From May 10-12, Council hosted Smart Cities 2022, a fully virtual conference that brought together leaders in local government with those in the development of pioneering technologies to exchange information and tackle the critical challenges facing the Australian smart cities and communities sectors.

Over three days, and exploring three unique themes, attendees heard from some of the leading experts in smart cities, digital transformation and circular economies, learning innovative strategies that will help transform their organisations and create the cities and communities of the future.

Future Communities

On day one of the conference, we explored the idea of the community of the future, drilling down to what residents are expecting of their communities, and what actually makes a smart, desirable place to work, live and be in a post-pandemic world.

Simon Hunter from the NSW Cities and Active Transport Division discussed the Smart Places Action Plan, highlighting the milestones that have been achieved thus far, while noting there is still much to be done. Simon noted that the work of smart cities implementation is challenging, gritty work; but there has been an incredible amount of work over the past two years, with local governments really leading the charge in assisting with that learning.

Simon also issued a challenge to the smart cities community to explore the different initiatives that can be undertaken as smart initiatives; and he invited government departments to collaborate and come up with new and different ways of bringing smart technologies to their communities.

Next, Brook Dixon from Delos Delta shared his thoughts on the do’s and don’ts of developing a smart cities program of work. 

Brook advised people to have a plan, have a strategy, and have a plan of action that leads to a coordinated smart cities approach. He  also said that people need to think about how their plans will change over time.

According to Brook, everyone needs champions within their organisation to embed smart city ideas and technologies and ensure they proliferate.

He also warned against the common mistake of employing a digital technique or practice just because we can – there always needs to be a strong reason behind any digital practice.

Laura Harvey, Michael Smit, Zoe Eather and Greg Curcio speaking on the Future Communities panel

Another key piece of advice was that there needs to be clear governance in any organisation that clearly states who is responsible for smart initiatives – he warned that if there’s no one clearly responsible for smart cities, nothing will happen.

Our panel session, featuring Greg Curcio, Zoe Eather and Michael Smit was wide ranging, covering many topics. One of the overarching themes was the fact that smart cities are so much more than just tech for the sake of tech – something we have always known, but has become particularly important in the post-pandemic world.

Another important idea that was floated from Greg Curcio, our local government representative, was the idea that smart cities works need to be integrated into the capital works program of any local government, to ensure they are prioritised and actioned.

Our next speaker, Claire Chaiken-Bryan gave us detailed smart city case study insights from the Lake Macquarie Smart Beaches project, which has been underway for a couple of years now. 

This project is all about improving the experience of Lake Macquarie beaches across the board for residents, gathering data on surf conditions, parking, toilets and much more. The learnings from this project are being widely shared with other coastal councils, which is fantastic to see.

Our final speaker was Di Rutter from PwC, who shared insights from her firm’s Citizen Engagement Report for 2022. Important insights gathered from the report include the fact that citizens are less optimistic now than they were in June 2020; Australians value engagement more than ever before; and that engagement helps to build trust, with digital technologies an important enabler in achieving this.

Smart Cities Event Partner Axis Communications also spoke at the event, with Johnny Lee, Business Development Manager for Smart Cities, discussing the company’s role in the evolution of our cities. According to Johnny, Axis is focused on helping to develop urban areas of the future and create cities that people love to live in. With their global expertise, experience and partner network within public safety, urban mobility and environmental monitoring, Axis want to share and inspire authorities about solutions that shape cities today and in the future.

Digital Connectivity

Conference two at Smart Cities explored digital connectivity, the backbone of modern life. 

Our expert speakers explored the networks that connect us professionally, socially and technologically; and looked at the work we need to do to keep these secure, efficient and fit-for-future purposes. We also explored the digital divide, and considered how we can close the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Our keynote speaker was Ian Oppermann, NSW’s Chief Data Scientist. Ian highlighted the fact that connectivity is at the heart of any smart cities project; and he drilled down on the work the New South Wales Government has been undertaking in the digital connectivity realm.

The Government’s Data Reform Program began in 2020, and according to Ian,began to awaken the team’s understanding of the power of data and analytics, and has led to a constant focus on putting data at the heart of decision making. 

Our next speaker was Catherine Caruana-McManus, the Director Strategy and Sales at Meshed, who explored how IoT and data sharing are transforming cities, precincts and places.

Megan Turnley, Stephen Farrugia, Laura Baker and Zoe Eather during the Digital Connectivity conference.

According to Catherine, nationally digital transformation budgets have increased by 63 per cent as a result of COVID-19. Nowadays, digital connectivity is all about real time data – of the over 70 local governments that Catherine and her team are working with, they are all moving towards this more dynamic form of data gathering.

Increasingly, data and connectivity are being recognised for their ability to strengthen decision making and assist in managing risk. We are starting to see data being gathered and ingested into portals such as the NSW Digital Twin, and we are realising that the options for using data to inform opportunities around economic development are almost endless – the only real limit is our imaginations.

Our next session was a panel discussion, titled “Ensuring digital equity across urban, regional and rural Australia”. During this session we heard about some particularly exciting initiatives being undertaken at City of Casey and City of Yarra focused on digital equity.

Laura Baker from City of Casey gave us a sneak peek into a new project being launched next month in Doveton, their least connected suburb, to enhance connectivity there, including smart bus shelters and a tech festival, with more information to be announced soon.

