Smart cities and sustainable development goals (SDGs): A systematic literature review of co-benefits and trade-offs

Elsevier, Cities, Volume 146, March 2024
Sharifi A., Allam Z., Bibri S.E., Khavarian-Garmsir A.R.

Despite the wealth of research on smart cities, there is a lack of studies examining interlinkages between smart cities and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In other words, there is limited research on how implementing smart city solutions can lead to co-benefits and/or trade-offs for achieving SDGs. This systematic literature review was conducted to fill this gap. Results show that responsible development/implementation of smart city solutions and technologies could contribute to the progress toward SDGs. The literature is mainly focused on SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), and SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). More work on other SDGs is needed. There is a bias toward reporting the benefits of smart cities. These include accelerating economic growth, improving efficiency, strengthening innovation, and raising citizen awareness. These benefits indicate that smart cities could catalyze the transition to sustainable development and address climate change challenges. However, this requires addressing trade-offs related to issues such as privacy and cyber security, costs of infrastructure upgrading, rebound effects associated with efficiency improvements, biased decision-making, reproduction of social biases, digital divide and lack of skills, misuse of AI, and limited legal setup. This review elaborates on these trade-offs and offers solutions to minimize them. Results show that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased attention to the interactions between smart cities and the SDGs, particularly those related to health and climate action. However, it has also cemented many new unethical practices. This review highlights governance/policy challenges that should be addressed to ensure smart cities can better contribute to the SDGs. It concludes that multi-scale and transparent governance mechanisms and regulatory frameworks are crucial for ensuring that smart city solutions support the transition toward sustainable and resilient cities.