5 min reading

9 August 2022

9 August 2022

Smart and Sustainable Cities: Main Differences

Smart and Sustainable Cities: Main Differences
Smart and Sustainable Cities: Main Differences

You have probably heard of both smart and sustainable cities, and, most likely, you cannot tell the difference right away. So, you may be surprised to discover that there are quite a few differences between sustainable and smart cities. Smart cities are usually those which are full of innovative information and communication technology around the city services. At the same time, sustainable cities are those with the main focus on air, water, and sewage pollution control, connectivity, and low road pollution emissions. Sustainable cities must have e-government and citizen-based solutions and use eco-friendly building materials. There is no doubt that a sustainable city has developed city infrastructure, advanced programs for urban development, and other digital-related stuff but smart sustainable cities are more about a combination of both concepts in one.

Understanding Sustainable and Smart cities

Before taking a look at the differences between smart and sustainable cities, it is necessary to understand the essence of each notion. Smart city frameworks are developing at a crazy speed and the line between smart and sustainable cities starts to erase. In fact, we realize that urbanization has real social and economic sustainability potential in the world and smart city development can contribute to the improvement of citizens’ quality of life. Urbanization is viewed as a bunch of opportunities. This inevitably contributes toward developing smart urban areas which provide good planned urban peripheral areas. We need to make smart cities evolve out of existing cities and thereby we have a new smart city concept in mind. At the same time, we should remember environmental sustainability, the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address urban sustainability assessment frameworks. That is why the goal should be to take the road to urban renewal and to adopt ecologically responsible measures, ensuring that the city becomes economically robust and economically viable.

Sustainable Cities

A sustainable city is a city that is socially oriented, focused on social and economic aspects, and accessible to all. Major cities, globally, are doing their best to be sustainable and make it real for environmental indicators measuring environmental sustainability and economic growth to work in one direction. These cities are inclusive of all people and deal with the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the development process. The term sustainable city is a mashup of the terms, which include high quality of life, advanced waste management, and urban sustainability. In this regard, sustainable cities become those, which can provide citizens with the best city services while keeping up with being green and inclusive.

A sustainable city is any city whose objective is to improve climate change and the quality of living among residents. Quality is usually measured by urban sustainability assessment frameworks and used to evaluate the achievement of smart city goals. Sustainable cities usually focus more on policy and physical initiatives like green spaces, public infrastructures, architecture, communities, streets, and public spaces. IoT and smart cities technology together with smart city planning usually come in handy in such scenarios. IoT platform for smart cities can reshape modern cities and make them more feasible, which make the integration of smart city initiatives necessary for sustainability.

Sustainable Cities = Degrowth Cities

Despite their name, degrowth cities are not necessarily devoid of construction or ones which are approaching the destruction. In fact, construction is a central part of sustainable cities, as existing cities consume finite space. However, the most viable solution to replace old housing stock is renovation. In this regard, degrowth cities have several advantages.

  • They showcase a variety of sustainable practices, focusing on renewable and recyclable materials.

Smart sustainable cities avoid materials that require high energy consumption for transport or transformation. This results in a healthier environment for residents, as well as a lower carbon footprint. This concept is essential in reversing global climate change, and cities that are degrowth and sustainable are imperative to achieve this goal. Sustainable smart cities are those which can preserve a healthy urban environment for present and future generations.

  • Aside from reducing emissions and increasing efficiency, degrowth cities also focus on social, economic, and environmental goals.

Digital transformation is a huge change, especially if we talk about the whole city. That is why it is of utmost importance for sustainable smart city performance to satisfy residents’ needs in order to be not only full of modern technologies but also really useful. The city of Copenhagen, for instance, has a bicycle-friendly population: nearly half of its residents commute by bike. As a response to that, the city is developing superhighways, with bicycle lanes, traffic lights, and safer intersections. Electric vehicles (EVs) produce zero carbon emissions and have become a necessity in cities that have achieved carbon neutrality as well, which can in a way contribute to economic development as more “green-oriented” companies will invest in smart city IoT architecture.

Smart Sustainable Cities are Accessible

Inclusion is key for a sustainable city. People with disabilities and older people make up over 25 percent of the world’s population (United Nations, n.d.). By 2050, this number will grow to over two billion people (United Nations, n.d.). Considering the indicated statistics projections, adapting urban services and environments for the disabled and aged is one of the highest sustainability goals. The world’s major cities with developed economies have already started analyzing urban sustainability and doing everything to integrate more IoT applications for smart cities, which creates a sustainable environment. However, it is not always easy to establish urban sustainability frameworks, which work. This is because people with disabilities face barriers and limitations that other people may not notice and some of the countries in the developing stage simply cannot afford this stuff. That is why, developing smart city frameworks, cities should consider the price and the actual opportunity to make it real.

