Robyn Dowling

The University of Sydney’s School of Architecture has a new Australian Research Council grant and is hiring a postdoctoral research fellow in smart cities.

Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning professor Robyn Dowling told The Fifth Estate she is collaborating with a colleague from the University of Wollongong to explore how local governments are using smart technology or are trying to implement it in their communities.

“What are the good ideas in smart city research? It’s about how do we transform the urban environment in a smart, automated, digital data way,” she says.

Some Australian cities have been at the forefront of smart cities. The former industrial city of Newcastle has a relationship with tech giant Cisco to provide internet-based infrastructure that will provide data for more value creation across the city. Townsville, meanwhile, has become the first city in Australia to be recognised in a “city deal” under the federal government’s Smart Cities Plan.

There’s a lot of interest in autonomous cars with trials underway globally to scope how they can be incorporated into cities for freight delivery or other purposes. Smart building information systems communicate energy performance while dashboards deliver real-time information on transport and weather.

“There’s lots of digital placemaking going on,” Dowling says. “So looking at public places and how do you create them to be more vibrant places?”

According to Dowling, the faculty wants to explore how digital innovation interfaces with design, particularly around transport.

“What we’re interested in is the way you can bridge the people and the technology,” she says. “So we’re not just focused on the technology, we’re not just focused on the people, but how do the two come together? How the city works. And what is most interesting about smart cities is around the way people adapt and modify and utilise these new forms of technology.”

Technology is transforming the work of planners with digital channels being used heavily for community engagement. Professor Dowling says there won’t necessarily be more jobs emerging but smart technology was transforming the ways we think about many jobs in the urban space.

“And having those sorts of sets of skills about not necessarily creating the technologies but understanding it and being able to use what those technologies or data can actually offer you.”

For example, interesting work is emerging using Opal card data.

“We can model trips in ways that we never could be able to,” Dowling says. “I think that’s the challenge, really – how do you transform a technology into something that’s usable and interesting, and implement it? And, in an urban planning or a city context [something] that’s relevant to that context, because what might be relevant in the City of Sydney will be different to what is relevant in Townsville.”

Technology helping to “de-car” Australian cities

One way smart technology is transforming the transport space is car sharing.

Start-up Car Next Door is expanding operations from Sydney and Melbourne into Newcastle and Brisbane.

As a result, they have three jobs on offer in Sydney – a digital marketing manager, a marketing and communications coordinator and a sales coordinator.

Car Next Door is seeking to fundamentally change the way Australia travels by turning any car into a share car. With personal cars sitting around 96 per cent of the time, the company is utilising an online marketplace, a booking system and a range of in-vehicle technologies to make car sharing safe, fast and easy.

With both car owners and car borrowers rapidly increasing, Car Next Door is hoping to attract enthusiastic and self-motivated people to help drive growth as they scale up.

FM demand growing in hospitals and health care

Facilities management is a big growth sector and, according to the chief executive of the Facility Management Association of Australia Nicholas Burt, there’s a positive outlook in Australia, with opportunities in every skill set.

“Cities go through different property cycles all the time and these cycles convert to facilities management demand rates,” he says. “We are seeing a demand in hospitals, health care, commercial and residential facilities – contract management is an important skill in these growth areas.”

According to Global FM’s most recent study, FM is a dynamic industry poised for tremendous growth in the near future. Burt told The Fifth Estate that, anecdotally, FM jobs were increasing in Australia.

“The market continues to grow and therefore the demand for FMs continues to grow; this can also be said for different cities,” he said.

The recent success of the FMA Digital Transformation Summit in Sydney confirmed that digital technology and big data are a big focus for the industry, he says.

Continued education, upskilling and recognition of FM skills are also an important priority for the FMA and the industry.

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