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Building smart cities from Spain to Singapore

  • In smart cities, data and technology converge to improve the wellbeing of people, communities and the environment
  • As technology gets better and cheaper, less populated areas will also benefit from smart-city principles
  • Connectivity, open data, transparency and opportunities to exchange ideas are central policies of smart cities

With more than 60 per cent of people in Australia living in urban areas, smart cities are absolutely critical to sustained economic growth and environmental protection.

Welcome to the smart city. It’s where data and technology come together to improve your life and the wellbeing of the people and communities around you. And it’s the first glimpse of a future where Internet of Things technology is making real-world living faster and cheaper than ever before.

It’s not only about city living, says Dr. Jack Dan, national general manager, Government, at Telstra. “As the ubiquitous use of technology becomes economically viable, even sparse and unpopulated areas will benefit enormously from connected smart technologies,” he says.

With that in mind, here are just a few of the ways people are embracing smart cities the world over:

Start strong  

Whether they’re government initiatives or a mixture of public and private projects, smart cities need to be built on solid foundations if they’re going to succeed. This means creating test-beds for disruptive new technologies, which could be anything from smart transport and intelligent buildings to creating “green corridors” in areas with high carbon dioxide emissions.

“Barcelona is an often-quoted example of a smart city, and rightly so,” says Dr. Dan. “They have invested in smart infrastructure, opened up public sector data and now enjoy a thriving ecosystem of enabling sensors, apps, connected infrastructure and transparent decision making and investment that ultimately delivers for the people.”

Build on connectivity

Each city needs to work to identify the level of connectivity it needs, then plan appropriately. This could mean investing in fibre backbones running through the city and into surrounding council areas, and leveraging them for uniqutuous wireless connecitivty. It means sharing costs and allows the smart city to grow organically into neighbouring areas as the population increases.

This kind of growth offers both direct and indirect benefits for citizens, Dr. Dan says. For example, smart LED lighting in Los Angeles is optimising infrastructure and investment so it can be directed where it’s needed most.

Create living labs

Smart cities need to develop dedicated, accessible places where people, governments and the private sector can co-design urban solutions, trial technologies and share data and knowledge about smart solutions within the city. Known as living labs, they range from small spaces in which people exchange ideas and view the city’s smart solutions in action through to precincts where pilot projects are trialled in context.

“The United Nations predicts that by 2050, about two-thirds of humanity will live in more than 40 mega-cities of 10 million people each,” says Dr. Dan. “Given this context, it is important that citizens are actively engaged in determining the future of their cities.”


“The United Nations predicts that by 2050, about two-thirds of humanity will live in more than 40 mega-cities of 10 million people each. Given this context, it is important that citizens are actively engaged in determining the future of their cities.”

- Dr Jack Dan, national general manager, government, Telstra

Leverage open data  

Open data policies improve transparency, accountability and the ability to analyse the data generated by smart-city initiatives. Running in parallel are policies that protect privacy and de-identify data. Open data should also be easily accessible, such as a website that allows citizens and policymakers to explore and analyse it to achieve new and innovative outcomes.

It’s this level of transparency, Dr. Dan says, that’s critical to the overall success of the smart city. “The more governments at all levels make available data in an open, transparent and reliable way, the more thriving the development of the smart city ecosystem will become.”

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