What is a smart city?
Smart cities are those which leverage innovative technologies to ‘enhance [the] quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens’. They deploy ‘smart devices, sensors and software’ to equip existing infrastructure with ‘the equivalent of digital eyes and ears’ enabling ‘more efficient and effective monitoring and control of our energy and water systems, transportation networks, human services, public safety operations – basically all core government functions’.
The City of Newcastle described its transition to becoming a smarter city:
In the coming year, we will roll out flexible infrastructure throughout our city centre including a multi-purpose technology pole enabling Wi-Fi and underpinning an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. Smart city applications will include smart lighting, smart parking, smart waste management, traffic analytics and environmental sensing. City data generated from these applications will be used to better inform city administration and business decisions, and support a range of digital applications improving the liveability and sustainability of the city centre.
The Australian Government recognises the potential of technological innovation to make our cities more liveable, prosperous and sustainable and outlines a ‘smart cities agenda’ in its Smart Cities Plan. In the plan it commits to ‘embrac[ing] new technology with the potential to revolutionise how cities are planned, function, and how our economy grows’:
By taking advantage of the unprecedented pace of technological progress, governments and the community can make cities more prosperous and sustainable.
Real time data and smart technology will lead to better utilisation of infrastructure, clean energy and energy efficiency, improvements in services and better benchmarking of cities performance.
According to the Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand (SCCANZ) there are three core capabilities which define smart cities:
First, a smart city collects information about itself through sensors, other devices and existing systems. Next, it communicates that data using wired or wireless networks. Third, it “crunches” (analyses) that data to understand what’s happening now, and what’s likely to happen next.
SCANNZ said it is ‘those insights – presenting, perfecting and predicting – that enhance the overall sustainability of our cities’ and argued that ‘establishing the conditions and infrastructure to enable governments to merge multiple data streams and mine them for amazing insights, should be a goal for all levels of government’.
Evidence to the inquiry indicated that conditions and infrastructure required to generate ‘smarter cities’ in the Australian context include:
connection to fast and reliable internet;
the proliferation of internet of things (IoT) technologies;
establishing mechanisms to safeguard the interoperability of IoT technologies; and
This chapter considers these smart city elements in detail before outlining the Committee’s conclusions.
Fast and reliable internet
Stakeholders to the inquiry viewed fast and reliable internet connectivity as a cornerstone of smart cities. The Council of Mayors South East Queensland said good internet connectivity is ‘fast becoming seen as essential infrastructure for a functioning and prosperous community’:
High-speed internet has changed the way we learn, do business, buy goods and interact with each other. Digital infrastructure connects people and businesses to the information and opportunities they seek, wherever they may be, across any industry.
The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) agreed, suggesting that, ‘highly efficient and capable digital infrastructure is a necessity if Australia is to be a globally competitive innovator’. It emphasised that ‘fast and reliable access to the internet’ is a key component of good digital infrastructure:
As the dependence of all aspects of society on the digital economy grows, the availability of high-speed broadband will become increasingly important.
ATSE argued that Australia’s ability to attract and retain businesses will be diminished without competitive digital infrastructure. The Council of Mayors South East Queensland made a similar point, suggesting that ‘accessibility to high speed internet has become a fundamental enabler of economic activity and participation in the modern economy’.
Mr Tim Williams, Chief Executive Officer of the Committee for Sydney emphasised that technology such as autonomous or electric vehicles cannot be rolled-out without good internet connectivity. Further, he noted the importance of digital infrastructure to the education industry, asserting that some university graduates will not move to cities without average connection speeds of 100 megabits per second.
According to the Council of Mayors South East Queensland, in recent years Australia ranked 60th in the world for internet speeds, with an average peak internet connection speed of 39.3 megabits per a second, revealing ‘large scope for improvement’. Internet connectivity and speeds seem to be a particular problem for regional cities and communities. The Council of Mayors South East Queensland said access to high speed internet is a key challenges for the south east Queensland region:
Digital connectivity, speed on connection and improving access to communications and technology in the region will make the SEQ region more attractive for investment, as well as improve integration within the region.
Horsham Rural City Council said investment in better internet and mobile phone coverage is ‘crucial to attracting business to regional areas of Australia, particularly businesses linked to the increasing use of technology in the agricultural sector’.
Coffs Harbour City Council suggested that the early rollout of the NBN in some areas of Coffs Harbour supported a rise in entrepreneurs establishing micro businesses in the area. It advocated for ‘the further roll out of the NBN [to] accelerate the importance of this sector’.
