Greater initiative is needed from the Australian government if the country hopes to transform its urban centres into highly connected and efficient smart cities of the future.

The emergence of an “Internet of Things” that connects myriad hi-tech devices in the physical world is spurring the development of “smart cities” that will profoundly transform the way urban environments of the future operate.

Nick Austin of parking app company Divvy said the smart cities concept promises to dramatically enhance the efficiency of urban environments as well as boost convenience of access and usage for both visitors and residents.

“Smart cities are cities that work in a way which is far more efficient than they do at present, using technologies and processes that enable people to get around the urban environment and connect to different things much more easily,” he said.

“A lot of cities in Europe and Asia have not just thought about this, but are already building and re-creating entire cities using this philosophy of improving efficiencies using connectivity and technology.

“In countries like China and India, they’re building hundreds of smart cities from the ground up at the moment, while major corporations like IBM and Cisco are already big drivers in the smart city space.”

Despite the preeminent rankings of Australia’s major population centres on lists of the world’s most liveable cities, Austin believes urban regulators are only belatedly realizing the significance of this latest paradigm shift in urban development.

“Australia is only just starting to catch on, and in a very limited way when it comes to the working sphere for smart cities,” he said. “I think we’re very focused on traditional ways of making our cities work, and just dealing with problems instead of finding more innovative solutions.

“While I think we’ll improve, we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Austin is calling for greater involvement by government in the establishment of the hi-tech infrastructure that is needed for the development of smart cities, as well as a coordinated high-level strategy on the part of the Commonwealth.

“The technology is being driven by private enterprise at the moment – not governments or councils – as well as by the people who are actually working and shopping in Australia’s CBDs,” he said.

“What we need is a nation-wide strategy to look at what’s important. There’s this view that telecommunication is what we need to focus on, and while it’s very important, it’s really just one part of how a city works. There are number of other things that are also needed to enable the creation smart cities.

“Until sensors are installed throughout cities so that companies and people can connected better with urban infrastructure, it’s just not going to happen.”

Given that much smart city technology involves extensive reconfiguration of the way urban spaces are accessed and utilized, Austin also believes an overhaul of potentially restrictive planning regulation may also be in order.

“As far as policies go, we may need to get rid of a lot of the archaic regulations in cities in relation to planning and what companies and building owners are actually allowed to do with properties,” he said.

“A classic example is why buildings have visitor and tenant only parking, which essentially promotes inefficient use of a car park. In the middle of the CBD, when there’s a strip crowded with thousands of people looking for a park, you could have thousands of car spaces sitting vacant because of that restriction.”

Austin said any adjustments to policy should be part of a more holistic approach to planning that the creation of smart cities entails, which will involving looking at the urban environment as a single, interrelated entity, as opposed to a collection of discrete and disconnected buildings.

“It’s about looking at the city as a whole and how it works, rather than looking at one particular building or one particular construction point – that’s really the DNA of a smart city,” he said.