What is a Smart City? You decide.

How far along are you in turning your city into a smart one? The term ‘Smart City’ was coined some 25 years ago and has evolved since then. The concept no longer refers to technologies only. Today, cities need to strive to become sustainable rather than just smart. Furthermore, they need to offer easy living and well-being for their citizens, and a fertile environment for businesses to thrive while also ensuring resilient and efficient operations. However, the exact definition of what it means to be smart, should be left for the cities and their citizens to decide.

Such definitions are formed in practice through some key elements. A holistically smart vision and sustainable goals set the direction towards the preferred future of the city. The goals will need to be further developed into concrete objectives, so that progress and success can be measured over time. Once these elements are in place, a sustainable future can be pursued in a smart way. Urban co-creation and new citizen-centric urban design processes are required in city planning to ensure that the Smart City strategy is aligned with the goals of the different stakeholders in the urban ecosystem. Welcome to Smart City 2.0.

The triple bottom line of people, planet and profits

The driving force behind any Smart City should be the building of a better society: an inclusive community with a healthy living environment that is safe, secure, and resilient. The cities should equal provide opportunities for all; through access to services, energy, housing, mobility and more. At the same time, the urban challenges of congestion, funding of basic services, provision of housing and maintaining the condition of infrastructure need to be tackled. Urbanisation and the growth of cities also mean that the cities exert an increasing amount of pressure on natural resources and the climate.

Extending the triple bottom line

Smartness is also about bringing the city’s goals into governance and involving the community in the change. At the same time, every Smart City project, be it small or large, should focus on replicability and scalability of the solutions for maximum impact. Smart Cities come to life through concrete actions, when new innovative solutions are realised in the urban environment. In order to constantly steer the development towards the desired future, the impacts and success of individual projects need to be monitored.

Investing in the city’s sustainable and smart future pays off. While no universal definition for Smart Cities exists, each city should define smartness in their own terms while taking care of the extended triple bottom line. Processes and indicator sets for this work are readily available, so the development doesn’t need to start from zero. Once the city’s key performance indicators, or KPIs, are defined, these can be integrated with the city’s decision-support tools to ensure that the economic, environmental and social sustainability targets are achieved and used in decision-making.

If you want to read more about VTT’s vision regarding smart and sustainable cities, read our new white paper: Let’s turn your Smart City vision into reality.

Antti Ruuska VTT
Antti Ruuska
Business Development Manager, VTT
Twitter: @antti_ruuska


Smart City development is inherently multi-technological and cross-disciplinary, and as an application-oriented research organisation VTT is an ideal partner. We work with the public sector and private companies as well as technology providers in research and innovation activities that expedites the development of smarter cities.  We can guide you from the early phases of vision-creation and concept development to practical implementations of smart outcomes.

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