Could industrial digital technology make Australia's biggest cities better places to be?


By Christine McNamara, Director of Sales, Pacific at AVEVA
Monday, 19 February, 2024

Could industrial digital technology make Australia's biggest cities better places to be?

As the population continues to grow, we need to get smarter about how we manage our major urban centres.

Late January saw the country’s population hit 27 million, more than 30 years earlier than was predicted in the federal Treasury’s 2002 Intergenerational Report.

By 2071, though, our numbers will have swelled to somewhere between 34.3 and 45.9 million people, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates.

Our big cities are getting bigger apace — Sydney’s and Melbourne’s populations should reach 6 million and 6.2 million respectively by 2031, according to the 2020 Population Statement.

Planning for a bigger future

Rapid growth can bring with it an array of issues, as McCrindle social researcher and demographer Mark McCrindle has pointed out.

“Road and public transport planning, land release, housing developments and infrastructure decisions are made with a view 20 years into the future. The problem of Australia’s population increases massively outstripping the predictions is that housing supply has been based on the wrong numbers. With the current growth, Australia will reach 50 million by 2054, 23 million more than forecasted just 22 years ago, and this highlights the significant challenges we face for infrastructure, resources and city planning,” he commented in a statement, following the announcement of the 27 million population milestone.

Rising to the planning challenge

Elected leaders and civic planners are on the frontline of both social evolution and the climate crisis; required to contend with the upsizing of our capital cities and major urban centres, and the enormous environmental challenge that represents, in intelligent, far-sighted ways.

Globally, cities account for 70% of emissions, with transport and buildings the biggest contributors, according to the World Economic Forum.

Containing and reducing those emissions is an urgent imperative, given the quality of life of millions of Australians is at stake and making smart, data-driven decisions is essential.

Little surprise, then, that a growing number of urban authorities are becoming alive to the fact that digital insights can, and should, be used to help manage complex interdependencies and deliver outcomes that benefit all segments of the population.

Tools to make the task easier

Deploying advanced industrial software makes the task of delivering urban development outcomes easier. The software can be used to create city planning and management eco-systems that minimise energy consumption (a must, given Australia’s ambitious Net Zero Emissions by 2050 target), improve efficiency and control maintenance expenses.

Intelligent, data-led tools make it possible to collate, visualise and analyse data from a wide range of civic services onto a single, unified backbone.

Having this holistic view allows planning teams to spot trends and predict operational challenges, while improving situational awareness and crisis responses, all from a single portal.

Together with other strategic measures — think community engagement, apposite policy settings and investment in critical infrastructure — it can help ensure our famously livable cities remain that way, even as they evolve and expand.

Putting vision into practice

Elsewhere in the world, forward thinking metropolises are already reaping the benefits of a data-first approach.

In Barcelona, a centrally coordinated control platform functions as a neural system for the city. Information is transmitted and received from a network of sensors, allowing planners to monitor and optimise urban operations in real time; switching off the irrigation systems in public parks, for example, when it begins to rain.

Closer to home, the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, has reduced its carbon footprint and improved the safety and wellbeing of the city’s two million residents by introducing smart metering across public facilities. Energy usage and emissions have dropped by between 15 and 20% as a result. Meanwhile, the syncing of traffic lights has reduced intracity congestion by up to 25% — a boon for pollution-conscious residents and for those seeking to get from A to B a little more quickly.

And in Seoul, home of the world’s longest metro system, a digitally driven predictive maintenance system is helping keep the trains running on time and the citizens out of private vehicles. Given transport comprises the largest share of energy-related emissions for nearly half the world’s countries, it’s a highly worthwhile investment in industrial technology that’s delivering for the residents of that city and the global community too.

Thinking big and doing more with data

Here in Australia, there are opportunities aplenty for public sector decision-makers to instigate similar initiatives; leveraging industrial big data, AI, the internet of things (IoT) and the cloud to solve our own urban challenges and ensure our big cities are sustainable and livable.

Creating powerful, connected industrial eco-systems is the first step towards optimising operations, reducing waste and enabling innovation to occur on the fly. Doing so may also help foster innovative public–private partnerships to develop civic infrastructure that enhances quality of life for Australia’s urban population.

If we’re serious about delivering a sustainable, low-carbon future for all Australians, it’s a journey our country can’t afford not to take.

Christine McNamara, Director of Sales, Pacific at AVEVA.

Top image credit: Calaitzis

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