Perth is more smart city than meets the eye

Perth is a step closer to becoming a “technological utopia”.

A Curtin University Professor says Perth may soon follow the steps of Toronto in becoming a Google ‘smart city’.

The Toronto precinct is set to be built “from the internet up” with everything from pedestrian traffic to air quality and even flushing of toilets, powered and monitored by data.

Last year, the Australian government announced it endorsed the $50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program to support the delivery of an innovative smart city project, planning to improve the liveability, productivity and sustainability of cities across Australia.

There were 49 applicants accepted into the program in the first round, seven of which were West Australian.

Many successful projects have been co-funded by partners, including local governments, industry research organisations, as well as the private sector, amounting to $36 million of additional funds.

Curtin University Urban and Regional Planner Lecturer Courtney Babb said the ‘smart city’ plans around Perth use a lot of data and are about understanding the movements of people.

“There is a lot of smart technology research around Perth, even if it is not evident yet,” Dr Babb said.

“People are definitely looking at it and ways technology can help manage urban systems, whether they are waste systems, transport systems and things like that.”

Dr Babb said the idea behind ‘smart streets’ is that the technology communicates with people’s phones, so they have more information on things like travel times and understanding the street a little bit more.

“The kinds of technology people are using is not just about making the street or a place function better, or managing people, it is also creating a better experience for people,” Dr Babb said.

In relation to transport, Dr Babb recommended using technology to join the ways people can get around the city, like ride-sharing, whether it is Uber or another company which integrates with public transport access.

“Rather than looking at these things as distinct parts, there might be a platform that actually integrates the entire transport services.”   

The Google ‘smart city’ plans to be more efficient about wasteful behaviour.

Despite reducing the need to own a car in the city, Dr Babb said there could be perverse impacts of ridesharing.

“If people are choosing to not use public transport then there could be a greater impact on the environment,” he said.

“Looking at technology to solve our problems definitely has an appeal, but what has happened in the past and what you see a lot now is there is a lot of faith in technology to solve all our problems.”

Dr Babb suggested we need to think about the plans in the future carefully, instead of being in a technological utopia.

“New technologies create new consequence and impacts in cities, I don’t think they are the answer, they will be part of the solution. We need to think of other things as well and think about the impacts these technologies do have.”

Dr Babb explained the need for urban infill to fix sprawl around the metro technology is likely to play a large role in the future.  

“We need to look at people’s behaviours, it is not just about the individuals it is about the broader population,” he said.