If Australia is to join the ranks of smart cities in Europe and the US, we need to be proactively supporting collaboration between the public and private sectors. This means fostering more innovative solutions to the everyday problems our major cities face.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global City Competitive Unit (a chart that ranks cities based on their demonstrated ability to attract capital, businesses, talent and visitors), Sydney and Melbourne rank 15th and 16th respectively, ahead of major players including Los Angeles, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Rome. If we want to move other cities onto this list, or have Sydney and Melbourne break the top 10, a new way of thinking is needed that goes beyond simply making everything bigger to increase capacity.
In Australia’s largest cities, the demand for housing in built up areas such as the CBD and the rush to get into business hotspots during peak hour, is placing huge pressure on existing infrastructure including transport.
Governments are not sitting still – take the NSW Government. The North-West Rail Link is well under way, extending the Epping-Chatswood rail link to Cherrybrook, Castle Hill and other booming areas in the region. Double decker buses are on trial in areas at transport capacity including Castle Hill again. More road projects like the NorthConnex are underway (surprisingly enough, in the same region as Castle Hill).
The issue here is not a lack of action, it’s a lack of innovation. It’s relatively simple to build more roads, double the size of the buses and extend the train lines, but then what? We should be asking ourselves how we can best use what we currently have before spending so much money on building things we don’t. Only when we can utilise our current infrastructure to 100 per cent, can our cities truly be regarded as smart cities.
Take the current parking crisis in Australian CBDs. Off-street parking spaces are being reduced as initiatives such as bus or cycle lanes go in and parking fees are on the rise. This lack of convenient parking can contribute to up to a 30 per cent increase in congestion in the area. Despite this, there are an estimated 3,000-5,000 vacant off-street parking spaces in residential and commercial buildings in the Sydney CBD alone that could be unlocked for commuters.
We need to encourage more partnerships between the public and private if we want to see smart and connected Australian cities. Large international companies such as Cisco and IBM are achieving big things in Europe and the US using smart technology to solve some of the most common city problem while Amsterdam is a great example of a city fostering these kinds of partnerships. It is already a model in sustainability for its bike loving population and has recently launched Amsterdam Smart City (ASC), a partnership between research institutions, businesses, citizens and the City of Amsterdam. ASC is dedicated to experimenting with innovative technology and solutions that contribute to a smarter city and ‘fuel sustainable economic growth and a high quality of life, in combination with an efficient use of natural resources’.
Australia is a forward thinking country with a rapidly increasing population. But the next steps in our growth may not be as smooth as they could be if we don’t start thinking a little differently.