The Smart Cities Council (Australia New Zealand) is a group committed to making our cities better. They partner with loads of companies and organisations with similar goals, including GoGet.
Those goals include reducing car usage, improving transport efficiency, making better use of space, and increasing the sustainability of built environment.
The Council have a new video series –Twenty Minute Cities. Each episode, Chris Isles and Adam Beck will jump in a GoGet car and talk about Smart Cities, a topic they’re both experts in. This is episode 1.
In their first episode, they talk about Streets 2.0, held in 2017 (GoGet was there!). Toward the end, they also chat about the future of self-driving cars – how they’re helping the future cities movement, and how they could be hurting it!
Remember to subscribe to 20 Minute Cities on YouTube, if that’s your jam. We’ve also included a transcript of this video below, if you’d like to read instead.
Chris: So here we go.
Adam: Episode one.
Chris: Two Smart City guys talking s*** in a car.
Adam: Working Title.
Adam: So Chinatown Green Street, a demonstration project in Washington DC. This is where I first bumped into this Green Street, Complete Street, Smart Street idea. I was working on the downtown DC ecodistrict. At the time our study area was what’s defined as the business improvement district. There’s like 90,000 square feet of real estate, it’s essentially the Downtown core, the CBD.
In Chinatown, part of the Downtown district, there’s the head office for the American Society for Landscape Architecture. And their office sits on this street they were keen to convert into a Complete Green Street. They received some funding and they had dollars to do a design, and they had some consultant out of Boston work on some concepts. I was originally just getting a briefing from them.
That was a catalyst for my interest in imagining – why or how or should our streets be different?. Can they be more purposeful? Is this all they’re good for, putting cars down them?
Chris: Well that’s the funny thing, it used be much better than that
Adam. That’s right. So they had a really big focus on the Green Street, Complete Street concept.
Chris: I think the Green Street, ‘greening our streets’ thing has been around for a while. But i think it’s a bit different. There’s been a lot of talk about – How do we replant the trees? The boulevards, the Esplanades, median planting etc. But when I think of Green Street, and some of the propositions we were putting out in the future street project, it wasn’t just about more trees, but about how we reclaim some of the space. At the moment a lot of the Green Street stuff, even here in Brisbane where we talk about our subtropical bulevards, it’s more about how to keep the same amount of bitumen, but put more trees in there. As opposed to – How do I actually get rid of bitumen and replace it with some green stuff?
Mind, the first option’s still better than nothing.
Adam: You’re right. But going back to DC, they were focussing on the stormwater credit trading system. For DC it all comes from a water quality issue, so managing stormwater runoff from the streets was pretty key. So their Green Street concept included maximising opportunities for natural water infiltration, eliminating water runoff when they can, and exceeding minimum requirements through innovative technologies. So a whole range of goals.
It was last year when I mentioned it to the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, it really resonated with some of their green infrastructure, living infrastructure, and policy aspirations were going as well. And there was the spark for our first event, Streets 2.0. I thought that was a good event. Not being biased, but I thought it was awesome.
Chris: It was a great event! More because it almost seemed to flow, it didn’t need much curation, you didn’t need to pull people in. It was almost the reverse, we had to hold people back. It literally could have gone all day, and people would have happily sat there, it wasn’t a race to the door at the end. Maybe it was because it was the first time that conversation had been had.
Adam I think the three components of that conversation – Green Streets, Complete Streets, and Smart Streets – I mean the Green Street panel session was great. And the Complete Street one was interesting. That’s been traditionally a pretty strong US led agenda. But a lot of folks get the idea of multiple modes, more modes of transit within the right of way. But it goes a bit broader than that.
Chris: I think switching over to new forms of transport won’t be easy. But here in Australia I think we’ll struggle with the other parts of the Complete Street around it being more full of commerce, more sticky, in that there’s more stuff happening. Whether that’s urban agriculture, or just activities for people to enjoy our street. With our cities, we jumped straight into that suburban lifestyle, rather than that the American idea of Downtown first and suburbia later. Were not used to that kind of shop top housing and active streets.
Certainly when I’m out there doing policy work for different councils, I’m trying to talk about the idea you should have more commerce on the streets, or even just commerce in parks and active spaces. You get this massive resistance from local businesses, and this fear that one more trader’s going to be the death of them. For business, competition is good sometimes – it brings more people and brings more commerce. This is why McDonalds and Hungry Jacks love living next door to each other. You bring the burgers and people will choose.
Adam: Well we saw that with food carts didn’t we? I remember food trucks in Adelaide were massive.
Chris: But remember the resistance against it in Yarraville in Melbourne? They wanted to do the pilot program, closing the street down for a couple of months. The first year they did it, businesses complained they were going to go broke. Then the second year, business complained they weren’t included in the area being closed down! And now it’s now a stalwart institution – let’s close the street down and do things differently.
Adam: Talking about Green Streets, I love where are we now – we’re in Teneriffe, or New Farm? Great example of this, it’s street tree central. And it’s adding – what does the data show, extra property values?
Chris: It’s probably taking 3 or 4 degrees of the ambient temperature. Maybe there’s a new matrix we can come up with. The Street Tree to Lowering Temperature Uplift in property value coefficient?
Adam: So December 2016, Streets 2.0, Sydney, a half-day event. 110 people, a real mix of city building, designing, planning people. Engineers, architects, urban planners, urban designers, landscape architects, landscape urbanism, urbanists, new urbanists, etc. The session ended on sustainable urbanism and Autonomous Vehicles, that was a session in itself. The big question was asked – What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?
