How to Set Up a Smart City?


Fishermans Bend is a large industrial area in Melbourne that the state government of Victoria has designated for urban renewal. Masterplanning specialist, Niall Cunningham, leads the WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff team appointed to develop a Smart City Framework as part of the overarching, government-led, Fishermans Bend Strategic Framework Plan, which will guide future development of this inner-city precinct for at least 80,000 residents with the commercial opportunities to create 60,000 jobs. 

What technologies are involved in creating a ‘smart city’?

This may sound strange, but technology is the last thing we consider when embarking on developing a smart city strategy. First we need to identify the key urban drivers and what challenges are associated with the individual city, and only then can you start to think about how technology can help solve those challenges. Globally we see many examples of cities where ‘smart’ technology has been implemented, at considerable expense, without really considering why. Technology is an enabler driven by people’s needs to make a community future-ready and the best place to live, work and play.

The acquisition of good data is one of the key components of a smart city, and one challenge we have at present is to ensure the data being collected is reliable and of good quality. What’s more, we don’t know what opportunities and challenges the future will bring. So we believe the answer is to provide the framework today that will allow the capture and use of the right data in the future to enable effective, evidence-based decision-making for the benefit of the community in the local context.

So what are the benefits to a city or precinct of being ‘smart’?

We focus on delivering triple bottom line benefits through our smart city initiatives - social, environmental and financial.

For example we currently see a lot of initiatives around parking. Statistics tell us that around 30% of cars on city roads are looking for parking spaces. So if you had smart parking with real-time information about where parking places are available, you could reserve your parking space and park within a certain time. Your smart app could also tell you how long it will take you to get to that parking place and the traffic conditions along the way. Being smart could therefore help relieve traffic congestion, which has a range of associated social, environmental and financial benefits.

Energy is another area of focus. If we understood, through smart metering, the consumption behaviour of our buildings, precincts and cities we could then optimise our networks to achieve efficient and resilient energy networks which would ultimately deliver a range of positive outcomes for the community. Taking this one step further, we see the potential for individuals or communities to generate, store and trade energy with ‘smart’ technology enabling peer-to-peer type transactions.

Predictive flood risk assessment and dynamic flood management is another area where we believe there is a real opportunity to become ‘smart’ and make our cities more resilient. Successfully managing flood risk in our cities would again deliver triple bottom line benefits for communities. We are also hearing anecdotally that insurance companies would consider reducing premiums in areas where such management systems were in place.

And the list goes on.

How does all this relate to Fishermans Bend?

Fishermans Bend presents a unique opportunity to build a smart city from the ground up, and that’s possible because it’s being delivered in parallel with the regeneration of the precinct, and is being embedded into the overall framework for the development

With a precinct this size, the scale of data you could collect offers enormous potential for it to become a successful smart city. What we are doing is providing the backbone infrastructure and policy now to pave the way for whatever is required in the future. We’re not specifying particular end point solutions at this early stage as we believe this will create too narrow a focus.

Can you give any examples of the strategy?

We’re in the process of writing a document which articulates the Smart City Framework. It’s very early days, but we have identified six pillars for Fishermans Bend to ensure the precinct is smart-ready. They include implementing smart design standards; establishing a data repository; facilitating a smart ecosystem; and engaging the community. So for example, the smart design standards will articulate a requirement for property developers to ensure their premises satisfy minimum smart standards and specifications. For very little additional cost, each premises will then be smart-ready, and able to provide data for analysis to deliver cost savings and other benefits for the community in the future. Facilitating a smart ecosystem includes such measures as establishing a high-capacity communication network; or designing public realm spaces to be smart-ready.

When is this going to become a reality?

The overall strategic plan for Fishermans Bend will be released later this year. After that there will doubtless be further opportunities for WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff as the plans progress in greater detail and design starts on the infrastructure and buildings. But this is the first time in Australia that we have been involved in such a significant development right at the beginning. It’s a real adventure!

To read more about how we can create smarter or more efficient cities to support our growing populations, read Niall’s article “Growing Pains – The Challenges of Smart City Initiatives” in The Urban Developer.