The third edition of the annual IMD-SUTD Smart City Index (SCI) released today has revealed that city-dwellers’ perceptions of how technology is helping to address urban challenges has been highly affected by the pandemic and its acceleration of digital transformation.

“This year’s findings shed light on the tectonic shifts that have disrupted logistical chains and organizational structures worldwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bruno Lanvin, President of IMD’s Smart City Observatory.

Taking the top three places were Singapore (1st), Zurich (2nd) and Oslo (3rd). Switzerland enjoyed three cities in the top 10 with Lausanne in 5th and Geneva in 8thplace.


Some 15,000 city dwellers were surveyed globally in July across 118 cities. They were asked how their respective cities were doing regarding health and safety; mobility; activities; work and school; and governance. Statements that they were asked to agree or disagree with included: ‘Recycling services are satisfactory’, ‘Public safety is not a problem’ and ‘Air pollution is not a problem’. They were also asked to select five priority areas for their city from a list of 15.

The SCI is the work of the Smart City Observatory which sees IMD’s World Competitiveness Center (WCC) join forces with the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to offer a balanced take on the economic and technological aspects of Smart Cities on the one hand, and more humane dimensions of urban living, such as quality of life and inclusiveness, on the other.

Affordable housing number one concern

The experts define a Smart City as ‘an urban setting that applies technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanization for its citizens’.

Access to better air quality and to health services has become a greater priority in such Smart Cities worldwide since the pandemic outbreak, the data found.

“Clearly, COVID has changed the ways in which leaders and citizens of Smart Cities view the challenges ahead,” said IMD’s Professor of Finance Arturo Bris, who oversaw the work of the ranking as the Director of the WCC. “Environmental emergencies will also remain very high on the agenda of Smart Cities, and this is an area in which citizens’ expectations – and sometimes ambivalent attitudes vis-à-vis technology – will need careful attention.”

The report finds that, worldwide, the number one concern in Smart Cities is access to affordable housing.

“A large part of the success of central governments’ post-pandemic recovery packages will rely on the level of engagement that  they can generate from the populations concerned. In such a context, the initiatives taken at city level will continue to be critically important to confirm the shape and extent of the global post-pandemic recovery that the world needs. Smart Cities will continue to be at the forefront of this challenge,” Lanvin said.

The report also shows that citizens’ concerns seem to change as their cities become ‘smarter’. For example, the cost of housing tends to be a dominant concern in the top-ranking cities whereas lower-ranking ones tend to grant a higher degree of priority to solving issues related to health and safety. Environmental concerns are comparatively higher in richer cities.

This year, 9 new cities were added to the mix: Bordeaux, Glasgow, Istanbul, Kiel, Lausanne, Leeds, Lille, Medina and San José. They were selected based on the representation of countries in the index.

The report is expected to feed the ongoing discussion on the changing roles and ways of functioning of cities around the world, starting with a webinar convening Smart City experts on 28 October at 13 CEST.