Telecoms & IT

Smart Cities Saudi Arabia

The capital of Saudi Arabia is the top-ranked city in the Middle East in the International Institute for Management Development’s ranking of smart cities.

Riyadh is one of the smartest capitals in the world. With a population of 7.2 million, Saudi Arabia’s largest city has developed state-of-the-art infrastructure and deployed initiatives to improve the quality of life of its residents, making it the 11th-highest ranked capital in the 2021 Smart Cities Index, a global ranking compiled by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). Specifically, the city ranks 30th out of the 120 cities analyzed, significantly higher than the 53rd it achieved in the 2020 study.

With an overall rating of BBB in the smart city ranking, B in the structure category, and BB in the technology segment, Riyadh ranks above major cities such as Los Angeles, Vancouver, Madrid, Washington DC, Toronto, Montreal, Tel Aviv, Dubai, Glasgow, Brussels, Boston, and Barcelona. This is a great achievement for the city, which, with its modernization plans, is advancing the Vision 2030 goals for the country to have vibrant cities with better urbanism, culture, and entertainment for its residents.

This roadmap, which seeks to reduce the country’s economic dependence on oil, includes important housing and other programs to improve the quality of life of Saudi citizens in which the capital plays a key role.
Specifically included in Vision 2030 is the Quality of Life Program initiative, which aims to transform Saudi cities to be among the best in the world to live in. This program includes strategies to improve basic quality of life standards, such as modernizing transportation, social activity areas, and general infrastructure, while preserving the Kingdom’s cultural and Islamic heritage.

In that sense, the fact that Riyadh has managed to climb 23 positions in one year in the IMD Smart Cities Index ranking is an important success in achieving the objectives of the Quality of Life Program.

In this ranking, which evaluates the perception of 120 residents of each city on issues related to the technological structures and applications available to them in their place of residence, Riyadh residents positively highlight the ease of processing documents online with the government, while making medical appointments online has improved access to healthcare. In terms of mobility, residents surveyed note that car-sharing apps have reduced traffic congestion, while traffic information provided by the local government is accessible via cellphones. Meanwhile, 79.2% say that current internet speeds and reliability meet connectivity needs, 75.1% believe online access to job postings has made it easier to find work, and 79% say online purchase of tickets to shows and museums has made it easier to attend.

All these positive aspects allowed Riyadh to place 30th in the ranking, the highest position achieved by a Middle Eastern city, with Tel Aviv at 42, Ankara at 55, and Medina at 73; however, the Saudi capital must continue to strive to advance as a smart city, a concept the IMD report defines as cities that apply technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanization for their residents.

Affordable housing, road congestion, green spaces, public transportation, and unemployment are the priority areas that city dwellers responding to the survey perceive as the most urgent to resolve. The first of these, affordable housing, is the subject of a program launched in 2018 that hopes to increase the percentage of Saudi families owning homes to 70% by 2030, also part of Vision 2030.

Many of the problems that the capital’s citizens complain about, such as traffic and lack of public transportation, will be resolved with the development of the Riyadh metro, a rapid transit system with six lines totaling 176km and 85 stations. The first operations of this USD22.5-billion project, which will be the country’s second metro after Mecca, are expected to begin in 2023 with a train automated service that will serve to radically reduce traffic congestion. This massive public works project was also developed to cope with the population increase that the government estimates for Riyadh, which could double in size to 14 million citizens by 2030.

Regarding the need for more green public spaces, and as part of the 2030 roadmap, in 2019 the government launched the USD32-million Riyadh Green project to plant 7.2 million trees of 72 different species that can withstand Saudi Arabia’s climate. The aim is to plant trees in all types of public infrastructure to improve air quality and reduce temperatures. This vegetation will be watered with an irrigation system that will seek to recycle water that is currently wasted.

With all these initiatives, the capital city will only continue to rise in the ranking of the best places to live, as it is already doing.