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The three generations of Smart cities

Smart cities – the term that needs absolutely no introduction and has seen an evolution as quick as no other concept has ever witnessed.

In the last seven years, the concept of smart cities has changed vitally both in terms of how cities have chosen to transform and how citizens can be a part of it.

On one hand, smart cities has the potential to make the cities that are facing the increasing challenge of urbanization more efficient, more integrated, more connected–and with all that, they can hopefully improve the quality of life for the citizens – after all they are the most important part of the city and also, the recipient of all the services.

There is definitely a change in the way cities manifest the smart cities concept. Broadly, there the smart cities concept has been through three phases which differs in terms of how cities have embraced technology and development, moving from phase one of technology companies driven, to government-driven, to finally, citizen-driven. Some cities move from one phase to another. Others have been probably glued to just one phase.

Let us have a look at all the 3 generations of Smart cities:

Smart city 1.0 – Technology driven:

The first phase of smart cities was out and out technology driven. Smart Cities 1.0 was created, characterized and suggested by technology providers encouraging the cities for the adoption of their solutions and platforms to cities that were really not equipped to properly understand how they may impact citizen quality of life. So, it was like the companies going to the cities and letting them know what they ‘might’ need to make their cities smart.

Cities and governments definitely aimed to maximize the advantage of the use of technology in terms of managing the cities, better sustainability, and controlling the cities.

This technology-driven vision of smart cities certainly created an environment that was appealing to cities, who in turn aimed for achieving social, environmental, and economic success.

Smart cities 2.0: Technology enabled, city-led

This second phase of smart cities was completely led by cities, as opposed to the technology providers. Every city is different in terms of challenges it faces, economy, requirements etc. By this time, cities had an idea of the concept of smart cities and they knew the challenges that they face and the solutions that are required to curb those challenges. In this phase, the solutions were customized and were very specific to the city needs.

In this generation, the city governments aimed to use technology to help to determine the future of their city and determining the role of the deployment of smart technologies: solutions and platforms and other innovations.

In this phase, city administrators increasingly focused on technology solutions as enablers to improve operational effectiveness, productivity, cost-efficiency and overall citizen quality of life.  An example of smart city 2.0 concept occurred in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Mayor of the Rio de Janeiro, went to seek for IBM expertise in order to create a sensor network that helped to mitigate the role of landslides in the hillside favelas.

Smart cities 3.0:  Citizen-co Driven

The latest phase of Smart Cities that emerged as early as last year is completely different from its predecessors. Instead of a technology-driven approach as in Smart Cities 1.0 or a city driven approach as in Smart Cities 2.0, leading smart cities now began to realize that the centre of the smart cities is the citizen who needs to be benefitted from all these efforts. So they started embracing citizen co-creation models for helping to drive the next generation of smarter cities.

This phase appeared to be built more on equity and social inclusion and there is an important emphasis on creating the enabling conditions to allow local sharing activities to emerge and increase 

So far, few cities have started making steps towards the 3.0 phase. Vienna, for example, a leading Smart City following the 2.0 model, has started to include citizens as investors in its local partnerships for clean energy, or similarly, Vancouver has engaged 30,000 citizens in the co-creation of the Vancouver Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.

Smart Cities 3.0 is not just for cities in the developed world. The biggest and one of the most recognized examples of Smart Cities 3.0 is Medellin in Colombia. Winner of the Urban Land Institute’s Innovative City of the Year Award, Medellin has focused on urban regeneration from the bottom up by engaging citizens from the city’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods in transformative projects. Medellin has also recently expanded its commitment to citizen innovators by supporting the development of an impressive innovation district to attract and retain entrepreneurial talent.


Cities like Vienna, has proved that it is possible to move from one phase of smart cities to another. Some cities literally go through all phases over time, and there are cities who jumped from one phase to another – skipping a phase in the process. And then there are few cities like Singapore (which is in phase 2.0) that just start and stay in one of the three generations.

But the decision of what all solutions are required in a city should be decided by the city Government because they know about their city better than anybody else (Phase 2.0) and then they should figure out ways to involve citizens in the process of creating or transforming their city into a smart one. Citizens can play a vital role in collaboratively working to fix the problems and improve the city with rapid and cost-effective innovations. Cities must start treating citizens as the participants in the co-creation of improved quality of life.

I guess, it’s the mix of 2.0 and 3.0 which would make a city really smart – citizen centric, technology-enabled and city-driven!



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