Smart Infrastructure for Equitable Communities

Charlie Gillon
October 23, 2019

The Australia and New Zealand Smart Cities Week is fast approaching for 2019!

In anticipation of the event, we wanted to share some thoughts on this year’s conference theme: Smart Infrastructure, Equitable Communities and why having a people first approach is critical to smart cities.

Smart Infrastructure
Infrastructure has been central to the uptake of smart cities in Australia. The Federal Government’s City Deals delivery model is focused on infrastructure delivery that transforms our cities and regions using technology and reform.

For infrastructure to be ‘smart’, it needs to consider three elements:

Planning: infrastructure decisions must be made with a clear problem-focused outcome, and with long-term in mind. As much as is possible, infrastructure planning must be developed in consultation with those who will be affected.

Delivery: building, upgrading and maintaining urban infrastructure is expensive. Technology implementation in the name of smart cities will require different ways of delivery - innovative financing options, governance reform, and partnerships and collaboration across the public, private, and academic sectors.

Implementation: it must have the capacity to be smart itself. Linked to smart planning, new infrastructure should be built ‘digital first’. This means having data gathering functions built in, so that cities can learn and develop insights that can be used to plan and initiate positive change for their communities.

Equitable Communities
There has been a noticeable shift in how we approach smart cities. The early smart cities agenda was led by technology first. Companies with 'digital solutions' commonly offered up smart cities package to cities.

We can now see a more people focused approach to the value of smart cities. There is a move towards focusing on the community - both making sure that outcomes reflect needs, and empowering citizens so that they can participate as cities change.

Again, we consider three elements that make smart cities equitable cities:

Engagement: Engagement with citizens and the community is core to smart cities, and reflects a move to more transparent and equitable decision-making. Citizens need to have the opportunity to be a part of the planning process during multiple stages. This should be before decisions are made, during implementation, and ongoing. A leading global example of this is Barcelona’s Decidim project – an online digital citizen participation platform.

Digital equity and literacy: Service delivery is changing, shifting to online and integrated platforms in the name of efficiency. While the younger generation may be ‘digital natives’, and devices like mobile phones are available to most, technology can also become a barrier.

Delivering equitable community services means addressing a variety of needs, fostering digital equity and literacy so that no one is behind. The City of Sydney’s Digital Strategy, for example, prioritises digital inclusion and lifelong learning. At the Good Things Foundation Australia, they work with socially excluded people to build capacity in digital technology and increase digital inclusion.

Public spaces: Equitable communities also means considering what we want for our public spaces. Liveability is a central goal of the smart city narrative. We must retain the vibrant places and green spaces that make our cities great and exciting, where citizens and visitors can feel safe, comfortable, and included.

Places are all about people
Creating a smart city includes both digital tools and reform to governance - this approach is our specialty. We are focused on providing tangible benefits, connecting people and places.

Astrolabe Group is proud to be an innovation partner of the Smart Cities Council (Australia and New Zealand), hosts of Smart Cities Week.

The smart cities movement is something close to our mission statement: creating positive impact for people and places. We believe that a smart city is one that uses technology to deliver solutions that improve people’s lives.

About Smart Cities Week
Smart Cities Week is an annual conference, bringing together government, industry and academia to take stock of the smart cities agenda in Australia and Asia, and pave the way forward. This year the event is from the 30 October to 1 November in Sydney. This is the second installment of the event and you can see our thoughts on last year’s conference here.

Over the course of Smart Cities Week 2019, Astrolabe Group will be there. Follow us on LinkedIn to stay in the loop. We’ll also be live tweeting at the event – find us on Twitter @Astrolabe_AU, and follow the hashtag #SCWAus.

If you’re heading to Smart Cities Week, let us know! We’d love to get in touch.

Charlie is a consultant at Astrolabe Group. He started at Astrolabe in September 2019, and brings academic expertise after a PhD in urban geography on housing in Sydney, and a postdoc on smart cities governance in Australia.


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