Photo credits: Andrés Chiriboga

“Smart City” is a highly desirable label to link it with the performance of a city anywhere in the world; but, at the moment of specifying its definition and scope, very diverse conceptualizations appear. The same is true when trying to trace the origin of this category.

In order to dispel the mist that surrounds the smart city, Annalisa Cocchia (2014) of the Università degli Studi di Genova, conducted a systematic exploration of the literature related to the “Digital City” and “Smart City” categories considering a period of 20 years, a temporary extension that goes from 1993 to the end of 2012. Several significant findings emerge from this laborious research work (pp. 13-43):

Thus, this author says that a shared and acknowledged definition still lacks for what we call “Smart City”, which happens because “the purpose of a Smart City is often too large” He also adds that “depending on this goal, everything could be considered smart!”

However, the various definitions of Smart City there would have shared characteristics, as follows: “the role of innovation and technology, the environmental requirements, the economic and social development. Sometimes, especially during the latest years, also the use of ICT has been included into the Smart City perimeter; it means that the Digital City is becoming a subset of the Smart City.”

As for the birth of both, Smart City and Digital City, it dates back 25 years ago; “However, the Digital City has a development synchronized with the Internet diffusion, especially in everyday life and in e-government.” Smart City, meanwhile, “had a very slow development till 2010, when the UE assumed the Smart City like one of its key development paths.”

It should be added that the expansion of the Smart City concept would have had three previous events that allowed its solidification: first, the entered in force of the 2005 Kyoto Protocol, referring to the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Agreement to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Second, the launch of the i-phone in 2007 combined telephony with the power of computing and defined “the success of word <<smart>>”, a condition that “could have influenced the adjective “smart” in urban city context”; and last but not least, the concept of “Smart Planet” coined by IBM in 2008.

By his side, Professor Matthias Finger of the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (2016) complements what has been said, stating that the introduction of smart city practices is generally driven by vendors of certain technologies; and above all, that “many cities around the world have bits and pieces of smart city practices, but these rarely warrant a city to be labelled a smart city, and even less so to be a smart city.”

But he immediately clarifies that although the practices described are not systematic and uncoordinated, “these are real” because they are supported by the growing digitalization of cities, being this characteristic that “does have a huge potential for efficiency and improved services, and this is what, realistically, smart cities could be about.”


Cocchia A. (2014). Smart and Digital City: A Systematic Literature Review (pp. 13-43), in: Dameri, R. P., Rosenthal-Sabroux, C. (Eds.). (2014). Smart City. How to Create Public and Economic Value with High Technology in Urban Space. Cham: Springer

Finger M. (2016). Smart City – Hype and/or Reality?, in: IGLUS Quarterly. Vol 4. Issue 1. June 2018. Lausanne: IGLUS-EPFL

Xavier Sanchez is an Ecuadorian economist. He studied National Defense and International Economic Relations in Argentina. Analyzing the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution applied to military industry and national defense, he landed in the “smart cities”. Nevertheless, his passion for cities and, especially, for Quito City is due to the fact that he began his working life at the capital city’s municipal administration, to which, after having made a long journey in several governmental and private organizations, he returned to work a short time ago.

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Dear reader,

My name is Xavier, I am Latacungueño, which means I was born in Latacunga, a small town in the middle of the Andean mountains of Ecuador. When I was seventeen, I moved to Quito with my family, my parents being willing to give their children access to a better education. A quite common move in Latin American countries, where migration to large cities occurs permanently due to the lack, or sometimes, bad quality of services in most of its geographies.

At the beginning of the year, I was studying the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution applied to military industry and national defense when, suddenly, driven by the same interest in technologies, I started the IGLUS MOOC about Smart Cities. I liked its format, the dynamism of Prof. Finger and the topic filled me with passion. So, I was already writing a case study without realizing it, which the IGLUS team published few weeks ago.

Another great opportunity was recently given to me: writing a series of blog posts, to be published every two weeks, about cities, their challenges and the capacity of digital technologies to make them more efficient, resilient, human and inclusive. Through a Latin American perspective, I will describe the way those technologies are articulated to improve infrastructure and create new and better services for citizens.

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