Planning for ‘Smart Cities’

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In late April 2016, the Federal Government released its Smart Cities Plan in response to the forecasted increased pressures on local infrastructure, housing affordability and access to local jobs in Australia’s cities. The Smart Cities Plan identifies strategies which will underpin planning, development and investment to enhance the future liveability and accessibility of our cities and regional centres.

30 minute city

A primary tenet of the Smart Cities Plan is the concept of a ‘30 minute city’.  It is based on a phenomenon, often referred to as ‘Marchetti’s constant’, that people living in cities all over the world will average no more than 90 minutes travelling each day and if commuting time starts to exceed that time, most people will change their mode of transport, change jobs or move to another home in order to bring their travel time back under 90 minutes.

The Smart Cities Plan attempts to combine Marchetti’s constant with urban planning objectives.  The idea of a ‘30 minute city’ seeks to enable residents to access amenities, such as employment, schools and recreational facilities, within 30 minutes of their homes.  This is a concept which has been discussed at the local level in Victoria, with Plan Melbourne identifying a vision of ‘20 minute neighbourhoods’.

The three pillars of ‘Smart Cities’

The Smart Cities Plan identifies three pillars that underpin its design and implementation, being ‘smart investment’, ‘smart policy’ and ‘smart technology’.

The concept of ‘smart investment’ focuses on smarter and more innovative ways through which major infrastructure projects may be funded.  To this end, the Smart Cities Plan discusses the establishment of an Infrastructure Financing Unit to work with the private sector to develop financing solutions.  One such solution discussed in the Smart Cities Plan is that of value capture, whereby the increased value of land surrounding new infrastructure projects can help finance those projects which cause their value uplift.

The ‘smart policy’ of the Smart Cities Plan recognises the need for enhanced collaboration between all levels of government and the private sector to deliver common goals.  The Smart Cities Plan also outlines the concept of ‘City Deals’, whereby Federal Government funding is linked to strategic planning reform and the development of collective plans for urban growth, especially regarding the delivery of housing, transport, infrastructure and jobs.

Finally, ‘smart technology’ advocates leveraging emerging technologies to provide unique, creative and effective solutions to the problems affecting our cities into the future.  For example, the Smart Cities Plan identifies that various modes of digital communications have the potential to revolutionise the way governments engage with communities to develop responsive metropolitan and local planning strategies.


The Smart Cities Plan is a high level document which provides a broad outline of what a smart city might look like, and the ways in which it may be achieved.  The Smart Cities Plan could herald a new era of Federal Government recognition and investment in the liveability of our cities and regional centres.  With predicted unprecedented population growth, there needs to be enhanced channels through which the Federal Government can collaborate with state, territory and local governments as well as the private sector to deliver better planning outcomes which respond to the urban challenges facing our cities in the foreseeable future.  Whilst the Smart Cities Plan is a step in the right direction, it remains silent on important issues which, if not managed properly, could have detrimental impacts to the liveability and sustainability of our cities.  Such issues include:

  • Investment in the ‘soft’ infrastructure sector, such as schools and hospitals;
  • The ways in which the implementation of the ’30 minute city’ will manage community resistance in relation to the ongoing densification and land-use intensity in neighbourhoods; and
  • The nature and location of future population settlement to properly accommodate the predicted exponential growth in major cities.

The Federal Government has sought public input on its Smart Cities Plan, with submissions closing on 24 June 2016.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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