Regional Capitals Australia urged the Australian Government ‘to prioritise the accelerated and equitable rollout of NBN in regional capital cities’.
Proliferation of IoT technologies
Although internet coverage, reliability and speed in Australia requires significant improvement, its expansion in recent decades has been sufficient to support the proliferation of internet-enabled devices that are able to interact and transfer information with other devices, people or automated systems. This phenomenon is known as the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) and comprises ‘sensors, monitors, video surveillance, and radio frequency identification tags, all communicating with each other to enhance infrastructure capability and resilience, and capturing volumes of data.’
Stakeholders to the inquiry suggested that expanding the deployment of IoT technology is fundamental to achieving smarter cities.
IoT Alliance Australia (IoTAA) noted that ‘around the world, cities have incorporated [IoT] technologies into a range of smart city management solutions’. It suggested that IoT technologies have become somewhat synonymous with smart cities and viewed ‘it as an imperative for Australia to leverage IoT technology as a key lever to innovate and increase competitiveness on the world stage’:
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises major technology development that will transform ‘vertical’ industry productivity, innovation and business opportunities. IoT offers Australia significant and transformational economic benefit through smarter use of infrastructure, smart cities and intelligent asset management. Specifically, in the context of Smart Cities, a key ‘sector’ for IoT…
Associate Professor Hussein Dia of Swinburne University said that the ‘smart cities of the future will include advanced network operations management and control systems that utilise field sensors to detect and respond quickly to equipment and infrastructure faults’. He outlined the substantial benefits of better integrating city transport infrastructure with IoT technologies, such as sensors:
Vital infrastructure downtimes will be cut using sensors that monitor the health of critical infrastructure, collect data on system functioning, alert operators inside an integrated urban control centre to the need for predictive maintenance, and identify potential breakdowns before they occur. In transport, smarter vehicles, trains and public transport systems will sense their surrounding environments, and slow down or stop without human intervention in emergency situations. On-board public transport, a range of GPS, position fixing, video surveillance, and communications equipment will provide accurate and reliable multi-modal real-time passenger information, resulting in better informed travellers and ensuring a smoother, safer and more reliable experience for customers. A combination of sensors and position fixing equipment will maximise the efficiency of existing roads by providing route and network-wide levels of priority for emergency vehicles, light rail, and other modes of transport so as to maximise the movement of goods and passengers safely and efficiently. Back-office systems that leverage sensors, web, mobile, and GPS technologies will utilise smart algorithms, data mining and predictive modelling tools to reduce delays to passengers by optimising schedules and capacities in real time. Near railroad level crossings, a range of train-to-infrastructure and train-to-vehicle technologies will improve passenger safety by detecting fast approaching vehicles and providing warnings to avoid collisions. Electric vehicle charging infrastructure will also be integrated into a smart grid network, providing consumers with access to sustainable and equitable forms of connected mobility. A combination of technologies and sensors will also improve safety and security by permitting operators to remotely disable or enable a public transport service in the event of a security threat (e.g. an unauthorised driver).
A 2016 survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in partnership with the Smart Cities Council asked city administrators in the United States of America about barriers to implementing smart city and IoT technologies in their jurisdictions. IoTAA noted that its findings included:
Budget constraints – 42 per cent of respondents described budget limitations as a "very significant barrier" and another 32 per cent called it a "significant" barrier.
Complexity of procurement as a barrier – only 7 per cent suggested procurement is not a barrier.
Need for more supportive policies – the majority of respondents (37.2 per cent) consider it a moderate barrier while 25 per cent describe it as a very significant or significant barrier.
IoTAA suggested that the Australian Government can support local governments to overcome similar barriers and proliferate IoT technologies in the Australian context by:
provid[ing] guidance and resources for cataloguing solutions, case studies and best practices to demonstrate the value and utility of these solutions;
provid[ing] assistance and guidance through educational outreach with workshops and programs to assist cities and towns in aggregating demand and benchmarking results;
encourag[ing] industry-led standards and interoperability development;
encourage[ing] streamlining of procurement through supporting policies and using the City Deals process as a key mechanism for catalysing IoT and smart cities deployment…
SCCANZ also urged the Australian Government to support city administrators to deploy smart city technologies, such as IoT. It recommended that the government supports cities to:
develop the capacity to deploy innovative technological solutions by providing access to ‘knowledge including best practices and case studies’;
aggregate demand by distributing the costs and benefits of smart technologies across multiple users;
streamline complex procurement; and
embrace new financing models to fund smart city technologies.