By making cities accessible to people with disabilities, everyone will experience inclusion. One way to achieve accessibility is to remove architectural barriers and make public spaces more accessible. This also involves taking into account the needs of socioeconomically vulnerable groups. For example, accessible sidewalks and pavements are vital for wheelchair users. However, as we already noted, to make a sustainable IoT-based smart city, you need some money and support. So, self-sufficiency and resilient financing arrangements are essential for developing new tools and pathways.

Sustainable Cities are Social

Social inclusion and sustainable cities go hand in hand. The Journal of Social Inclusion publishes studies on fair, green, and inclusive cities, which are the hallmarks of socially sustainable cities (Short, 2021). Economic revitalization requires the inclusion of people of all backgrounds and income levels, as well as the creation of inclusive public spaces.

Social differences are often mapped onto political power relations and social status. These differences are sites of power and subordination and are never simply biologically determined. These differences are often contested and embraced by communities and individuals and reflected in cities. Social diversity is fundamental to human flourishing and it is always considered in sustainable city frameworks.

In order to achieve the goal of sustainable cities, sustainable development must take place in all aspects of a city’s daily life, including the social dimensions. These include gender equity, economics, culture, built environment, and policy. For example, UNIDO believes that gender equality promotes economic participation by women (UNIDO, 2020). Gender equality has proven to lead to lower poverty incidence rates, which makes it important to ensure gender equity in urban planning and policy.

Sustainable Smart Cities are Healthy

By incorporating renewable energy technologies into daily life, sustainable cities are able to minimize health impacts due to climate change and pollution. Cities are ideally located in areas where they can maximize energy efficiency and reduce their dependence on non-renewable sources. By reducing energy use, improving air quality, and using sustainable transportation and housing, cities can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and improve the quality of life, actually becoming more sustainable.

Smart Cities

The smart city concept is extremely popular now and is used practically everywhere. However, if we look closer at a smart city notion, and its essential features, we can see that it is slightly different from what we expect. Smart city projects, when developed include a bunch of components such as smart grids, smart sensors, devices, and homes. Smart city technology is an extensive term and it may start with artificial intelligence ending up with environmental indicators measuring environmental sustainability established all around the city.

The smart city concept has a number of benefits. Citizens can make use of systems that sense economic data and quality of life. Governments can process environmental data in order to determine water and air pollution levels and alert citizens when these values exceed thresholds. With city assessment tools in smart cities, technological knowledge can be shared between professionals who specialize in resilience and can act quickly when some system fails. Smart city strategies can be extremely efficient for addressing environmental problems and maintaining the quality of life if applied properly and focused not only on fast urban development but also on social and economic aspects of city life.

The use of information technology to analyze data and automate processes allows governments to focus on more pressing issues. Smart cities measure themselves in six dimensions: economy, transportation, environment, community, quality of life, and smart management. Smart cities are a territory that is capable of identifying opportunities for improvement and learning through the use of information technologies and advanced assessment methodologies. Smart cities are also more efficient than their traditional counterparts.

Smart City Concept Contributes to Urban Transformation

The smart city concept is gaining momentum as a solution to a variety of urban problems. It has the potential to improve the quality of life for residents in terms of comfort, accessibility to city data, and communication between citizens and city authorities. But before cities can start implementing smart city solutions, they must first understand their own priorities and conditions.

To be successful in this transformation process, cities must align expectations with their suppliers and financial communities. Smart solutions can increase economic prosperity for all residents, decrease the digital divide, and improve the quality of life for many. To realize these benefits, smart cities must create a diversified ecosystem of collaboration and investment in smart city ideas using IoT and smart city data science. This will enable both, citizens and local authorities to take full advantage of smart city implementation models based on IoT technology. Smart city references can also improve the city’s reputation in the region, which could help attract international business investors.

At the same time, the IoT on smart cities has been evolving for more than a decade. It has resulted in the fourth industrial revolution and city systems automated on different levels of access. Smart city IoT examples such as smart grids, sensors, and homes have benefited cities with infrastructure and services sustainable and smart. Besides, if you take a look at any IoT case study on smart city, you will notice that the next decade will be even more challenging for traditional city frameworks. By that time, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, presenting a whole new set of challenges and opportunities (Griffiths, 2018). And the only way to address these challenges is through data-driven smart cities.

