Smart City

Urban performance currently depends not only on the city's endowment of hard infrastructure ('physical capital'), but also, and increasingly so, on the availability and quality of knowledge communication and social infrastructure ('intellectual capital andsocial capital'). The latter form of capital is decisive for urban competitiveness. It is against this background that the concept of the smart city has been introduced as a strategic device to encompass modern urban production factors in a common framework and to highlight the growing importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), social and environmental capital in profiling the competitiveness of cities. The significance of these two assets - social and environmental capital - itself goes a long way to distinguish smart cities from their more technology-laden counterparts, drawing a clear line between them and what goes under the name of either digital or intelligent cities.

Smart(er) cities have also been used as a marketing concept by companies and by cities.




Smart cities can be identified (and ranked) along six main axes or dimensions:

  • a smart economy
  • smart mobility
  • a smart environment
  • smart people
  • smart living
  • smart governance

These six axes connect with traditional regional and neoclassical theories of urban growth and development. In particular, the axes are based - respectively - on theories of regional competitiveness, transport and ICT economics, natural resources, human and social capital, quality of life, and participation of citizens in the governance of cities.

A city can be defined as ‘smart’ when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory action and engagement. (Caragliu et al. 2009)

Policy context

The concept of the smart city as the next stage in the process of urbanisation has been quite fashionable in the policy arena in recent years, with the aim of drawing a distinction from the terms digital city or intelligent city. Its main focus is still on the role of ICT infrastructure, but much research has also been carried out on the role of human capital/education, social and relational capital and environmental interest as important drivers of urban growth.

The European Union (EU), in particular, has devoted constant efforts to devising a strategy for achieving urban growth in a smart sense for its metropolitan city-regions. Other international institutions and thinktanks also believe in a wired, ICT-driven form of development. The Intelligent Community Forum produces, for instance, research on the local effects of the worldwide ICT revolution. The OECD and EUROSTAT Oslo Manual stresses instead the role of innovation in ICT sectors and provides a toolkit to identify consistent indicators, thus shaping a sound framework of analysis for researchers on urban innovation. At a mesoregional level, we observe renewed attention for the role of soft communication infrastructure in determining economic performance.

The availability and quality of the ICT infrastructure is not the only definition of a smart or intelligent city. Other definitions stress the role of human capital and education and learning in urban development. It has been shown, for example, that the most rapid urban growth rates have been achieved in cities where a high share of educated labour force is available.

Innovation is driven by entrepreneurs who innovate in industries and products which require an increasingly more skilled labour force. Because not all cities are equally successful in investing in human capital, an educated labour force – the 'creative class'  – is spatially clustering over time. This tendency for cities to diverge in terms of human capital has attracted the attention of researchers and policy makers. It turns out that some cities, which were in the past better endowed with a skilled labour force, have managed to attract more skilled labour, whereas competing cities failed to do so. Policy makers, and in particular European ones, are most likely to attach a consistent weight to spatial homogeneity; in these circumstances the progressive clustering of urban human capital is then a major concern.