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet noted that the Australian Government already has national policies in place to ‘directly support the innovative application of smart technology at the local level’. These are the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program and the Future Ready Incubation Package.
Smart Cities and Suburbs Program
The Australian Government is investing $50 million through the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program to support the application of ‘smart technology’, such as IoT, at the local government level. The competitive grants program seeks to facilitate public and private sector co-investment and collaboration in smart technology projects that:
improve the liveability and sustainability of cities, suburbs and towns through the application of smart technology solutions to economic, social and environmental challenges
increase openly available public and private data sets to support citizen engagement, unlock innovation, and create new business opportunities
increase innovation and capability in local governments through collaboration and smart city innovation ecosystem development
contribute to development of smart city standards and improvement of regulation impacting the roll-out and use of smart technology.
Fifty two projects were awarded grants under round one of the program. The recipients will benefit from $28.5 million of Australian Government funding and $40 million of funding from partners; including local governments, industry, research organisations and the private sector. Projects awarded include developing community WIFI and open data platforms, smart parking systems and 3D planning tools.
Information about the projects is available online via the Australian Government’s Digital Marketplace platform. The platform is primarily aimed at making it easier for smaller businesses to compete for the Commonwealth’s $6 billion a year spend on information and communications technology (ICT) products and services. However, it also has an important knowledge sharing function. It offers a library of ‘open source projects’ which local governments can reuse or contribute to, and describes the 52 smart technology projects funded under the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program. The Digital Marketplace is currently accessible in beta form and will be refined through stakeholder feedback.
IoTAA supported the program, but noted potential improvements. Mr Michael Comninos, Chair of the IoTAA’s Smart Cities Committee said the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program provided the financial resources local governments needed to pursue ‘smart’ solutions to local issues:
…local government is heavily regulated. They have 10-year plans, community strategic plans, their budgeting. They don't necessarily have the level of discretion in their budgets to re-prioritise and reallocate funds.
So a lot of the projects that you will see through the program are likely to come through existing problems that had been identified and funded with the potentially new solution.
However, Mr Frank Zeichner, Chief Executive Officer of the IoTAA urged the Australian Government to build on the success already achieved by the program by facilitating knowledge sharing across local governments more broadly:
It is not unlikely that we will get 50, 40 or whatever number of projects happening that are quite different. That is good from a use case point of view, probably, but are we getting any joint learnings that we can template and reuse for many other places? No. We missed a slight opportunity there. I think we could use the learnings from what we see out of what happens and say, 'Okay, what can we draw out of that for the next one, so that we can actually allow everyone to step up rather than reinvent from the bottom?'
Mr Tim Williams, Chief Executive Officer of the Committee for Sydney, made a similar point. He considered information and best practice sharing a ‘big role’ of the Australian Government:
I would really like the federal cities and smart cities unit to do a bit more knowledge sharing so you lessen that knowledge gap... I think somebody should be providing the kind of approach of 'here are the 20 interesting things going on out there'. It is simple and cheap and I think we should do it.
Future Ready Incubation Package
The Future Ready Incubation Package complements the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program by developing local governments’ capacity and skills to deliver technology-based community solutions. The package is a series of virtual and onsite professional development opportunities aimed at ‘building capability in smart city strategic planning and project selection, design and delivery’. According to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, almost 550 participants from across the country had engaged in Future Ready activities by the end of June 2017 and collaboration and project incubation activities are continuing beyond the conclusion of the program in September 2017.
SCCANZ supported the Australian Government’s smart cities agenda. Executive Director, Mr Adam Beck participated in the Australian Government’s Future Ready Incubation Package and suggested that the package delivered inexpensive but tangible capacity building opportunities to local government that will ‘help unlock innovation’:
Many city leaders are eager to use smart technologies, but they don't know how. They need access to knowledge, including best practices and case studies. Many cities are organised to deliver 19th century infrastructure – pour concrete, lay bricks, erect poles, dig holes. But 21st century requirements – citizen services, resource efficiency and greater equity – need a different approach.
