Can We Plan a Smart City guide

Can we plan a Smart City tips, Urban area architectural guide, Spatial planning advice

Can We Plan a Smart City

2 November 2021

The great debate about the components of the perfect city has no end. In fact, there is no such thing as the perfect city.

Every urban area is shaped by different factors such as financial resources, national and local politics, and geographical features. Therefore, they all have different weaknesses and needs too.

Can We Plan a Smart City guide
photo : Sean Foley

One thing is for sure though. It is people who make a city interesting. Deserted downtown areas don’t feel welcoming. When a city or neighborhood is bustling with life, it is so much more interesting and exciting. It makes you want to stay longer.

Smart city plans also need to take into account the distance people need to travel. From different neighborhoods to their place work, social venues, cultural venues, educational facilities, and so on.

Yet, it is not only the physical characteristics that are important. Different security factors also play a crucial role in making a city livable. Especially digital security became a vital factor, as an increasing number of people are using the internet and online services.

The making of smart and compact cities is a rather complicated process. Here are the key concepts in spatial planning you need to consider when planning a smart, compact, and lively city.

Public Realm

It is often mentioned that compact cities should have increased pedestrian traffic. According to Danish architect Jen Gehl, after careful design, the city space must be inviting for people because city life is a self-reinforcing process.

He highlights that “people come where people are”, which means people are inspired and attracted by other people’s presence. They will more likely to go on the streets or public spaces if people are already there.

The secret to busy places is people on foot. Pedestrian-friendly cities have a lot more to offer. If the public realm is welcoming, then retail, businesses, bars, and restaurants will naturally do better.

Engine fumes and honking cars will discourage walking and cycling, and constant heavy traffic raises danger levels for pedestrians and cyclists. This also results in fewer people being on foot.

The most important factor in cities is the people who live or will live in them, and use the facilities and infrastructure.

Designing new urban areas on small scale enhances the attractiveness of the space. It results in concentrating the people and activities around a limited number of main streets which connect key destinations.

Moreover, designing the streets with small retail units provides entertainment while walking. This creates a more social environment and it makes it easier to get around in the area.

Transport Oriented Development

The important components of Transport Oriented Development (TOD) are public transport, and bicycle traffic. More cars on the streets mean less space is available for bikes and pedestrians.

Good public transport links make it easier and quicker to get around in cities. It is also a major solution for reducing CO2 emissions. Creating dense, well-connected areas where the need for driving is greatly reduced.

The TOD-oriented, compact and walkable cities are becoming more popular. Planning new urban areas, or regenerating deprived ones to better utilize space is inevitable in today’s ever-growing population.

In the 21st century, the global population is shifting from rural areas to predominantly urban ones. By 2050 it is expected, that urban areas will accommodate 75% of the population. This accounts for over 5 billion people, and predominantly around the USA, Asia, and developing countries.

Investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is affordable, and has more positive results than widening roads for cars. Bicycle traffic comes with no pollution and makes the riders healthy, therefore happy too.

According to Gehl, a mixed-use road can be a solution for car, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic. The drivers are more cautious when they know they are entering a mixed-use zone. This, of course, cannot be applied to all cities.

When planning for TOD, parking facilities must be provided for people who would come into the city from further away. Good parking availability in the city is essential to enable drivers to come into the city, and then use public transport, cycling, or walking to get around.

Can We Plan a Smart City urban design
photo : Tycho Atsma

The 15 Minute Neighborhood

In our daily lives, we measure distance in time. Some errands are just ‘a few minutes down the road’ but meeting friends or going to work might be ‘an hour away’. Travel time also depends on the mode of transport, and it is logical to choose the quickest one.

In most cases, a car journey will be preferred over walking or cycling if the distance is more than three kilometers or it takes longer than 15 minutes.

The 15-minute neighborhood is based on the idea that you can reach everything you need on foot or by bike in a 15-minute radius. The concept is to improve your quality of life by creating areas that embrace active travel and provide you with all necessities.

Each neighborhood should cater for living, working, supplying, caring, enjoying, and learning while requiring minimal travel among these places.

The Covid-19 pandemic has fast-tracked some of the actions that kickstart the localization of amenities. Lockdown meant that people couldn’t go as far as they used to, for work and socialization, so they had to stay local and explore the close vicinity of their homes.

The majority of people want to continue to work from home, or at least keep a flexible work style. This encourages investing in starting local businesses or growing existing ones to serve demand. In the long-term, this creates hospitality and retail jobs locally.


A safe city is always desirable. While it is popular among cities to produce ‘smart city’ plans, they don’t always include all the different aspects of security, and how those impact the citizens.

Security in a city is much more than just personal safety. Although it is a relief when you can walk the streets at night without the fear of being mugged, there are other factors at play.

The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged health security, but it has also changed the concept of urban safety in general.

Digital security is becoming a high priority. We spend even more time on the internet, and we might not know how secure our connection is.

Digital Security

Digital security is becoming more important than ever before. We experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, that even more services are available online. You can do all kinds of shopping, working from home, keeping in touch with family and friends and so on.

Secure internet servers are key for digital safety.

The use of digital technology in cities is rapidly growing which could improve urban security in general.

Collecting data from private and public bodies allows governments to analyze which part of the city needs improvement. This is an opportunity to improve public transport, spot incident trends, or track the well-being of the elderly.

However, there is a risk of cyber-attacks if governments are not able to protect themselves and their smart city networks. It requires financial resources and expertise to understand cyber security in its depth.

Comments on this guide to Can We Plan a Smart City article are welcome.

Property Articles

House designs

House extension designs

New Property Designs
Norra Tornen in Stockholm Sweden
photograph : Laurian Ghinitoiu, Courtesy of OMA

New Residential Properties

Smart Homes

Smart Homes Posts

Benefits of Building a Smart Home

Essential automation devices for your smart home

How Smart Homes Have Changed Architecture

Comments / photos for the Can We Plan a Smart City guide page welcome