Big Data, Transport, Trends, Urban Development, VIC

Enhancing our cities with technology and innovation

The concept of the smart city has been steadily gaining traction in the 21st century. From humble beginnings, where technology providers such as Cisco and IBM considered ways their innovations could make cities more automated and sustainable, we’re now moving into the Smart Cities 2.0 era – with a focus on creating platforms for data access, sharing, reuse and interoperability.

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Leading the charge in Australia is the City of Melbourne (CoM), which has been working on various initiatives to enhance its smart credentials for a number of years now.

The focus for CoM is working with the community (residents, workers, businesses, students and visitors) to design, develop and test the best ways to live, work and play in Melbourne. In many cases, innovations in technology will have a role to play in creating and enhancing these experiences.

According to Councillor Dr Jackie Watts, Chair of the Knowledge City portfolio, that’s exactly how a smart city should operate – adopting useful innovation that folds seamlessly into how we live our lives to improve our day-to-day experiences.

“Melbourne’s smart city agenda helps make our city more enjoyable and accessible for residents, workers, businesses, students and visitors,” said Dr Watts. “In many cases, innovation and technology will play a role in creating and enhancing these experiences.”

Planning for changing needs

Dr Watts says that CoM’s vision for Melbourne as a smart city is simple: to enhance the aspects of the city that makes it uniquely Melbourne, and intelligently prepare for the changing needs of the community, the environment and the economy.

A wide range of initiatives have been implemented or are being developed, including:

Open data platform – the platform features over 100 unique data sets that are available to the public to view and use. One data set comes from CoM’s 24 hour pedestrian counting system, which helps the city understand pedestrian activity in the city’s busiest locations, allowing for better planning for population growth in the future. Other examples include the Bikeshare Live Feed, which provides data on the city’s bike share system, and the environment data set which contains information on shared spaces and parks.

Smart bins – CoM will install more than 360 smart litter bins in the CBD following a successful trial of 14 bins last year. This was announced in May in the city’s draft budget. The new bins hold seven times the waste of a standard litter bin and will help to reduce garbage truck movements in busy CBD areas.

Development Activity Monitor (DAM) – the DAM monitors major new commercial and residential property developments in the city. It outlines which developments have recently been completed, are under construction, planned or proposed in the city. Data in the DAM is used to help plan for the future development of the city.

Vision Australia partnership – CoM is working with Melburnians who are blind, deaf or deaf–blind to better understand how they navigate through the city. With Vision Australia, CoM trialled beacon technology in Campbell Arcade near Flinders Street Station, which transmits location-specific information. The data from this pilot will be used to help inform possible future solutions that CoM hopes will help more Melburnians independently navigate the city.

The role of data

According to Dr Watts, both data and big data will have an integral role to play in how the city plans and develops as a leading smart city.

“Data not only provides a measurable fact base to understand the current landscape of the city, it can also be used to forecast into the future and contribute to how we plan for future needs,” said Dr Watts.

For example, from the use of sensors placed throughout the city, CoM can see how comfortably pedestrians are moving and areas where footpath overcrowding is a problem.

“This type of analysis helps us plan for future infrastructure needs that solve real problems and help make our city more liveable for residents, workers, businesses, students and visitors.”

CoM has a strong focus on creating and leveraging a strong evidence base to inform city planning, utilising data from the city, other layers of government, and third parties.

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One such data set is the CoM’s Census of Land and Employment (CLUE), which provides information about economic activity, tracks changes in land use and identifies key trends in employment across the municipality.

“CLUE is essential for us to understand how we are performing as a city, informs our strategy and contributes to the development of Council policies,” said
Dr Watts.

“We use CLUE data to assess changes and trends in the city, and for strategic planning, economic forecasting and long-term council planning. It is also used to assist businesses with planning of new retail outlets and business relocations.”

Released in May, the latest CLUE data shows that the number of jobs in the municipality has increased by 26 per cent (93,000 new positions) in the past decade and the economy is worth 42 per cent more than it was in 2006, at $92.1 billion.

The latest CLUE report also demonstrates the importance of Melbourne’s status as a knowledge city, with more than a quarter of the new jobs (25,400 positions) in the past ten years created in professional, scientific and technical services.

It also shows that Melbourne’s construction boom is continuing, with 29,000 new dwellings and about eight million square metres of floor space added to the municipality in the past
ten years.

Open data is the key

Central to CoM’s approach to establishing itself as a smart city is the Open Data platform. According to Dr Watts, by making their datasets open, CoM can increase transparency, improve public services and support new economic and social initiatives.

For example, local app developers are using the council’s open data to create innovative new apps such as NearbyNeeds. This app shows where people can find nearby facilities such as toilets, bike racks and barbecues. Essentially, the Open Data platform creates a collaborative environment where third parties are able to contribute their own ideas and innovations to the city.

Future additions to the Open Data platform include data relating to on street parking within the city. CoM is upgrading its existing on-street parking sensor technology to a real-time system, and once the upgrade is complete and data is available, it will be published to the platform.

“The idea here is that a couple of smart people out there will take the data, apply some predictive analytics, and create new parking apps that will help direct people to locations across the city where parking spots are most likely to be available,” said Dr Watts.

And it’s not just an app that will benefit frustrated city parking spot hunters.

“Given that around 30 per cent of traffic congestion is said to be created by people looking for parking spaces, a solution such as this could help reduce congestion, reduce emissions and save people’s time,” said Dr Watts.

“We also like to give all visitors to the city, regardless of their mode of transport, the confidence that they will be able to get where they need to go in a convenient and timely way.

“They’re then more likely to come back and spend more money with our local businesses, this is important for jobs creation. There’s a cycle of potential benefits here – all from putting up one data set on our open data platform.”

Where to now?

Earlier this year the city opened its Resilient Melbourne Citymart Challenge – a global open innovation challenge, open for three months, inviting ideas and solutions to help reduce transport congestion, and/or make the experience of travel more socially fulfilling.

The challenge is hosted locally by the Resilient Melbourne Delivery Office and the City of Melbourne’s Smart City Office, and supported internationally by Citymart, a US based agency specialising in open innovation. Melbourne was one of only four cities globally to be granted Citymart’s services, valued at over USD$50,000, in a competitive offering by The Rockefeller Foundation through its 100 Resilient Cities initiative.

Submissions close on June 23, after which a panel of leaders and experts from government and the university and business sectors will select the best idea and work with the winner to explore ways to support the implementation of their solution.

Submissions received so far indicate the challenge is achieving its aim: to attract fresh thinking that is impactful, feasible, and locally suitable. Submissions to date are for a diverse range of solution types at various stages of maturity and scale, with submitters ranging from large multinational transit providers to local creatives.

Where to now for the City of Melbourne? Watch this space.

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