SAP Australia Pty Ltd submitted that facilitating knowledge sharing and local government education are key responsibilities of the Australian Government:
Create the structural platform for exchange of knowledge and learnings across multiple digital projects and cities to ensure community, private and government learn and no digital project is isolated…
Enhance capacity of data analytics and management skills in regional areas through delivery of training to ensure new data being collected is able to be used by local people to solve local issues.
Interoperable IoT technologies
The Committee heard that the value of IoT technology hinges on its interoperability, that is, its ability to be compatible with other technology or software, to communicate and to exchange data. IoTAA warned that ‘IoT drives innovation and improves outcomes across cities and regions, only when point solutions can multiply their benefits using interoperable practices’.
It highlighted the cost of deploying non-standardised IoT technologies:
… analysis shows that using non-standardized versus standards based solutions for IoT will increase the cost of deployment, hinder mass scale adoption, and stifle technology innovation for smart city initiatives worldwide. City authorities and their technology partners could squander USD $341 billion by 2025 if they adopt a fragmented versus standardized approach to IoT solution deployment.
Standards Australia suggested that IoT interoperability will not necessarily occur organically; ‘a connected city requires a focus on how different aspects of the built and cyber environment interact, which necessitates integrated thinking and embraces the opportunities provided by IoT’. It highlighted the enabling role standards play in the creation of connected cities and recommended that the Australian Government invest in standard ‘mapping and development, to position our cities to take full advantage of technological advances that can make a marked impact on the lives of Australians and Australian communities’, including:
… the development of a standards roadmap for Australia, identifying the work that needs to be undertaken in each sector to unlock the benefits of a connected Australian city; and;
detailed standards development work in strategic priority areas...
IoTAA recommended a similar approach to safeguarding interoperability. It argued that the Australian Government should collaborate with state and local governments to develop the capacity of regions, cities and communities to implement smart solutions, including by encouraging the development of ‘industry-led standards and interoperability’. It offered to assist the Australian Government to future proof new infrastructure and city services by making contractual provisions for IoT, such as smart sensors, and for interoperability and data sharing.
Fostering quality open data
The rise of IoT technologies has facilitated the collection of data on every aspect of Australian’s lives, including the cities we live in. SAP Australia Pty Ltd claimed that ‘governments, communities and industry produce and collect and immense amount of data’ and ‘today, Australia has available to it a largely untapped rich resource of data’.
The immense quantity of data collected offers significant opportunities to those able to make sense of it. The Committee heard that data can be used to enhance the delivery of almost all core government services and most functions of cities, including:
enabling real-time consultation and engagement with citizens in decision making;
optimising transport infrastructure;
better targeting policy interventions;
assessing the success of policy interventions and programs in real-time;
facilitating the better design and management of the built environment.
Australian governments already recognise the potential benefits of data and analytics to inform city planning, infrastructure investment and improve decision making. A tangible example of how data can be used to inform better urban development and city management can be seen in the Townsville City Council ‘Smart Water Pilot’. The council collected data about daily water usage from digital water meters around their community and communicated this to residents in close to real time, driving behavioural change to conserve water. It has achieved impressive results including:
behavioural change in 50 per cent of consumers due to the provision of timely water usage information;
98 per cent faster notification time on water leaks potentially saving millions of litres of water; and
a 10 per cent reduction in overall average household water consumption by residents who accessed information about their water usage.
At the present, data is not consistently collected and stored in a format appropriate for broader analysis, nor is it always freely accessible. This poses significant challenges for governments or others seeking an evidence base to inform urban development or management. SAP Australia Pty Ltd summarised the difficulties that must be overcome:
… [data] is often located in isolated information systems or published across a multitude of data portals spanning all levels of government. Those data can often be hard to find, not well structured, poorly described and not readily published in readable formats. This makes it difficult for users to search portals, identify datasets that are useful, access that information and combine it together to perform meaningful analysis at a speed that could provide relevant and timely insights.
Stakeholders to the inquiry suggested that the Australian Government can resolve these issues by facilitating ‘open data’ freely available for use, re-use or distribution through the establishment of data collection and sharing principles.
Professor Stuart White, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney described open data as critical to the development of more liveable cities. He suggested that ‘we can’t manage what we don’t measure’:
The importance of generating data and having a common platform for managing that data—open data principles, open source management of that data and so on—is extremely important.
