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The Top 10 Smartest European Cities

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Which city in Europe is working the hardest to be the most advanced urban landscape?

In January 2012, Co.Exist published my smart city rankings. This year, I sought to more accurately rank cities based on a holistic model of smart cities around the globe. This year, we are going to release two separate rankings. This first ranking represents the top 10 smart cities in Europe, and the follow-up will be the top 10 smart cities in North America.

In an attempt to improve the rankings, I developed a metric which I call the Smart Cities Wheel, which contains six key components of smart cities and three key drivers for each component. For each of the six components of the Smart Cities Wheel, I sought to obtain more than one data source to rank each city in its respective region, except in cases where the singular data source was sufficiently rigorous (e.g. Mercer’s Quality of Life rankings). As you might expect, not every city had data available from every source, so the more data points, the better. You can see the full list of data sets below.

1. Copenhagen. I feel bad for the rest of the competitive sustainable and smart cities around the globe because Copenhagen regularly wins top prize in rankings like this. The city may be most famous for its crazy high rates of cycling commuters (close to 40%!) but Copenhagen is more than people in suits on bikes. Their green credentials are world class. Copenhagen ranked number one in Europe on the Siemens Greenest City Index and number one in my Smart Environment ranking as well. Copenhagen has a bold target of becoming the first major capital city to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. The city generally scored well across all components of the Smart Cities Wheel, but also took home first place in the Smart People category due to its strong human capital ranking in the Citigroup/Economist Intelligence Unit Global City Hotspots report.

2. Stockholm. Another Scandinavian city at the top is probably not a coincidence. Stockholm also has strong green credentials (Smart Environment in the Smart Cities Wheel), ranking number two in Europe on the Siemens index and also aspiring to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Stockholm ranked second on my Smart Economy component. When the Brookings Institute conducted research through 2010 and 2011 on the 200 largest metropolitan economies around the globe, Stockholm was one of four cities from North America and Europe to make the top 40 strongest economies.

3. Amsterdam. There are always people unhappy with the outcomes of these rankings and last year I received the most criticism from residents of Amsterdam. Of course, last year’s ranking was global and this year I am breaking out the rankings, but it is clear that Amsterdam has risen in the rankings. While Copenhagen gets more attention for its enthusiasm for cycling, Amsterdam is the undisputed leader in Europe, and probably the globe, with respect to non-motorized transit use (PDF). Almost 70% of total mobility in Amsterdam is either walking or cycling–what the European Metropolitan Transportations Authority refers to as sustainable mobility. Amsterdam also scored in the top five in the Smart People, Smart Environment, and Smart Living categories of the Smart Cities Wheel.

4. Vienna. Last year, like many, I was surprised when Vienna ended up number one in the global smart city ranking. Vienna is not known for tooting its own horn, but it has quietly become a leading smart and sustainable European city. With my more robust ranking this year, the city slipped a bit, but it is still ranked number four in Europe. Vienna scored first or second in three of the six components of the Smart Cities Wheel: Smart Mobility, Smart Governance, and Smart Living. Out of 100 capital cities around the globe, Vienna’s e-government initiatives rated 12th, and third among the finalists in this ranking. Vienna also has embraced open data with 168 data sets available to the public. It is among a few cities in the top 10 to be actively participating in the development of the City Protocol.

In the Smart Living category I only used Mercer’s annual Quality of Life survey results. This is because Mercer’s ranking is very robust, high quality and comprehensive, using 39 different factors associated with crime, education, health, housing, and climate among others. Vienna scored first, not just in Europe but out of the 221 cities ranked across the globe.

5. Paris. While the City of Love didn’t score first on any of the Smart Cities Wheel components, it did make the top five in four of them (Smart Economy, Smart People, Smart Governance, and Smart Environment). On the Smart Economy front, Paris was rated the second-best city in Europe for startups. With respect to Smart People, Paris rated only barely behind Copenhagen in the Citigroup study (Copenhagen’s score was 80.2 while Paris’s was 80.1). And despite only being ranked seventh in the list for Smart Mobility, Paris has shown real innovation in the mobility space. Paris was one of the first major cities to launch a bike sharing program, which is now one of the largest and most successful bike sharing programs in the world. Recently, Paris became among the first cities to launch anelectric-vehicle-only carsharing program.

