Measuring Cities´Smartness: Navigating through an Ocean of Indicators

By Josep Antoni Ivars Baidal from University of Alicante

Smart cities and smart destinations have become widely used buzzwords with different meanings and interests. Institutional self-proclamations of smart city / destination are so frequent that it is interesting to specify clearly what constitutes smartness and how it is measured. An undoubtedly complex but necessary task.

The pioneering work coordinated by R. Giffinger (2007) established the six basic characteristics of the smart city and specified them in 74 indicators to build the first European smart city ranking, focused on medium-sized cities ( Since this study to date, there have been countless initiatives to assess the level of smartness of cities. These initiatives are aimed at a variety of purposes: scientific work, rankings, indexes, standards or indicators systems integrated in urban/tourism management programs. These contributions recall the wide use of indicators since the 1990s to measure sustainability, a dimension that, on the other hand, being integrated in the smart city/destination concept, has generated specific analyzes around the best way to conceptualize and measure the relationship between sustainability and smartness.

The European Commission has supported different projects based on the evaluation of smart cities initiatives, such as Mapping Smart Cities in the EU (2014) ( or CITYkeys (2017) (, aimed at the creation of smart city indicators that can function as Key Performance Indicators for tracking the progress towards city and project objectives. This approach is interesting for international comparison of smart city performance and for policy analysis leading to improved urban management. For a similar purpose, standards related to smart cities have been developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). In particular, ISO 37122: 2019 (Sustainable cities and communities-Indicators for smart cities) in conjunction with ISO 37120: 2018 (Sustainable cities and communities – Indicators for city services and quality of life).

In a recent research paper, A. Sharifi (2020) ( has examined thirty-four smart city assessment schemes showing the prevalence of indexes of different nature, above all market-oriented as the Cities in Motion Index ( or the Innovation Cities Index (, together with academic contributions, such as the Lisbon ranking for smart sustainable cities ( These indicators are structured according to the typical dimensions of smart city: economy, people, governance, environment, mobility, living, and data; with logical variations based on the objectives and methodology used.

How is tourism and its urban implications reflected in these indicator systems? The analysis of these systems evidences a very low presence of direct tourism indicators, a logical consequence of systems that try to measure a complex reality in a holistic way. This marginal role of tourism indicators prevents the establishment of correlations or cause-effect relationships between tourism and its urban effects, fundamentally those related to processes of social exclusion, which are also under-represented in the evaluation schemes of smart cities. In this context, the SMARTDEST project is an opportunity to contribute to a better measurement of the relationships between urban smartness, tourism and other forms of mobility and social exclusion processes.

Can Airbnb be blamed for all housing issues? – The case of Ljubljana

By Tadej Rogelja, Miha Bratec, Dejan Križaj from University of Primorska


Slovenia is among the EU countries with the highest rate of housing shortage. We have focused on the capital Ljubljana and examined the causes that have led to such a situation. The reason on the one hand is the relatively old and poorly maintained housing stock and, on the other hand, the short-term-rental platform Airbnb. But what did the COVID-19 pandemic reveal?


Slovenia is among the EU countries with the highest rate of housing shortage. We have focused on the capital – Ljubljana and examined the causes that have led to such a situation. The reason for such a situation is, on the one hand, the relatively old and poorly maintained housing stock and, on the other hand, the sharing platform Airbnb.


The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, with a population of around 300.000 is one of the smallest capitals in Europe and arguably on Europe’s most sustainable destinations, experiencing tremendous growth in terms of visitor numbers and press recognition within the last 10 years. The city is located in the Osrednjeslovenska Region (Central Slovenia) and it is the strongest area in terms of economic development, and is the administrative, economic, cultural, and scientific centre of the country. On the other hand, Slovenia is also among EU countries with the highest housing deprivation rates. In 2018, more than a fifth of its population lived in poor housing conditions. One of the reasons for the high housing deprivation rate is the relatively old and poorly maintained housing stock (IMAD, 2020). The state also abolished systemic sources of funding, did not develop new supply institutions and hindered the construction of public housing stock. National policies are also reflected in municipal policy, which has neglected the housing topic for the last 30 years since Slovenia’s independence. This played a major role in the housing policy when the socialist real estate market was privatized, and inhabitants had the right to purchase the apartments in which they were living for a price way below the market value. Due to this policy, 80% of Slovenians live in their own properties today and only 8% in rental flats. Consequently, the share of public housing in Ljubljana owned by the municipality fell from 42% (42,000 dwellings) in 1992 to 3% (4200) as of 2019 (IŠSP & FDV 2019). With the stagnation of the housing policy, Ljubljana has reached a point where few people can afford to buy an apartment while renting one equally puts a comparatively high burden on one’s disposable income.


Let us now add Airbnb to the whole story. Historically, Ljubljana has not been a prime tourist destination, but between 2014 and 2018, tourist demand increased significantly, leading to a sudden shortage of suitable accommodation. Peer-to-peer accommodation was a perfect solution at this time. The market was flooded with tourists so quickly that the government did not have time to take regulatory measures to prevent externalities. As a result, locals today experience very high prices and cannot afford long-term rentals. According to Milič (2021) from Capital Genetics which focuses on corporate finance, capital growth, valuation of business and real estate in Slovenia and other countries in Southeast Europe, prices have gone crazy. Currently, the average price of a used apartment in Ljubljana is already over € 3100 per square meter. Second-hand housing prices have risen by 50% in the last five years. Official statistics did not capture the additional supply of beds because many locals did not report their short-term rental activities. Figure 1 illustrates the large discrepancy between the number of beds in private accommodation reported by the official statistics of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia and the number of beds listed on Airbnb according to AirDNA. Thus, in 2018, approximately 2,038 beds were not registered on Airbnb and so failed to pay taxes from their commercial activities (Dolnicar, 2021).

Figure 1: Number of arrivals and overnight stays in Ljubljana (Source: Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, 2019)


In addition to that, many Ljubljana residents reported the lack and high price of parking spaces as negative consequences of tourism. On the other hand, according to Airbnb˙s data, most apartments listed offered parking, which can be quickly combined into a meaningful whole. Moreover, a more detailed investigation revealed that Ljubljana’s accommodation listings on Airbnb often recommend that tourists use the public parking spaces near the property, which puts a significant strain on the public infrastructure and results in locals not finding parking spaces in front of their homes (Dolnicar, 2021).


But can Airbnb be so easily blamed for most of the housing issues in Ljubljana? Though the discourse went into such a direction, the pandemics showed a rather different picture. When tourism and especially short-term rentals plummeted in 2020, this only led to short term effects such as more offers on the long-term rental market, yet the prices for both housing rentals and purchase kept growing and reached record numbers by spring of 2021. All these leads to indicate that the housing issues in Ljubljana are much more complex and the growth of tourism within the last decade and Airbnb-related short-term rentals only played a minor role in sky-rocketing real estate prices. The real reasons behind them need to be further explored, but most likely have to deal with failed restructuring of the sector following the abortion of socialism and inefficent state and local housing policy formulation.