As aspirant towns and cities explore what it takes to be a ‘smart city’, a tech-heavy new suburb near the ACT-NSW border has secured a spot as an APAC awards finalist after documenting its smart-city best practices in a repeatable blueprint it will offer to any local government.

Authored by the developers of the PEET/Mirvac-backed Googong development – which will eventually have 18,000 residents in 6500 homes just 16km from Parliament House – the open-source Smart Suburb Blueprint was developed over 18 months at a cost of $2.4m, including a $1.1m federal grant.

Supported by the government’s smart-cities initiatives, the Googong blueprint outlines its implementation of smart-city accoutrements – including smart lighting, smart parking, smart waste, smart irrigation, environmental monitoring, carpark usage, and more – across its five neighbourhoods.

In building smart capabilities into the suburbs from the ground up, developers have already implemented a ‘smart wind turbine’ and solar-powered ‘smart poles’ supporting 5G mobile, free public Wi-Fi, digital wayfinding, and surveillance cameras.

Pervasive smart-city technologies will help Googong’s developers “create a technologically advanced city that is safer for our residents and sets a standard for other Australian cities who want to follow our lead,” said Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council mayor Tim Overall.

“Working together with Googong, we will be documenting the installation, operation and management of this infrastructure and building a blueprint to help other developers in the future.”

The Googong project was one of three Australian entries shortlisted in the 2021 IDC Asia Pacific Smart Cities Awards, voting for which is open to the public but closes on Wednesday 17 March.

Also receiving mention is an Internet of Things (IoT) wireless network – which sees five northern Melbourne councils using LoRaWAN technology to connect sensors for people counting, air quality, water level monitoring, waste management collection and asset tracking – that, IDC’s panel concluded, “is the key driver towards the future smart city transformation in Melbourne.”

Australia’s third finalist is the ‘smart park’ redevelopment of the Wharf Street detention basin in Canning City Centre, WA – a “passive park” combining stormwater management with open spaces that, IDC notes, “will provide significant amenities to the proposed high-density development surrounding the site in the developing centre.”

Is Australia barking up the wrong tree?

That three Australian cities secured spots among 70 regional finalists – in 14 categories – is “an amazing achievement”, IDC ANZ managing director Tehmasp Parekh said, noting that Australia has “consistently shined” over the seven-year history of the awards.

Yet Australia won in two categories last year and previously secured more finalist berths, with nine different Australian projects recognised in last year’s awards and seven in 2019.

New Zealand, with one-sixth the population of Australia, received finalist nods for seven smart-city projects in this year’s awards.

And while the awards’ 14 categories recognise innovation of all kinds – including categories generating social dividends such as digital equity and accessibility, data-driven policing, education, public health and social services, and connected and autonomous transportation – Australia’s finalists fall more on the administrative end of the spectrum.

The cost savings of better energy efficiency and the revenue potential of more-accurate parking fines rate well for local governments – but as other Asia-Pacific regional cities invest in smart-city projects with large-scale social dividends, does decreasing recognition of Australia’s innovation suggest we are suffering from a myopic view of what ‘smart city’ means?

Analyst Paul Budde, whose expertise in telecommunications dovetails with 20 years’ experience as a smart-cities advocate and infrastructure facilitator, has studied smart cities from Newcastle to Naples and believes Australia still has a lot to learn about what makes a city truly smart.

Australia’s focus on the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ of economic return, he notes, means Australian smart-city projects are “very much driven by small government, market-driven economic and social policies and… a large focus on shareholders’ value”.

That gave local projects a very different perspective than countries using alternative ‘Rhineland’ and ‘Scandinavian’ models – which take a broader ‘triple-bottom-line’ approach to value, in which social and environmental considerations carry equal weight to economic factors.

In this respect, Budde warns, Australia’s federal government “is consistently lagging”.

“Their model still largely depends on the next quarter’s results and this,” he writes, “does not fit the smart city model, which looks at results over much longer periods.”

“Cities and communities… need to deliver to all their stakeholders… and in doing so, they are not purely profit-driven.”

Despite the undeniable value in administrative smart technologies, Budde encourages Australian cities to reach out to European counterparts – which, he notes, “are willing to place the wellbeing of the citizen at the centre of their discussions… to develop long-term sustainable business and funding models for the development of smart cities.”

An earlier version of this story stated Googong was in the ACT. We apologise for the error.