Smartening up Australia’s cities

May 30, 2017

Smartening up Australia’s cities

The concept of “smart cities” – using sensors and data analytics to deliver better infrastructure and services – is becoming a reality thanks to the growing number of devices which are online, connected and capable of sharing information.

Making a city intelligent has real-world implications for the health, sustainability and prosperity of communities; whether that’s easier parking, efficient waste collection, reliable power or better air quality.

Technology clearly plays a key role in delivering smart cities; but Adam Beck, executive director of the Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand, says world-leading cities begin with a clear vision and set of principles.

“It starts with the existing strategy for a city, such as economic development, climate change, transportation plans and community development,” Beck says. “From there, we identify the technological enablers that will let the city achieve those goals.

 “A smart city embraces technology and data along with intelligent design to help fulfill its liveability and sustainability goals.”

Learning from the best

Australia is home to some of the world’s most liveable cities but, when it comes to smart infrastructure, we’re still a few steps behind.

Beck, a member of the federal government’s newly formed Cities Reference Group, says that is not such a bad thing; as long as we’re quick studies and “fast followers”.

“My view is that we’re now in the fourth wave of smart city development,” Beck says. “If we want to, we can learn from Europe, India and the United States, who have gone before us.”

Most experts agree that Melbourne is Australia’s premier smart city, with a team of more than 70 engaged in projects designed to harness the connective capabilities of the Internet of Things – smart bins, online tree-monitoring systems – and developing a citywide data platform.

“They view the city as their laboratory,” Beck says. “Melbourne has been promoting opportunities for innovation and incubation, nurturing a start-up culture, and engaging the community with their smart city agenda.”

Clever country

The smart city concept is gaining traction outside capital cities with centers in Queensland, such as Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast, leading the way by focusing on fundamentals such as putting services online.

“Rural and regional development is more granular,” Beck says. “The applications we’re seeing in the ag-tech world are huge – drones, robots, and highly sophisticated GPS activity is a core part of the future of rural Australia.”

Showing the money

Federal Assistant Minister for Cities, Angus Taylor, has launched a $50 million fund to help our cities embrace the worldwide revolution in planning and development.

“Smart cities need to take a people-first approach to designing and delivering responsive public services with the help of smart technologies,” Taylor says.

Beck says governments can’t do it on their own.

“No one sector can do it on its own; partnership is the only way,” Beck says. “It’s a marketplace – you need good demand from governments and a highly sophisticated supply side.”

Smart citizens

Beck says development does not work by force and governments need to do a better job of engaging citizens in city-building agendas, “not simply technological agendas”.

“Data is good, but intelligence is great. We’re swimming in data – the question is whether we are converting it to make better investments and create better outcomes for our cities,” Beck says. “We need to make sustained efforts to unlock the wisdom of residents because any investment or project has to have quality of life and livability at its heart.

“Smart cities begin and end with people. We cannot lose sight of that.”

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