Prospect: South Australia’s Rising Smart City

The City of Prospect is a small municipality in the state of South Australia with a population of only 20,000, but it has big ambitions that are being recognized internationally.

For the sixth time in eight years, Prospect was listed in the Top 21 Intelligent Communities in the world by the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum (ICF).

Six indicators -- broadband, a knowledge workforce, innovation, digital equality, sustainability and advocacy -- determine the award and are also the guiding principles around Prospect’s policies.

At Prospect, becoming a smart city is not about technology. The city is a mostly residential community with an attractive and bustling "high street" of retailers and restaurants and has been the center for major apartment development in recent years.

The city’s business and innovation director Chris Hannaford said the aim was to use the influx of new residents to drive a localized commercial revitalization, instead of seeing those new residents forced to go outside of the area to work.

“It is all about how we make the shift from an apartment-led revitalization to both apartment and commercial development,” Hannaford said.

The Real Estate and Fiber

Startups and home-based businesses are at the center of Prospect’s smart city strategy, with a focus on health, media, security and defense. The defense focus fits in with a broader South Australian state policy with the capital Adelaide as the center for the naval shipbuilding industry.

Technology, however, is useful only if it can facilitate policies, which is about the community and its needs. They are also not just for current residents but need to attract new business into the area as part of the revitalization.  

To this end, Prospect recently completed a high-speed broadband initiative installing over 250 meters of fiber wiring to the Prospect Road Innovation Precinct, which is anchored on four critical buildings on the Prospect Road high street. It comprises the Little City Coworking Studio, business hub serviced offices, a new library, and a cinema building.

Called GigCity, the network delivers internet speeds up to ten times higher than the publicly-funded fiber to the node National Broadband Network.

The formula is a simple but attractive one, and the catchword is "ecosystem," comprising high-speed broadband plus commercial space in an environment offering great coffee and entertainment.

The cinema might seem an odd choice for installation, but the Palace Nova cinema is part of a national chain which needs high-speed internet to download and transfer movies.

The plan is to attract high data using a flagship tenant for the top floor of the Cinema building, further anchoring the project.

Major David O’Loughlin saw the ultra-high broadband, offered at low cost to business, as “both a business and lifestyle competitive advantage.”

While the concept is the culmination of ten years of work by the Council on its digital strategy and main street upgrades, they are not doing it alone. Prospect taps into the nearby University of Adelaide’s Smart Cities Consortium for training and development.

The University incubator program delivers training with the aim of helping startups negotiate the critical first 12-month period when statistics show a large number of failures.

Redefining Smart

Beyond technology, Prospect is seeking to reinvent what "smart" means to the local government.

In Australia, local government authorities have long been stereotyped as being all about three "R's" of "rates, rubbish and roads." But in the 21st century a smart city, and particularly a highly local one is about so much more.

Principles of sustainability and innovation, for example, have been built into the tender criteria for waste management projects, and council management of public spaces such as parks are now digitized on publicly-available apps.

Prospect may have been developing its smart city strategy over the last decade, but the fiber network will be a game changer.

It will be worth checking back in two years or so, to see how much smarter the city has become.