Executive Summary 

In Europe, smart city projects make use of digital technologies and public sector innovations to address a wide range of local challenges. This report builds on ICTC’s prior research on Canadian and international smart city developments to focus on the experiences of numerous cities in Europe. This European focus reflects the fact that the region is known as a global leader in smart city projects. These findings are primarily based on a series of interviews conducted with subject matter experts and municipal staff in cities with notable smart city initiatives.

As many of these European projects have similar areas of focus (or as ICTC has referred to them, “smart city priority areas”), the projects are consolidated into larger categories, noting specific insights and benefits. In addition to examining projects under the categories of Smart Government, Smart Mobility, Smart Infrastructure, Smart Energy and Environment, Smart Health and Wellbeing, and Smart Regulation, this report addresses a variety of shared insights and themes that have emerged.

Within the context of European smart city projects, this research identifies motivations and best practices, alongside the importance of partnerships, benefits and challenges of smart city development, the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and general labour market impacts.

Across the 20 key informant interviews conducted for this study, the following common principles emerged:

  • Citizen engagement and participation: It is necessary to help local citizens understand the rationale for “smart” developments and for citizens to have the ability to share their input and concerns before they are undertaken.
  • Digital rights of citizens: While the digitization of municipal services and programs can lead to operational changes, this does not change the innate rights of citizens.
  • Respecting privacy: There are significant and justified concerns regarding smart city technologies such as cameras, sensors, and data analytics that challenge citizens’ privacy expectations.
  • Ethical use of data and AI: The ethical use of data and AI technologies is a high priority. Algorithmic decision-making and unintended consequences presents new risks.
  • Proactive data sharing: While respecting individual privacy and local privacy legislation, there is also a need to proactively share the data being collected. For example, in cities such as London, Lisbon, and Prague, there was an emphasis on sharing data within the municipality across other department projects. In other cities, sharing may extend to other groups, for example, with the public, through Open Data initiatives like in Newcastle, or for responsible collaboration with industry partners, like in Zurich. Sharing data can allow the discovery of new insights and identifying potential problems, solutions, or efficiencies.
  • Partnerships and collaboration: Key to successful implementation of local smart city projects is broader partnership and collaboration between municipalities, industries, research organizations, and other relevant stakeholders.



To cite this brief:

Quan, T. and Ye, Z., “Lessons from Abroad: Smart Cities Developments from the European Region,” April 2022. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Designed by Mairead Matthews.

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