On April 30 1911, the Commonwealth Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley, launched a competition for a new city. It would be a city for whom trade would not require river or sea port, but face-to-face conversation and exchange of ideas. A city whose wealth would come not from what would be mined, but from the mind: its capacity to take and implement decisions on behalf of a growing nation.
It would be Australia’s first true knowledge-based economy, the countries cleverest city, the original smart – Canberra.
With federal government followed other world-class institutions: galleries and museums showcasing all that was known, scientists, academics and researchers racing to reveal what was not. It gave the world the first glimpse of the moon landing at Honeysuckle Creek and the first glimpse of the future through the invention of Wi-Fi. In return the world gave it the title of best place to live via the OECD.
Such was its success that over the years its reason for being changed. Creeks of confidence, industry, and creativity flowed into that initial stream of federation forming a river of growing purpose and direction; a community not just to serve the nation, but to help lead the nation through its ability to develop and implement ideas; an economy founded on federation but now moving forward on innovation, on renewable energy, on creating jobs in both the public and the private sector.
Yet as Canberra has changed so, too, has the world.
Urban populations are now increasing by 65 million each year. Some Chinese cities have economies larger than European countries. Houses are being 3D printed and “nobody” will drive future cars. All can be taxi drivers, hoteliers, or publishers; bank managers through buttons in the palm of our hand, cashiers through the wave of a plastic card.
In half a century future Melbourne will be the size of present day Melbourne and Sydney combined, and future Canberra will have doubled – times two in shops, times two in traffic, times two requiring homes, schools, hospitals and employment.
In times of questions, uncertainty, disruption, there is opportunity for those with answers, there is value in cities with answers, cities like Canberra. The key to capitalising on this opportunity is two-fold.
The ACT government rightly invests in physical infrastructure as this is critical for growth. High connectivity between like-minded firms, government, academia, their employees, and the local non-tradable [restaurants, cafes] sector, is fundamental to the maintenance of a world-class knowledge-based economy as we are the raw material. Productivity relates to how efficiently we transport ourselves.
Yet the city born to make decisions taken for the nation, must also now lead a new process of decision-making. By 2020 there will be 50 billion devices around the world connected to the internet, merging our online and offline world, shaping our environment in real-time and helping solve the challenges of urbanisation.
Data from these devices and other sources will influence every aspect of decision-making: where, when and how governments’ spend, industry invests, citizens live. It will give certainty where once there was only supposition. Evidence will govern and improvement will be a constant process as data is provided in real time.
There is no competition for a new city as there was over a century ago, but there is an extraordinary opportunity for a new type of city – for the original smart to be an original smart city by utilising the innovation and knowledge capacity, the originality and the smartness, of the extraordinary people, institutions, and networks who reside here.