What’s the connection between smart cities and sustainability? How about cleaner water, zero waste, smart transport, better engagement with communities and building resilience? Is that a good start?
With the global smart cities market expected to reach an eye-watering $3.8 trillion by 2024, it would be easy to say the smart cities era has arrived.
After all, 600 cities are expected to generate 60 per cent of the world’s GDP by 2025. Aren’t our cities smart by now? Are we there yet?
The answer is: not quite. But we are well on our way.
In our own backyard, the Australian government continues to roll out its Smart Cities Plan, with $50 million already funding 48 projects under the Smart Cities and Suburbs program and another $22.5 soon to be announced. This represents the largest injection of funding into Australian cities and regions to help them embrace technology and data solutions.
- Further reading: Bringing the smart city agenda to the regions could help Australia’s straining cities
Many of these projects are at their earliest phases, but one of the advanced projects is being driven by Liverpool City Council, which has teamed up with the University of Wollongong and IT integration company, Meshed, to measure pedestrian and vehicle movements with the help of Internet of Things sensors. The data will help with planning to ease congestion and emissions, provide better transport options and improve health and safety.
At the state level, Infrastructure NSW has spent the last year developing what will be the first state-wide smart cities strategy in Australia. Infrastructure NSW has been busy engaging with industry and academia to present a smorgasbord of smart cities initiatives – from pilots to policies to grant funding.
And at the local level, every week sees a new smart cities strategy turning ideas into reality, and five Australian cities are vying for the coveted smart city leadership award, which will be announced next week at Smart Cities Week. Among those are Brisbane, which was the first city in Australia to implement a large-scale Bluetooth monitoring system, Ipswich, with its 100 square kilometre IoT network, and the Sunshine Coast Council, which is monitoring everything from wildlife to waterways, parking to pedestrians with the help of sensors.
On the supply side, we see new product and innovation announcements with regularity, but the biggest gamechanger is undoubtedly the work Telstra is undertaking around 5G. This will deliver more capacity and faster mobile data speeds and support vastly more connected devices at very high levels of reliability and lower latency. Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre at Southport is one of the most advanced centres in the world and is ready to unleash a host of new smart cities opportunities – from drones to driverless cars, augmented reality to e-health.
Australia’s academic community is also accelerating its smart cities agenda. Earlier this year, the University of New South Wales opened the City Analytics Lab to help government and industry understand technologies and new approaches. This complements the University of Wollongong’s SMART IoT Hub, which is a dedicated research space for sensor and IoT technologies.
When it comes to smart cities, Australia is not an island but part of an emerging region. In March, the Australian government tipped in $30 million to support smart city development across the Asia Pacific, and the ASEAN Smart Cities Network has already signed up 26 cities to catalyse bankable projects.
While the institutional structures shift to support smart cities, the technological capability continues to gather speed.
The transport revolution has launched electric scooter and dockless bikes, on demand buses and drones
Take the transport revolution. In the last year, we’ve seen electric scooters and dockless bikes take off, micro transit and on-demand bus services, drone deliveries and an explosion of ride-sharing apps. The mobility transformation is characterised by Lime’s meteoric rise. Known as LimeBike until a recent rebrand, Lime started with sharing services for scooters, pedal bikes and e-bikes, but just two years later is developing a new type of “transit pod”.
Meanwhile, Lyft, one of Uber’s major rivals, has officially launched a monthly ride share subscription service signalling a future of optional car ownership in much the same way we’ve ditched the DVDs in favour of Netflix.
Meanwhile, property technology continues to gather pace. Nearly $18 billion was poured into proptech start-ups last year alone, with more than 8000 potential disruptors already looking to shake things up in an industry that is still largely operating from spreadsheets.
The trendline is heading in one direction – towards a data and technology-driven future. But what does all this mean for sustainable cities?
Each sustainability aspiration within our cities – whether it’s cleaner water or zero waste, getting from A to B with ease or engaging with communities, tackling climate change or building resilience – is dependent on technology and data.
Put plainly, there is no net zero future without technology and data – and no chance that we will meet the Paris targets without a smart cities framework.
So, for all of those sustainability practitioners who have spent another year watching our carbon emissions tick upwards, now is not the time for pessimism.
Steel yourselves for the next wave of sustainability, which is about to get a much-needed boost from digital transformation and data insights.
Adam Beck is the executive director of the Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand and has spent the last two decades influencing infrastructure and urban regeneration projects across the world. Adam was director of innovation at EcoDistricts, a Portland-based non-profit think tank, and the chief architect of the Green Star – Communities rating tool for the Green Building Council of Australia.
The inaugural Smart Cities Week conference in Sydney is being held next week, from 28-31 October.
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