Why the Census is critical to Australia's plan for 'smart cities'

A smart city, Fritz Lang style. Picture: UFA Paramount Pictures

Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics will gather an unparalled statistical story of Australia. The Australian census captures data that will be used to help plan for services in health, education, transport and general urban infrastructure. It provides this country with an opportunity to shape a better future for everyone.

While there is no doubt that the census provides a crucial snapshot of Australian life, what would happen if we adjusted our camera lense to shoot in real-time? Imagine the possibilities that open up if we could build on this population-wide image with a continuous flow of data on the performance of our cities. This dynamic view could help to create an even brighter future for all citizens of this country.

For generations, the concept of a smart city has been preserve of science fiction novels. Yet, today we are moving closer to creating smart cities that use real time data to improve life for all Australians. We now live in an age where the technology needed to make smart cities a reality is already at our fingertips. We measure our footsteps and heart rate via our smart phones to improve fitness. We use GPS to track the whereabouts of items on a constantly updated map. Technology that would have been considered unnecessary or indeed unimaginable a decade ago we now take for granted. The question is, how can these technology innovations be implemented on a city-wide scale?

Today we live in cities that work on the basis of often unstable historic town planning that could never have predicted how population would grow. Town planners are under constant pressure to facilitate a growing population with adequate housing and amenities. While data from the census provides a firm basis for making these decisions, using cloud based technology that can house a city’s real time data and connect its networks seamlessly, will take our cities to the next level.

Preeti Bajaj. Photo: supplied

Smart cities will be able to track the amount of people working and living within areas, and be able to proactively plan resources according to their needs. Town planners will be able to use data that will help them to plan further in advance, to offer the best possible experience for growing families in an urban environment.

The world’s resources are finite and with cities accounting for 75% of global energy consumption we need to work hard to conserve our usage. With the technology of smart cities, we will be able to monitor exactly where energy is being used and how best to utilise it.

Spain has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to implementing smart cities. Schneider Electric supported Valdespartera in Spain to embrace smart city technology to promote a sustainable living environment. Water, energy and waste collection have all been optimised due to the smart city’s data collection and connectivity. Valdespartera has created a successful live biodiversity laboratory for the world to learn from. Within Australia, the implementation of smart cities will enable us to manage our carbon footprint far more effectively and create a fitting legacy for the generations after us.

Living in a safe city should be a basic expectation for any citizen and their families. Our smart cities will be able to connect the police to respond to any issue quicker and more effectively. Lighting sensors will be able to monitor your route home, providing effective lighting when necessary, ultimately giving you and your family increased piece of mind. Amsterdam offers just one example of a city that has utilised reactive lighting to create a safer living space.

The smart city will not only be able to tailor its technology in the streets, but also within buildings. Today we expect our phones and computers to adapt to our behaviour as they learn about our preferences in navigating our lives. Why should your workplace be any different? Smart cities can harbour technology that senses your behaviour within the office, tailoring lighting, air quality and heating to suit. A strong and thriving workplace is one that builds on human connections. Does there need to be more space in certain areas? Are workstations adequate? All of these questions can be quickly answered using data and will help create a prosperous, healthier and more productive Australia.

After a long day at work, you can return to a house that knows the movements of your family and can act accordingly. You can enter your family home with lighting, heating and air quality tailored to your needs and movements. Costs and carbon footprint can both be greatly reduced with the increase of sensors that capture when your family needs the technology.

The concept of capturing data to better our lives is not a new one. We monitor our lives on our smart phones and connect with our family and friends. When used correctly, it can benefit our lives to the point where it is difficult to imagine life before this technology existed. The privacy and autonomy of Australians remains sacred and smart cities will utilise the highest security to protect them. With security risks minimised, the potential of smart cities cannot be ignored.

In April, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled an ambitious funding plan to build “30 minute cities,” where residents can access essential work, school and lifestyle services within a half-hour commute.

Today’s census provides a strong anthropological study, but all parties involved must seek to build upon its foundations. In a pressurised world, it is time that we embrace the possibilities of smart cities to enhance our lives.

The smart city is not something to be feared; rather it is to be embraced by Australia as it paves the way for future generations.

* Preeti Bajaj is vice president of strategy and transformation at Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management and automation.

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