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Tel Aviv slides four places in 2020 Smart City ranking

The White City drops to No. 50 out of 109 cities listed according to economic and technological data and residents’ perceptions

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Train tracks and the Ayalon highway in central Tel Aviv, with the Azrieli Towers as a backdrop, December 18, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Train tracks and the Ayalon highway in central Tel Aviv, with the Azrieli Towers as a backdrop, December 18, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Tel Aviv has dropped four places in a Smart City Index that also saw many European cities slide, as COVID-19 wreaks havoc in localities and economies.

Tel Aviv declined to 50th out of the 109 cities ranked, compared to its 46th position last year.

Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich came out on top in the 2020 Smart City Index compiled by the Institute for Management Development, in collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design (SUTD). The Smart City Index ranks cities based on economic and technological data, as well as by their citizens’ perceptions of how “smart” their cities are.

Hundreds of citizens from the 109 cities were surveyed in April and May 2020 and asked questions on the technological provisions of their city across five key areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance.

People enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

For Tel Aviv, citizens surveyed said that addressing road congestion and affordable housing were the most urgent areas that needed to be addressed, with the need to tackle air pollution and create better public transportation also among the top priorities mentioned. The city scored high, almost 70 out of 100, for satisfactory medical services, but low, 26.5%, for finding housing with rent equal to 30% or less of a monthly salary. Traffic congestion got a low score of 19.6 out of 100, and public transportation got a score of almost 43.

In the technologies grouping, the city got a high ranking for the ability to arrange medical appointments online, almost 76 out of 100, but a low ranking of 35 for the ability to effectively monitor air pollution through a website or an app.

Reflected in this year’s rankings is also how the cities have used technology to manage the pandemic, the authors of the report said in a statement.

“We cannot ignore the impact of COVID,” said IMD’s Professor Arturo Bris, director of the World Competitiveness Center at the Swiss management institute, which is behind the index. “Those with better technology manage the pandemic better. Smart cities are not the solution, but technology helps.”

The COVID-19 crisis is also likely to widen inequalities between the haves and the have-nots of connectivity, both among and within cities. This is an aspect that will capture the attention of analysts and governments, both central and local, the statement said.

“Smart cities closer to the top of the rankings seem to deal with unexpected challenges of the devastating pandemic with a better outcome,” remarked Professor Heng Chee Chan, chairperson of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at SUTD.

Everything else being equal, smart cities help citizens more, the researchers concluded. But cities have widely different infrastructures to start with, and “smart” is a relative term.

“Different cities use technology for different things. That might be preventing traffic, in the case of Paris, or improving citizen participation through offering free WIFI in Ramallah,” said Bris.

In this ranking’s context, a “smart city” is an urban setting that applies technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanization for its citizens. The ranking is the first of its kind in that it measures the perception of citizens in terms of the impact of technology on their quality of lives, the statement said.

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