Smart Cities: How Does Australia Measure Up?

Imagine what a digital upgrade to daily life would look like. What if instead of driving around aimlessly looking for a parking spot, your mobile phone used sensors to tell you where to go. What if your local grocery store already had your shopping list and used smart lighting to help you navigate through the frozen food aisle? What if your rubbish bin knew it was full, compressed the waste and notified the city sanitation department? This might seem like a far-off prospect, but smart cities technologies have arrived and are growing rapidly.

Intelligent cities are the next wave of the digital age. The fusion of technology with “smart” infrastructure and services will streamline communications, lower costs, and improve standards of living.  Essentially, the global population demands a simpler, better and smarter way of living. There are many factors driving the need for smart cities  such as current economic and population growth rates, urbanisation and climate change. With over 60% of the population expected to live in cities by 2050, smart cities are the next step in sustainable living.   


What is a Smart City?

A smart city combines IoT sensors and technology. With each element of the city in direct communication, data is used to improve the lives of residents and tourists alike. Today, the Internet of Things has infiltrated daily life but on a micro-scale. Smart cities take the connection up to the next level. Smart buildings can reduce energy use, lower costs, and provide data that increases transparency. Cities can use technology to manage resources, energy, and services in more efficient ways. Using smart technologies, government, law enforcement, and utilities can harness information to deliver exactly what citizens want and need. From smart buildings and vehicles to smart lighting, cities are incorporating these connected technologies to re-think services delivery. So, how do Australian cities measure up?

The World’s Smartest Cities

When it comes to the world’s smartest cities, Australia has some stiff competition. In Asia, cities have large populations with high population densities. All across the Asia-Pacific region, urban population growth, rising incomes, and lifestyle changes are leading to overcrowding, stressed resources, and high demand for smart technologies. 

Tokyo is a great example of a rapidly evolving smart city. In an effort to reduce energy consumption, Tokyo is launching 27 million smart meters connected to a smart grid by 2025. The implementation of this smart grid allows households to track energy consumption and to reduce electricity usage. Tokyo is using the model of a “smart house” with energy-saving appliances but applying the principle across an entire urban area. 

Tokyo’s emergency management protocol also incorporates connected technology into “smart parks”. “Smart parks” are safe spaces for residents, shelters for use during emergencies. Tokyo’s smart technology integration focuses on high-efficiency systems, mostly energy reduction and space-saving efforts. To minimise the problems of its dense population, Tokyo uses electric vehicles and smart parking. With a strong focus on the needs of their residents, Tokyo is using human-centred design to stake its claim as one of the world’s smartest cities.

Singapore is taking a different approach to smart living. With a focus on travel, Singapore is ensuring that its public transport facilities, a large network of buses, rail, cable cars, and taxis, are well connected. Throughout the city, high-speed internet integrates with smart initiatives designed to streamline communication. Singaporeans and city residents alike benefit from a free flow of information about everything happening in the city. 

With one of the best transport systems in the world, Hong Kong is already in the implementation phase of its Smart City Blueprint. Hong Kong’s strategy takes a holistic view of the quality of life. A global business hub needs to be connected at all times.  Global public Wi-Fi and digital payment solutions have already been implemented, and a free electronic identity (eID) is set to roll out in 2020.

Asia is leading globally the way in smart city development, but Australia’s smart cities are developing rapidly.

Smart Cities in Australia

Reducing energy consumption via smart technology is a huge priority across the Asia Pacific region, and Australia is pushing forward with sustainable energy solutions. Australia demonstrates significant buy-in to environmentally friendly technology. Solutions such as smart thermostats, appliances, and virtual assistants are already becoming commonplace among Australian residents. City management programs are in the process of integrating smart technology but are approaching it from a different angle than the rest of Asia Pacific.

Here’s how Australian cities are becoming smarter:

A “30 Minute” Smart City

Sydney residents are running out of space. The Smart Cities plan of the Australian government involves three facets: smart investment, smart policy, and smart technology. Although smart technology will not solve rising housing prices, transport connectivity, or decentralisation of economic development, can create a positive experience for city dwellers. 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. 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. The city will be divided into newly defined districts or connected strategic “clusters” to provide a centre hub for required services and needs. 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. In the Sydney of the future, everyone will live within thirty minutes of work and be able to access basic needs within that geographical sphere. 

Rejuvenating a Region with Smart Technology

Taking a different approach, the Sunshine Coast has implemented the Smart City Framework (SCF) focused on specific smart services and economic development. Smart parking, smart power, smart water, smart waste management, smart transport, smart health, smart education, smart signage, smart citizens services, smart city Wi-Fi, and smart lighting will be incorporated into different locations to develop and attract business, manage and monitor pollution, as well as improve transport, health, and education. Tech giants Cisco and Telstra have joined forces with local government to develop this phased plan – set for 2033 completion. 

Smart Data, Smart City

Melbourne takes its reputation as a smart city seriously. The Victorians focus will use innovation to improve day-to-day experiences, and implementation is well on the way. Busy prototyping several smart initiatives, Melbourne collects and uses data to craft an experience for “users” of the city. Melbourne’s CityLab is a space to test new ideas and services within the community. To get people involved, hackathons and events are engaged to solve problems and challenges. The city is currently evaluating how to re-equip the city to serve Melbourne’s blind and deaf population. A “pedestrian counting system” gathers crosswalk data to fuel safe mobility projects. Some examples of implemented smart technologies include smart street bins and smart parking spaces. Smart sensor technology integrated into waste bins allows communication to a control centre. Instead of manual collection, when the bins hit capacity, they automatically request emptying. In some areas of the city, residents no longer have to circle the lot looking for a parking spot! An open data platform and SmartGuide parking system provide a real-time view of empty spots. Melbourne is focused on small-scale problems that affect the majority of the population. 

Smart Agriculture

Smart technology is not limited to improving urban areas. Across Australia, as demands on agriculture continue to increase, farmers will have to prioritise monitoring greenhouse emissions. IoT devices and sensors can collect data on methane generation or track supply chain issues to increase efficiency and decrease waste. IoT sensors can also be used to track and monitor livestock, providing new data on food quality and origin.

An Australian company started a smart agriculture project in a nursery to improve crop yield and quality. This large environmental sustainability project has won 13 awards, including the UN’s Association of Australia award for ‘excellence in sustainable water management’ as well as the Nursery Industry Environment Award. This project in Cameron’s Nursery in Arcadia rolled out a comprehensive smart system to monitor soil, water quality, water storage, and environmental factors. As global population growth continues to place unsustainable demand on agriculture and water conservation, smart solutions are a necessary part of cities of the future. With its proximity to Asia and abundance of natural resources and landmass, Australia is in a unique position to lead the way in this sector of smart technology.  Connectivity is sure to increase between Australia’s food production, the nation’s domestic cities, and the growing agricultural markets in the Asia Pacific region.


Australia: A Smart Future

Smart cities will be a $400 billion market by 2020, including over 600 cities worldwide. The Australian government has invested heavily in smart city development. Although there are many growing smart cities within the Asia Pacific region, Australia’s unique approach to smart technology may be securing its place as a global leader in smart city technologies. 

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