The IoTAA listed ‘open standards, data sharing’ as the number one ‘principle required to effectively and efficiently [grow] smart infrastructure and smart cities using IoT’. It recommended that the Australian Government create data collection and sharing principles so ‘that all cities and regions can leverage state based as well as federal information’:
Through this model, local councils can share and use data in a more consistent way as well as relieving them of the burden of developing their own frameworks for sharing which typically they do not have the experience to do without significant learnings.
Mr Comninos suggested that Australian Government’s leadership is critical to ensuring data is seamlessly accessible across jurisdictions:
There is a need to have someone convene a conversation around [data] standards, around [IoT] interoperability, about how these verticals come together. We think it should happen at the national level, for a number of reasons. One is because we don't want to have state-specific situations akin to the rail gauges of the 1900s. The second is that the federal government itself is a strong contributor to the data around people. You have information on taxation, ASIC and human services.
Mr Zeichner asserted that the governments, cities and industries that move to open data the fastest will be ‘the winners’ in the knowledge economy. He argued that ‘getting the principles and the templates right and then letting the cities run with it makes sense’.
Mr Zeichner also noted that, in the absence of a national approach, individual local governments are already developing their own principles for open data, adding to the complexities around sharing and accessing data:
… a city council in Sydney has an open data platform, 19 pages of legalese to release one data set. It hasn't released any data sets. In Adelaide, two pages! Now that's a different risk appetite. There's a different set of legal people… So we have different governance and frameworks for releasing data and we have different platforms upon which they sit.
Mr Ashley Brinson, Executive Director of the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering Australian Government, didn’t oppose data collection and sharing principles, but warned that the private sector should be incentivised, not forced, to participate:
… there's a negotiation to have with those companies about that data, and either compensating them for that data or changing the rules of competition. If I'm the investor and I've put forward quite a sizeable investment to launch a company and the government were to take my data and give it to my competitors, that would discourage investment in the future. It might have ripple effects that would prevent innovation from coming to Australia on a reasonable schedule.
Evidence to the inquiry also suggested that national data collection and sharing principles could also help ensure information is compiled and made available in usable formats, with appropriate identifiers to better enable data analysis.
Dr Kim Houghton, General Manager of Research and Policy at the Regional Australia Institute said the Australian Government should have a role in improving the quality of open data:
For me, if there were a role for government…it would certainly be something around, to some degree, standardising some of the fields and some of the ways the data is put together. I would always put my hand up and say, 'Whenever we can, let's have a geographical tag on that stuff,' because a lot of data isn't available with a geographical tag on it and we know that the all the socioeconomic stuff varies enormously by geography.
Miss Natalie Kenny, Industry Value Engineer at SAP Australia Pty Ltd agreed with Dr Houghton:
To touch on Kim's point—I think it was a really great one—I wouldn't call it a gap, but there is something that we see could have better practice. The way in which data is released or published is often done from the perspective of the way it was collected. Without getting technical, we're talking about the fields, the rows and the forms. It's sometimes put out on sites or published in ways that are actually only understandable to the people who collected it in the first place, rather than thinking, 'Actually, what will the end user do with that data and information?'
Professor Billie Giles-Corti, Director of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy, Liveable Communities at RMIT University made a similar point during discussion of data collection to inform cities research. She described the difficulties in ‘cleansing’ different data sets to enable analysis and comparison:
… setting up a set of standards for the collection of critical data [is an idea], because the cleaning of the data that has to go into a report like this is enormous—to be able to standardise so that we actually can compare cities.
Moreover, the Australian Local Government Association noted the importance of including privacy provisions and cybersecurity considerations in national approaches to open data and technology:
Ensuring privacy policies and processes are well developed as well as IT security is well maintained is critical. As seen with the recent #censusfail experience, one failure in government systems can undermine community confidence in the systems of all levels of government… Ensuring the integrity and security of council IT systems is very important, likewise so is ensuring the privacy of citizens through the appropriate handling of sensitive data and compliance with privacy laws.
The possibility of a single, national technology platform for storing and accessing open data was also discussed. Mr Comninos noted that City of London has established a ‘data warehouse’ to store information about the city to be used in scenario testing to inform planning and policy testing:
They had the equivalent of a data warehouse into which they put all the different datasets from different providers—the water authority, government, private sector et cetera. Whenever you had a problem in the city, you had this asset where you could go in and say, 'What is actually going on in the city? What has happened over the last five years? What are the trends? What can we infer to be the future?' So you can start to rapidly propose things and test. You could have something worked up in 12 weeks, test it; three months in, you could say, 'It didn't work,' and have another go.