Smart City Spending Line is Lower than Traditional

An IoT smart city case study on social and economic sustainability has shown that number of smart cities has increased exponentially over the last decade (Sarma, 2016). Despite this increase, future research is needed to develop a deeper understanding of the topic. In order to establish the financial sustainability of smart cities, different organizations have developed various metrics and rankings. Different countries perceive cities differently, so different methods are needed to measure their progress. But the way cities provide assessment methodologies doesn’t actually matter since all of them show less spending compared to the figures before smart city technology implementation.

Smart Cities are Connected

Connected devices and systems that integrate with infrastructure are vital for smart city spending management, city assessment frameworks, and smart solutions. A smart city can help improve public health by incorporating connected devices and software into urban infrastructure. Smart parking lots are a prime example as well. Connected street lights can monitor traffic and adjust their timing to better respond to traffic jams. These technologies can also improve energy distribution and energy sustainability, which affect smart city performance in general.

The implementation of smart city applications is a process that can improve the operational efficiency of a city while reducing resource consumption and environmental pollution. Modern technologies can also improve the health of communities, as well as create financial efficiencies. By using smart city data collected by city assessment tools and sensors, city planners of smart territories, national plan developers, and even architects can leverage the power of these technologies to make decisions and improve the efficiency of existing systems in the city. Smart city systems are modular and compatible, so they can be implemented by both small local governments and large private sectors.

Smart cities are built with the input of a diverse set of stakeholders. They take advantage of the flows of energy, materials, services, capital, and human capital to achieve sustainable economic development, high life quality, and resilience. Smart city initiatives are designed to respond to climate change, rapid population growth, and political instability. So, the key to developing smart city frameworks which actually work is the inclusion of a bunch of stakeholders, what is possible with connectivity provided by smart city frameworks. Achieving smart city goals requires the integration of human capital and resources into city systems and connectivity makes it real.

Smart Cities are full of Digital Technologies

For some people, the concept of smart sustainable cities may sound like something from science fiction, but in practice, many of these technologies are already in use today. Smart apps help people pay for public transit tickets and other services. Digital parking guidance systems and charging stations help people park their cars, and citizen portals help organize meetings. The potential of each application depends on the city’s population density, transit infrastructure, and commuting patterns but still, it is huge.

Smart cities use a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, user interfaces, and communication networks to improve public service and citizen welfare. In addition to these technologies, smart cities use data analytics to streamline public services and deliver economic benefits. These tools also provide the infrastructure necessary for a smart city.

Smart Grids

Smart grids are an essential part of the smart city system. The use of smart grid technology is helping utilities improve efficiency, reduce operating costs, and minimize power outages. A smart electric grid is self-healing, identifying potential disturbances, and using automated mitigation techniques to restore power with minimal human involvement. It can also monitor weather conditions and recommend energy-saving measures, reducing the overall waste of electricity and water. This technology also allows utility companies to integrate more renewable energy sources, such as geothermal and tidal power, into their grids.

Smart Trash Cans

With billions of people living in a city, smart garbage cans are an excellent solution to this growing problem. These devices are usually equipped with sensors measuring cans fullness and sending alerts when the service should pick up the garbage. These trashcans can also be fitted with cameras that take pictures of food waste, analyze how much of it is being wasted, and report its value to the researchers. This data will also help chefs improve menus and prepare food more efficiently. Smart garbage can actually save resources by reducing the amount of food waste in kitchens if properly analyzed.

The sensors will alert sanitation crews of overflowing trash cans and temperature fluctuations, which can cause fire hazards. They will also track where trash bins are located, which allows them to make better decisions when it comes to waste collection. As cities face budget cuts, smart garbage cans are essential to maintaining cleanliness. Smart garbage cans will not only reduce food waste but also help public works departments optimize routes and reduce fuel costs.

Smart Homes

As a sub-component of smart living in smart cities, smart homes use Internet technology to improve citizens’ quality of life. These technologies increase economic growth, improve security, save time, and reduce pollution. Smart home devices are now easier to use than before and that is why they are so popular in cities. Smart building infrastructure keeps developing and becoming more accessible for small businesses and ordinary citizens, which makes it one of the main components of smart cities.

Main Differences

As you probably already noticed that the main difference between sustainable and smart cities is their main focus. Smart cities are often driven by a technocentric and urban entrepreneurial perspective. In terms of sustainability, economic and social sustainability have complex relationships, which is why smart cities are not always sustainable. There is no clear-cut relationship between economic growth and civic engagement, though these two pillars may have a number of mutual influences. For example, an overemphasis on economic growth and urban development may undermine social sustainability.

Smart sustainable cities are often comprised of a mixture of hard and soft capital, with soft capital referring to human resources. In sustainable city frameworks, both types of capital are complemented by the application of various technologies to increase the environmental quality of a city, improve the economy, and maintain a high quality of life while in smart cities these are used for the achievement of financial sustainability in the first place.

