Complex Made Simple

Dubai or Riyadh: Which is the Smartest?

For the past few years, the race to develop smart cities in the Middle East region has become competitive, with the UAE and KSA clearly in the lead and here Dubai and Riyadh dominate the conversation, having implemented numerous smart initiatives and adopting the latest technology.

A smart city, as defined by the UN, “uses information and communication technologies and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.”

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Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, launched the Smart Dubai Initiative in 2014, comprising three phases: Smart Life, Smart Economy and Smart Tourism.

Meanwhile, Riyadh chose to use technology to improve city management, urban development and the economy by developing smart parking, security and transport systems, smart sanitation programmes and smart infrastructure.

So, while both metropolises aim to become the world’s smartest cities by 2020-21, who leads the race currently?

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Cities in motion

On the IESE Cities in Motion Index 2017, a research platform launched by the IESE Business School Center for Globalization and Strategy, and the IESE Department of Strategy, Dubai ranks 66th globally, while Riyadh comes 138th. Regionally, Dubai makes the top five at second place, but Riyadh doesn’t.

Examining each city’s scores on various criteria reveals much about where they stand, not just in relation to each other, but globally as well.

– Public management: This is evaluated through tax rate, reserves per capita, embassies and sales tax. Both cities have done very well, with Dubai edging forward at fifth place and Riyadh coming seventh.

– International outreach: This measures the numbers of international tourists, conferences and meetings, hotels, etc. Dubai zooms ahead at 11, with Riyadh at 139.

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– Economy: This measures aspects such as GDP, labour productivity, ease of starting a business, etc. Dubai scores 43 here, whedreas Riyadh gets 109.

– Mobility and transportation: This is estimated through indices such as inefficiency, number of road accidents, traffic conditions, metro stations, flights, public transportation options and bike-sharing facilities. Dubai scores 48, whereas Riyadh lags behind at 177.

– Social cohesion: This measures crime rates, health index, peace index, price of property, Gini index (equality measurement), etc. Dubai scores 65 here, whereas Riyadh gets 120.

– Governance: This measures the strength of legal rights, corruption perception, range of government web services, etc. Here too, Dubai surges ahead with 70, while Riyadh is at 140.

– Technology: This measures the quality of web services, the level of innovation, number of smartphones per capita, number of WiFi access points, number of IP addresses per capita and so on. Surprisingly, Riyadh wins this one with 77, while Dubai gets 84.

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– Human capital: This analyses the proportion of the population with higher education, movement of students, number of universities, art galleries, museums and business schools. Dubai scores 102, while Riyadh gets 178.

– Environment: This measures CO2 emissions, methane emissions, pollution index, access to water supply and so on. Dubai scores 149, while Riyadh follows closely with 155.

– Urban planning: This measures access to sanitation facilities, number of people per household, number of architectural firms and so on. Again, Riyadh scores higher, at 153, but Dubai is close behind at 159.

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The bottom line

Some of the smart facilities currently offered by Dubai are:

– Government services offered online

– RTA smart initiatives, such as Smart Pedestrian Signals

– E-payments

– Smart police stations

– Smart beaches and parks

– Free WiFi hotspots

– Smart gates at airports

– Smart malls in metro stations

Riyadh, on the other hand, also offers many smart services, such as:

– Government e-services

– E-payment services

– Smart buildings

– Smart parking facilities (Fastprk)

– Smart taxi services

– Free WiFi access points

 In conclusion, Dubai does seem to be ahead of Riyadh in many aspects, but it still needs to maintain the momentum to reach its goal of becoming the “smartest” city in the world by 2021.

This article was contributed by: Karthik Subramanian