Smart cities are urban areas that use connected technologies and data-driven solutions to improve various aspects of life, such as infrastructure, mobility, sustainability, public safety, and quality of life. Smart cities aim to make cities more efficient, resilient, livable, and environmentally friendly, while also fostering innovation and economic growth.
There are many examples of smart cities in the U.S., each with their own strengths and challenges. In this article, we will look at 12 of the top smart cities in the U.S., based on different sources and criteria. These are:
- Austin, Texas
- Los Angeles, California
- Seattle, Washington
- San Francisco, California
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Washington, D.C.
- Dallas, Texas
- New York City, New York
- San Jose, California
- Portland, Oregon
- Boulder, Colorado
- Chicago, Illinois
Austin is the capital of Texas and one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. It is also a hub for technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship, with a vibrant startup scene and a strong presence of major tech companies like Dell, IBM, and Apple. Austin has been ranked as the top smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS1, a real estate technology company that evaluated 11 indicators of smart city readiness, such as tech infrastructure, green infrastructure, and tech job market. Some of the smart initiatives that Austin has implemented or planned include:
- Austin Energy’s Smart Grid Program2, which uses advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distributed energy resources (DER), demand response (DR), and other technologies to optimize energy efficiency, reliability, and affordability.
- Austin Transportation’s Smart Mobility Program3, which leverages data analytics, connected vehicles (CV), automated vehicles (AV), electric vehicles (EV), micromobility (MM), and other modes to enhance mobility, safety, and sustainability.
- Austin Water’s Smart Water Program4, which employs smart meters, leak detection sensors, pressure management systems, and other tools to conserve water resources, reduce water loss, and improve customer service.
- Austin Innovation’s Smart City Strategic Roadmap, which outlines the city’s vision, goals, and priorities for using technology and data to address urban challenges and opportunities across six domains: equity and inclusion, health and environment, culture and learning, mobility and transportation, safety and security, and housing and affordability.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the U.S. and the largest city in California. It is also a global center for entertainment, culture, media, fashion, and tourism. Los Angeles has been ranked as the second-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS1, as well as the third-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow, a consultancy that measures innovation performance across 162 indicators. Some of the smart initiatives that Los Angeles has implemented or planned include:
- LA Cyber Lab, is a public-private partnership that provides free cybersecurity resources and threat intelligence to businesses and residents in Los Angeles.
- LA Optimized, is a program that helps small businesses increase their online presence, e-commerce capabilities, and digital marketing skills amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- LA’s Green New Deal, is a plan that sets ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable energy sources, creating green jobs, improving air quality, and enhancing environmental justice.
- Urban Movement Labs, is a platform that connects public agencies, private partners, and communities to co-create and test mobility solutions that address transportation challenges in Los Angeles.
Seattle is the largest city in Washington state and a major seaport on the Pacific coast. It is also a leader in technology, innovation, and sustainability, with a high concentration of tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing. Seattle has been ranked as the third-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS1, as well as the sixth-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that Seattle has implemented or planned include:
- Seattle IT’s Digital Equity Initiative, aims to ensure that all residents have access to affordable broadband internet, digital devices, and digital literacy skills.
- Seattle City Light’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Project, involves installing smart meters for electricity customers to enable more accurate billing, energy conservation, and outage detection.
- Seattle Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program, uses sensors, cameras, signs, and signals to monitor and manage traffic flow, travel times, and incidents.
- Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment’s Climate Action Plan, outlines the city’s strategies and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change impacts, and support a green economy.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is the fourth-largest city in California and a cultural, financial, and technological hub. It is also home to many iconic landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and Chinatown. San Francisco has been ranked as the fourth-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS1, as well as the second-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that San Francisco has implemented or planned include:
- SF311, is a one-stop portal for residents to access city services and information via phone, web, mobile app, or social media.
- SFpark, is a program that uses smart parking meters and sensors to adjust parking prices based on demand and availability, encouraging drivers to park in less congested areas and reducing traffic and emissions.