Smart city frameworks compared to urban sustainability frameworks are smarter and probably more comfort-oriented. However, sustainable city frameworks suggest the equality of all citizens, environmental-oriented initiatives, and provide assessment methodologies not only accessing GDP but also evaluating overall satisfaction and accessibility to city services for citizens. Smart city assessment frameworks in such cases, usually just compare a particular city to the other developed cities without focusing on its own specifics.

In order to achieve a truly sustainable city, smart cities must address social and economic inequalities along with their focus on profit. The impact of smart cities on the quality of life of citizens will depend on the extent of each pillar’s development. In addition, economic and social sustainability will be more likely to be achieved when local economies are stronger which highlights the necessity of sustainable cities to be smart as well.

How Does TEKTELIC Contribute to Sustainable development of the Cities?

TEKTELIC is initially focused on the support of sustainable city initiatives, smart city system, automated services, and urban sustainability frameworks. TEKTELIC is a global leader in LoRaWAN gateways, devices, and end-to-end solutions. Having been for a long time on this market, TEKTELIC managed to outline the most acute issues in the city and develop solutions for sustainable city initiatives.

TEKTELIC is a member and contributor to the LoRa Alliance and its ecosystem. With expertise in designing LoRaWAN gateways, LoRa devices, and network servers, TEKTELIC is a great partner for building IoT applications for a sustainable city. Moreover, the Alliance fosters collaboration between academia and industry, so investigators evaluate executed projects and ensure they are high-quality.

For example, TEKTELIC KONA Macro IoT Gateway is a rugged wireless gateway that provides always-on connectivity and a low Total Cost of Ownership. The device is ideal for water meters and helps municipalities collect data on water usage, which is a great part of sustainability assessment. It is designed for fast deployment, low power consumption, and high-range connectivity. Its flexible, modular design and low power consumption enable it to be installed anywhere and address a wide range of vertical IoT applications.

KONA Macro IoT Gateway

Besides the flexible deployment options and features, KONA Macro Gateway contributes to the sustainable development of the cities by making a city smarter and more convenient. Its advanced bandpass filter, in turn, ensures smooth data transfer without any disruptions.

One more device for sustainable and smart cities is TEKTELIC KONA Mega IoT Gateway. It supports two different frequency bands and can transmit and receive data simultaneously. Its robust design, combined with its ability to operate in harsh environments, enables it to offer quality service and improve the overall reliability of the network. With its wide connectivity, it is also easy to manage multiple sensors. TEKTELIC KONA Mega IoT Gateway contributes to the sustainable development of the cities by improving the quality of urbanization.

KONA Mega IoT Gateway

We have also managed to create a gateway for extreme environments, usually present in the industrial areas. TEKTELIC KONA Mega Ex Gateway offers carrier-grade LoRaWAN solutions for ATEX-classified environments. It supports up to 12 million messages per day and is IP67 certified for outdoor installations. Its industrial design enables it to be a versatile solution for public and private network operators.

KONA Mega Ex Gateway

TEKTELIC integrated IoT solutions provide municipalities with comprehensive data and analysis that can help optimize resource allocation and asset utilization. With the help of smart technology, cities can automate tasks, monitor equipment, and even make better decisions. All of this can be done through big data analytics, which reduces operational costs and increases sustainability. When cities integrate IoT into their infrastructure, they benefit from smarter city solutions.

Summing up

As the world population increases and the world economy grows, cities need to adapt to the new environment and meet the growing needs of citizens. A sustainable city using smart technology can provide a high quality of life for citizens, reduce overall costs, and reduce infrastructure costs. Using these technologies in the planning and design of a city can also improve the quality of life for residents and enhance the environment. In general, digital technologies are becoming the norm for all sectors of the economy and society, and this trend is only expected to grow in the future that is why it’s high time to make smart cities also sustainable and eliminate the differences. So, if you are motivated to do this, starting with a city you live in, contact TEKTELIC via email at, and let’s make your city smart and sustainable at the same time!

  1. Griffiths, J. (2018). Two-thirds of world population will live in cities by 2050: UN report. Retrieved 23 June 2022, from
  2. Sarma, A. (2016). Smart city and urban sustainability. Institution Of Engineers (India), Assam State Centre, Tech. Volume cum Souvenir, 10-17.
  3. Short, J. (2021). Social Inclusion in Cities. Frontiers In Sustainable Cities, 3. doi: 10.3389/frsc.2021.684572
  4. UNIDO. (2020). Gender equality and the empowerment of women and youth. Retrieved 21 June 2022, from
  5. United Nations. Ageing and disability. Retrieved 21 June 2022, from
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