by Imogen Schifferle, Innovation and Regional Partnerships Coordinator, City of Albury Wodonga

As regional communities around Australia begin their journeys towards creating a smart and innovative environment for residents to live, work and play in, it’s important that they stop to consider exactly what being a “smart community” means in the regional context.

The most expansive and inclusive thing we can do for the community is build a digital foundation. However, there is a monumental challenge that lies in the implementation of the traditional layers of connectivity infrastructure.

Regional towns and communities are inherently different to cities. Residents have different ways of working, living and moving around communities; and they have different values and thrive in a different cultural norm.

The vision to digitally transform an entire region is bold. It’s the kind of collective deep dive that can only be pursued by grounding itself in the value systems that drive our regional communities. Taking this approach will ultimately deliver smart communities that reflect their diversity, their economies and the regional environment.

Seeking to implement the traditional components of a smart city in the regional context is a monumental task.

The differences between cities and regional

In cities, IoT platforms are information highways – they are used as an electricity point we ‘plug’ our cities into. We plug in data points and build infrastructure around them to serve as a smart serviced city for our communities.

Complex IoT electricity circuits are built, and presumptions are made that the availability of a ‘power point’ will give our communities the ability to turn their lives on and connect.

That’s an ideal model for dense, socioeconomically advanced urban city councils. Information superhighways run through cities like their equally well-planned, grid-like infrastructure. These cities are built with an access point for the future.

In regional Australia, it’s a different story. We run our infrastructure around our rolling hills, our agricultural grids, and our harsh and unrelenting environment. We build with a near future lens, to simply and quickly be able to provide for the next stage of expansion. Our communities remain connected through their resilience, not IoT platforms.

The Ovens Murray and Riverina Murray Regions collectively cover over 180,000 square kilometres of Australia and have a high level of self-containment, due to their distance from metropolitan Melbourne and Sydney. This self-containment has resulted in rapid transformation and individual reforms that have created a culture of innovative thought patterns and short-term problem solving.

As a result, throughout the region we have a number of datasets that remain centralised and specific, with no broadspectrum approach.

 

A new approach

Meanwhile, the recent battering of the region through the worst bushfire season in Australia’s history, and the impacts COVID-19 border closures have turned the focus to our need for resilience in a different form, paving the way for the digital rejuvenation of our urban and rural environments.

The approach to digitisation will see a movement away from treatment technologies and solutions to prevention technologies
and solutions, through a diverse overlay of combined connected infrastructure leading to systems and policy reforms.

This approach focuses on capturing datasets with the aim of decentralisation, allowing our communities to actively participate in contributing insights that align with their personal value system. Leading to a community driven decision-making process that allows Council to prescribe and not dictate innovation.

This same model will be critical to mobilising datasets for two-way communication between community and essential infrastructure services, amenities and services providers such as healthcare, education and primary regional industries.

Current innovative partnerships

As we work to enable our region to be smarter, more resilient and more sustainable, while improving livability, there are a number of new technologies and partnerships we are currently undertaking.

Council is conducting trials into innovative parking and compliance solutions that allow for greater accessibility to the CBD, while utilising the opportunity to engage our community more deeply in how they interact with the city and its service offerings. While being supported by a solar powered network that will also capture emissions data and climatic indicators.

This will help us to improve planning for population growth, infrastructure needs and climate patterns that are impacted by
motor vehicle fossil fuels. We’ve also taken a holistic approach to waste management, improving our environmental impact through a program to halve waste in collaboration with eleven regional Councils.

In addition, we use data points that indicate real-time usage and climatic factors that affect waste emission to determine continuous improvement opportunities. Projects are in development to deliver a life radius reform for our regional communities, empowering them to have the greatest possible livability outcomes within proximity of their home and workplace, powered by digital technologies and collaborative global partnerships.

In addition, the planned development of Community and Industry lead Regional IoT Network aims to cover six LGA’s and four shires offering IoT access ‘as a service’. Community and industry are leading the utilisation of the network, allowing their values and priorities to inform the Council of their needs.

The development of a high-speed regional hub-and-spoke data centres allow for high-speed fibre edge computing, enabling our critical transport corridors with the capacity for M2M logistics, provide primary industry with the capacity to automate and grow with AI, and the eventual growth of investment in high-speed business parks.

Critical connected incident pathways for our emergency services, boost service delivery for healthcare providers to access our vulnerable communities, and digital applications in our agriculture and horticulture belts.

Ultimately, the environment we live in calibrates our communities and guides our innovation. Regional Australia’s roadmap to connectivity strives to promote unity, focusing on humanitarian principles grounded in scientific data.

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