We are so much consumed by our daily routines, the constant work/life balance juggle, the one thousand and one moments of minutia that make up the weeks, months and suddenly, years, that unless called upon to do so, we barely consider the changes taking place around us that affect how we live.

And why should we? Change is glacial. The wheels of progress, the cogs of government, the miles of red tape about everything, tie up any positive enhancements in our lives so they become barely visible, don’t they?

That may be the impression, but actually it’s a false one. “Times, they are a changin”, is more true now than when Bob Dylan sang it back in 1964.

We live in an age where technological revolution is impacting every single aspect of our lives.

While it may not be the case that many people actually use the Internet of Things (IoT) so that their fridge can tell them to buy more milk, the fact remains that it can. If that sounds like a bit of a waste of time, what about if the same fridge was able to tell an out-of-home carer that someone living on their own hadn’t opened the fridge one morning? Not so much a waste of time, as a life-saving innovation.

Some cities have wholeheartedly embraced the drive to transform themselves, and the lives of their residents, by resolutely making it their goal to be as smart a smart city as possible, one such vaunted example being Amsterdam. With strong leadership and willing collaboration between public and private sector entities, their granular approach has seen innovation both big and small.

By keeping the customer, i.e. resident, at the forefront of every initiative they undertake, they’ve taken data and made it work for the consumer. They’ve produced more than 80 pilots as part of their Smart City initiative in everything from recycling to a Green Living Lab, to mobility schemes and innovation funds. All through digital transformation.

Estonia is another European example of digital innovation. Remember the red tape we’re always tied up in? Estonia introduced a ‘once-only’ principle mandating that the state isn’t allowed to ask citizens for the same information twice. Never having to repeat the same information, simply genius. So genius that the EU enacted a digital Once Only Principle and Initiative earlier this year “because public administration offices take action to internally share this data, so that no additional burden falls on citizens and businesses.” High five to that.

City scene

What a smart city requires is big data. This amassing of data sets that are extremely large and complex presents challenges around capture, storage, analysis, curation, sharing and privacy. But let’s face it, it’s still just data unless there’s meaningful insight found in it; enter predictive and behavioural analytics. Government, science, business and finance are just some of the many industries that are expert practitioners in the use of big data.

Big data not your thing? Don’t bet on it. If you’ve caught an Uber, paid a bill through your mobile phone or used Google today, you’re adding to the mass of big data out there. Google handles at least 5.5 billion searches every day, which is about 63,000 searches per second minimum. A single credit card transaction produces 180 different elements of data. Booked a flight online recently? Imagine how many pieces of data have been utilised for you to find a seat on the right plane, at the right price.

Harnessing this data is something that’s going to be an absolute game-changer for our lives in the coming decades.

It will quite literally, change the air that we breathe.  Sensors already monitor the air quality of our urban environments, the knock on effect being sweeping changes in vehicle access in cities and then modifications to the vehicles themselves; electric cars are already here, seeing the beginning of the end for petrol ones.

Lake Macquarie Smart City, a Lake Mac Council initiative, is investing in infrastructure, corporate information systems, data centres and networks with their Information Strategy with the aim to engage residents and make it easier to do business with the council. This recognition that it’s going to accelerate public and private buy-in, is the crunch.

In Paris their ‘Madame Mayor, I have an idea’ scheme allocates €500 million to projects proposed by citizens between 2014 and 2020. Popular proposals so far include a citywide vertical garden project, recycling stations, gardens in schools and co-working spaces for students and entrepreneurs.

The goal is to make our smart cities not just function as efficiently as possible but to make them healthy and happy places to live and work. Connecting people to their city so they feel a sense of participation is crucial. The Sydney City Dashboard has instant details of transport conditions, weather, air quality and even what’s trending locally on social media.   

Woman taking a photo of buildings

If we’re to make our cities smart, inviting places to live and work in, we need to hypothesise. It might not be conventional business speak, but we need to dream, to imagine the best-case scenario and build to that. What solutions are there to tackle our housing affordability issues, our infrastructure and amenities in the community, our safety and open spaces? Yes, we can learn a great deal from what’s happening overseas but we have to encourage home grown ones too.

Smart cities are smart for everyone. Being socially conscious of the entire range of people and challenges within our communities presents opportunities to solve problems that benefit society as a whole, not simply our own little part of it.

The risk isn’t in the failure of those ideas; it’s in the failure of not having them, as they are the future of opportunity, employment, investment and growth.

And perhaps more than that even, the failure would be to us and future generations of residents in our smart cities.

Over the last four weeks we have been overwhelmed by the ideas that have emerged through our hackathons – from scaling fractional home ownership to using facial recognition for real-time data in employee happiness – in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Over 150 people participated with a further thirty ideas submitted through hackathons that continue overseas through the AngelHack Global Series. Applications for CityConnect are now open. This is your opportunity to submit breakthrough solutions that make cities better for their people.