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On the 'next' for smart cities, here's what came from our 2020 Town Hall Meeting

Submitted by Adam Beck on August 10, 2020

At our inaugural virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday 4th August, we brought together some of the region's leading policy makers and practitioners to reflect on the smart cities agenda over the past 5 years.

After a reflection on the past, and a review of the now, here’s what our guests ‘signed off’ with in terms of some insights about what might be next.

Michael Comninos, Director | Astrolabe Group

Pre-COVID, pre-bushfire, pre-flood there was a mood to test whether we could reset some of the ways we were living in our cities and regions. Inequality was starting to accelerate in terms of who's doing well, and who's not. The jobs of the future aren't necessarily available to everybody.

And I think what COVD has shown us is that we need to be very deliberate with how we use our resources, very deliberate with how we use and support our people.

I think that's what has to happen over the next 10 years. It's going to be a reset.

I'm usually quite impatient in this space. It's quite frustrating working in and around government at times.

But I think we can't waste this crisis, and there's a lot of good that's happening because of this crisis, in terms of how we're responding be it the private sector, public sector or the community.

And I think we're going to drive to a reset where, those reaching adulthood in 2030 have a better quality of life than what we had. And 2 to 3 years ago I wasn't sure of that happening, we've got to make sure that we can harness the benefits of the smart city movement to make it can happen

Dr Nathaniel Bavinton, Smart City Coordinator | City of Newcastle

I couldn't agree more about the ‘decade that matters’ story and in terms of our phasing of our maturity at Newcastle, we've just finished our first redesign of our Smart Cities unit. We've broken it apart and we've now brought it intentionally into contact with our sustainability and energy innovation portfolios and our economic development.

And the three of those together – innovation, economy and sustainability - really go a long way to structuring how, we think, the city looks into the future.

I think that's where the big gains are going to be, and I agree with everything Michael said, about not wasting this opportunity that COVID plays.

So, we keep our eye on the big game of climate change, which really makes COVID look like a ripple in terms of impacts on economy and society. That's my view - we need to pivot the whole machinery of the city to focus on that challenge.

Sean Audain, City Innovation Lead | Wellington City Council

The New Zealand Government will spend 17 years’ worth of discretionary funding this year. That is an enormous amount of investment, and that's an investment we're borrowing from our children.

We're very conscious of that, and that's why you're seeing things like well-being ideas starting to drive things as opposed to GDP.

But we need to keep in mind that COVID has increased global hunger by 130 million people, and that's not the people who are hungry, that’s people who are starving, that has set that UN SDG goal back 20 to 30 years.

So, as we look to transform, we have to remember, there are people who depended on the status quo to eat and drink. There are then people who sit there and go ‘I wonder if I can afford a better electric car?’. There are other people who can't move around at all.

The challenge we've got, as a society, is we have to balance that need to transform with that need to ensure equity.

And if we look at where that takes Smart Cities, I think the next generation of Smart City Projects won't take place at local governments.

They will take place at hospitals. They will take place in banks. They will take place at the institutions which make up a city, not the institutions which govern the city.

We're already seeing that ourselves. Some of our most important and interesting adaptation projects are nothing to do with the City at all. They're taking place in banks. And that's the way it should be.

It's a city. It's a smart city. It's not a smart local government.

Brooke Dixon, Managing Director | Delos Delta

I expect that the Smart Cities movement will continue to transform broader policy paradigms, be they economic (e.g. wellbeing rather than GDP), employment (e.g. smart/flexible/remote working), democratic (e.g. digital and deliberative democratic processes), environmental (e.g. confronting climate change), or otherwise.  

To deliver on the great promise of digital tech, Smart Cities must be embedded and advanced at the organisational level.  Just as sustainability has permeated all parts of business and government over the last twenty years, so too should smart city thinking over the next decade.

Finally, I trust that we will see increasing consideration and dialogue about smart city ethics, privacy, security, and how we manage issues of digital power, misinformation and social-cyber relations. Digital and smart tech offers immense opportunity, but such opportunity always comes with risk.  We will need to thoughtfully develop smart policies and regulations to make the most of smart tech, while we reduce the attendant risks.  

Meredith Hodgman, Smart Cities Workstream Chair | Internet of Things Alliance Australia

Good leaders are going to use COVID to build trust, but great leaders are going to use COVID to change the boundaries of impact.

It is  time to move the conversation of smart cities beyond smart parking, and to start really thinking about the vulnerable citizens in our community that are most in need, those who our governments are actually genuinely focused on because that segment of the community aren't necessarily well served by the private sector.

Sean’s comments around food really come to the forefront., it was always going to be the case, whether it was before COVID or after COVID. Our food security is a real problem, water security is a real problem, urban heat islands are a real problem.

It's so great to see everybody here today talking about collaboration as a priority, but actually pushing those boundaries and collaborations and addressing these needs is critical because they cannot be solved by the private sector alone. This is a really difficult place I'd love to see the smart cities sector addressing.

Michelle Fitzgerald, Chief Digital Officer and Smart Cities Lead | City of Melbourne

Building on the good points already made, at a local level I see two key opportunities emerging through COVID.

One is the fact that we're seeing digital cultures being created overnight, that we've been trying to build for years and decades. Not just in our own organisations, but in our communities as well.

Looking in our own organisation, the level of adoption of digital library tools has been phenomenal. Our libraries have never been so popular - it's just that it's all online.

So, I think about all the community members now who can access a book online and actually break through perceived technology barriers, and they are now doing it.

And I am thinking about what it will take to extend that and how do we continue to build trust in a digital world when so much going forward is dependent on legitimate and appropriate use of community data.

So many councils are now seeing a real impact on their revenues over the next couple of years, whether it be parking rates or other sources. For our City and our stakeholders have no choice but to be ruthlessly efficient in the way we use our limited resources.

And technology allows us to do that, whether it be through the use of sensors, video, analytics, AI and so on. So, I'm really hoping this gives us a case to work with our colleagues, to again help them build that trust and the tools and to roll them out at an accelerated pace compared to how we have been progressing so far.

Catherine Caruana McManus, Director and Co-Founder | Meshed IoT

For COVID19 given the virtual connections we are making, there is an opportunity for us to build marketplaces. So when we look at us as individuals, the local community, local businesses such as restaurants and service providers – marketplaces can create those connections.

A smart city connects buyers and sellers together, whatever market/s they service and relate to.

And there’s a really good example in Adelaide, where the City of Prospect created a voucher system online, for the local traders to be able to provide food and meals to the local aged care. That was done through digital, but also done through the fact that the city recognise that people were disconnected, and people who have vulnerabilities can use the concept of Smart Cities to actually bring those marketplaces together.

Also, I think we're going to see an evolution of the circular economy, climate change and sustainable futures. And I agree with what others have said.  Smart cities is about social value, and too often we look at the bottom line, but what are we doing in terms of increasing social equity?

And that's what I think smart cities should be all about.