Realising the true value of data
Sydney, the state capital of New South Wales and most populous city in Australia, is currently ranked 14th globally in the Digital Capitals Index. In the 2020 Smart City Index by the Institute for Management Development (IMD), in collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design, the city is ranked 18 out of 109 cities. The ranking is based on citizens’ perception of the impact that technology has on their quality of lives as well as economic and technological data.
In 2020, the City of Sydney released a Smart City Strategic Framework to harness the opportunities brought about by digital disruption, to plan for uncertainty and to sustain its global reputation as a leading place to live, work, learn and visit. In her introduction to the framework, lord mayor Clover Moore said: “we have developed a shared vision for the future of technology and our city. We see digital technology as a tool to support our diverse community to address pressing challenges and unlock new opportunities.”
Greater Sydney’s population is forecast to grow to about eight million by 2050. Community and business leaders recognise – with almost half the population living in Sydney’s western suburbs – it is time for a rebalancing of economic and social opportunities and a more equitable distribution of services and quality of life.
In a major step toward this rebalancing, the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) was established in 2016 to lead the strategic planning process for the Greater Sydney area. In its first year of operation, it created a 40-year vision for the city’s evolution.
The plan for a three-city metropolis “is a bold vision for three, integrated and connected cities that will rebalance Greater Sydney”
Two years later, the GSC published its Greater Sydney Region Plan: A Metropolis of Three Cities, proposing a transformed metropolitan region where “most residents live within 30 minutes of their jobs, education and health facilities, services and great places”.
Professional services firm KPMG says the plan for Greater Sydney reflects “an emerging national agenda of more connected urban policy to drive the global competitiveness of Australian cities”. Development of the plan required partnerships among the GSC, Infrastructure NSW and Transport for NSW. The plan for a three-city metropolis “is a bold vision for three, integrated and connected cities that will rebalance Greater Sydney,” said Gladys Berejiklian MP, premier of New South Wales, and will serve as a guide for “much-needed investments in transport, infrastructure, services and affordable housing”.
The value of data
Sydney’s Smart City Strategy Framework states “the real value of data that is collected for a clear purpose is in the stories it can tell. Transforming raw data into actionable knowledge requires advanced smart infrastructure capable of structuring, integration and analysis, and it also requires an enabling environment and culture”.
Embedding standards in Sydney’s smart city ecosystem facilitates interoperability and data-sharing, enabling stakeholders to leverage the data and discover ideas for urban solutions. Frank Zeichner, CEO, Internet of Things Alliance, said “it is refreshing to see a city council take the lead in creating a framework that recognises and includes all parties needed to make a city smart.”
Lord mayor Moore said the city sees digital technology as a tool to support “our diverse community to address pressing challenges and unlock new opportunities”. The digital strategy embraces six principles:
- creation of people-centred digital programmes and services
- advocating digital inclusion and lifelong learning
- transformation of community engagement
- support for businesses in building digital skills, knowledge and infrastructure
- participation in urban renewal and provision of smart infrastructure
- ethical innovation in the information marketplace.
In 2018, the Committee for Sydney released a report on effective citizen engagement, a core building block of smart city success. The authors of Smart Engagement: Leveraging Technology for a More Inclusive Sydney claim that to improve people’s lives, “we must understand the issues that impact them most”.
“Transforming raw data into actionable knowledge requires advanced smart infrastructure capable of structuring, integration and analysis, and it also requires an enabling environment and culture”
The report recognises that deployment of smart sensors, data sharing, analytics and automated services drive urban smartness, but smart city success ultimately depends on how these technology solutions improve the quality of urban life. The City of Sydney was one of the first local councils to establish an online hub to ensure public consultation is supported by digital engagement. The Sydney Your Say engagement platform encourages citizens to participate and contribute to decision-making in city planning, wellbeing, culture, the arts and urban strategy.
The platform continues to evolve through the adoption of new technologies, social media, smartphone applications and virtual reality. Sydney supports the principle of “open by default” and its platform provides open data sets on transport, public domain, communities, planning, culture, regulation, economics and the environment.
The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) works at the frontline of smart city planning to harness Internet of Things (IoT) technology and assist local councils in creating more liveable communities. TULIP is a smart city research programme led by UTS in cooperation with partners from local, state and national governments, industry and civil society. Through the TULIP programme, public access networks and sensors are deployed in cities and “supported by an innovative new approach to data architecture”, which collects hyper-local data on urban heat, air quality and noise levels. TULIP serves as a blueprint for local governments to deliver smart city infrastructure.
With a goal of establishing smart city leadership in digital twin technologies, the NSW government and Sydney are creating a Spatial Digital Twin model of Western Sydney’s built and natural environment. This model “will enable planners, developers and policy-makers to make more informed decisions”.
“We see digital technology as a tool to support our diverse community to address pressing challenges and unlock new opportunities”
The technology and data behind a digital twin can help smart city leaders to better communicate infrastructure plans. The NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN) was established to bring together world-class sensing research and position NSW as a leader in sensing technologies. In future, it could play a key role in emergencies and national disasters such as bushfires. In 2020, the NSSN launched its Grand Challenges research programme “to respond to some of the most gripping challenges of our time,” covering the urban environment, economy, public health and society.
The Grand Challenges – selected for the innovative and game-changing role of smart urban sensing – include research programmes for prevention, response and mitigation of bushfires and pandemic emergencies and new solutions for the ageing population.
How will Sydney’s smart city story unfold? Perhaps the city’s recent history provides a clue. The Australian government believes Sydney’s leaders responded to the pandemic with the most sustainable model in the country – making their strategy the gold standard in smart coronavirus management and suppression.
As a centre of commerce and innovation – with the country’s leading knowledge-based economy, world-renowned universities, a thriving start-up environment and visionary leadership – Sydney has the ingredients to accomplish a post-pandemic recovery and establish the city as a gold standard in smart planning, partnering and rebalancing.
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