Cities are intelligent organisms

Smart cities are characterized by their application of information and communication technologies to capture and process a wide range of data streams and extract useful information from them to support all kinds of processes and decision making. Their goal is to improve the benefits and reduce the shortcomings of urbanization in various contexts (economic, environmental, government, mobility, safety, inequality and general wellbeing of citizens). In a sense, a smart city can be regarded as a responsive and efficient biological system composed of various subsystems that are all interconnected and continuously exchange information. Hence, a smart city resembles an intelligent organism that is able to reason and expose complex behavior.

Measuring the IQ of a city

A variety of tests exists to assess the level of intelligence of animals in various dimensions (logic, linguistic, social, …). But what about determining the level of intelligence of a city? In 2017, the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland joined forces with the Singapore University of Technology and Design to produce an internationally recognized and negotiable smart city index that offers a balanced focus on economic, technological and societal dimensions of smart cities. The index is calculated based on the perceptions of residents regarding available infrastructures and technology applications in their city. Both pillars were evaluated over five key areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities, and governance. 

According to the proposed Smart City Index, Singapore was the smartest city in the world in 2019. The rest of the Top 10 smartest cities in the world in 2019 are Zurich (2nd), Oslo (3rd), Geneva (4th), Copenhagen (5th), Auckland (6th), Helsinki (8th), Bilbao (9th), and Dusseldorf (10th). 

Singapore: the road to success

Singapore’s’ success doesn’t just come out of the blue. It is the result of its Smart Nation initiative that was launched in 2014, encouraging the use of digital innovation and technology to drive sustainability and liveability. Within this initiative, the city identified and drafted the following six key Strategic National Projects that are currently carried out:

  1. Core Operations Development Environment and eXchange (CODEX) is the digital platform that will enable the Government to deliver better digital services to citizens faster and more cost-efficiently.
  2. E-Payments to provide an open, accessible and interoperable national e-payments infrastructure, facilitate simple, swift, seamless, and secure digital transactions, and enhance convenience and efficiency for citizens and businesses.
  3. Moments of Life to deliver integrated services and information that citizens need, when they need it, all through a single platform. It is aimed at providing personalised and proactive support to citizens at key junctures of their lives, bundling relevant government information and services across agencies according to citizens’ needs. 
  4. National Digital Identity for Singapore residents and businesses to transact digitally with the Government and private sector in a convenient and secure manner. 
  5. Smart Nation Sensor Platform to improve municipal services, city-level operations, planning and security, urban planning, public transport, and public security.
  6. Smart Urban Mobility to enhance comfort, convenience, and reliability of public transport systems, and support the vision of a car-lite Singapore.

The six projects, and their respective timelines, defined within Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative (source:

Singapore’s ambitious initiative is executed via a thoughtful approach that focuses on open data, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data privacy, digital inclusion, startup accelerators, reskilling and cross-border collaboration. The ultimate goal of the Smart Nation initiative is to reduce friction between the government, businesses, and citizens, improving productivity while paying attention to sustainability.

Watch and learn

Singapore is an inspiration for many cities due to its all-encompassing strategy, which involves technology, regulation, education, and support at all levels of government. They strategically try to build the city 40 years ahead of its time.

Not many cities will be able to match the extent of Singapore’s transformation. If you are interested in how Singapore strategically designs and builds the city. Watch this 15min TedX already from 2015. How we design and build a smart city and nation | Cheong Koon Hean | TEDxSingapore

If you have more time, check out this 45min episode from National Geographic on Singapore as  the city of the future