World Cities Day

Australia has a Federal Smart Cities Plan, as do the States, territories and local governments. These plans support the delivery of innovative smart city projects that improve the liveability, productivity and sustainability of cities and towns across Australia.

The Federal Government’s Smart Cities Plan sets out the national vision for our cities and the plan for maximising their potential. It comprises three policy pillars:

  • Smart Investment – a commitment to prioritise projects that meet broader economic and city objectives such as accessibility, job creation, affordable housing and healthy environments. Infrastructure funding is treated as a long term investment.

  • Smart Policy – a framework that aims to coordinate projects across all levels of government to develop City Deals that unlock public and private investment in key economic centres.

  • Smart Technology. – embracing new technology with the potential to revolutionise how cities are planned, function, and how the economy grows. Disruptive new technology in transport, communications and energy efficiency are becoming a reality.

The Smart Cities Plan applies to all cities and towns across the country.  While congestion and affordability are critical issues in our larger cities, many regional towns are suffering from low or negative growth, as jobs lost in sunset industries are not replaced quickly enough by the new.

Through this Federal plan, the three pillars set a framework for coordination and collaboration between public and private sectors and with industry and business. As our economy continues to transition away from traditional resources and agricultural exports, to knowledge-based industries, our cities have been growing.

This economic transition and growth presents challenges and opportunities:

  • How will Australian industry decarbonise to meet net zero emissions by 2050?
  • What infrastructure is required to accommodate the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources? Can Australia develop advanced battery storage technology? Could electric vehicles be built in Australia?
  • How will Australia meet the high tech skills demanded by emerging, advanced manufacturing? What changes will be required to our higher education systems?
  • How will housing be made affordable, adaptive to extreme weather and energy efficient? How will public transport be made more energy-efficient, affordable, accessible and better connected thereby encouraging fewer private vehicle trips with lower emissions, decreased road and carpark use?

So what’s missing from our Smart Cities policies? What are the opportunities to participate in improving our cities?

The Australian Institute of Architects has identified that quality design is a key policy gap and advocates three critical themes:

  • The first is the essential role of good design in building our future cities – all publicly funded projects should use design skills from project concept to completion to achieve design quality
  • The second is the benefits of developing sustainable communities – from carbon footprint reduction, climate adaptation to deploying renewable energy and environment conservation
  • The third is the cultural imperative of embedding indigenous knowledge of country in the future development of our cities – an approach that embraces this immense cultural heritage. 

Architecture is a substantial contributor to the design of our cities and towns and is integral to the process of improving the sustainability of urban areas. Smart cities don’t just happen!

Our Smart Cities need to support resilient sustainable communities so they can continue to thrive despite these often harsh circumstances.

What are the opportunities?

  • We can create buildings that are resilient to extreme weather events while achieving energy and emissions neutrality. 
  • Finding new ways to improve how our cities conserve water, reduce and manage waste, reduce energy usage, expand green spaces and protect clean air.
  • We can also find new ways to use fewer resources and upgrade infrastructure to support the transition to renewable energy.

The Institute endorses decarbonisation of the building and construction industry by 2030 – there’s much to be done in a short time!

How can Architects strengthen our resilience to extreme weather events?

Given Australia’s slow pace in emissions reduction measures, the Institute is joining with other bodies to push for a carbon neutral future.

We have our own Climate Action and Sustainability Taskforce and we have supported Australian Architects Declare – a worldwide movement, joining hundreds of architects to declare a climate & biodiversity emergency.

Importantly, the Institute is supporting architects to;

  • Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate impacts,
  • Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition & new build, whenever there is a viable choice.
  • Include life cycle costing, whole of life carbon modelling and post occupancy evaluationas part of the basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use.
  • Adopt more regenerative design principles in studios, with the aim of designing architecture and urbanism that goes beyond the standard of net zero carbon in use.
  • Collaborate with engineers, contractors and clients to further reduce construction waste.
  • Accelerate the shift to low embodied-carbon materials in all work.
  • Minimise wasteful use of resources in architecture and urban planning, both in quantum and in detail.

This approach opens opportunities for new and existing technologies and practices that could augment Architects’ design capabilities.

Opportunities in energy efficiency

Marginal improvements have been achieved across the commercial sector in over a decade.  In the residential sector improvement is largely attributable to the high take-up of rooftop solar by Australian households – not industry or government-led.

Most energy savings will be delivered by buildings that are cheaper to light, heat and cool, a dividend is that better buildings will support greater productivity. Major gains can be made with the property industry, but requires a focused plan that includes regulation, strong incentives, energy market reform and market information to support transformation.

Architects are calling for change:

  • Strong mandatory minimum standards for energy performance of buildings and appliances
  • Targeted incentives and programs, including accelerated depreciationto encourage the uptake of green plant and equipment; stamp duty discounts for the purchase of green homes and properties; and planning incentives
  • Energy market reforms, to remove market distortions that undermine the business case for energy efficiency and distributed generation
  • Enabling data, information, research and education measures
  • A national plan towards 2030 zero carbon buildings

Recognition of indigenous knowledge

Delivering resilient and sustainable communities is impossible without design and planning processes that encompass natural systems that include people, animals, resources and plants equally – similar to an Aboriginal world view.

As active curators of space, Architects have a responsibility to ensure they understand their canvas.

The best way to understand the country on which a development is proposed, is by collaborating with First Nations Peoples who have an eons-old understanding of Australia’s landscape, fauna and flora.

Architecture is now reconfiguring its relationship with Indigenous Knowledge to enrich the built environment and anyone already amplifying Indigenous voices in the built environment would know that co-designing spaces, makes for better outcomes on all levels:

  • Indigenous-led designs are richer in meaning and narrative
  • Spaces are more sustainable on an environmental level
  • Materials chosen are longer lasting and more climate resilient
  • Designs become far more relevant to communities and inclusive towards end users
  • Projects become more successful economically
  • Cultural awareness across the industry improves
  • Conflicts are fewer and further between; and
  • Projects also become inherently unique, as they are based on a localised storyand vision of the First Nations people in that area. 

Cultural engagement also allows us to uncover and deliver an Australian ‘aesthetic’.  While Caring for Country we have the opportunity to work alongside First Peoples to create truly engaging, inviting and attractive spaces unlike anywhere else on the planet.

In conclusion, central to all our Smart Cities policies is the notion of frameworks that focus on leveraging, coordinating and collaborating sustainable investment, technology and policy. It will be smart design harnessing the many potential participants and opportunities that will ensure the continued success of Smart Cities in Australia.