The Smart City in 6 dimensions

In concrete terms, what types of projects represent a Smart City approach? Although there is no unanimous definition or universal model of the Smart City (see our article dedicated to the explanation of the concept), it is nevertheless possible to understand its mechanisms through 6 key dimensions.

What are the main fields of action of the Smart City ? How do they contribute to a deep, sustainable and smart transformation of our territories and citizens' lives ? And finally, does a Smart City necessarily embrace all of these dimensions ? These are the 3 questions we have addressed in the rest of this article.
6 dimensions Smart City image-large 

Foreword: What is the Smart City?

Before diving into the heart of the topic, let's remember that the ultimate objective of a Smart City approach is to ensure the sustainable transition of a territory, but also to contribute to improving the quality of life of its citizens. At the Smart City Institute, we define the concept, in a holistic way, as follows:


A Smart City


  • an ecosystem of stakeholders
  • engaged in a process of sustainable transition and improvement of the quality of life
  • in a given territory (urban or not)
  • which uses digital technologies to carry out related actions.

Read our article "What is a Smart City?"

The 6 dimensions of the Smart City: a widely recognised academic categorisation

Professor and Doctor Rudolph Giffinger, expert in analytical research on urban and regional development at the Vienna University of Technology (Austria), published a paper (in 2007) highlighting the 6 dimensions of a Smart City. Widely used and adopted as a reference throughout the world today (both by academics and practitioners), this model proposes a classification of the application fields of the Smart City into 6 domains: Smart Economy, Smart Mobility, Smart Governance, Smart Environment, Smart People and Smart Living.
Let's go further: what are these 6 dimensions and what does each of them consist of ? 

The Smart Economy dimension - Sustainable competitiveness and innovation

A sustainable and smart territory is, among other things, a particularly favourable ground for innovation and innovative business models. These new models support sustainable economic competitiveness while promoting interconnections between local and global economic ecosystems. For example, sustainable entrepreneurship and the circular economy are two concepts that are particularly in line with this vision.

The Smart Mobility dimension - Moving better and differently

As its name suggests, the "Smart Mobility" dimension consists of developing a modern and sustainable transport system throughout the territory, adapted to the needs of all users (citizens, workers, tourists, etc.).
These innovative mobility solutions are part of a plan that will focus on local and international accessibility, the availability of information and communication technologies (ICT) and modern and sustainable transport systems. 

The Smart Governance dimension - Participation and transparency 

Smart City actors also focus on making public actions (i.e. services to the population as well as decisions) more open and transparent
To achieve this, they integrate all the stakeholders concerned (public organisations, companies, civil society, etc.) into the decision-making process, in particular by encouraging citizen participation and/or by using new technologies (e.g. e-services or intelligent management and the provision of data - Big Data Management).

The Smart Environment dimension - Sustainable management of natural resources 

As indicated in our definition of the Smart City above, when we talk about the Smart City, we also talk about sustainable transitions. In this perspective, territorial actors pay particular attention to the management of natural and heritage resources. A management that is therefore more thoughtful, but also more sustainable.

Thus, the sustainable and smart territory leads reflections on the use and production of green and renewable energies, on more sustainable methods of food production or on the use of new technologies in order to optimise the management of resources (energy, air, water, waste, etc.). Urban agriculture, for example, is at the crossroads of these major issues.

The Smart People dimension - Inclusion & education  

Within a sustainable and smart territory, social and human capital occupies a predominant place. The "Smart People" dimension refers to a more inclusive society, a territory that offers equal treatment to everyone by taking into account the specificities of the individuals who make up the territory.

Thus, through the Smart People dimension, innovation and the use of new technologies aim to improve knowledge management, access to education and social capital.

The Smart Living dimension - Quality of life at the centre of the dynamic

And last but not least: the Smart Living dimension. It highlights one of the fundamental objectives of the sustainable and smart territory, namely the improvement of its citizens' quality of life. Health, safety in the city, social cohesion and the attractiveness of tourism are among the fundamental pillars of the Smart Living axis.

The 6 dimensions as a common thread for the Smart City

When combined and integrated into territorial strategies and projects, these 6 dimensions - and the major issues they imply - allow our territories to move towards greater sustainability. Indeed, within the Smart City, each of these dimensions can be broken down into several initiatives, themselves composed of one or several projects. Moreover, it is very common for a given Smart City project to include several dimensions. They are therefore complementary.
Plan action Smart City
Structure of a Smart City - Diagram taken from the Smart City Practical Guide -Volume 1

Did you know ?

On the basis of these 6 dimensions of the Smart City, Rudolf Giffinger has defined 31 relevant factors, which reflect the most important aspects of each of them. Each of the factors is further subdivided into groups of corresponding indicators. Thus, using this method, he proposed a ranking system for Smart City initiatives, based on these criteria and the 6 dimensions of the Smart City.

But does a sustainable and smart territory have to include all these 6 dimensions ?

To deepen your reflection on this subject, here is the opinion of Catherine Nguyen, researcher at the Smart City Institute :
"At the Smart City Institute, we consider that the Smart City is an ideal to strive for in order to be able to continuously improve while promoting innovation, whether it be technological or social. 
There is no single method to foster this continuous process, as each territory has its own specificities and characteristics. The choice of dimensions to be prioritised by the municipality will therefore depend on its particular context and the needs of its users. 
This is why being "sustainably smart" does not imply developing projects in all areas from the outset. It is rather a matter of favouring a systemic approach, with a well thought-out strategy and innovative actions, involving the different stakeholders, as well as citizens. Not only must we be smart in the solutions developed (= purpose), but also in the implementation of these projects (= process)."

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