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Australia: could we be smarter?

By the time the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2020, the smart city industry is projected to encompass more than 600 cities worldwide and will be worth a collective $400 billion.

By the time 2025 rolls around, these countries are expected to generate 60% of the world’s GDP, data from McKinsey Research shows.

While there are many definitions of a smart city, typically a smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.

Critical to attracting investment and talent, the impact of smart cities on its residents lives can be immense.

Trade publication TechRepublic argues there are six key technologies that make a smart city work. These include:

The Australian government has invested heavily in smart city development in an attempt to secure its place as a global leader in smart city technologies.

However, according to The Warren Centre (TWC) – a body that brings industry, government and academia together to create thought leadership in engineering, technology, and innovation – when it comes to the world’s smartest cities, Australia has some stiff competition.

TWC’s report ‘Smart Cities: How does Australia measure up’ TWC says in many cities, the timing of public buses is announced at each stop with almost perfect accuracy. And free WiFi is now accessible across entire cities, including Buenos Aires in Argentina and Ramallah in Palestine.

Tokyo is a great example of a rapidly evolving smart city, launching 27 million smart meters connected to a smart grid by 2025, TWC says. The smart grid allows households to track energy consumption and to reduce electricity usage.

The city’s emergency management protocol also incorporates connected technology into “smart parks” – safe spaces for residents, shelters for use during emergencies.

But cities in Australia which are looking towards the future, are concentrating their efforts largely on sustainable energy solutions.

TWC says Australia demonstrates significant buy-in to environmentally friendly technology through solutions such as smart thermostats, appliances, and virtual assistants.

While smart technology will not solve rising housing prices, transport connectivity, or decentralisation of economic development, it can still create a positive experience for city dwellers. As part of this Sydney plans to connect the lives of residents within “30-minute” spheres – ensuring economic opportunity, housing, and transportation ease all within a 30-minute radius, the TWC report says.

Using network capability tools to analyse real-time and historic traffic and congestion data, public transport timetables will update dynamically to ensure all residents of a cluster can access their centre within 30 minutes during peak hours.

Instead of one large city with a ‘city centre’, Sydney will become a group of 34 interconnected ‘30-min spheres’. Public transportation expansion plans will connect strategic districts. Sydney’s smart mass transit and the ‘30-min city’ is projected to be completed in 2056.

The Sunshine Coast implemented its Smart City Framework, focused on specific smart services and economic development, in 2016. Recognised as one of the top seven intelligent communities of 2019, the Sunshine Coast Council has already achieved many of its smart city milestones.

These include developing the country’s first automated waste collection system, launching a Smart Centre and Living Lab which showcases the new technologies being trialled, such as waste bin sensors, parking space availability sensors, digital flow meters and dimmable LED lights, and installing underground and wireless communications networks and designing smart poles for installation in Caloundra South, Maroochydore City Centre and streetscaping projects.

Part of a phased plan, it is set for completion in 2033.

While in Adelaide, an initiative called Ten Gigabit connects businesses to high-speed, high-capability networks, increasing amenities and liveability, boosting jobs and living standards.

Melbourne too takes its reputation as a smart city seriously, the TWC says.

Busy prototyping several smart initiatives, its CityLab project is a space to test new ideas and services within the community, with hackathons held to solve problems and challenges.

The city is also currently evaluating how to better serve Melbourne’s blind and deaf population via a unique pedestrian counting system that gathers data to fuel safe mobility projects.

The Smart City Index 2019, an inaugural report which ranked 102 cities worldwide suggests there is still much work to be done if Australia is to better compete against the countries considered world best.

The report found Singapore to be the smartest city ranked, followed by Zurich (2nd), Oslo (3rd), Geneva (4th), Copenhagen (5th).

The best placed Australian city was Sydney (ranked 14th overall), which placed ten ahead of Melbourne and 13 positions ahead of Brisbane which was ranked 27th.

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