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National Plan of Settlement: Good content – wrong strategy

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I must have missed the run-up to this and so was surprised when the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities last week published a report called National Plan of Settlement.

According to this report Australia needs a national plan to encourage denser, better-connected and more sustainable cities. Among its 37 recommendations are two new ministers, a statutory office for a national chief planner, better broadband, the 30-minute city and yet another reprise of the high-speed rail. So far I haven’t come across any significant media coverage of the report and I am not holding my breath that any of this is implemented.

Much of the information in this document has been discussed both in the various reports, submissions and articles I (and many others) have written over the years, and many of the issues listed have also been discussed with the leading smart cities in Australia.

It certainly is an interesting  report (470 pages) and any initiative that focuses on communities and cities is positive indeed. There would be little argument from those involved in city management about many of the urgent issues that cities are facing, so in that respect the support of the Senate Committee is very welcome indeed.

However….. in total contrast to the strategy and structure for implementation that is recommended in the report I very strongly believe that such a national plan should be developed by the cities and supported by state and federal government. It should be a bottom-up approach rather than the current top-down one.

So far anything that is done from the top down is politically influenced and not based on what would be the best for the people in the cities. Under the current National Smart City Plan small hand-outs are given away that are not based on any strategic plan – such hand-outs are often based on election cycles rather than a strategic vision. Also city deals are often based on party politics, and again it is not always the cities that are best-positioned to properly execute a city deal that are selected by the federal government.

I can’t see that this new top-down approach will be much different under the recommendations in this report.

There is a clear shift taking place, where cities around the globe are adopting a leadership role (USA, UK, Netherlands, Scandinavia). Cities are coming together and are creating a political force whereby they are placed in charge of a city plan. In some of these countries the cities are writing that national smart city plan, sponsored by the federal government. There is far less political tension at a city level and in most cases political parties there are working together without too much party politics involved, a direct opposite of what is happening federally.

Furthermore, most cities around the world are facing very similar challenges and it is not necessary to continually reinvent the wheel. It is also a waste of time and money that each city sends out its own smart city mission to the same cities around the globe. National and global collaboration and coordination are critical elements here, but it would be much better if cities were to be given the support and resources to develop such a national cities plan from the bottom up very much so in collaboration with the states and the feds, as those levels of government have the money – cities don’t have the money.

I am working with eight of the leading smart cities in Australia (Adelaide, Bendigo, Canberra, Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Sydney (Greater Sydney Commission), Ipswich and Moreton Bay) and they all broadly agree with the abovementioned approach but don’t have the structure, resources or finances to start creating such a collaborative.

I have proposed that the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors (CCCLM) takes on this leadership role – as it does have a structure in place that could facilitate such an approach, and from which it could also facilitate collaboration with other cities. I have been asked to provide further information on this, which I aim to do in coming weeks.

In countries where cities are collaborating we also see that cities are taking individual leadership in particular areas/sectors – for example, mobility/transportation, smart energy, water management, healthcare, communication and so on. A very relevant example that is now taking place – it is rather impractical for each city to research its own smart parking solutions, have its own pilots, select its own (proprietary) standards, and pay far more for solutions instead of combining forces with other cities.  If cities combine forces information and pilots can be shared and other cities can learn from those sector leaders. Such an approach saves lots of money.

Another development is that cities work out interoperability and national standards together, again saving costs. Data management standardisation (big data) is a key issue in this respect. In such situations cities also work very closely with regulators to address regulatory impediments.

To support all of this, in Australia some 25 companies and a dozen universities have already expressed support for such a city-based collaborative and have indicated that they are willing to work with cities to achieve the best possible outcomes for their citizens.

So, while the report does address the correct issues it does not, in my view, recommend the best possible strategy and structure to make this happen.

Paul Budde

 

Credentials:  I have been involved in smart cities since 2001, (in that year I established a group of 75 cities under the theme Broadbanding Local Communities. I am an adviser to the Australian Communities and Cities Association and a director of the Global Smart Communities and Cities Coalition. During a recent trip I also visited ten smart cities and wrote reports on each of them. These are available on my blog  http://paulbudde.com/blog/