With Australia’s growing population set to reach 36 million by 2050, it is time for city planners to evaluate their current model for creating an accurate representation of a city’s infrastructure.

Even now, our roads, transport services, and public systems are under increasing pressure to support growing demand. While opinions may differ, the reality is that we need an innovative solution to a problem that isn’t going anywhere.

The advent of digital cities, however, can help to alleviate this challenge. The advantages of a city built upon an interconnected network is undeniable; technological platforms and devices that can ‘talk’ to one another will form the bedrock for a digital city.

The good news is, there are many services and applications that can be built on such platforms to enhance society as we know it.

Indeed, a lot of the excitement with digital cities has been around the technology that often overshadows their vital advantage – coordination.

Services and platforms that can interact and connect with one another seamlessly will provide massive benefits in terms of efficiency and productivity. For example, digital cities can improve our quality of life by ensuring that the focus is on providing service rather than administration.

Preparing for Digital Cities

The actualisation of digital cities may seem a fair way off, but in fact, many cities around the world are already laying the foundations for such initiatives. While the individual approach may vary, an accurate representation of the existing city is an absolute prerequisite.

Take, for example, the City of Helsinki, Finland. Urban planners recently used Bentley software to launch a $1 million project to produce a 3D representation of the entire city. The benefits of doing this included streamlining the city’s internal services and processes, and sharing the city’s models with citizens and companies for research and development purposes.

Such visual representations of the city that can be simulated and analysed set the stage for digital city initiatives. In many ways, these initiatives can be perceived as an asset lifecycle information management as it pertains to a city master plan.

To become a digital city, those who are planning it need to know where the assets are and the condition they are in.

Adopt and Improve

Australia’s geographical complexities may make it difficult to know what assets exist. However, Australia’s vastness actually simplifies the data capture process. 

So, with that in mind, I offer two key insights that Australia can adopt when planning digital cities.

  1. Collaborate with the community
    Helsinki’s success was largely due to the engagement it had with its community. With a dedicated department focussed on making the 3D models open to citizens, universities, and developers, Helsinki encouraged a collaborative approach between the government and community. For Australia to succeed through similar initiatives, there needs to be common expectations and goals set.
  2. Innovative is key
    An accurate 3D map of the city leads to endless possibilities. Helsinki chose to open its system to those who developed Minecraft Helsinki, which has heralded Helsinki as a destination for tourists. Thus, urban planners should not be hesitant to establish a framework that embraces innovation and fosters new ways of thinking.

The shift towards digital cities is an impending reality. Our current model for city development and infrastructure simply cannot cope with the incoming changes, and Australia must take a proactive approach. While digital cities may hold the promise of endless possibilities, the first step for its development lies in accurate representation of the existing infrastructure.

Brian Middleton is VP, regional executive for ANZ with Bentley Systems. He can be reached at [email protected].