There is an unsuspecting project on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast flying well under the radar.

It’s described as Australia’s largest greenfield infill project. That’s an opportunity you don’t get every day. A new city centre regeneration project, anticipated to accelerate an already buoyant regional economy by creating the conditions for incubation, innovation and broader sustainable growth.

At 57 hectares, Maroochydore Central is no town centre development or main street upgrade. It is a new central business district. We are talking about filling the hole in a donut. This project is about creating a new heart, a hub, a centre.

This ambitious project comes off the back of years of consecutive economic growth higher than the national average, and a region solidifying itself as a major Australian tourism destination and lifestyle centre. Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk described it as one of Queensland’s, and the nation’s, best performing regional economies. And the region continues to grow, with population growth expected to be around 40 per cent over the next 20 years.

Consider these fast facts: Maroochydore Central will include a 3.2 hectare hotel, entertainment, convention, and exhibition precinct, 65,000 square metres of retail space, coupled with 124,500 square metres of commercial floor space and 2,000 residential apartments. Almost 20 hectares of parkland and waterways, and 2.6 hectares of public plazas make for one impressive development.

But what’s most exciting about this development, is that it’s moved beyond the planning stage – ground has broken, initial funding committed and services are being laid.

And not just any network of utilities, but the the bones and the veins for a smart city. This is where the smart cities journey starts.

A ‘real’ living laboratory

The Sunshine Coast Council’s smart cities journey began in a smart city living laboratory in Caloundra, curated by the City’s smart cities lead, Michael Whereat. And it is in the main street of Caloundra and its neighbouring blocks where multiple experiments continue to take place. From laying a council-owned fibre network to installing smart lights and street poles to deploying internet connected rubbish bins, this local authority has moved beyond smart cities rhetoric.

Unleashing a smart cities-led development framework

Sunshine Coast Council, like many of its peers across the country, has adopted a smart cities framework. Most of these strategies and plans provide a clear smart cities vision for the city, and strategies for how data, technology and intelligent design can help them perform better, from a sustainability perspective, and become more liveable.

The council has adopted a portfolio approach to smart cities, with 13 value-add services which have been identified to offer key benefits to the region. And this portfolio will help guide the region’s future growth, and inform development projects, and public works investments, such as the Maroochydore Central project. These services cover smart lighting, waste management, water, power, citizen services and health.

With its digital backbone, and user-focused interface, Maroochydore Central will become one of Australia’s most sustainable city centres, creating the conditions for stakeholders to make data-driven decisions in real time. This means making decisions that are more sustainable, more impactful, and more frequent.

With the temptation to try and deploy as many strategies as possible, the risk in keeping this transformative city-shaping approach manageable has been a key priority. Council has therefore identified in its Smart Cities Framework a five-phase roadmap that embeds regular ‘Evaluate, Refine, Learn and Share’ milestones.

The smart city becomes the sustainable city

Council’s commitment to growing the region’s sustainability is clearly highlighted in the Smart Cities Framework. It identifies core sustainability targets around key issues (such as carbon reduction), and then provides strategies linked to those. Macro economic modelling over a 10-year period has also been undertaken to ensure the full life cycle benefits are realised.

And to demonstrate the point, the city has allocated $21 million in capital to ensure the new Maroochydore Central project drives sustainable waste management outcomes using a smart cities approach. Just this month, council became the first local authority in the country to procure a precinct-wide waste collection system, using an innovative vacuum technology that collects, stores and disposes of waste in the most efficient way possible.

And so the smart city now becomes the most sustainable city. And that’s without even mentioning that the council is also building a 15-megawatt solar farm to power 100 per cent of its electricity consumption for all operations and facilities.

Back down in council’s smart city living lab in Caloundra, Whereat dials up the real time data he’s been collecting from multiple sensors and networks. His council colleagues are impressed as they learn of the benefits of data-driven decision making, the time and money savings, the better service delivery, the more sustainable outcomes. For this council, the technology is not the end game, but rather the accelerator for being the most sustainable region.