However, Mr Zeichner suggested that it is impractical to expect industry to conform to a single data platform when many businesses have already developed their own technology solution:
… it's not about having the one platform for everything, because you'll never get anyone to do it, and everyone starts at a different place and they have already got one—or 10.
He suggested that national data collection and sharing principles are more critical to facilitating useful open data:
There is no uber-platform; there would be many different places where data is, and then it is about having a way and a framework that you understand and trust for sharing it between those many platforms… How you share the data between all of those things, and under what conditions, is really the magic… For me, it's the data sharing framework that is the key enabler.
Although no national data collection and sharing principles currently exist, the Australian Government does recognise the importance of open data. In 2016 the Australian Government commissioned the Productivity Commission to investigate open data issues in more detail. A final report was handed down in 2017. In May 2018, the Government issued its response to the Productivity Commission’s report. The Australian Government Committed to ‘invest $65 million over the forward estimates to reform the Australian data system and introduce a range of measures to implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendations’. The three key features underpinning these reforms are:
A new Consumer Data Right will give citizens greater transparency and control over their own data.
A National Data Commissioner will implement and oversee a simpler, more efficient data sharing and release framework. The National Data Commissioner will be the trusted overseer of the public data system.
New legislative and governance arrangements will enable better use of data across the economy while ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place to protect sensitive information. In addition, in July 2018, the Australian Government issued an issues paper for consultation on new Data Sharing and Release Legislation.
Moreover, the Australian Government’s Smart Cities Plan describes ‘sharing anonymised data’ as an ‘essential platform for innovation and it is releasing non-sensitive public data for open use under its National Innovation and Science Agenda:
Under the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Australian Government is releasing more non-sensitive public data for private sector innovation, and is using this data to improve service delivery and to inform policy.
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet also pointed out that the Australian Government is bringing ‘together critical cities information in an easily accessible online format, in the one location’ through its National Cities Performance Framework. It is also supporting the collection and proliferation of performance data on cities through the Australian Urban Research Network (AURIN) and Urban living labs initiatives. These initiatives are considered in greater detail below.
National Cities Performance Framework
The Australian Government launched the first National Cities Performance Framework in December 2017. The framework brings together data on Australians largest 21 cities, plus Western Sydney, to provide a ‘snapshot of their performance across key measures including:
Jobs and skills, including;
Infrastructure and investment, comprising;
Jobs accessibility in 30 minutes
Work trips by public and active transport
Liveability and sustainability, including;
Support in times of crisis
Greenhouse gas emissions per capita
Office building energy efficiency
Access to public transport
Innovation and digital opportunities, including;
Knowledge services industries
New business entrants and exits
Governance, planning and regulation;
Public and community housing
Housing construction costs
Dwelling price to income ratio
Population change per building approval.
The framework is designed to inform the Australian Government’s implementation of the Smart Cities Plan, and to assist all levels of government, industry and the community to make informed policy and investment decisions. Information collected through the framework is publically available via the National Cities Performance Framework Dashboard, an online data platform which enables anyone to access and use the information.
The framework and the online dashboard offer many benefits. It enables comparisons between cities, highlighting the unique challenges and successes experienced by different communities. It provides insight into the patterns, trends and interactions between different cities, which will support governments to shape policies supporting all cities to succeed. It also increases the visibility of Australian cities in international research as framework data is publically available.
Stakeholders to the inquiry were very supportive of the National Cities Performance Framework but advocated for its expansion.
The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) described the framework as an ‘a valuable opportunity to begin to build a more comprehensive system of reporting the contextual and success indicators that help us understand our cities’. It suggested that the data derived through the framework would ‘help drive business case development at a local level, and explain to communities the benefits of the government’s investments over the longer-term in the context of their city’s own unique characteristics’. It recommended that the Australian Government improve the framework by expanding the indicators considered and the cities assessed.
The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) agreed. It suggested that a more comprehensive framework would enable it to be used to ‘evaluate specific investments and priorities across all levels of government’ and better inform the design of City Deals. ASBEC conceded that not all cities will be able to be assessed against all indicators:
Given the diversity of Australian cities, and the challenges in collecting data across all indicators for every city, it is appropriate to consider a taxonomy of Australian cities that provides a structure for data collection and indicators across different types of cities. For example, the data available for Sydney and Melbourne is likely to be very different than that available for Townsville and Launceston and the contextual issues these different types of cities face will demand different indicators to inform policy development.
