Smart city technologies hold the promise of improving the sustainability and liveability of our urban centres, and according to one industry executive, there are five ingredients needed to unlock their potential.
“The smart cities movement is a global one. There are no boundaries in the smart cities movement, and that in particular provides a lot of challenges and opportunities,” said Adam Beck, executive director at the Smart Cities Council Australia and New Zealand.
Founded in 2012 in Seattle, USA, the Smart Cities Council is a global network of companies advised by top universities, laboratories and standards bodies.
“Technology isn’t a barrier anymore, and I don’t think funding and finance is a barrier. The barrier now is probably the level of creativity we apply in trying to access that finance and funding,” Beck said.
Beck outlined five strategies which he said “establishes the conditions in which we can accelerate the smart cities marketplace.”
Strategy 1: Develop the vision and capacity to innovate
Beck said that one of the mandates of the Smart Cities Council is to ensure that governments and supply chains are part of a “clear and crisp vision, and that there is the capacity to implement that vision and innovate.”
“The world is not waiting. We’ve seen a lot of amazing smart cities initiatives blaze a trail across the world, and that is only set to continue,” he added.
“Even if you’ve got the vision, the question is whether or not you’ve got the capacity to innovate, and that’s where we recommend that you think big and bold, but start small.
“Work together but move fast, and emphasise synergies and interdependencies, borrowing from the past, stealing with permission, and harvesting good ideas.”
Strategy 2: Aggregate demand
Beck said that demand for smart cities initiatives will accelerate, and governments must be ready to embrace it.
“All of the indications and signs of the s mart cities movement are only going up, and it doesn’t matter what report you go to, there’s a big market opportunity, so demand aggregation becomes a critical element and approach to accelerating this marketplace,” he explained.
“Aggregation is hard. It means you need to collaborate, to work together, and that means people, mindsets, and behaviours, and indeed rules and regulations we’ve created.
“But there are great opportunities in scaling up the impact, reducing lost opportunities due to duplication, and squeezing maximum value out of assets.”
Strategy 3: Rigorous sustainability metrics
Beck said that there will be trillions of dollars that will be invested into the world’s cities, and that robust management is required to ensure it is invested properly.
“Every dollar needs to be screened, it needs to go through a lens, a robust sustainability metrics lens to ensure that every dollar spent is yielding us the best opportunity,” he said.
Beck said that cities need to look at not only the dots that they can join, but understand the connections between every investment and the potential opportunities that come across a broad spectrum of environmental, social, economic and cultural outcomes.
“If we view things as just an individual or isolated piece, we lose that opportunity and the humble street light is one example of that,” he said.
“Putting in a streetlight just to light a street is no longer a smart way of building cities; there are at least another 11 opportunities for us to use that backbone infrastructure.”
Strategy 4: Embrace new financial models
Beck highlighted the Federal Government’s smart cities plan, and in particular the component on city deals as a very interesting opportunity for Australia.
“We have a Federal Government that wants to invest nationally in infrastructure from an outcomes perspective, which is built on partnerships from all three tiers of government,” he said.
“Investment plans are integrated and they’re deeply rooted in performance metrics, and they will invest where you can demonstrate performance.
“No longer is the day that hundreds of millions of dollars are simply handed over to state and federal governments to build pieces of infrastructure – it will be performance-based, and there will be metrics that drive the outcomes.”
Beck expects that financial investment will be centred on unlocking economic potential, and will be used to promote and accelerate further innovation by keeping sustainability outcomes at their core.
Strategy 5: Urban transformation pilot projects
Beck wants to see cities to better understand how they recycle and rebuild their assets, and bring their vertical and horizontal infrastructure together, understanding their connections and getting them to work together.
One particular area that Beck sees as vitally important is the in the area of mobility and transport, particularly that “first and last mile” to the workplace or home.
“We’re seeing more initiatives like rideshare and bikeshare, but we also have a lot of heavy infrastructure to invest in light rail, heavy rail, and bus systems,” he explained.
“There is a whole layer that we need to build throughout our communities that need to be smart, and that’s that first and last mile of mobility.”
He also wants to see a greater development on the “green infrastructure” within a city, which he says is directly linked to the residents’ physical and mental health.
“This is about access to nature within our cities, treating our stormwater, building back an urban ecology, regulating our climate, providing shade on the sidewalk which results in more footfall, which results in more economic activity in our retail sectors, for example,” he said.
“It is a highly connected and efficient infrastructure layer that we are not embracing. Data-driven landscapes, plug and play park benches, smart street lighting - our public spaces are all ripe for innovation.”