Ranking the World’s ‘Smartest’ Cities - Taipei Cracks the Top 10
Oct 25, 2019

In the IMD Smart City Index 2019, Taipei was only one of two Asian cities to rank in the top 10, finishing seventh among the 102 cities surveyed. Why did it rank so high and what factors could derail its success in the future?

The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne released a Smart City Index for the first time in early October 2019.

The top 10 finishers were Singapore, Zurich, Oslo, Geneva, Copenhagen, Auckland, Taipei, Helsinki, Bilbao and Dusseldorf.

In compiling the index, IMD interviewed 120 residents in each of 102 cities worldwide to rate those cities in two broad categories: “Structures” and “Technologies.”

The Structures category focused on existing infrastructure and residents’ perception of their general urban environment, while the Technologies category evaluated whether smart technology was improving residents’ quality of life.

Cities were divided into four groups based on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) score of the economy they are part of and then assigned a rating ranging from “AAA” to “D” on a curve against other cities in their respective group.

The methodology enabled IMD to compare how each city’s social and economic development is perceived by its residents.

Singapore aced the evaluation, garnering “AAA” ratings in both the Structures and Technologies categories, to top the global ranking. Singapore residents gave the city high marks in several indicators, such as “basic sanitation meet the needs of the poorest areas,” “CCTV cameras make residents feel safer,” and “lifelong learning opportunities are provided by local institutions,” helping the city-state top its HDI group in the two broad categories.

Second-place Zurich did particularly well in the areas of public transportation and access to medical services and cultural activities, while third-place Oslo won praise for the quality of circular economy solutions, online voting policies, and the use of bicycle hiring to reduce congestion.

Taipei 7th but Problems Remain

Taipei was put into Group 2 in the IMD rankings, pitting it against such cities as Auckland, Bangkok, Barcelona, Paris, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. In finishing 7th overall in the world, Taipei scored a “BBB” in the Structures category and an “A” for Technologies.

Based on the survey’s results, the city’s air pollution and traffic congestion topped the list of residents’ complaints. The most widely praised areas were for the indicators “free public wifi has improved access to services” and “medical services provision is satisfactory.” Taipei residents also lauded their ability to arrange medical appointments, buy tickets for public transportation services, and buy tickets to shows and museums online.

Worth noting is that Taipei scored the highest in its group in all four Technologies indicators for “governance,” consisting of online public access to city finances, online voting, the availability of an online platform where residents can propose ideas, and online processing of identification documents.

Key to Success: Actions that Resonate with Residents

The IMD said its index was the only one of its kind to uniquely focus on how citizens perceive efforts to make their cities “smart.”

“Smart cities only make sense when technology meets citizens’ needs,” said Arturo Bris, who heads the IMD World Competitiveness Center that compiled the new index.

The focus of the Smart Cities Index is not the quality of basic infrastructure and advanced technology deployed in cities. Rather, it emphasizes how people felt about the technology made available and whether or not it improved their lives.

At the same time, the IMD observed that smart cities have been growing and blossoming in all parts of the world in recent years, but in many cases there remains a gap between the priorities of municipal governments and their citizens. Without citizen support and engagement, services have been initiated in a “top-down” manner, ultimately hindering progress.

Many governments, for example, have introduced high-quality online services, but because they are “too cumbersome or insufficiently advertised to meet a critical mass of user,” they have had trouble gaining relevance in people’s lives and end up only being used sparingly.

The IMD also found, however, that while each smart city is different they all provide fertile soil for innovative experiments on city governance and smart applications. They bring together specialists in the fields of transportation strategies, sustainable energy, public administration, environment protection and culture to assess, design and implement solutions to urban problems and improve people’s lives, it said.

Balance Smart Cities and Privacy

Because the survey is based on the perceptions of city residents, its results will inevitably fluctuate with changes in the social and economic environment, the attitudes of city administrators, and cultural trends. The highly controversial issue of privacy is a clear example of this.

Smart cities often collect data generated by residents to provide more convenient services, but that practice has been criticized as infringing on people’s privacy and threatening information security.

Based on the results of the Smart Cities Index, there was a big difference in attitudes among urban dwellers around the world in their attitudes toward the use of personal data and facial recognition technology and their overall trust of local authorities.

Residents of the cities of Zhuhai (ranked 40th overall), Tianjin (41st), Chongqing (42nd), and Hangzhou (44th) in China and Dubai (45th) were more accepting of the use of personal data, for example. In Zhuhai and Chongqing, in particular, more than 90 percent of respondents were both “willing to concede personal data in order to improve traffic congestion” and “comfortable with face recognition technologies to lower crime.”

In contrast, residents of cities such as Hong Kong (37th), Chicago (53rd), Denver (33rd), Geneva (4th) and Paris felt otherwise, showing more skepticism of government control of personal data. In Osaka and Tokyo, fewer than 40 percent of respondents (33.9 percent and 36.9 percent) were willing to allow use of their personal data to help with traffic congestion, while in Hong Kong, only 48.3 percent bought in to facial recognition technologies.

Chan Heng Chee, the president of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, which cooperated in compiling the report, saw the results as confirmation that cities have different experiences and histories. But he felt the Asia-Pacific region confirmed that regardless of those differences, the right strategy to build a smart city should be “human-centric rather than technology-centric.”

Only then can smart technologies truly be aligned with the lives and needs of citizens and provide a clear way forward for urban areas.

Translated by Luke Sabatier
Edited by Sharon Tseng