Healthy man running exercise in the morning in Marina Bay Sand park - IMD Business School
News Stories · Competitiveness

Asian and European cities inspire action for improving urban quality of life

The 2024 IMD Smart City Ranking finds European and Asian cities consistently and increasingly dominating the Top 20
4 min.
April 2024

Zurich retained the top spot for the fifth consecutive edition of the Index, with Oslo in second place and Canberra in third. Geneva was fourth, and Singapore fifth.

“Cities must design and adopt strategies that can resist the test of a future plagued with growing uncertainties,” said Bruno Lanvin, President of the Smart City Observatory, part of the IMD World Competitiveness Center, which performed the research. “Trust and good governance are growing in importance, and the significance of AI in city design and management is set to increase. Counterintuitive as it may sound, AI can help cities to become more human-centric.”

The index was produced for the second consecutive year in partnership with the Seoul-based World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization (WeGO), an international association of local governments, smart tech solution providers, and institutions. The online report, available to all, will serve as a valuable benchmark for progress on openness, innovation, inclusivity, and sustainability.

Relocating to the US from Europe or Asia? 

North American cities have proven to be volatile in their year-on-year positioning.

“Last year, most US cities rose in the Index but this year they have fallen,” said Lanvin. “Some explanation can be found in Biden’s Build Back Better, which had a positive effect. In contrast, this year elections are on the horizon, making people more critical about areas that need to be improved.”

For the first time since the Index’s creation in 2019, there were no North American cities in the Top 20.  By contrast, all but three were Asian or European.

Washington DC and Denver fell by 12 places, and Los Angeles by 11. Meanwhile, San Francisco went down by nine, New York City by seven, and Chicago by four.

Adding to North America’s woes, Ottawa’s three-place tumble and Montreal’s nine-spot loss created a setback for Canada, too. The data shows a worsening of infrastructure and safety across North America.

On the contrary, overall quality of life has played a positive role in an increasing number of European cities.

Zurich, Oslo, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Beijing, and Seoul are the most consistently high-performing cities in the Top 20 since the Index started in 2019. Sydney, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tallinn, Riyadh, and Melbourne look likely to enter the Top 20 soon, judging by their momentum across recent years.

“The goal of building resilient and adept cities capable of addressing the evolving needs and disruptions in the Fourth Industrial Revolution era can be achieved when cities prioritize and understand inclusive digitalization as ‘smart investments’,” said WeGO Secretary-General Jung Sook Park.

Researchers combined hard data and survey responses from citizens in 142 cities worldwide (Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia being a new addition) to show how technology is enabling cities to achieve a greater quality of life for their inhabitants. All city profiles can be downloaded here.

IMD and WeGO’s partnership is soon to result in a third volume of smart cities case studies presented in the book Prosperous and Inclusive Cities, out this spring.