And the Autonomous Vehicle conversation just continues to fascinate me. Next week, next month, next year, next decade? And it was always in the scoping for the idea of future street design – How are we gonna bring this AV thing into it? I was quite fascinated to dig deeper, particularly from the Easy Mile guys who showcased – you gotta get a license for demo projects, and for speed limits. I think there’s a lot of consensus now around the critical importance of getting first-mile-last-mile right. AV strategies and solutions for that part of mobility play is definitely valued.
Chris: It was interesting watching the Autonomous Vehicle discussion. I mean the best Autonomous Vehicle at the moment is the latest tesla, which we had at Future Street. It was interesting watching average people walk up to it. It was like the colour TV, you used to stand around the shop-front peering in. That’s the nice think about the smart city movement, but the potentially bad thing. AV is the poster child, I think that average people can get their head around. The reality is that mum and dads don’t want to know about the Internet Of Things sensor network and what they’re collecting and what they’re not, they wanna know how it impacts them. And maybe that’s part of the problem, that we haven’t brought that community on the journey of how this stuff makes their life different.
They’re gonna be this poster child for a while, and we just have to make sure they don’t get away from us. Because I think you’re right, the first and last mile is where they can do the heavy lifting. If we go in the opposite direction, where Chris has his own autonomous pod, and my wife has one, and the two kids have one each, and I’ve gone from having two cars in my family to having 4 autonomous pods. Are we actually making the world a better place? That to me is that mgic question we should always be self testing ourselves on. How does this make our cities better? I think technology can certainly drive that very strongly.
Adam: Just on narrative, we need to really make tangible this Internet Of Things … thing. This concept it’s like the MS movement, the rapid transformation of the eway devices and machines talk to each other. I was fascinated in the product the Buddy Platform had – this magnetic little plastic box that talks to the internet. Stick it onto the side of the meter box and you’re up and running in real time. And then iTron were pulling real time data and from brain sensors. There’s real interactions between digital and landscape, it’s a fascinating idea. Not just digital and landscape, but digital and hard infrastructure. It’s really equipping our streets with eyes and ears.
Chris: I think you have to coin the phrase ‘let’s get phygital’. I’m not gonna lie I feel a little dirty when you say that, but I’m interested.
Adam: I didn’t steal it, but it comes from an Italian city, they sort of coined it. But I love that idea of physical and digital coming together. I’ve always said that the city builders and the city shapers, the urban planners, urban designers, landscape architects, civil engineers, they haven’t really spent a lot of time hanging out with the digital and tech world.
Chris: That to me was this weird, perhaps predicatable, perhaps unpredictable part of Future Street. In the morning we were waiting for the minister to turn up, and initially I said it was like the primary school dance, the boys on one side and the girl on the other. They knew they wanted to talk to each other, but no one was brave enough. Then the designers started talking to the IT guys, the network people from Telstra started to talk to them. To eavesdrop and participate in those conversations was fascinating. You could almost see before your eyes this ecosystem of future projects coming together. I think that was the intention of Future Street.
Adam: I don’t think we had time to think about what we wanted to get out of it! But i think you’re right. Also, the new products coming through from Street Furniture Australia totally speaks to that issue. I remember Streets 2.0, less than a year ago, Street Furniture Australia was sponsoring that event, and they were in the business for street furniture. That plays a monumental role in the seating, benching , and respite, waste receptacles, whatever it might be.
And 11 months later they’re now powering up their street furniture, looking to connect it to the internet and we now enter this new phase where our urban infrastructure can really start to become the backbone for the smart city trend. We can connect anything! Itron were showing me these sensors, they’re halving in size, halving in cost. Generally the cost of most things, data storage, battery life, bandwidth, your head spins when you think about how much more accurate and granular we could get to understanding what the hell’s going on in your city. You’ve heard me say it before, I don’t think we’ve got any idea what’s going in our cities.
Adam: I’m gonna put you on the spot. Future Street, out of 10, what would you give ourselves.
Chris: I’d give us a 9. I would have given us a 7 the day before, I wasn’t sure if it was even gonna come off. I think it was more successful than we thought. I also think it was the unintended social interaction stuff that made it really work.
I think there’s more we can do to tell the Internet Of Things story. Whilst it was great to have all the stuff in the industry, I think there’s such a narrative – again it’s very hard for an average person to understand – we need to take people on that journey and explain a bit harder. At the moment the great threat to the IOT data collection process are people’s concerns about privacy and security. Until we can bring people on that journey I think we’ll lose people.
But I reckon we had a great range of suppliers there, I think we were deliberately provocative in suggesting we completely removed bitumen all together, just have a light rail, green street, juxtaposition of what a complete street might look like with urban agriculture, bikes, car share and the ability to work.
I think that’s where the Street Furniture Australia stuff is gonna be interesting to watch in the next couple of years. If I can literally can go out on the street and down the road from our office, in some shade, on a park bench, and happen to be able to charge my laptop and get wifi – then I guarantee you that me and a whole lot of other people will spend their time that way.
Adam We’ll I’m excited about potentially replicating the event, and seeing if we get to deploy in other cities. One of the big images that respond to us was the Virtual Reality! Not only did we design the Future Street, but in Virtual Reality we designed the Future Street. Your head goes to a whole different place we you get to see what’s possible.