Top 12 Smart Cities in the U.S. - Smart Cities Examples

Jayna Locke Jayna Locke, Senior Marketing Manager, Digi International
October 09, 2022

Smart Cities are municipalities and urban areas that are deploying connected technologies and IoT solutions to improve everything from critical infrastructure and public safety, to efficiencies in city lighting and energy usage, to better traffic flow and mobility – all of which stand to make cities better places to live, work and play while lowering their carbon footprint.

We started by assembling a smart city top 20 list before we pared it down for a range of reasons. For example, our smart cities list originally included three smart city California projects, and we wanted a better distribution across states. Additionally, we wanted to show smart cities examples portraying the full breadth of the projects and initiatives that urbran areas are rolling out today.

Most importantly, we wanted to ensure that the list represented not only ways to improve city living and urban efficiency, but that also demonstrated a commitment to the greater good, on a global scale.

After deliberation, we narrowed the list down to just 12 smart cities that are setting great examples for smart urban development, technology innovation, sustainability and social responsibility – a difficult endeavor, as many U.S. cities are working hard to set lofty goals and do their part. Smart city ranking 2020, 2021 and beyond will be an ongoing challenge, as more and more U.S. cities roll out these exciting initiatives.

The full list of U.S. cities with impressive smart city applications included these six honorable mentions:

  • Fresno, California
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • LaGrange, Georgia
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Miami-Dade County, Florida

And here are our 12 smart cities finalists:

  • Dallas, Texas
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Austin, Texas
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • San Francisco, California
  • Washington DC, District of Columbia
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • San Jose, California
  • New York, New York

Let's take a spin through these 12 cities and their initiatives. 

Smart Cities in the U.S. 

We've selected the following smart cities in the United States partly based on how they're using smart devices to improve their infrastructure and sustainable practices.

Today, the hardware, wireless components and cellular data plans that support these projects are relatively inexpensive. Additionally, aging infrastructure and wired solutions are inefficient and expensive to maintain. For this reason, cities are finding that it is now viable to put connected technology in everything from streetlights to water meters and adaptive traffic lighting, which saves electricity costs and water usage and prevents traffic gridlock. 

Top 12 Smart Cities in the U.S. (Examples)

Perhaps when you think of a smart city, you consider personal flying vehicles, city-wide pneumatic tubes for transferring people, and airways a-buzz with busy drones. The reality is that any given smart cities initiative US municipalities roll out can range from the very practical to the futuristic. But these programs are primarily designed to improve city life, save energy and reduce emissions. Here are additional insights into our list of smart cities examples, 2020:

12. Dallas, Texas 

Dallas skylineGiven that Texas is an arid region without a lot of rainfall, one of Dallas' primary concerns is water management. To that end the city has adopted smart water monitoring devices that can track usage throughout the city. Crucially, these devices will be able to detect leaks so that the city's water department can fix them immediately. 

Many people are surprised to learn that about 1.7 trillion gallons of water are lost each year in the U.S. due to water leaks. By fixing leaks early, Dallas will help to prevent tens of thousands of gallons of water loss each year. 

11. Chicago, Illinois 

Chicago skylineArray of Things” project, this initiative was launched with the goal to use the data collected by these devices to improve the living experience in the city. 

Streetlights will automatically dim during periods when they're not needed, water sensors have been installed along river banks to monitor for flooding, and sophisticated software combined with security camera footage can help determine the source of a gunshot in order to quickly appehend criminals. 

10. Austin, Texas 

Austin, Texas skylineAustin is one of the most futuristic cities in the U.S. and is deploying forward-thinking technologies to improve life for its residents. It has a rapidly expanding technology center and an open data directive that has been in place since 2013. One of the smart cities initiatives that Austin has been involved with is updating its electric grid to a more efficient digital meter system

An updated electric grid makes it easier to incorporate renewable energy sources as well as charge a growing network of electric cars. Other programs include free Wi-Fi in public parks as well as 5G trials throughout the city. 

Another program in Austin, called "The Smart City Challenge," includes several mobility components, including:

  • Smart stations - providing services for connected and autonomous vehicles
  • Fleet electrification - a program to increase the number of electric vehicles
  • Traffic safety - a program to reduce fatalities on city streets


9. Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington skylineSeattle's commitment to the well-being of its citizens and to reducing its carbon footprint is well-known worldwide. The city has a relatively small geographic area for its population, as it is flanked by mountains on one side and water on the other. So, they must continually resolve issues with growth and congestion, as there is simply no room to expand.

To meet these different objectives, the city developed an Innovation Advisory Council (IAC). The strategies address many inner city challenges as well as smart city goals, including:

  • Predictive analytics for parking
  • Earthquake early warning
  • Earthquake damage assessment
  • Food rescue
  • Homelessness data modeling

To be sure, taking a technology approach to the breadth of challenges, and creating a task force to address the full range of issues, will help ensure that the multiple programs are integrated.

8. Charlotte, North Carolina 

Charlotte, North Carolina skylineCharlotte is a good example of a smart city initiative, due to their devotion to sustainability. The city partnered with Microsoft Corporation to build out the city's digital infrastructure so that more residents can benefit from the Internet. For example, there will be greater access to public Wi-Fi, traffic monitoring to reduce congestion and air pollution as well as new training programs for public employees to help them perform better in their roles. 

