It would seem that every city aspires to be a smart city. In December, two Portuguese researchers, Isabel Maria Lopes and Pedro Oliveira, published a study in Procedia Computer Science that asks: Can a small city be considered a smart city? In their study, the researchers looked into a number of small Portuguese cities and analyzed some of the factors specific to each one. They found a number of measures of action that a city can explore in order to be considered a smart city. Lopes and Oliveira’s study aims to find out exactly what measures are being adopted to increase the efficiency of each city’s resources and services management, and in turn how smart these measures make the cities.

In 1960, 34 percent of the world population lived in urban areas. In 2017, this percentage rose to 50 percent. According to the study, by 2020, 80 percent of Western Europe’s population will be living in urban areas. This is what makes studies of smart and sustainable cities relevant to the time and trends the world is witnessing day by day. Prior to their study, the researchers wondered how Portuguese cities could turn urban spaces into more innovative, participatory, connected, and sustainable places without neglecting their populations’ quality of life. In other words, how will these cities become intelligent, sustainable, and smart cities with new aiding technologies?

One of the Portuguese cities, Faro.

A sketch of Faro, Portugal. CC: Guy MOLL

The Portuguese Smart Cities Network is composed of 46 municipalities across the country, although it includes fewer cities in the interior part of the country. One of the main questions behind the study is whether a small or medium inland city can be considered a smart city.

The researchers tell their readers before delving into the findings of their study that it is important to know when tackling such an “emerging and promising area,” as they describe it, if all Portugese cities fit into this concept of “smart cities,” regardless of their size or location, thus promoting social equity nationwide.

“Over the last years, we have witnessed an increasing adhesion of municipalities to the so called “smart cities,” aiming to promote more sustainable and eco-friendly cities,” the researchers write. “Such adhesion enables inhabitants to acquire habits of a healthier lifestyle.”

One of the municipalities studied is the inland medium-sized city of Bragança, or Braganza, home to around 36,000 inhabitants. The District of Bragança is located in the northeast of Portugal and is home to 142,000 inhabitants, which corresponds to a population density of 11 inhabitants per square kilometer (0.6 square mile). The age structure of the district shows a higher ageing population than the national mean. Bragança is the district with the lowest proportion of youngsters and the third with the highest proportion of elderly, with 22.7 percent of the population under 25 years old, 52 percent between 25 and 64 years old, and 25.2 percent over 64 years old.

Bragança wants to grow into a smart city through investing primarily in its people. Therefore, the city wants to be increasingly attractive, creative, engaging, intellectual, sustainable, innovative, inclusive, and entrepreneurial. The municipality plans to pursue this goal by investing in vectors such as urban rehabilitation, social cohesion, economic development, and competitiveness, through rigorous internal management and organization.

Going back to the main research question, based on documents collected from the town councils, the study finds that, despite several adversities, development indexes have been rising but always with visible major asymmetries between the district of Bragança and other Portugese cities.

One of the Portuguese cities studied, Bragança.

Bragança, Portugal. CC: Feliciano Guimarães

The researchers identified some factors that Bragança’s municipality needs to work on in order to reach its goal to stand out among Portugese cities. They identified some needs which are actually common in several Portuguese cities regarding the increase of resource efficiency such as water leakage detection, energy bill reduction, mobility, and waste management, among others.

Based on the results presented in the study, it is safe to say that small and medium-sized cities do not lag behind the large ones when it comes to the concept of “smart cities.” Among the 308 Portuguese municipalities studied, the researchers found that the municipalities located on the coast assume legal and hierarchal primacy, due to their population and wealth.

“Despite all the obstacles inherent to these cities location in areas of low population density, the resilient way these municipalities are overcoming all these contingencies is truly remarkable,” the researchers conclude.