As our cities continue to grow in both population and scale, we must shift our thinking to how we can support a sustainable model of growth and consumption in our cities and regions.
I was in Adelaide a few weeks ago at the Powering the change to a circular economy conference, where I had the opportunity to discuss circular opportunities for precincts, cities and regions.
As our cities continue to grow in both population and scale, the demands on natural resources and services to support this growth continues to rapidly increase. Our cities represent two percent of the world’s surface, but 50 percent of population, 75 percent of energy consumption and 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
Given Australia’s increasing population, severe drought conditions which threaten water security, China’s policy towards the importation of recyclables and our continued reliance on natural resources, the opportunity to make this transformation in our cities is here.
But how do we start building smarter and circular cities?
Dijon, a city in France, has led the way in becoming the first city to have a centralise and connected city management system. Effectively, Dijon is using data and design to move from a city of functional silos to a connected way of organising public spaces. A command and control centre will remotely manage, coordinate and maintain urban facilities using open data such as traffic lights, street lighting, air quality monitoring, CCTV and road maintenance to simplify and streamline the process. Most importantly, there is also scope for interface with other public services such as water management and public transportation.
The benefits of this type of collaborative design are significant and wide-ranging. The delivery of essential services are better coordinated through the use of real-time data which is shared for the benefit of residents and business. For example, the impact of a road or public transport incident is minimised by informing residents or waste collection services early and providing alternative routes.
Financially, there are also synergies to be found. Combining these five critical contracts is estimated to save approximately 15 million euros in procurement. Savings generated by the project such as energy savings, optimisation of equipment and services will finance the creation of new services for Dijon.
Designing, maintaining and improving smart cities requires innovation to drive improved performance and efficiency. New technologies and collaboration that captures and optimises the use of data means delivering better outcomes for all, with limited resources and minimising our carbon footprint.
Making Australian cities smarter is achievable. However, we have significant barriers preventing this transition.
First, we need to move away from our linear approach to production and consumption. Currently, consumption ends with a large proportion of waste ending up in landfill. Government, business and consumers need to move towards a more circular approach – where products are designed for consumption and reuse.
Innovation of this scale requires the necessary policy and regulatory conditions to be present. Consistent, clear and stable national policies that support increased reuse of resources and long term investment in supporting infrastructure are required to incentivise businesses in the industry to invest in innovative long-term investment programs.
Without leading sustainable policies, improved green procurement practices, financial incentives to change behaviours and transitional arrangements, it will be impossible to see meaningful change towards a circular economy in Australia.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. I think we can all agree, change is needed now to move towards more sustainable levels of consumption and growth in our cities and regions.