6. Berlin. While Scandinavia represented well with the top two spots in the ranking this year, Germany has three cities in the top 10, beginning with Berlin. Berlin scored number one in Smart Economy and fourth in Smart Environment. While Berlin didn’t get top position on either of the two Smart Economy variables, it did achieve top four spots in both. As Martin Varsavsky, a famous serial entrepreneur originally from Argentina recently stated: “Berlin has low rental prices, low housing costs, lower salaries, a high-quality labor force, great engineers, and it’s a fun and creative place.”

7. London. This city was rated the number one startup capital in all of Europe byEUStartups. Varsavsky again commenting on London’s startup environment: “I’d choose London as the best place to start a business in Europe, as the conditions for entrepreneurs are similar to those found in U.S. startup hubs like the Silicon Valley or NYC.” Aside from having a Smart Economy, London also ranked third in both Smart People and Smart Governance. London scored ninth of the 100 capital cities surveyed for e-government efforts, which placed the city only behind Stockholm among the top 10 European cities in this ranking. From my research on open data, I learned that London scored first of all cities in Europe on the number of open data sets (657). While London ranked 10th in my list on Smart Mobility, its transit system is still enviable, particularly compared with major cities in the Americas and elsewhere around the globe. And its congestion zone is a model for the rest of the world.

8. Barcelona. Barcelona made the top 10 global rankings last year so it is no surprise that it would be on this more robust ranking of smart European cities. Global consultancy IDC has been conducting rankings of smart cities in Spain for the past two years, and Barcelona scored highest in Spain in their most recent ranking published just a few months ago. Barcelona is doing so many things well that it is hard to highlight only a few. I have been impressed with its municipal leadership, innovation, and green initiatives like requiring solar hot water in larger buildings–not to mention its pilot of EV technology that led to the installation of over 200 charging stations in the city as well as designated parking spaces for EVs.

But overall it is the city’s governance that stands out. It has the second highest volume of open-data sets (over 500) of the finalists, and city leaders are not only seeking to transform Barcelona into a leading European smart city, but also to provide leadership to aspiring smart cities around the globe. Aside from hosting arguably the premier smart cities annual conference, Barcelona also initiated the City Protocol, which aims to create a common language amongst technology providers, cities, and their stakeholders.

9. Munich. The second of three German cities to make the top 10 this year, Munich ranked highest in Smart Economy (third) and Smart Living (second). Globally Munich ranks fourth in the world on the Mercer Quality of Life survey, placing it behind only Vienna among the 10 finalists. It has the lowest crime rate in all of Germany and more head offices of international companies than any other German city. It is also the global headquarters of Siemens, one of the major multinational players leading the smart cities revolution. Munich is not a city just for multinationals–it was rated eighth best startup city in Europe.

10. Frankfurt. Like Munich, its highest ranking of the six Smart City Wheel components was for Smart Living, where it ranked third amongst the 10 finalists. However, Frankfurt also showed leadership in other areas. It was rated 57th in the world on the Brookings Institute economy ratings. Frankfurt is also home to the world’s first green skyscraper(Commerzbank Tower), designed by Foster and Partners and completed in 1997.

The smart cities movement is in a similar position to the green building movement before the introduction of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process. In the early days of the green building movement, developers would throw a dash of low-VOC paint here, a few compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) there and call it a green building. Most corporate, governmental, and individual consumers had no way to distinguish between claims. The U.S. Green Building Council changed all that with the introduction of LEED. Now LEED–and BREEAM in the U.K.–are instrumental in creating more transparency and clarity around what a green building is.

We need to create standards so that cities and citizens can benchmark themselves against other cities. Cities need not all adopt similar strategies to achieve desired outcomes, but all cities should strive to have smarter economies, smarter environmental practices, and smarter mobility. Hopefully this ranking helps to create a dialog and moves cities beyond “smartwash.”

If you liked these rankings, stay tuned. We’ll be publishing the North American rankings next month.

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