- SF Environment’s Zero Waste Program, aims to divert all waste from landfills and incinerators by 2020 through composting, recycling, and reuse.
- SFMTA’s Muni Forward Program, is a plan to improve the reliability, frequency, and safety of the city’s public transit system through service changes, infrastructure upgrades, and new vehicles.
Atlanta is the capital and largest city of Georgia and a major transportation and business hub in the southeastern U.S. It is also known for its rich history, culture, and diversity, as well as its role in the civil rights movement. Atlanta has been ranked as the fifth-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS1, as well as the 25th-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that Atlanta has implemented or planned include:
- SmartATL, which is a program that coordinates and oversees various smart city projects across the city, such as smart streetlights, smart traffic signals, smart water meters, and smart kiosks.
- Renew Atlanta/TSPLOST, which is a $1 billion infrastructure improvement program funded by a voter-approved sales tax that covers transportation, public safety, and building projects.
- Atlanta BeltLine, which is a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails, parks, and transit that connects 45 neighborhoods and aims to foster social and economic development.
- Atlanta Housing Authority’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which is a federal grant program that supports the transformation of distressed public housing into mixed-income communities with access to quality education, health care, and employment.
Washington, D.C. is the capital of the U.S. and the seat of the federal government. It is also a center for politics, culture, media, and tourism, with many monuments, museums, and landmarks. Washington, D.C. has been ranked as the sixth-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS1, as well as the 16th-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that Washington, D.C. has implemented or planned include:
- Smarter DC, which is a framework that guides the city’s efforts to use technology and data to improve service delivery, citizen engagement, sustainability, and resilience.
- DC Connect, which is a program that provides free or low-cost broadband internet access to low-income households, students, seniors, and people with disabilities.
- DC Vision Zero, which is a plan to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024 through engineering, enforcement, education, and evaluation.
- DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), which is a one-stop resource that helps residents and businesses save energy and money through rebates, incentives, technical assistance, and education.
Dallas is the third-largest city in Texas and the ninth-largest city in the U.S. It is also a major economic and cultural hub in the southwestern U.S., with a diverse population and a thriving arts and entertainment scene. Dallas has been ranked as the seventh-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS1, as well as the 28th-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that Dallas has implemented or planned include:
- Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA), which is a public-private partnership that pilots and scales smart city solutions in areas such as mobility, public safety, environment, and digital inclusion.
- Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), which is a regional transit agency that operates buses, light rail, commuter rail, streetcars, paratransit, and
- vanpool services, as well as integrates with other mobility options such as bike-share, car-share, and ride-hailing.
- Dallas 365, which is a performance management system that tracks and reports the city’s progress on 35 key performance indicators across six strategic priorities: public safety, human and social needs, quality of life, government performance, infrastructure, and economic development.
- Dallas Smart City Living Lab, which is a four-block area in downtown Dallas that serves as a testbed for smart city technologies such as smart parking, smart lighting, smart irrigation, smart waste management, and environmental sensors.
New York City, New York
New York City is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. and a global metropolis that influences culture, finance, media, fashion, and art. It is also one of the most diverse and dynamic cities in the world, with over 800 languages spoken and millions of visitors every year. New York City has been ranked as the eighth-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS, as well as the fourth-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that New York City has implemented or planned include:
- NYC Open Data, which is a platform that provides free and easy access to over 2,500 datasets from various city agencies and organizations, covering topics such as health, education, housing, transportation, and environment.
- NYC Connected, which is a program that expands broadband internet access and digital literacy to underserved communities through public Wi-Fi hotspots, community computer centers, mobile device lending libraries, and digital inclusion grants.
- NYCx Co-Labs, which are neighborhood-based innovation hubs that engage local residents, businesses, nonprofits, and government to co-design and test solutions for urban challenges such as climate change, health equity, and digital access.
- NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability’s OneNYC 2050 Plan, which is a comprehensive strategy that sets ambitious goals for achieving carbon neutrality, resilience, equity, and prosperity for all New Yorkers by 2050.
