Cities today face a competitive landscape and uncertain futures.

Cities that will have successful futures must embrace and overcome a variety of changes, from loss of key industries such as automobile manufacturing, to increasing use of renewable fuels at the expense of fossil fuels. A report issued by the city of Geelong and Siemens’ Center of Competence for Cities looks at a few of those challenges and offers four possible scenarios that the city could embrace.

During the research phase of the report, citizens were able to weigh in with their thoughts and feelings, and delivered key messages about the development of the city.

“Keeping Geelong as a place where things are made, maximising its natural advantages through tourism, creating local jobs, and improving connectivity,” were prominent factors to the public, the report states.

The city was also in the process of developing a final 30-year Our Future vision for the region.

“Many of the examples included in the Siemens report align with the community feedback we received in stage one of the Our Future engagement,” City of Greater Geelong Administrator Chair Dr Kathy Alexander said.

The four futures identified and sketched out are:

  1. Creating a smart tech and transport hub
  2. Digital industry (Industry 4.0) and energy
  3. Agro-tourism
  4. 3D printing

“These futures were created to support the delivery of local and state specific targets and goals as well as to fit within the context of what is currently happening in Geelong, what Geelong’s residents wish to see happen to their city and the types of projects and technologies that are required to deliver on some of these concepts,” the report states.

The smart tech and transport hub concept is intended to leverage the strengths of a local specialty, such as the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). Data collected by the NDIA could be used by public and private partners “under the condition that any use of the data needs to improve the quality of life for those with disabilities across Australia,” according to the report.

Offering this data through a “data store” can incentivise the private sector to create apps that are potentially useful to the city, especially if the data is provided free of charge.

“However, cities need to consider the type of data that is shared and the relationship that they want to have with any apps generated from this information. There are now numerous examples of data stores including London, UK,” the report states.

The hub could also include a “start-up accelerator” with the goal of improving the prospects of Australian start-ups in achieving commercial success in international markets. Other elements of the smart tech and transport hub could include:

  • eMinibus city demonstration tech project
  • target CBD redevelopment with a focus on small offices
  • smart transport and parking

The report suggests new employment generated by these efforts will help to revitalise Central Geelong as a thriving mixed-use centre.

Industry 4.0 and Energy is another of the potential futures described in the report. Industry is a significant energy user, and is facing challenges as more nimble firms outpace larger, more established firms.

“Due to faster-changing consumer demands, manufacturers have to launch products faster,” the report states. “Traditionally, the big competitor has beaten the small one, but now the fast one is beating the slow one.”

Digitalisation is part of the smart-industry path, and reduces time to market, enhances flexibility, increases quality, and increases efficiency. Other options for Industry 4.0 and Energy include:

  • link to car manufacturing history through support to the next generation of cars, alternative fuel vehicles
  • roll-out of eVehicle charging
  • smart industry – supporting digitalization of local SMEs
  • waste to electricity or gas – leverage the state-wide incentive for waste incineration – convert to hydrogen and use for local bus network
  • creation of a local, industrial focused , distributed energy system (DES)
  • ‘Two car eCar’ – a strategy of an eCity car and travel car

Smart industry requires an upgrade to smart energy, according to the report.

“Because industry is such a significant energy user, it will need to act to reduce its energy intensity in order to meet Victoria state targets,” the report states.

Any discussion of energy necessarily includes the current state of energy infrastructure. The electricity grid in many developed economies was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, and in many countries, these are approaching the end of their useful life. This core infrastructure will need to be updated soon.

“The big question for utilities and governments is whether they take advantage of the natural opportunity to create smart and self-healing grids and distributed power networks, or simply replace the existing gear without considering the vast changes happening across the energy sector,” the report states.

Agro-tourism – the mash-up of agriculture with tourism – also offers potential.

“The Bellarine Taste Trail in the southeast of Geelong is boasting over 40 unique food and wine destinations,” the report notes. “The trail is littered with farmgate producers, provedores, unique wineries, beer and cider and award-winning cafes and restaurants.”

The report outlines action steps necessary to create interest and tourism around local agricultural production and incentivize more renewable power generation in agricultural areas:

  • create the largest farmers market anywhere
  • demonstration for sustainable bio-fuels
  • use of agricultural areas for wind energy production (where possible) and use for the creation of hydrogen or other industrial gases

Agro-tourism can also highlight renewable energy production, as the two enterprises can sometimes share land, depending on what is being grown.

“An agro-tourism hub could also build upon local interest in bio-fuels and focus the development of a range of alternative fuel sources, including programs to promote wind and solar energy on agricultural lands,” the report states.

Creating a 3D printing hub is option number four in the report. The strategy involves creating a new industry relevant to local existing production in agriculture and automobiles, while also repurposing existing port industrial land and training displaced workers in 3D production. 3D printing global sales are expected to increase by 30 per cent per year between 2016 and 2019.

“3-D printing in Geelong could focus on a range of areas, but starting off as parts suppliers for the agricultural or eCars markets would help to meet current and future needs,” the report states.

Abundant resources in the area include Deakin University, which can provide future-focused engineering and design facilities to 3D printing research and development.

These four ideas could be transformative for Geelong, if implemented. They’re not the only path, though, as the report states explicitly.

“The ideas are not finished, this is the beginning of Greater Geelong’s plans to deliver a place with a high quality of life and the real future of Geelong will probably include some of these elements and 1,000 more that no one has thought of,” it notes.

By Steve Hansen