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.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.