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What cities tell us about our future

A contribution from Bruno Lanvin President, Smart City Observatory, IMD

For the last 4 years, Lausanne-based Institute for Development and Management (IMD) has published its ‘Smart City Index’ (SCI), which has now grabbed international attention and recognition as one of the most respected benchmarks in the field.

This article is largely based on the introductory chapter of the 2023 edition of the IMD Smart City Index Report.

The SCI has been designed as a tool for action. Since it is based on perceptions (surveys) it is critically important that the answers collected should be calibrated to the specific context of the cities considered. Without getting into too many technicalities (the new SCI methodology is further described on the Smart City Observatory website at, it is worth flagging that the index now includes 141 cities, distributed over all parts of the world.

What are the key messages that emerge from this new report and index ? At least three questions are worth asking about the main conclusions of this recent report, namely :

1. What lessons can be learned from the experience of SCI champions ?

2. What are the worldwide trends that this index anticipates for the future ?

3. What are the possible implications of such a global approach for Swiss cities ?

Lessons from the champions – who is in the top 20, and how did they do it ?

In 2023, the top rankings of the Smart City Index include the following 20 cities (for which previous years rankings have been adjusted to the new methodology for homogeneity and comparison purposes).

Several important observations can be drawn from this list. Most strikingly, out of the top 20, 17 cities have been part of the index since its creation. Among those 17, six cities show a continuous improvement (or stability year-to-year) in SCI rankings. Those ‘super-champions’ are : Zürich, Oslo, Singapore, Beijing, Seoul and Hong Kong.

A new world is shaping up – cities tell us where to look

1. Asia and Europe ahead of the pack ? Apart from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, all of the members of the SCI top 20 are either in Europe or in Asia/Pacific. The absence of any American or African city calls for attention. New York is ranked 22 nd. Cairo and Medellin (the first African and South American cities) are respectively 108 th and 118 th. To a significant extent, the 2023 rankings reflect a growing interest and higher levels of concern about the quality of life that residents are expecting to enjoy in their respective cities. Size is often a handicap rather than an advantage in this regard. It explains why most large metropolises (such as Boston or Paris)

rank relatively low in the index, in spite of remarkable progress in a number of key areas such as sustainability or mobility.

2. ‘Second tier’ cities continue to do better than the rest. Although the SCI top 20 include 12 capital cities (such as Oslo or Canberra), and several ‘economic capitals’ (like Zürich or Dubai), the picture becomes different when one looks at the first half of the rankings (1 to 70), where a significant number of medium-sized cities show both solid rankings and a continuous ability to move up among highly performing cities. This is the case for example of Geneva, Lausanne, Munich or Bilbao in Europe, but also of Montreal, Mecca or Denver, to flag a few in other parts of the world.


Bruno Lanvin President, Smart City Observatory, IMD


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