by Al Pearson and Janice Lee, Integrated Infrastructure Partners, PwC Australia

When it comes to planning infrastructure, the smart money is on smart precincts.

The concept of smart precincts is gaining momentum, and Australia’s smart precincts agenda has every reason to gather speed.

Recently, PwC Australia’s Integrated Infrastructure team joined forces with the University of Technology Sydney and its Industry Professor, Ian Oppermann, to state the case for why planning the smart cities of tomorrow must begin today, and to provide a blueprint to usher in a new era for smart precinct design and development.

Here in Australia, an unprecedented number of precincts are in the planning pipeline across the country, as governments of all levels invest in place and transport infrastructure, renew centres, and refresh social and cultural infrastructure.

In fact, no fewer than 45 major precinct developments are in planning throughout Australia right now, from Fishermans Bend in Victoria to the Westmead Health precinct in New South Wales, or South Australia’s Tonsley Innovation District, and Nambeelup Industrial Area in Western Australia.

When the modern smart cities movement began in Australia more than a decade ago, it was more a conceptual model for the transformation of cities, but since then, we’ve seen a host of more advanced pilots, plans and funding programs right across the nation, developed at all levels of government and made possible by a range of technologies.

What makes a city ‘smart’?

While digital dormancy continues to be a barrier, a combination of circumstances is creating a burning platform for a next generation of smart precinct design and development.

These include substantial infrastructure investment by state and federal governments and the subsequent opportunities to reimagine precincts and design places, along with tech advances such as Cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), the saturation of mobile devices and NBN coverage.

Further driving this burning platform, the impacts of climate change driving demands for circular design, rising digital literacy and greater tolerance when it comes to data sharing as a result of COVID-19 (think check-ins), and of course, new ways of working triggered by the pandemic.

What is it that makes a precinct ‘smart’? Our research with the UTS has found the most successful smart precincts tend to include:

♦ Smart, data-driven services that improve citizen experience and drive operational productivity
♦ Shared public and private data streams joined together for valuable insights thanks to the willingness of citizens to share their personal data in exchange for better services
♦ Emerging technologies such as IoT creating unique, usercentric experiences

The other common denominators among successful smart precincts include:

♦ Electrification to enhance local mobility and reduce emissions
♦ The use of digital twins
♦ Artificial intelligence
♦ Renewable energy sources

Precincts are smart when they encompass the unique place, experience, and connectivity outcomes for users and citizens. That is, when technology is planned with purpose.

The key success factors

Our global study of the benchmark cities around the world for smart precinct design included deep dive analysis in Rio de Janeiro, Hangzhou, Seoul, Barcelona and New York.

This study, combined with our own experience of smart city projects, saw us observe six key success factors that can help operationalise smart city projects.

1. Strategy and planning

The successful examples of smart city execution begin with a smart city strategy or roadmap in place for the precinct. We observed this in Rio, where good strategy and planning has facilitated Rio de Janeiro’s Operations Centre.

Staffed 24 hours a day, the facility coordinates the activities of more than 300 local and state departments, plus private utility and transport companies – all integrated into a single, digital command-and-control system.

2. Data and analytics

Data assets are planned for integrated analytics, which are used to drive decision-making. Seoul has more than 5,000 datasets readily available.

In Seoul, information is provided in open API format, offering citizens real-time bus schedules, subway updates, locations of public Wi-Fi services, and more.

3. Technology

Consolidated ICT architecture is planned for the precinct, to enhance quality and interactivity of services.

4. Partnerships

Collaborative partnerships models support the delivery of smart technology in precincts. The power of partnerships was observed in Hangzhou, where the local government, Alibaba, and a number of other companies, collaborated to achieve smart services and outcomes for the city. It included the design of City Brain – a cloud-based, real-time data capture, aggregation and management system.

5. Social licence

Community engagement is ongoing, and is focused on problem solving, building trust, and maintaining social licence.

6. Digital literacy

A commitment to building citizen digital literacy, and inclusiveness policies to support the adoption of smart technology and solutions.

For instance, in New York, the Mayor’s Office invites citizens to participate in open competitions and propose ideas to solve real urban challenges.

Six steps to get started

Ultimately, what defines a smart place is the strategy and partnerships for embedding technology and data elements with communities, and the way the community is part of the design and learning process.

So, how to get started? Based on our study of global smart cities, PwC Australia and UTS recommend six steps to get governments operationalising proof of concepts.

These are: define your target outcomes first, establish your maturity level, prioritise citizen engagement, establish governance and practices, form delivery partnerships, and secure funding.

As you embark on your journey, there are some key questions you will want to ponder: what do these steps look like for your organisation? Have you identified the proven technologies that can deliver the outcomes you seek?

How will you co-design solutions with citizens, private sector partners, and other public agencies? What might the regulatory landscape look like in the coming years?

With vision, collaboration and decisiveness, Australia’s smart city developments can succeed in building better precincts and more sustainable communities, and attracting global tenants and new industries. It’s critical these are done properly, because if not, we run a real risk of making generational planning errors and could be counting the cost of retrofitting these sites for decades.

Ultimately, Australia has a rare window of opportunity, right now.

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