Why smart thinking is in Darwin's DNA

Mon, 2019-10-14 11:25 -- Adam Beck

Australia’s northernmost city has recently rolled out one of the largest and fastest smart cities projects in the country.

The $10 million Switching on Darwin program includes 900-plus smart LED lights, parking sensors, free Wi-Fi and a network of 138 new CCTV cameras.

Twenty-four environmental sensors monitor humidity, rainfall, carbon dioxide levels, noise, dust, temperature and more. Smart lights can be adjusted to brighten an area as a crime deterrent and can sense changes to light levels when a storm rolls in.

The smart technology is helping council gain deeper insights into how pedestrians and cars move through Darwin’s CBD, where urban hotspots can be addressed with tree planting, and how people are using the Wi-Fi network, for example.

The City of Darwin’s CEO, Scott Waters Scott, says this smart cities technology is helping his council “take transparency to the next level”.

“All this real-time data and information feeds into a single integrated platform,” Scott explains. The data gathered will help council, businesses and 85,000 residents to understand how their city works and make better decisions for the future.

Council is making its data publicly-available through OpenGov, and is only the second council to do so. Anyone can jump online and see how council is tracking against a host of metrics: financial, environmental and social.

Scott says technology and data will inform evidence-based planning and design to enhance the city’s liveability, while new open data sets will support citizen engagement, unlock innovation and create new business opportunities.

Technology may provide the backbone, but it’s just a tool, Scott adds. Each investment starts with a deep desire to solve a problem. “While we have a fantastic city, we won’t shy away from the fact there are issues we need to address,” he says. These include safety, slowing population, sustainable jobs growth and climate resilience.

Darwin is uniquely poised for growth and is aiming to capitalise on its proximity to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. “We are closer to Asia than anywhere else in Australia,” Scott says. It takes the same amount of time to fly to Shenzhen as it does Sydney.

“There are 450 million people to the north of us,” and strengthening ties between Darwin and the region can be a “stepping-stone” for our entire nation.

The Darwin City Deal, sealed by all three tiers of government in November, underscores the city’s strategic role. The City Deal is a $200 million funding pact with a 10-year plan for prosperity and growth. And smart city thinking is “embedded” in the City Deal, Scott explains.

A new high-technology education and civic precinct, to be delivered in partnership with Charles Darwin University, will “transform the city centre” by attracting an extra 1,000 international students, boosting retail activity and bringing vibrancy to the CBD.

An “urban living lab” backed by CSIRO will help to test and trial building materials and construction processes that support liveability in the tropics.

These are just two of the projects are coming down the pipeline. The community is embracing the opportunities with “open arms” but Scott emphasises the importance of “bringing everyone along on the journey”.

“’What will this smart city mean for me?’ This is always the big question?” he says. The answer is to provide smart city solutions with tangible and measurable benefits – whether that’s enhancing liveability, improving services or helping local people create new businesses.

“We will continue to evolve and grow – that’s in our DNA,” Scott says. In the 150 years since Europeans established Darwin, the city has “had to reinvigorate and rebuilt itself numerous times” – after surviving bombings in World War II and after being flattened in Cyclone Tracey.

The city’s namesake Charles Darwin – the great mind behind evolutionary theory – remains an inspiration, Scott says. “We are at the next stage of rebuilding ourselves and it will be through our smart city network and platform.”