A vast apartment complex surrounded by greenery

How can we make Smart Cities more Sustainable?

As cities grow more densely populated, technology that was previously only assumed to be tools for a more efficient human experience is evolving to shape how cities operate. This mechanization is what we refer to as ‘smart technology’.

Our smartphones for example perfectly reflect this phenomenon, allowing us to directly relay information about traffic, safety alerts, health services as well as community news to the masses.

Technological advancements and artificial intelligence combined have reshaped the way we construct and operate our cities! In most cases, technological solutions present tremendous opportunities to tackle environmental challenges and pave the way towards creating a sustainable, Smart City.

What is a Smart City?

A Smart city is an innovative city where technologies are deployed to improve the quality of life by using the information to enhance and regulate efficient experiences. The aim is to enhance the city’s functions by improving the quality of life while still promoting economic growth.

The concept can be captured on a strategic level, in which artificial intelligence and smart applications are used to improve how people can do their daily activities such as commute, payments, governmental procedures in the most efficient manner.

Master planning for a smart city would adopt a solid, smart city strategy implemented in core areas such as:

Energy iconEnergy:  Optimizing technologies to create energy savings such as utilities dimming lights, sensors, smart meters to capture energy consumption, and solar and thermal power alternating options.

Water:  Smart water metering systems and fixtures are equipped with sensors to limit extensive water consumption and leak detection systems.

Waste icon
Waste:  Utilizing sensors in trash receptacles to adjust pickup schedules


Carbon Emissions: Lowering the carbon emissions through increased walkability, planning for less traffic and journey times, and providing electric vehicles infrastructure and resources.

Is a Smart City Sustainable?

Smart cities have emerged not only as a result of technological progress but also as a possible solution to sustainability. Deterioration of livability affects waste management, scarce resources, air pollution that contributes to human health concerns as well as aging public infrastructure. These concerns are the main considerations to policymakers who then created the 11th UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The goal was to make the cities safer, more inclusive, resilient, and most of all, a lot more sustainable.

Image Source: City Snapshot 2020

In 2016, a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) for Smart Sustainable Cities (SSC) was developed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and several UN programs under the ‘United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative.

The KPIs provide means for policymakers and urban stakeholders to monitor and self-assess the contribution of technologies to the UN SDG’s. To help cities embark on their journeys towards establishing “Smart Sustainable Cities,” the performance is measured on three dimensions (Economy, Environment and Society and Culture), and sub-dimensions and categories in each area to provide a holistic yet comprehensive view of a smart city.

Such monitoring tools assist decision-makers globally to target and overcome challenges such as lack of coordination and synergies, knowledge gaps, unfavorable climatic conditions, and limited finances.

The UAE government has identified this SDG as a possible development and developed master plans for multiple smart cities in the country such as Masdar City and Zayed Smart City Project in Abu Dhabi and The Sustainable City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai South District, and Desert Rose City in Dubai.

Let’s take a deeper look into Masdar City to see what choices were made to ensure it was a Sustainable Smart City.

2006 marked the year that the planning for Masdar City was initiated. It focused on optimizing solar energy, providing minimal use of transportation, limiting the heights of construction and building, and creating smart alternatives to make the environment more efficient.

Sun shining on Masdar City with electric bus zooming past

Image source: Masdar

It was the first attempt in the Middle East and was successful in reducing water, energy, and waste by combining technology, design, and solar power. One such feature was the use of low-flow showers and smart water meters that reduced water waste. The architecture of Masdar City also ensured that the streets and buildings were cooler and therefore fundamental in reducing energy. 

What is the role of the policies and regulatory frameworks in the development of Smart Sustainable Cities?

Effective policies and regulations direct the national and regional societies towards achieving a coherent and forward-veering implementation of digital transformation in aiding sustainable cities.

Globally, several governments have established local frameworks to form a solid base on digital inclusion in multiple sectors such as transportation, construction, utility providers, telecommunications, and security.

In the UAE, several green building regulations and policies have been developed at the Emirate level to reduce the impact of conventional construction, improving the built environment and operational performance of new and existing buildings.

Policies, laws, and technical urban design standards are currently aligned with the local and global sustainability standards in which innovative approaches are encouraged.

What should be taken into consideration in designing a Smart Sustainable City – The Roadmap?

The digital revolution offers an unprecedented window of opportunity to improve the lives of millions of urban residents. However, it is not guaranteed that the rapid diffusion of new technologies will automatically benefit citizens. Therefore, smart city policies need to be designed, implemented, and monitored as a tool to improve the well-being of all people.

Having a city equipped with the smart infrastructure requires an even stronger operational team well-aware of these integrations and how to get the best out of them. User awareness, on the other hand, is the key to unlocking the cities’ fullest potential. Therefore, the roadmap to Smart Sustainable cities can be defined as:

Elements of Smart Cities Elements of Smart Cities Chart

Demand for city living is at a high, with over a billion people forecast to flock to urban communities within the next 30 years – making the role of sustainable master planning more valuable than ever before. The key to improving cities is finding innovative ways to convert existing infrastructure Smart. Alpin’s expert teams have worked on developing sustainable community rating systems and regional 2030 plans, as well as future-proofing against the unexpected effects of climate change.

Contact us to find out more.