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.