Singapore holds on to top spot in smart city ranking, and NYC jumps up to No. 10

Researchers found that cities that prioritized digital transformation had an edge in dealing with the coronavirus.


Helix bridge, Marina Bay Sands hotel and the ArtScience Museum by night, famous touristic attractions of Singapore

Delphine Poggianti

Cities that use technology to deliver services and make information easily available had an easier time coping with the coronavirus, according to a new smart city study.

The Institute for Management Development (IMD) released its second Smart City Index 2020 and Singapore was at the top of the list for the second year. The top 10 cities in the ranking are:

  1. Singapore
  2. Helsinki
  3. Zurich
  4. Auckland
  5. Oslo
  6. Copenhagen
  7. Geneva
  8. Taipei City
  9. Amsterdam
  10. New York City

The annual index ranks 109 cities across the world based on a range of economic and technological factors. Researchers also conduct a survey that asks citizens to consider how a city’s technology influences their quality of life. 

Researchers did this year’s survey in April and May, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height in many regions. IMD researchers reported these key findings, including: 

  • “Smartness” helped certain cities manage the COVID-19 outbreak better than others.
  • COVID-19 will likely make the digital divide worse.
  • Mayors and other local authorities have a powerful role to play in improving citizens’ wellbeing, based on how cities in the same country weathered the pandemic differently.  
  • “Second cities” boost the overall competitiveness of individual countries, with Bilbao doing better than Madrid, and Birmingham improved by 12 positions whereas London jumped just five. 

Professor Arturo Bris, who led the research as the director of the World Competitiveness Center at the IMD, said in a press release that cities with better technology are managing the pandemic better. 

“Smart cities are not the solution, but technology helps,” he said.

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Nine other US cities showed up on the list:

12. Washington DC  

26. Los Angeles 

27. San Francisco

35. Denver

36. Boston

37. Seattle

39. Phoenix

41. Chicago

52. Philadelphia

Phoenix showed up on the list for the first time, while San Francisco dropped 15 spots from the 2019 ranking while New York jumped up 28 spots. 

Cities earned a score from AAA to D to reflect how citizens assessed the structures and technologies in their cities. Singapore was the only city to get a AAA rating, and New York was the only US city to get an A. 

To rank the 109 cities in the report, researchers assess the existing infrastructure in each city as well as how many services have been moved online to improve access and efficiency. Researchers also asked residents about their attitudes toward technology and their city’s implementation of these services. 

Singapore residents were more likely than people in peer cities to agree or strongly agree with these statements:

  • You are  willing to concede personal data in order to improve traffic congestion: 66%
  • You are comfortable with face recognition technologies to lower crime: 71%
  • You feel the availability of online information has increased your trust in authorities: 73%
  • The proportion of your day-to-day payment transactions that are non-cash: 71%

Among the 10 American cities on the list, only the non-cash payment question came in at 70% or higher. The other questions scored anywhere from 47% at the low end to 67% at the high end.

The survey also asked residents to rank the five most important problems that city leaders should be addressing. Singapore residents as well as residents in nine of the US cities on the list named affordable housing as the top priority area. In Chicago, the top priority was security.

The role of smaller cities

In this second annual report, researchers also found that in some countries including the US, China, Australia, and Taiwan, second cities have become more important than capitals in implementing smart city projects. Munich scored higher in the index than Berlin, which is a much bigger city. Brisbane also ranked higher than Sydney.  Researchers found that mayors and local authorities increasingly have the power to improve the wellbeing of citizens by implementing technology.

“Countries are no longer economic units,” Bris said in a press release. “The American city of Boston is a good example of how management of its city by its mayor makes a big difference.”

Cities use technology to solve a variety of projects, such as reducing traffic jams in the case of Paris, or improving citizen participation through offering free Wi-Fi in Ramalla. Chicago has an ambitious technology plan based on hyperconnectivity; Abu Dhabi has an eco-friendly project and Birmingham is one of cities in the UK ranked best for mobility. This is why the survey shows significant differences among cities within the same country. 

The overall conditions in a city such as economies, inequality levels (such as access to healthcare), and policies also influence each city’s ability to implement smart city technologies.

In highly developed cities such as Zurich or Amsterdam, technology plays a marginal role as there is little to improve but in cities such as Bogota or Mumbai, technology makes a big difference. 

How the index was created

The Institute worked with the Singapore University for Technology and Design to produce the report.

The IMD defines a ‘smart city’ as an urban setting that uses technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanization for its citizens. The survey measures citizen attitudes about structures and technologies  in five areas including health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities in work and school, and governance.

The structures assessments cover topics such as air quality, public safety, medical services, government corruption, and lifelong learning opportunities. The technology questions focus on the availability of apps and online services, Internet connectivity, and access to information. 

Also see