Many cities in the Balkans strategically transition towards smart cities to compete with the global smart city leaders.
A number of various initiatives have been launched in partnerships with international organisations and companies during the last few years. Yet, the Smart City concept is mostly a new game in town throughout the region.
The regional smart city target should be twofold:
- Learning to work closely with communities, listen their heartbeats and design smart city solutions that truly have the power to take the living standards to a new level, and
- Start competing with the world’s smart city leaders.
Global Smart City Competition
Let us focus here on the second point. At the moment, numerous indices measure the world’s top smart cities based on various criteria such as governance, digitalization, transport and mobility, recycling rate, even blockchain ecosystems.
Probably the most comprehensive and the only global index is the IMD Smart City Index released by the Institute for Management Development, an independent academic institution founded seven decades ago in Switzerland.
Published for the first time in 2019, and collaboratively produced by the IMD World Competitiveness Center’s Smart City Observatory and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) it ranks 102 cities worldwide.
Each city is assigned to one of four groups, based upon its Human Development Index values, while ratings for each city are calculated from the city’s performance relative to the other cities within the group.
The IMD Smart City Index targets to identify how “citizens perceive the scope and impact of efforts to make their cities ‘smart’, balancing “economic and technological aspects” with “humane dimensions”.
The survey collects data on five key areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities, and governance.
One could expect that the top 20 smart cities are major world metropolises as the table below testifies.
Unfortunately, none of the cities from the Western Balkans is to be found in this index. Among the wider Balkans region, Bucharest scores 85 (Overall rating – C), Sofia 89 (C) and Athens 95 (C).
The way forward
The Western Balkans is significantly lagging behind most major global economic powers, including the EU Member States.
According to some studies, if the Western Balkans fails to boost productivity and accelerate reforms it may take them up to one hundred years to catch up with the EU Member States’ living standards.
None of our cities – large or smaller – cannot compete with most of the top 50 entrants in the Index in terms of their financial might. Where we can compete with the global leaders is smartness.
The annual Index clearly shows that successful cities develop their genuine approaches, rather than trying to emulate smart solutions from the best performing cities.
Why? Because smart solutions in Tokyo or Vienna may not be suitable for other cities with different structural settings, environments, culture and habits.