The Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT), like its counterpart organisations around Australia, is embracing the Australian Government’s “Smart Cities Plan”, as are numerous municipal governments. The concept of smart cities, which promotes productive, sustainable, accessible and liveable communities, resonates strongly with UDIA’s Mission. It also has significant relevance to planning for the future of Darwin, Palmerston and the rural area.
Hence I was pleased to be a guest of the City of Darwin at the recent Smart Cities Round Table, which included senior local government representatives from Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield; Darwin’s Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim and her team should be commended for the enthusiasm with which they are embracing “Smart Cities”.
While there was a strong focus on new technology at the Round Table, and it is a given that developers need to be innovative and proactive in incorporating new technology and the evolution of new transport systems into the delivery of new housing products, Smart Cities has even greater relevance to Darwin’s development.
There is a strong emphasis on the way in which cities are planned, built and managed in the Smart Cities program. Issues such as housing affordability, access to local jobs and our natural environment, as well as traffic congestion, all affect our quality of life. And we need to ensure our planning allows for the delivery of affordable housing in the right places, adjacent to or near public transport and employment opportunities.
Increasing housing supply near employment opportunities and transport connections, increasing jobs growth close to where people live and improving connectivity between housing and job centres have all been drivers for recent NT Planning Commission projects such as the Inner suburbs area plan, the Mid suburbs area plan and the Litchfield regional land use plan. These plans can help the development industry to deliver more affordable living in areas close to jobs, though a combination of reduced housing costs and reduced costs of commuting.
Infill development is a key component of Smart City thinking. For example, new apartment complexes in our inner suburbs allow more people to live in more affordable housing close to jobs. This is because land is very expensive close to cities, but an apartment complex effectively divides the total cost of that land between multiple owners. Using proximity to public transport and existing road corridors as a key planning criterion, the NT Planning Commission has been able to identify nodes for higher density development within many existing suburbs.
The new housing to be delivered at Berrimah Farm will include a range of housing options to suit Darwin’s housing market, enabling thousands of Territorians to live within easy reach of employment centres such as East Arm, the Darwin CBD, the Darwin Corporate Park, Casuarina and the Royal Darwin Hospital. “Smart City” thinking will ensure efficient public transport connects all these areas.
The new greenfield suburbs at Muirhead and Lee Point in Darwin’s north and at Palmerston now feature smaller blocks, which have attracted strong criticism from some sectors of the community. But these smaller blocks allow developers to provide more affordable house and land packages, reduce the speed at which we need to deliver new suburbs because we can accommodate more people in a given area, and are often a better “fit” for the lifestyles Territorians wish to enjoy. They therefore meet core “Smart City” goals.
Our rural area also benefits from a “Smart City” approach to planning. We are already experiencing significant pressure on our underground water resources and the concept of expanding numbers of septic tanks in an environment where we also source our water from underground does not seem to be all that smart. So how can we improve this situation?
New rural subdivisions that deliver a majority two hectare blocks, but incorporate some higher density nodes, can have several significant advantages over the status quo:
- Increased densities allow the delivery of sewerage treatment facilities to become cost effective;
- The increased densities also enable cost-effective delivery of water, either through connections to town water, or tapping into new sources of underground water;
- Some employment opportunities become available locally within activity centres that support elevated population levels;
- More amenities can be provided within activity centres, reducing the need for local residents to travel longer distances for some of their needs.
The Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT) welcomes the enthusiasm local government has so far shown for “Smart Cities” and urges all levels of Government to incorporate smart city thinking into planning for our future. We already have a good start, but we need to ensure our planning continues to keep pace with internationally and nationally acclaimed smart thinking.