Our panellists all agreed that ensuring digital equity across our communities is a “wicked problem”, and one of the great challenges we currently face in society. It’s always been a challenge, but COVID-19 has only served to highlight the differences in accessibility and equity in our communities. 

Our panellists noted that this challenge is not something councils can solve on their own – they can shine a light and advocate for residents, but all levels of government need to work together to solve this issue.

Our final presentation for the day was from Tanya Lipus who is leading the smart city transformation on the Gold Coast. Tanya shared many of the initiatives that have been undertaken on the Gold Coast, including the installation of Australia’s largest city-owned LoRaWAN network with 94 gateways and 5500 devices.

Digital Connectivity Session Partner Madison Technologies also spoke at this session, with CEO Paul Calabro discussing how the company works with clients on smart city initiatives through data enablement.

“As an Australian business with a mission of enabling our customers to connect and protect people, assets and the environment, we are helping create the smart cities of the future today,” said Paul.

“We understand the networking communications challenges cities face to improve the quality of life through connectivity. We work with local and global partners to improve connectivity in metro and regional areas so that everyone can benefit from a digital infrastructure. We deliver solutions to move from reactive to proactive and predictive outcomes for optimised asset use through data enablement achieving asset visibility, asset responsiveness, asset intelligence and data analytics while securing the solution infrastructure from sensor to cloud with embedded cyber security, our mission promotes the smart cities of the future that are safe, reliable, connected and sustainable.”

Circular economies

Our final conference focused on circular economy, and the opportunities circularity has to offer in the smart community and local government.

Our keynote speaker was Lisa McLean, CEO of NSW Circular, whose presentation focused on the overriding aim of the circular economy framework, which is decoupling economic growth from virgin resource use. Lisa also looked at the economic drivers for circularity – which are really about extracting more value from resources. 

As a result of these economic drivers, Lisa said it’s important to note that there are opportunities that come with circularity – not just costs. Globally the circular economy market is valued at $4.5 trillion and nationally the value is nearly $2 trillion; and the circular economy is expected to generate hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the coming years.

Laura Harvey, Serena Yang, Les Stokes and Sean Trewick discuss circular economy initiatives.

In closing her presentation, Lisa encouraged all councils to set targets around circular economy, as this is what we need to see for action to unfold.

We then moved into our panel session, which focused on turning ideas into action in the circular economy space. Our panellists were Sean Trewick, CEO of Circular Economy Victoria; Les Stokes, Executive Manager Waste & Environment, City of Ballarat; and Serena Yang, Manager Policy and Evaluation, Green Industries SA.

The panel discussed the huge shift in awareness when it comes to circularity in the past three years, with panellists describing the growth as exponential. Our panellists also noted that they are seeing many different approaches to circularity at the local government level – and there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. 

The important thing is to get started; with our panellists  also encouraging organisations and councils to learn from those that are further advanced in their circular economy journeys and replicate the things they have done successfully.

The panel was followed by Django Seccombe, Circular Economy Manager at Sydney Water, who joined us to discuss the circular opportunities Sydney Water is progressing, as part of its development of the Western Parkland City in Sydney’s west.

It’s a unique region, with its population forecast to double to two million by 2056, and it faces significant heat stress and pressure on waterways.

Django discussed the six key areas Sydney Water is focusing on when it comes to the circularity of the region, which are:

  1. Set targets and policies for a circular city
  2. Value circular economy outcomes in business cases for infrastructure investment
  3. Centralise information with a one-stop-shop for resources
  4. Create systems and incentives to connect circular supply chains
  5. Integrate water cycle management for a green, cool and climate resilient city
  6. Aggregate local organic waste collection for bioenergy production

Our next speaker was Ian Davies, the manager of the Hume Circular Business Network, who discussed the inroads he and his team have made in circularity in the City of Hume.

City of Hume has taken a community-centred approach to circularity; with the Hume Circular Business Network seeing themselves as an enabler to capture ideas and community interests and ideas; and then acting as an advocate to secure funding.

The City also has a fully developed plan and timeline and is working towards becoming a circular economy. By 2025 Hume intends to be a waste management city; and by 2030 Hume wants to be a resource recovery city; with the goal that the City is a fully circular economy by 2045.

Our final speaker was Azaria Dobson, Director of Activation Precincts and Partnerships at the Regional Growth NSW Development Corporation. Azaria spoke about the Special Activation Precincts being developed in New South Wales, highlighting the sustainable and circular approach that has been adopted in developing these regions.

Azaria explained that there is a huge focus on data, and ensuring data-driven decision making is undertaken as part of the circular initiatives of the precincts is critically important.

The Corporation has also issued a challenge for circular innovation by calling for new ideas and initiatives in circularity through the NSW Smart City Innovation Challenge.

Next steps for building smarter Australian communities 

After three fantastic days of speakers, presentations and insights, we’re excited to see how the smart cities and community journey continues to unfold at the local government level.

There are so many brilliant projects already being undertaken and planned in the smart council space; and our coverage of smart initiatives will continue in Council in print, online and in our e-newsletter.

If you missed any of the presentations from Smart Cities 2022, they’re available to view on demand at a time that suits you. Click here to watch them on demand.

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