San Jose, California
San Jose is the third-largest city in California and the tenth-largest city in the U.S. It is also the heart of Silicon Valley, the world’s leading center for innovation and technology. San Jose has been ranked as the ninth-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS, as well as the fifth-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that San Jose has implemented or planned include:
- San Jose Smart City Vision, which is a roadmap that outlines the city’s goals and initiatives for using technology and data to enhance service delivery, community engagement, inclusion, and sustainability.
- San Jose Clean Energy, which is a community choice energy program that provides residents and businesses with cleaner and cheaper electricity options from renewable and carbon-free sources.
- San Jose Smart Corridors Program, which is a project that deploys adaptive traffic signal systems, real-time traffic information displays, and transit signal priority technologies to improve traffic flow and safety along major arterial roads.
- San Jose Digital Inclusion Fund, which is a fund that supports nonprofit organizations that provide broadband internet access, devices, and digital skills training to low-income households.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon and a major port on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. It is also known for its progressive, creative, and eco-friendly culture, as well as its thriving food, art, and music scenes. Portland has been ranked as the tenth-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS, as well as the 24th-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that Portland has implemented or planned include:
- Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Smart City PDX Program, which is a program that uses data and technology to improve transportation outcomes for people, especially those who are underserved or marginalized.
- Portland General Electric’s Smart Grid Test Bed, which is a project that involves installing smart meters, smart thermostats, smart water heaters, and other devices to enable customers to manage their energy use and participate in demand response programs.
- Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Climate Action Plan, which is a plan that sets goals and actions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 through energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation alternatives, waste reduction, and urban forestry.
- Portland Development Commission’s Startup PDX Challenge, which is a competition that awards grants, office space, and mentorship to startups that are led by or benefit women, people of color, or low-income communities.
Boulder is a small city in Colorado that lies at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It is also a hub for education, research, and innovation, with a high concentration of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Boulder has been ranked as the eleventh-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS, as well as the 19th-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that Boulder has implemented or planned include:
- Boulder Smart Grid Project, which is a project that involves installing smart meters and other devices to enable customers to monitor and control their energy use and participate in dynamic pricing and demand response programs.
- Boulder Valley School District’s Innovation Fund, which is a fund that supports teachers and students who have innovative ideas for improving education outcomes and experiences.
- Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks’ Smart Trail Program, which is a program that uses sensors and cameras to collect and analyze data on trail usage, conditions, and impacts to inform management decisions and visitor education.
- Boulder Chamber’s Innovation Blueprint 3.0, which is a strategy that identifies key opportunities and challenges for enhancing Boulder’s innovation ecosystem and economic competitiveness.
Chicago is the third-largest city in the U.S. and a major metropolis on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is also a center for commerce, culture, sports, and education, with a diverse and vibrant population. Chicago has been ranked as the twelfth-best smart city in the U.S. by ProptechOS, as well as the 14th-most innovative city in the world by 2thinknow. Some of the smart initiatives that Chicago has implemented or planned include:
- Chicago Data Portal, which is a platform that provides free and easy access to over 600 datasets from various city departments and agencies, covering topics such as crime, health, transportation, and environment.
- Chicago Array of Things (AoT), which is a network of sensor nodes that collect and publish data on air quality, noise, traffic, climate, and other urban factors to support research and innovation.
- Chicago Smart Lighting Program (CSLP), which is a project that involves replacing over 270,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LED lights and installing a wireless management system that allows remote monitoring and control of the lights.
- Chicago Climate Action Plan (CCAP), which is a plan that sets goals and actions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 through energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation alternatives, waste reduction, and adaptation measures.
Smart cities are not only about technology and data, but also about people and values. Smart cities aim to improve the quality of life for their residents and visitors, while also addressing the social, economic, and environmental challenges of urbanization. The 12 cities we have discussed are some of the leading examples of smart cities in the U.S., but they are not the only ones. There are many other cities across the country that are also pursuing smart city initiatives, each with their own vision, strategy, and approach. The future of smart cities is bright and promising, as long as they are inclusive, collaborative, transparent, and ethical.