What do Australia's smart cities need to do to stay ahead?

Step one: light up the Sydney Opera House. Image: Getty.

Smart cities create a symbiosis between information, the Internet of Things and technologies to make better decisions and provide desired services. These cities map community preferences to improve services and infrastructure including public transport, libraries and waste services. They use sensors, Bluetooth and iPhones to track conditions and activities and send awareness messages ahead of emerging problems and disasters. The Conversation

Smart cities integrate businesses in an expanding global innovation network. They do much more than creating a single great product or industry to stay ahead of the innovation curve: they develop visioning initiatives to create their preferred futures.

But making products that “change the world” does help keep locations in the news. Hyperloop systems to increase the speed and lower the cost of travel are synonymous with Californian innovators. Augmented reality glasses that will remove the need to work at your PC put New York developers in the spotlight. Singapore is known for its digital economy and driverless taxis.

Augmented reality glasses could further transform how we access and use information.

Smart cities cannot afford to be complacent about their achievements. If they stand still, they will soon be overtaken by further innovation.

Digital disrupter Uber plans to add driverless cars to its ride-sharing network. The next innovative mode of travel around smart cities will be autonomous aerial vehicles – drones and quadcopters. Dubai plans to have passenger drones up and running within months.

How can cities stay ahead of the curve?

For futurist Sohail Inayatullah, progressive innovation is empowering (increasing inclusion), nature-based (learning from, protecting and often enhancing through new technologies) and purposeful.

Mayors, CEOs and leaders create a progressive culture that attracts and retains talented staff. Smart organisations improve staff skills and design reflective spaces. They provide a healthy lifestyle culture supported by excellent pay and conditions. They also encourage employees to participate in innovation hubs, city labs, maker spaces, universities and business start-ups, and via shared platforms with Creative Commons licences.

California’s high-tech companies – Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Netflix, eBay, Tesla and the like – gain product feedback from customers and New York financiers every year at CES in Las Vegas. CES 2017 displayed TVs with 2.5mm screens that vibrate to make sound, holographic displays, eye-tracking phones and an electric car that accelerates from 0-59km per hour in 2.39 seconds. While products on display were designed in US cities, global suppliers made many of them.

Cities also stay ahead of the innovation curve through the actions of industry leaders who promote the diversity and stability of local workforces. In 2008, US smart cities benefited from the support of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who testified to the importance of hiring foreigners.

Microsoft, along with Amazon and Expedia, again supported Washington State in 2017 by testifying against US President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. In a joint message of co-operative governance to protect global relationships, 16 US attorneys-general rallied against the presidential executive order denying entry to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. They rejected the immigration ban for undermining national security and America’s core values as a “nation of immigrants”.

Separating reality from hype

Smart city “reality” is about co-creation at the fastest rate in history. This relies on physical and digital connectivity, openness to global markets and high-speed internet. By 2020, Australians will enjoy a 5G wireless internet service with speeds 100 times fast than the current NBN.

High-speed connectivity is needed to support virtual reality and rich entertainment experiences. SpaceX wants to launch 4,425 satellites, rebuilding the internet in space to create a “full and continuous global coverage”. For leaders, smart city “reality” also means promoting their city’s unique benefits. Socially inclusive, affordable cities with liveable climates attract talented staff.

Australia’s largest city, Sydney, offers those conditions. It is a global leader in bio-tech, high-tech manufacturing. It also has some of the highest levels of sustainability and natural environmental open space in the world.

Compared to London, Sydney rates better for political stability, crime rate, cost of living and cost of rent. Sydney is similar to London in productivity, world university rankings, and health system performance.

Cities with the most advanced technology and liveability include Sydney, London, Stockholm, Seoul and Toronto.


Aligning innovation to emerging futures

Smart cities reduce hype by creating visions. Visioning imagines socially inclusive, sustainable and transformational futures and consequences before enacting them.

When delivering foresight workshops, I use the acronym SELECTFTGP – for “select futures that grow possibilities”. This seeks to encompass all systems: social, environmental, legislative, economic, cultural, technological, futures, transport, governance and political. Considering all social possibilities and impacts, before narrowing to preferred futures, helps to avoid “hype”.

The Australian government has a national Smart Cities Plan. The plan emphasises attraction of talent, accessibility, connecting high-density housing and job centres and high-quality urban design. It recommends a smart city reference group to improve stakeholder engagement, a national cities performance framework, and City Deals.

Queensland is including a Townsville City Deal in its draft regional planning framework, ShapingSEQ. The City Deal will “hard wire” ShapingSEQ through an agreed delivery mechanism for project prioritisation, funding and governance. Submissions on the draft document close March 3, 2017.

Brisbane, Gold Coast, Logan, Sunshine Coast and Geelong have applied futures studies methods to their city visioning.

Smart cities will advance across the Australian landscape when state governments legislate for cities to create and align 20-to-30-year visions to their emerging futures.

Colin Russo is a futurist at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.


Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.