Smart city design

Smart City Design: What Does It Take to Design a Smart City?

How is smart city design changing cities?

Cities are changing rapidly because of urbanization. With this fast growth comes challenges that human-centred urban design can solve. Smart city planning is in a key role. But to be truly smart, these cities must be designed and developed in the right way.

Excited to learn more about what it takes to build and develop a new, smart city? Let’s dive right in.

What challenges do cities face?

What challenges do cities face right now? One of the biggest challenges is rapid urbanization. Already now, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, 2.5 billion more people are going to be city dwellers. Most of this growth is concentrated in Asia, including the Middle East, and Africa.

What does this mean for cities? When cities grow, commutes get longer and rents go up, as do health, safety, and environmental risks.

A few of these challenges include:

  • Environmental challenges: e.g. pollution and water quality.
  • Health challenges: e.g. asthma, nutrition, lack of physical activity, mental health issues, and insufficient health care.
  • Safety challenges: e.g. higher crime rates.

At the same time, cities need to work for humans to be liveable. They need to be sustainable on different levels: socially, environmentally, and economically.

Smart cities offer a solution. Curious to know what makes a city smart? That’s what we’ll look at next.

What is smart city design?

What are the main features of a smart city? The best definition of smart cities are cities that use technology to improve all aspects of it, from governance to management and design and planning.

And to respond to the challenges that cities face now and in the future, smart solutions are needed on all levels.

People-centered design and technology can be used to improve how cities are built and managed. In fact, a combination of different technologies, as well as masterplanning, can make a city “smart”, sustainable, and change the quality of life in cities.

Now, smart city design is no new concept. Already today, cities use a range of technologies to improve their standards of living. These include energy management, lighting, heating, and cooling systems, communication networks, as well as waste management and mobility solutions. In fact, “smart cities” as a term might be overused.

But in the next few years, the use of these technologies will grow. For example, the Internet of Things (IoT) will become more important, as will the need for cybersecurity. Other technologies include drones, 3D printing, robotics, big data, and AI. With the help of data, educated decisions can be made about what each city needs.

According to McKinsey, deploying smart city applications to the best reasonable extent could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10-15%, lower water consumption by 20-30%, and reduce unrecycled solid waste by 15-20%.


The public sector is in a key position in smart city planning and design. To fully make use of available technologies, cities will need decision makers who embrace change and innovation. Often, the biggest hurdle to smart city development is the allocation of resources and uncooperative municipalities.

But smart cities also depend on how well the public and the private sector work together. Smart cities require successful partnerships between governments and the private sector’s innovativeness. Together, they can come up with and scale solutions that increase citizens’ wellbeing, health, and safety, as well as minimizes the damage cities have on the environment.

What solutions are there for designing smarter cities?

Now, what solutions are there for designing smart cities?

Good question. Here are seven ways to design better, smarter cities.


First, a sustainable city needs careful planning. That’s where sustainable masterplanning comes in. This process requires careful consideration of the goals for a city. During the design process, the needs of people, transport, buildings, infrastructure, and the environment must be taken into careful consideration. At Alpin, we work on multiple masterplans with a focus on livable and sustainable communities. We also have a unique perspective on how smart city design, including masterplanning, is used today thanks to our work involving one of the first LEED certified targeted cities in the Middle East.

Smart buildings

First, smart cities are built with smart buildings. Buildings and the construction industry are together responsible for nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions. It’s clear that buildings can be improved in many ways.

One solution is to build zero-energy buildings. These are buildings that produce as much energy as they consume. Zero-energy buildings are created with the help of measures such as renewable energy sources, storage systems, as well as energy conservation construction technologies and insulation.

Other ways to create smarter buildings include:

  • Automation. Automation helps buildings become smarter with smart timers, lights, ventilation, escalators, heating, and security systems.
  • Energy management systems. For example, smart buildings can control energy usage by letting appliances and equipment communicate and activate or deactivate lights, HVAC systems, and appliances.
  • Sensors. Sensors can be used to assess and optimize a building’s performance.
  • Data-driven inspections. Data-driven inspections (to use data and analytics to identify high-priority buildings for inspection) are another technology used in smart buildings.

For example, at Alpin Innovation Labs, we work on developing and deploying smart solutions for buildings. We currently collaborate with companies offering hardware and software solutions.

One of these companies is Senseware, which has developed sensors that can be added to existing systems without the need for renovations and MEP upgrades. These sensors collect data to analyze how equipment is performing in real time and how building performance can be optimized.

Another company we partner with is Measurabl, which is an all-in-one sustainability solution. It helps you collect data, create investment grade reports, and analyze asset performance. You see how your building is performing energy-wise in real time.

We also use hardware like drones for building inspections.

Smart energy

The world’s cities consume 75% of global primary energy and emit 50-60% of the world’s greenhouse gasses. That’s why smart energy, which is an umbrella term for solutions like smart grid and smart metering, is needed as a smart city solution. Energy usage can be improved by optimizing electricity supply systems and using accurate metering.

Plus, energy usage ties to almost all sections here. It can be optimized by building smarter buildings (which use smart solutions for equipment like elevators, heating, and air conditioning), optimizing lighting, as well as optimizing how waste, waste management, and transportation are handled.

Smart water and waste management

With smart water and waste management systems, cities make use of data and self-optimizing tools to improve how water and waste are managed.

Smart water management refers to the collection, sharing, and analysis of water networks and equipment. These are used to decrease energy use, predict failures, as well as ensure regulatory compliance. For example, sensors can be used to control leakages.

In fact, water consumption tracking (advanced metering used together with digital feedback messages) could reduce water consumption by 15% in higher-income cities. Leakage sensors could cut leakages by up to 25% in the developing world.

Smart waste management uses sensors to manage waste levels and that way, ensure sustainable waste management.

Smart mobility and transportation

According to Harvard University, air pollution costs the US health system around $18 billion every year. And according to WHO, 91% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits. It’s clear that cities are in need of smart solutions to solve problems like congestion and pollution.

That’s where smart mobility solutions can help. Adaptive traffic control systems and driverless electric-powered vehicles are two such solutions. But smart mobility can also refer to ride-sharing, car-sharing, walking, biking, and public transportation.

By using data, smart mobility can be used to detect collision hotspots. Sensors can be used to provide people with data; for example, that a street is blocked because of congestion.

Smart lighting

Smart lighting is used in both private and public spaces to optimize energy efficiency. In fact, lighting demand is expected to increase by 50% by 2030. With advanced lighting, electricity consumption can be cut in half in that same time period.

While this statistic mainly refers to LED lighting, it’s clear that smart lighting can help. For example, electricity savings can be managed with high-efficiency fixtures, automated controls that adjust lighting based on daylight availability and occupancy.


As cities become more connected and increasingly reliant on smart applications, cybersecurity will become more important than ever. The costs and security and health risks of a cyber attack would be incredibly high.

Cybersecurity solutions for smart cities include privacy regulations and policies, secure information management, access limitations, as well as updated cybersecurity legislation. Cities need to develop rigorous cybersecurity expertise and protect critical applications before they are used on a larger scale. By prioritizing cybersecurity, they can ensure that they’re bringing the best, smart services to citizens.

Interested in learning more about smart city design?

Now you know why smart city design is needed and how smart city developers are creating cities that work for people.

It all comes down to improving cities to improve their livability and the impact cities have on the world. In the end, solutions need to be applied depending on every city’s needs.

Want to know more about smart city design?

Read more about Alpin Innovation Labs and how we approach innovation here