Smart City: The Key to Enhancing Quality of Life in Developing Countries

In the context of globalization and rapid technological advancement, the concept of a smart city has become a crucial topic for policymakers in developing countries.

Authors: Tuhu Nugraha and Raine Renaldi*

In the context of globalization and rapid technological advancement, the concept of a smart city has become a crucial topic for policymakers in developing countries. This concept is not just a futuristic vision, but a tangible solution to address the complexities of urban challenges. With urbanization increasing in developing nations, it is projected that over 60% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas by 2050, according to data from the United Nations. Most of this growth will occur in developing countries, where challenges in infrastructure and public services are particularly urgent.

Urbanization in major cities of developing countries has wide-ranging impacts. Positively, it promises greater economic opportunities, broader access to education, and improved healthcare services. Large cities also become hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship that drive economic growth and serve as melting pots of various cultures, enriching the social lives of their inhabitants. However, urbanization also brings negative effects such as increased urban poverty, where many city dwellers live without adequate access to housing, food, and clean water.

Congestion and pollution are inevitable issues as the population increases, while socioeconomic disparities widen, creating significant gaps between the rich and the poor. This pressure further burdens existing infrastructure, such as transport systems and water and sanitation services, which are often not prepared to handle the surge in demand.

The implementation of smart city initiatives in developing countries can be a strategic response to these challenges. By leveraging smart technologies, cities can become more efficient in resource management, improve transportation systems, and enhance public services, while reducing the negative impacts of urbanization. These initiatives not only support economic growth but also improve the quality of life for their residents, creating more inclusive, sustainable, and future-ready cities.

Resource Management and Efficiency Enhancement

Resource management through smart technologies in developing countries offers improved efficiency and reduced waste. A concrete example of successful implementation can be seen in Fukuoka, Japan. As the only major city in Japan without a large river, Fukuoka faces serious water scarcity challenges. In response to this issue, the city has developed an advanced water management system using information and communication technology (ICT). This system is equipped with special sensors capable of monitoring and controlling the water flow and pressure distributed to various city areas. This feature allows for dynamic adjustment of water pressure according to the specific needs of each area while also monitoring and minimizing leaks.

Furthermore, by utilizing predictive models based on sensor data analysis, the system can project the water needs in each area, ensuring effective distribution. This initiative is not only focused on technology but also on public education. Through programs in schools and community engagement activities, the citizens of Fukuoka are encouraged to understand the importance of conserving water. As a result, this awareness has contributed to highly efficient water usage, with the lowest per capita water consumption among major cities in Japan.

The Fukuoka case, documented in the “WEF Smart at Scale Cities to Watch 25 Case Study 2020,” highlights the importance of combining technological innovation and public policy to address modern urban challenges. Through the use of smart technology, cities like Fukuoka have successfully created systems that not only support environmental sustainability but also enhance the quality of life for their residents.

Improving Transportation Systems and Mobility

Efficient mobility is a critical indicator for improving quality of life, especially in large cities in developing countries that often experience traffic congestion. A tangible example of implementation can be seen in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which has adopted various smart transportation initiatives to address congestion issues. According to a report by Clara Schreiner in an international smart city case study published by the Inter-American Development Bank, Rio de Janeiro has developed the Centro de Operações Rio (COR), a control center that monitors and manages transportation facilities and supports local government decision-making through inter-agency and utility integration.

In efforts to improve its transportation system, the city has established exclusive corridors for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Bus Rapid Service (BRS), and integrated various modes of transportation through the launch of the Rio de Janeiro Unified Ticket. Infrastructure modernization has also been carried out on the traffic equipment network, including updates to traffic lights, variable message boards, cameras, and other sensors, all integrated into the COR system. Additionally, the system conducts real-time monitoring of the bus fleet.

Furthermore, Rio de Janeiro has introduced the “Digital Traffic” initiative, which monitors and reports real-time situations on major and alternative routes in the city. With an integrated approach and the use of advanced technology, Rio de Janeiro has successfully reduced congestion and improved the mobility of its citizens, demonstrating how technology can significantly contribute to enhancing public services and the quality of life for residents.

Innovation in Health and Education

In efforts to enhance the quality of healthcare and education services, the utilization of technology has become a significant solution, especially in remote areas. Digital health applications and IoT-based monitoring systems have facilitated faster and more affordable access to healthcare services, while e-learning and virtual classrooms have broadened access to quality education.

As a specific example of innovation in public health, Buenos Aires, Argentina, has launched the “Estaciones Saludables” program. This program aims to promote healthy diets and lifestyles to prevent obesity, malnutrition, and other chronic diseases caused by unhealthy living. According to a case study from the “WEF Smart at Scale Cities to Watch 25 Case Studies 2020”, the Estaciones Saludables are strategically located around major parks and city squares, with schedules designed to facilitate access for residents from all neighbourhoods. This program is part of a larger public health initiative, “Desarrollo Saludable,” which also includes early detection of risk factors such as physical inactivity, poor diet, and tobacco use.

The Estaciones Saludables program has successfully organized various activities that support healthy living habits, including providing free services for children’s birthday celebrations and sports equipment rentals. Since its launch in 2012, the program has reached over 1.2 million people, providing more than 5.5 million health consultation services. These activities not only increase health awareness but also encourage active community participation in maintaining health through physical activity and good nutrition. Initiatives like this demonstrate the importance of integrating technology and health education programs in sustainably improving public health.

Integrating the Informal Economy

In addressing the challenges of integrating the informal economy within the smart city framework, developing countries can take inspiration from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. According to the “WEF Smart at Scale Cities to Watch 25 Case Study 2020,” Amsterdam has developed practices for algorithm auditing and privacy as part of its digital agenda to ensure public trust in platform economies. The city collaborates with universities and industries to formulate comprehensive audit standards, which will soon be mandatory for companies operating in its region to enhance data transparency and security.

Amsterdam has also engaged in international cooperation with entities like the United Nations and the European Union to adopt these audit standards in the “Cities for Digital Rights” declaration. This highlights the importance of multilateral cooperation in enhancing the ethical and responsible use of technology. The algorithms used in city management are audited by independent parties, ensuring they are fair, secure, inclusive, and respectful of privacy.

Applying these principles is highly relevant for developing countries facing similar challenges in ensuring public trust in technologies used to manage city services. Developing nations often struggle with issues of trust and transparency in implementing new technologies, so lessons from Amsterdam can serve as an example of how oversight and standardization of technology can help build trust and public participation.

By adopting a similar approach, developing countries can strengthen public confidence in digital platforms and technologies used to enhance public services, including the integration of the informal economy. Initiatives like those in Amsterdam offer valuable lessons in building a robust framework to support innovation while maintaining principles of fairness and privacy, which are essential for the success of smart cities anywhere.


A smart city is not only about the implementation of technology but also about sustainable and inclusive socio-economic transformation. For developing countries, smart city implementation must be tailored to the local context and integrated with policies that support economic growth and improve quality of life. With the right approach, a smart city can be key to unlocking the full potential of developing countries in facing future challenges.

This discussion underscores the importance of adaptation and innovation in applying smart city concepts in developing countries and provides insights into how technology can be leveraged to address specific local challenges. Successful implementation will require collaboration among governments, the private sector, and civil society to ensure that the benefits of smart cities are enjoyed by all layers of society.

*Raine Renaldi, President ID-Opentech Group, Chairman Indonesia Smart City Provider Alliance

Tuhu Nugraha
Tuhu Nugraha
Digital Business & Metaverse Expert Principal of Indonesia Applied Economy & Regulatory Network (IADERN)