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    Smart cities need leadership to further policy, technology, planning and potential

    Deborah Singerman

    Little in smart is straightforward. Take home delivery. A phone swipe away to order but the delivery itself can get caught up in congestion. “Without strong policy and regulation that recognises the deleterious effects of induced demand” it could all lead to the choking of our cities, warns RMIT's School of Global, Urban and Social Science’s Dr Ian Woodcock.

    The growth of apps, big data and the Internet of Things and how they impact on cities and will impact on cities in the future was behind the decision to hold a Smart Cities Expo World Forum (SCEWF) with “Australian government support” at the end of last year (the next one is 17-18 May, 2017 at the Sheraton On The Park, Sydney.)

    International telecommunications academic Dr Hafiz Yasar Lateef founded SCEWF in early 2016. The Expo addresses ideas such as how to shape our cities via technology, planning, design, people-collaboration and open source data-sharing.

    For all the aggregation of spatial data layers, systematic scheduling, integrated software platforms, energy suppliers of low voltage wide area networks in developing-world communities, cities with smart grids, real-time dashboards, ultra-sensitive street lighting, litter bins that know how full they are, sensors analysing road surfaces before pot holes emerge, there was still an anxiety that electrical power, for instance, was far more likely to be measured than user behaviour.

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    The next Smart Cities Expo World Forum will take place 17 - 18 May this year at the Sheraton On The Park, Sydney. Image: Smart Cities Expo World Forum

    Who is responsible for cities, what happens when things do not go to plan? What can we do to ensure evidence-based data and digital analytics provide the much-requested informed urbanisation? How to use technology for the benefit of citizens, to improve living cities? How to overcome the influence of political and industry lobbies? How to overcome the influence of political and industry lobbies?

    Wanting to avoid the cookie-cutter approach, customised solutions arising from more citizen engagement was a goal. Garry Bowditch, Executive Director of the Better Infrastructure Initiative at Sydney University’s John Grill Centre for Project Leadership, urged the need for strong institutional memory, learning from risk management, and recognising that lack of transparency (within limits of data privacy) is the biggest impediment to better infrastructure. It was agreed also that customers care more about the services that can arise from good infrastructure than they do for the infrastructure itself.

    PEOPLE AND LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT

    A “people-first approach to designing and delivering responsive public services with the help of smart technologies” is promised in the $50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, which Angus Taylor, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister with responsibility for Cities and Digital Transformation, announced at the Expo.

    “The Australian Government is committed to working with governments, business and the community to help our cities – regional and metropolitan – reach their full potential,” he said.

    Collaborative technology with digital and data solutions that local councils can use from day one is an aim, with leveraged investment from private sector resources essential for the Australia-wide spread of “new technologies, new ideas, new innovations, to make our cities work better for the good of the citizens.

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    In October last year the Australian Government announced a $50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program that will support local governments to fast-track innovative technology solutions that improve long-standing urban problems. Image: Business Enterprise Centre

    “We also see that it’s important that we help incubate these projects. so, the program will provide local governments, which are new to smart technology, the opportunity to access expertise, build capability, establish partnerships and develop innovative proposals.”

    The program’s draft guidelines recently closed for public comment and the launch is expected in the next few months.

    Taylor also talked about the City Deals (jobs creation in Townsville, strategic regional university in Launceston and work and opportunity in Western Sydney are the first cities) involving the three levels of government, the private sector and the community, and the creation of an Infrastructure Financing Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department. “We want to invest in our cities not just hand out grants. I see a lot of plans for projects in our cities – but are they investable, bankable plans for our cities and the answer is no.” The unit will “work with the private sector in developing solutions to fund key government projects”.

    IMPORTANCE OF LEADERSHIP

    Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand has called for a Smart Cities Leadership Incubator and Smart Cities Project Exchange. Founding Executive Director Adam Beck acknowledges the importance of government funding to catalyse the smart cities market in Australia. “We would support a unified approach to smart cities planning and action by coaching and mentoring leaders on the use of smart cities standards, performance indicators, collaborative government processes, solutions road mapping and performance monitoring and reporting. The exchange would amplify opportunities for projects to attract additional support, funding and partnerships. Without smart leadership, we cannot have smart cities. “

    Similarly, Bowditch stressed that to effect change, “leadership matters”. And the recent appointment of Senator Arthur Sinodinos as Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, had several commentators noting that the portfolio would benefit from “clear and consistent vision with leadership to see it out”.

    Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community. @deborahsingerma; [email protected]

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