now attribute increasing importance to health and environmental-related dimensions of their cities after the onset of Covid-19, the IMD research found.

“Clearly, Covid has changed the ways in which leaders and citizens of smart cities view the challenges ahead,” Arturo Bris, IMD’s professor of finance, said. “Environmental emergencies will also remain very high on the agenda of smart cities.”

Environmental concerns are comparatively higher in richer cities, according to the Swiss academic institute.

Worldwide, the number one concern for residents is access to affordable housing. However, access to better air quality and access to health services has become a greater priority in cities worldwide since the pandemic outbreak, the data found.

In all parts of the world, the rapid spread of Covid-19 among urban populations led city leaders to face new responsibilities, the report said. This was particularly visible in countries where central governments proved slow or reluctant to take action.

Often, cities proved more agile than central governments, with innovative approaches taken at the municipal level to organise the distribution of protective equipment, the use of available medical facilities and vaccination campaigns, according to the IMD.

In smart cities, the availability of a strong technological culture and good digital infrastructure facilitated such initiatives, in particular through the tracing of citizens’ movements and contacts, the index findings revealed.

“The pandemic has seen an acceleration of digital and ecological transformations in smart cities,” Bruno Lanvin, president of IMD’s smart city observatory, said. “And cities that have been seen as handling Covid-19 challenges in an efficient and effective way rank high in the report; examples include Singapore and Taipei City.”

“But size is not necessarily an advantage for smart cities,” he added. “We see in the 2021 index how mid-size cities such as Oslo, Lausanne, Geneva and Bilbao are performing remarkably well.”

Three cities in Switzerland made it into the top 10. This is partly because of the country’s good healthcare system, according to the IMD. On top of this, the inhabitants of Swiss cities have access to a well-developed school, education and further education system.

Updated: October 28, 2021, 8:44 AM