Additionally, the city has rolled out a project called Envision Charlotte, a public/private collaborative that "leads Charlotte’s progress as a global Smart City through innovations that strengthen economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability and positive community impacts."

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7. San Francisco, California 

San Francisco skylineThe city of San Francisco has several smart city initiatives underway. This makes sense since apart from being a stone's throw from the technology epicenter of Silicon Valley, San Francisco is also the second most densely populated city in the United States. The San Francisco smart city program places a heavy focus on reducing energy usage. That includes commercial energy usage as San Francisco already has more than 300 LEED certified buildings, as well as the goal of powering 100% of the city with renewable resources. 

San Francisco also hopes to build out the smart infrastructure necessary to enable autonomous driving throughout the city. Mainly that will consist of creating a “connected vehicle” grid so that autonomous vehicles can communicate with each other, as well as traffic guidance systems so that self-driving cars can avoid congested areas. 

6. Washington DC, District of Colombia 

Washington D.C. skylineWashington is one of America's number one smart cities. Their movement analytics program uses data from video cameras to identify who and what is moving through the city, including cars, buses, pedestrians, and bikes.

This data is then analyzed to make better decisions about how to direct traffic and identify where more resources are needed, such as bike lanes. The more data a smart city is able to collect and analyze, the more city officials can find ways to improve the infrastructure. Washington D.C.'s smart city initiatives site provides more information.

5. Boston, Massachusetts 

Boston, Massachusetts skylineThe Boston smart city plan was one of the first in the United States. One of Boston's key ideas is that instead of just collecting data using smart devices, they would make it possible for residents to submit data to the city. 

For example, residents can use different apps to report potholes in the street, report various problems with city infrastructure and even communicate with city officials. There's even an app for Boston residents to track their child's school bus. Boston hopes that over time the data they collect can be used to alleviate traffic congestion as well as improve the services that the city offers to its residents. 

4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaA lot of smart city projects in USA munipalities focus on reducing traffic congestion. Once Pittsburgh implemented their smart traffic system they've found that emissions have been reduced by 21% and wait times have been reduced by 41%

Sensors throughout the city measure traffic flow and communicate that data back to a central location. An AI (Artificial Intelligence) system analyzes the data and then creates a plan to move vehicles through the city with minimal wait times at intersections. The AI can control smart stoplights and adjust the timing to efficiently control traffic flow. This unique system makes Pittsburgh number six on our smart cities list. 

3. Boulder, Colorado 

Boulder, Colorado skylinesmart energy plan with an exciting target of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

The city seeks to ensure that the city not only focuses on renewable energy and sustainability, but also on bolstering their city's economy as a result of their investments in solar and hydroelectricity.

The program includes several key components:

  • High-performance buildings
  • Clean mobility
  • Clean energy sources

The city's smart grid system will use smart metering to transparently share insights on energy costs with city residents. Boulder's range of programs around sustainability, fighting global warming, and encouraging businesses to do their part spans agencies. Boulder epitomizes the expression, "it takes a village."

2. San Jose, California 

San Jose, California skylineSan Jose is another California smart city using new technologies to solve longstanding problems. The San Jose smart city program includes a range of components including:

  • Public safety
  • Inclusiveness
  • Sustainability
  • Usability

The main initiative in San Jose is to use air quality and other climate sensors to monitor the quality of the atmosphere in the city. By studying the data city officials believe that they can reduce pollution, increase the quality of the air in the city and even cut down on sound pollution. The more factors city officials can measure using smart devices, the more improvements they can make.

1. New York, New York 

New York City skylinePerhaps unsurprisingly, New York City winds up on just about every list of smart cities in US and global surveys, and it comes in at the number one spot on our list. NYC hosts an annual Smart City New York conference.

The Big Apple's smart city initiatives are many, including:

  • Water management
  • Waste management
  • Traffic management
  • Tourism, navigation and mobility 

New York uses a billion gallons of water a day. In order to get a better idea of how exactly that water is being used, the city has deployed an Automated Meter Reading system to keep track of water usage as well as give city residents a clear snapshot of their water consumption. 

In addition to water sensors, New York City has installed hundreds of other smart sensors to monitor everything from waste levels in trash bins to air quality. Hundreds of touchscreen kiosks have also been installed on city streets, where residents can find out information about the city as well as charge their phones.

New York City recently completed the largest urban traffic management upgrade in the world to overhaul aging infrastructure, improve efficiency and reliability, reduce congestion on surface streets and save costs. The project, which utilizes cellular routers at intersections throughout the city, is designed to not only improve traffic flow, but also to integrate connected vehicle technology to improve safety on city streets.

NYC is the most densely populated city in the United States, and city officials are doing amazing work to utilize smart technologies and next-generation solutions to improve New York's infrastructure for everyone who lives there. 

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One of the most compelling features of a smart city is that it doesn't necessarily require a massive upfront investment. In fact, retrofitting city lighting projects to auto-dim streetlights, adding smart water meters and deploying traffic management solutions that reduce infrastructure and ongoing maintenenance, are all inexpensive solutions to expensive problems that actually pay for themselves in cost savings. By the year 2030, we believe smart cities in the U.S. will be commonplace, and urban dwellers across the country will be reaping the benefits. 

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