Are you living in a smart city?

Australia’s 60 top-performing local government areas house more than a quarter of the nation’s population, according to the recently released smart Cities Down Under report. The highest-ranked areas in an Australia-wide assessment of smart city performance are all in metropolitan regions with higher population densities. The report assessed 180 local government areas (out of 563 in Australia), which represents more than 85% of the nation’s population.

The report highlights how the local government areas, when assessed against four smart city indicators, generally performed strongly in “Liveability and Well-being”, while performances were weaker in “Sustainability and Accessibility” and ‘Governance and Planning”. Only in top-performing areas did we see high performance in “Productivity and Innovation”.

Before we go any further though, we should probably clarify what a smart city is. Smart cities are widely seen as localities that actively embrace new technologies to achieve desired urban outcomes. Generally, there is some kind of push towards sustainability, although how well this is achieved is hotly debated.

The report assessed the local government areas against smart city criteria. They included all local government areas in metropolitan Australia (Greater Capital City Statistical Areas) and regional local government areas with populations of more than 50,000.

This study is an expanded version of the Smart Cities of the Sunshine State 2018 report.

Not everything is about technology

According to the authors of the report, cities are complex systems and should be evaluated in a holistic way. This means not placing excessive weight on technological achievements – such as tech for tech’s sake – in lieu of economic, social, environmental and governance outcomes.

Their conceptual framework to evaluate smartness levels was built on the four pillars of economy, society, environment and governance. The evaluation criteria are shown below.

This is essentially a very complicated way of saying that the report categorised the 180 local governments into three performance categories:

  • Leading, the best-performing cities
  • Following, the cities with achievements and potential, but not at the level of the best performers
  • Developing, the cities with some progress and potential, but not as substantial as the other two categories.

Who’s leading the way?

Most people will be unsurprised to find that all areas in the ‘leading category’ were completely contained within capital city metropolitan areas. New South Wales ranked first with 20 local government areas considered ‘leading’. It was followed by Western Australia (14), Victoria (12), South Australia (9), the Northern Territory (2) and Queensland, the ACT and Tasmania last with one each.

You can see below how the combined results for each of leading, following and developing performers compare against the four smart city indicator areas.

Comparison of leading, following and developing cluster performances. Author provided.
Comparison of leading, following and developing cluster performances. Author provided.

You can see the smart city performance matrix of your local government area here.

So, how do our cities become smarter?

Heading into the future, the report highlighted that Australia show try to follow in the footsteps of international smart cities like Toronto in Canada and Arizona in the USA:

  1. Smart cities that focus only on technology seldom work
  2. Local governments should adopt the role of facilitator
  3. Risks need to be shared with the private sector
  4. Local governments should be open to innovations and learn from mistakes
  5. Smart cities should focus on being inclusive
  6. Resource consumption must be considered, particularly in relation to the longevity of technological infrastructure
  7. Long-term sustainability depends on renewable resources
  8. Smart cities require a smart community that is knowledgeable, conscious, forward-thinking, engaged, united and active.

The Urban Studies Lab at Queensland University of Technology prepared the report in partnership with the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication. Their Smart City Research Team has had conversations with city managers, mayors, local government professionals and key community stakeholders (e.g., businesses, not-for-profits, NGOs and academic institutions, among others). These conversations confirm local governments have a critical role to play if Australia is to manage vexing societal challenges from climate change to accessing economic opportunities, and even dealing with transformations driven by information technologies such as automationinnovation and artificial intelligence).

Local governments do not function well in isolation. Any local government is only as strong as the other local governments within its vicinity. They must interact to share and access public resources. Too often these cities seek solutions that are not frugal and cannot leverage indigenous knowledge. Less well-resourced communities must engage in different modes of innovation. We believe better networks need to be set up to foster dialogue and exchange practices across communities.

The good news in our report is that our leading cities fare well. The not-so-good news is that the other local governments need to be brought along on a transformation journey. No city is an island, and no country can treat cities as independent elements.

Australia, the authors of the report believe, should consolidate its local governance and planning culture to lead the change.

What does this mean for me?

Given that the report consulted so many stakeholders, its findings are still being read and developed into working plans by many organisatons. However, the growing push to great more ‘leading’ smart cities throughout Australia should see the steps above implemented slowly in order to make the country increasingly international and a leader in residents well-being.

Considering that Melbourne consistently ranks as one of the most livable cities in the world, it seems that Australia has a clear example to follow.

Homeowners and investors may see these changes implemented throughout the future in small ways, like the push towards green building practices or rezoning of certain areas to support new infrastructure.

Tan Yigitcanlar, Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, Queensland University of TechnologyKaren Vella, Associate Professor and Head, School, Built Environment, Queensland University of TechnologyKevin Clyde Desouza, Professor of Business, Technology and Strategy, Queensland University of TechnologyLuke Butler, Research Assistant, Queensland University of Technology, and Nayomi Kankanamge, PhD Candidate, School of Built Environment, Queensland University of Technology

This article is partially adapted and republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Written: 16 June 2020

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