Creating the City That Knows

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Michael Stav

The City of Melbourne was founded in 1835 and is famous for its trams and 19th-century buildings, but that doesn’t mean the city hasn’t been updated for the 21st century.

Melbourne, in fact, is an Australian leader in Smart City implementation as both the State Government and local government authority the City of Melbourne have prioritized Smart City initiatives as part of the city’s ongoing regeneration.

At the City of Melbourne, Councilor Dr. Jackie Watts is the chair of the Knowledge City portfolio and has helped drive the city’s push, at the center of which is the idea of open data.

In this she is assisted by a chief digital officer, Michelle Fitzgerald, the second to be appointed to this role at an Australian state capital after Brisbane.

Dr. Jackie Watts makes the point that the City authority isn’t doing this on its own. The data initiatives enable greater collaboration between organizations and businesses and encourage innovation through data access.

“Our Open Data platform for instance now has more than 200 datasets that enable us to share city information with businesses and the broader community, with the objective of enabling this data to be used to create new innovations and adapt to changing conditions,” Dr. Watts says.

Through the Open Data platforms, anyone — anywhere — can see figures on how many people come into the city on any given day, the census of land use and development activity, and data on employment.

The employment data is particularly relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions, and analyzing the dataset over coming months will deliver insights on the real employment impact, and allow better fiscal measures around business stimulus and rate relief.

Travel intelligence

One of the keys to making the city smarter is updating the transport systems. Melbourne has connected data across all elements of the network — from vehicles to traffic lights, trams, buses, cyclists and pedestrians — to drive greater efficiency.

To do this, says Dr. Watts, requires all road users to connect with each other.

Melbourne’s Transport Strategy 2030 includes smarter traffic signals, dynamic lighting solutions and improved safety for pedestrians, with thousands of sensors already installed in footpaths through the CBD.

From this, data is collected which compares pedestrian volumes over time periods, reflecting peak hours, major events and the impact of weather conditions.

Pedestrians are not the only moving objects in Melbourne to be detected by sensors. The City has also installed more than 4,300 ground sensors under street parking spaces, which detect vehicle movements over time.

This is used by traffic wardens to enforce compliance — and yes, write parking tickets thus raising revenue — but is also made publicly available for developers who have created apps which deliver information on available parking, saving motorists time and making city traffic move more freely.

For people who are blind or deaf, the City has partnered with Vision Australia to trial beacon technology which transmits location specific information to smart phones.

Safguarding the environment

Sensors have also been deployed across the City of Melbourne’s parks and waterways to measure a spectrum of environmental factors.

In most large parks in the city, these measure soil moisture and water quality, data which is used to understand when parks need water, and how much they need. The result is the more efficient use of water resources, which are particularly scarce at the height of the dry Australian summer.

Then there are sensors in the solar smart garbage bins, which sense when the bin is filling up and use a gentle system of compaction to store more waste. And when the bins are full, the sensors effectively call the trucks to come and empty them.

In terms of sustainability, the City has also installed just under 4000 solar LED light poles which send data via a smart meter network which monitors the performance of each light.

5G game changer

Going forward, Dr. Watts sees the imminent arrival of 5G technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) as the next major enablers for innovation.

“If such disruptions are leveraged intelligently, they can enable, enhance and protect the livability, sustainability and economic growth of our city,” she says.

Dr. Watts makes the point that the City is not investing in technology “for the sake of it.”

It is all about the people and businesses which use the city which is expected to surge in population from 4.9 million today to 8.5 million by 2050.

“Our approach to new technologies is that it must demonstrably enhance the lived experience of our people,” Dr. Watts says.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Michael Stav