Mr Jonathan Cartledge, Head of Public Affairs at the GBCA, suggested that liveability and sustainability indicators should be separated and expanded:
I think there is a real opportunity to actually separate those, which would lend appropriate emphasis to the significant impact of both liveability, when you look at health, wellbeing and social inclusion issues, and sustainability, when you look at biodiversity and emissions reduction, as being of equal weight when you are measuring the performance of our cities. I think that separating those, as the framework moves forward, would be really valuable.
Likewise, Professor Lars Coenen of the University of Melbourne suggested that the National Cities Performance Framework indicator for innovation does not align with international indicators and could be refined:
… there is an urgent need for better, more realistic data about innovation and cities. Currently the default measurement of innovation in Australia is through patents. There is, however, a global academic consensus that this indicator is partial at best and misleading as the worst. The Australian government could easily expand and supplement the current measurement of innovation in cities by smarter and more comprehensive indicators.
Ms Rachel Sweeney, Secretariat of Regional Capitals Australia (RCA)advocated for including smaller regional capitals in the National Cities Framework in recognition of their importance to smaller surrounding settlements. RCA submitted that assessing smaller regional capitals under the framework would support better targeted government intervention in those places and highlight the competitive advantages they offer to businesses:
The exclusion of the remaining regional cities significantly undersells the contribution and potential of regional Australia. It is the position of RCA that monitoring all regional cities will significantly increase the understanding of how these cities function. The monitoring will highlight investment opportunities and identify how the service hub role can be strengthened - a stated objective of the Smart Cities Plan.
The Australian Government will consider expanding the National Cities Performance Framework to include additional indicators and cities as part of regular, three yearly reviews beginning 2020:
The review will include an assessment of the Performance Framework purpose, policy priorities, coverage and indicators. It will consider the need to include additional cities and sub-city level information where this is identified as a priority by stakeholders, and data is available.
The Australian Government has also indicated that work is already underway to refine and expand some indicators, for example, the framework’s performance indicator for greenhouse gas emissions. At present, there is no ‘official measure of city level greenhouse gas emissions per capita, or city level energy consumption’ on which to base a city specific emissions measure. This figure is currently estimated for each city using state-level emissions data produced by the Department of Environment and Energy. However, CSIRO is working in partnership with other agencies to bring ‘together energy-use data from a diverse range of sources to create… a more comprehensive picture, called the Energy Use Data Model’. This model will allow more ‘robust emissions estimates to be included in future updates’ of the framework.
Australian Urban Research Network (AURIN)
The Australian Government funds AURIN to collect data and to provide an ‘evidence base for informed decisions about the smart growth and sustainable development of Australia’s cities and towns’. For example, Professor Chris Pettit from City Futures at the University of NSW is working with AURIN to formulate new metrics for comprehensive ‘intra-city’ data analyses of property markets. AURIN said this ‘research shows that the property market is complex and operates with many sub-markets across space, time and according to housing type’. It claimed that these insights are informing policy responses to housing affordability in Australia.
AURIN submitted that its ‘restricted funding envelope’ is challenging its ability to maintain the visibility, currency and access to its current data holdings.
Urban living labs
Urban living labs are discrete city precincts or urban areas fitted with technologies, such as sensors, which provide real-time data for collection and analysis by multidisciplinary teams of researchers. Dr Craig James, Research Program Director at CSIRO said urban living labs enable small scale scenario testing to be undertaken for cities:
… the city is a very complex system. That is a formal terminology. It means that it is a system of interlinked things where sometimes it is really not obvious what is going to happen when you do something. Urban living labs, with that rigorous monitoring evaluation, actually allows you to try to find out if what you are doing is going to result in the expected benefit or if you are going to get some sort of unexpected result.
Mr Guy Barnett, Principal Research Consultant at CSIRO said urban living labs allow researchers ‘to try new and different things that you couldn't do at a household scale and which might be too big to try and do at the metropolitan scale’.
The CSIRO is currently establishing a network of urban living labs to ‘support place-based urban experimentation and learning’. It recently launched the Sydney Science Park Urban Living Lab in partnership with property developer Celestino in Western Sydney. The urban living lab will provide ‘a unique opportunity to investigate the relationships between urban greening, energy efficiency, demand for water, community wellbeing and health’.
