Soon after deposing Tony Abbott, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled a 34-page Smart Cities plan last year which incorporated smart investment principles.

Under these principles, it was determined the government and the private sector would work together, utilise technology to better use infrastructure and negotiate city deals to help urban centres realise their potential

Together with the creation of a ministerial portfolio, the plan’s announcement signalled that Australia was serious about creating cities which are efficient, productive, sustainable, liveable, and accessible.

As yet, however, we do not have a common understanding about what a smart city or a smart community actually looks like.

Now, this is changing. In July, the Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand (SCCANZ) and the Green Building Council of Australia announced a partnership under which the two bodies would work to create a new Code for Smart Communities – a voluntary code which will provide guidance to government and private sector developers as they go about implementing the smart cities agenda.

According to SCCANZ executive director Adam Beck, the Code aims to deliver a common understanding of core concepts surrounding smart cities and smart communities. It will also break the broader smart cities concept down into what it means within communities for the development sector.

“Our view is that without definition or common understanding about a topic or an issue, anything looks like success,” Beck said.  “That’s risky territory to be in.

“We acknowledge that the smart cities agenda and the smart cities movement is gaining a lot of traction, momentum and interest right now on the back of the smart cities plan. From a timing perspective, we feel it is important to make sure that we have some good definition in place. It’s not unlike many other advances or changes within our industry, it’s always important to have some core common language scope boundary definitions – what does it mean?

“Unless we are clear about what it means at the community level, then anything goes.”

According to Beck, the Code will be structured around two core components.

First, there will be basic principles which define a smart community. These are not so much ‘vertical’ areas such as health, waste management and transport but rather critical concepts which cut across these areas and define what we are trying to achieve from an outcomes perspective.

Based on working sessions thus far, between six and 12 principles are emerging. These cover concepts such as inclusion, governance, data, connectivity and social equity.

Beyond principles, Beck says a set of metrics will articulate specific measures about what a smart community looks like and what constitutes ‘success’ in smart communities.

Beck says the Code will serve as a guide for both state and local governments as well as the development industry in a similar manner to which Green Star has guided efforts towards developing sustainable cities. Built into the appendices of the Code are likely to be a range of activation tools and templates. These will see model codes aimed at specific groups such as local government planners or urban development professionals.

Whilst he acknowledges the potential for the Code to be ‘misused’ in that councils and organisations jump on board but then fail to follow words with action, Beck says the industry has gained sufficient levels of maturity over the past decade through the development of Green Star to ensure that cases where this might happen are rare. Because the Code will be voluntary, he says it is unlikely to add any form of ‘red tape’ and that states, councils and the development sector will use it only if they can see that it adds value.

Early working group sessions are underway and a draft of the Code will be launched at the Smart Cities Week in Washington DC in early October.

Following that, the document will be finalised over the following four to five months.