Mr Barnett said urban living labs are ‘very popular in Europe’, but are a relatively new idea in Australia and a comprehensive network of labs is not yet up and running:
The urban living lab concept is very popular in Europe… it is a relatively new idea in Australia to have that really close connection between science, industry and practice and doing things in real world contexts. But it is still a little bit fragmented. We have things going on in the water space and we have things going on in the energy space. What we are calling for is more coordination and integration of urban living labs, so looking at how different infrastructures come together and interact. And creating a network of living labs so that we can have some meta-learnings that are coming from all of that activity.
Smart cities, which leverage technology to improve the efficiency of services, enhance liveability, and improve environmental and social sustainability, are critical to the ongoing prosperity of Australia and the well-being of Australians. The Committee is pleased to see national recognition of this in the Australia Government Smart Cities Plan, which clearly articulates a commitment to fostering smart cities.
Evidence indicates that a number of elements are fundamental to the generation of smarter cities. They include fast and reliable internet connectivity, the proliferation of IoT technologies, interoperability standards, and data sharing and collection principles.
Fast and reliable internet is indispensable to the creation of smart cities and is the basis of the modern, knowledge economy. Although internet connectivity is reliable in Australia’s cities; the Committee received evidence that there is ample scope to improve internet speed. Moreover, regional cities and towns reported coverage issues. The Committee would like to see the Australian Government accelerate the rollout of the NBN, particularly in regional capitals.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government ensure that the development of the NBN is commensurate with the future capacity requirements of intelligent transport systems and the Internet of Things (IoT), and that relevant capacity constraints be identified and addressed.
Adequate internet coverage will support the proliferation of the IoT technologies, synonymous with smarter cities. Equipping the built environment with sensors, microphones and cameras able to communicate via the internet will provide the detailed data and centralised control necessary for more sophisticated asset design, construction and operation. The Committee is pleased to learn that the Australian Government is providing financial and technical support to local governments to deploy smart cities technology in their communities through the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program and the Future Ready Incubation Package. However, evidence suggests that local governments would benefit from ongoing support.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government offer additional funding and technical support to local governments by extending the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program and the Future Ready Incubation Package indefinitely. The Committee also recommends that the Future Ready Incubation Package specifically address local governments’ capacity to effectively and efficiently procure smart cities technology.
The proliferation of IoT technologies will only support the development of smarter cities if they are interoperable. Stakeholders highlighted the costs of incompatible technologies and suggested that national standards are needed to safeguard interoperability. The Committee believes that IoT interoperability standards are fundamental to smarter cities and should already have been instigated. It recommends that the Australian Government task Standards Australia with addressing this issue as a priority.
The Committee recommends that Standards Australia develop a ‘standards roadmap’ for Australia, including:
identifying the standards required in each sector to unlock the benefits of connected Australian cities; and
developing standards in strategic priority areas, including standards to safeguard the interoperability of IoT and other smart cities technologies.
Fostering open access to data is a complex issue. The Committee recognises the significant gains broad access to data can offer, for example:
better targeted government policies able to be evaluated in real-time;
optimised infrastructure operation;
better designed urban environments; and
market-led solutions to urban problems.
It also recognises the value in creating national data collection and sharing principles to guide the storage of information in a more usable format and its broad dissemination. The Committee also heard about the potential benefits a data sharing platform could deliver. However, evidence to the inquiry was insufficient to draw a conclusion and these matters have already been dealt with by the Productivity Commission. The Committee therefore chooses to make no comment, other than urging the Australian Government to act on the Productivity Commissions findings promptly to create a national policy, regulatory or technology framework to facilitate open data.
The Committee acknowledges that the Australian Government is also promoting the collection and dissemination of cities performance data through the National Cities Performance Framework. Stakeholders to the inquiry indicated that the framework could be strengthened by expanding it to include additional indicators and smaller, regional cities.
The Committee shares this view and is pleased to hear that the Australian Government has already committed to expanding and refining performance indicators, such as emissions per capita, and to conducting three-yearly reviews of the framework to consider the incorporation of additional cities.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to expand the performance indicators and cities assessed under the National Cities Performance Framework, including:
enhancing indicators for environmental sustainability and innovation; and
incorporating smaller regional capitals into the framework.
The Committee also recommends that the Australian Government continue to support the work of AURIN and CSIRO’s urban living labs.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government provide ongoing funding to increase the visibility of and enhance data collection and analysis undertaken through AURIN and CSIRO’s urban living labs.