Smart cities, built from scratch

By Katerina Sakkas
Wednesday, 06 March, 2024

Smart cities, built from scratch

There are few things more ambitious than the smart city built from scratch. These futuristic metropolises are founded on the idealistic principle of high-tech, integrated systems working together for the benefit of the community. In a smart city, the Internet of Things (IoT) works smoothly to produce more efficient transport, more sustainable buildings and even, potentially, better health for citizens through sensors that monitor the contents of the fridge or medication cabinet.

With their reliance on interconnected systems, the IoT and sustainable technologies, smart cities present a host of opportunities for the electrical, communications and data industries.

The smart city concept is both old — with origins in the late 1960s — and remarkably current, as witnessed in the imminent plans for Indonesia’s new capital Nusantara and Australia’s very own Bradfield, an aerotropolis destined for Western Sydney. These days, most cities deploy some form of smart technology, with many identifying as ‘smart cities’ on the basis of this, but the smart city built from the ground up represents a whole new level of vision and risk.

Given that a few smart cities have been built over the past 20 years or so, while various others have failed before getting off the ground, and yet more are planned for the near future, now seems like an opportune time to assess the effectiveness of the smart city idea in order to avoid mistakes in future.

Getting it right

Two recent studies have examined the opportunities and challenges presented by smart cities through analysis of carefully chosen datasets.

Smart Cities—A Structured Literature Review1, published in July 2023, used Web of Science and Google Scholar to identify relevant research articles on smart cities. It then combed this body of research using a list of 10 questions. These questions related to the definition of a smart city, its advantages and disadvantages, implementation challenges and funding, among other topics. The study also analysed the implementation of smart city solutions in international contexts and proposed strategies to overcome associated challenges.

What is the impact of smart city development? Empirical evidence from a Smart City Impact Index2, published in November 2023, developed a special index to measure the positive and negative impacts of smart city development. Its focus was on cities in South Korea, a country that began to initiate smart city projects in the mid-2000s. This study compared non-smart cities with first-wave smart cities (which focus on transportation and security infrastructure) and second-wave smart cities (which emphasise comprehensive urban management).

Cautionary tales

Both studies identified security and privacy as areas of concern in the modern smart city.

“The integration of technology and data-driven solutions in smart cities has the potential to revolutionize urban living by providing citizens with personalized and accessible services. However, the implementation also presents challenges, including data privacy concerns, unequal access to technology, and the need for collaboration across private, public, and government sectors,” wrote the authors of Smart Cities—A Structured Literature Review.1

Indeed, this was the main reason Canada’s ambitious Sidewalk Toronto project folded in 2020. Proposed by Google subsidiary Sidewalk Labs in response to a callout by Waterfront Toronto in 2017, the ultra-sustainable neighbourhood was going to be built on 12 acres of industrial land along Toronto’s waterfront. Critics, however, objected to the minute level of digital scrutiny that residents would seemingly be subjected to, allegedly for their own benefit — something that was made even less appealing given Sidewalk Labs’ close relationship to one of the world’s data giants.

Some commentators and researchers3 have similar concerns about Toyota Woven City, a high-tech, ultra-sustainable community that the mobility company started building in 2021 in Tohoku, at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan. Run on hydrogen and billed in Toyota’s promotional materials as a “human-centred, living laboratory”, the community is designed to eventually be home to 2000 people. In Woven City, sensors will monitor residents’ health, track their food use and prompt household robots to keep the fridge stocked. Most of this highly surveilled population will be Toyota employees and their families.

In contrast to Sidewalk Toronto, the Songdo International Business District in Incheon, South Korea, has achieved a degree of success. Built on 1500 acres of land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea and completed in about 2015, the district is by all accounts a marvel of integrated technology, with sensors monitoring energy use and traffic, loads of smart home features and — impressively — pneumatic tubes that pump residents’ garbage directly from home to the rubbish facility.

However, it seems that all the seamless technological integration in the world cannot produce a vibrant community. The district has not as yet attracted the multinational tech companies and skilled international workers that were part of its initial vision, and residents report feelings of alienation and coldness4, with a lack of opportunities to meet others in the flesh.

Bradfield: “Australia’s first 22nd century city”

Named for the chief engineer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Bradfield is part of the NSW Government’s Greater Sydney Region Plan for a “metropolis of three cities”: the Western Parkland City (Bradfield), the Central River City (Parramatta) and the Eastern Harbour City.

Part of what is ultimately planned to be a much larger aerotropolis, Bradfield City Centre will be constructed on 114 hectares in close proximity to the new Western Sydney International Airport at Badgerys Creek. More than 15,000 people are expected to eventually live there in about 10,000 new dwellings, with 20,000 new jobs created. Promotional videos from the Western Parkland City Authority show an artist’s impression of a vibrant, walkable city with plenty of landscaped public space where young professionals and families gather. The city’s draft Master Plan is currently on public exhibition.

ECD contacted the Western Parkland City Authority (WPCA) for details on how Bradfield City Centre is progressing.

A WPCA spokesperson said that the city’s First Building, housing commercial industry tenants and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Facility (AMRF), is due to open in mid-2024, adding that construction would soon get underway on the Second Building, the two-hectare Central Park, and the roads and services within the city.

Integration is a primary consideration

The WPCA spokesperson said that the first stage of Bradfield City Centre will integrate technology in order to improve day-to-day experiences in the city and allow people to stay connected.

The WPCA is planning a system of innovative multi-function poles capable of accommodating lights, sensors, cameras and telecommunications equipment to ensure Bradfield has the supporting infrastructure in place for smart city technologies, the spokesperson said.

A fibre-optic network throughout the new city will support rapid connection to this digital infrastructure.

At the time of publication, the WPCA was on the point of releasing an expression of interest (EOI) for the market to engage in a number of opportunities to provide digital infrastructure and services supporting smart city functionality in Bradfield City Centre and to improve the visual amenity of places.

Sustainability measures

A key concern in relation to Bradfield has been its location in one of the hottest parts of Sydney, where temperatures during heatwaves can be up to 10 degrees higher than in the coastal suburbs.

The WPCA spokesperson said the draft Master Plan includes controls aimed at curbing the urban heat island effect, including a minimum tree canopy coverage target of 40% and the use of water-sensitive urban design to keep water in the environment to green and cool the city.

“Buildings will feature greenery in the form of extensive landscaping and green roofs, to cool and protect buildings,” the spokesperson said. “Planning controls also aim to reduce active heat production from electrical systems and transport in the city.”

Additionally, resilience and climate change risk principles are being incorporated into the design of buildings and infrastructure.

The design of the First Commercial Building exemplifies these principles, with the spokesperson saying it “sets the benchmark for Bradfield City Centre as a connected, green and advanced city, while promoting design that is of its place and connected to Country”.

The First Building has a timber structure composed of prefabricated modular components that are fixed together. This means that it can be disassembled, expanded and even relocated over time.

Water management is an important consideration, with the building capturing and storing rainwater for landscape irrigation. As might be expected, the First Building roof will also incorporate solar PV to generate power.

Additionally, the roof will be filled with native planting and low-maintenance vegetation to support local biodiversity and improve the microclimate of the building, the WPCA spokesperson said.

Gathering momentum

Once Bradfield’s Master Plan is finalised, land will be released for private sector development, building on the momentum created in the lead-up to Western Sydney International Airport opening in 2026 along with the new Western Sydney metro line.

The Western Parkland City Authority intends to create “a thriving 24/7 hub of culture, creativity, and innovation over time”. It will be fascinating to see it taking shape.

1. ‘Smart Cities—A Structured Literature Review’, by Jose Sanchez Gracias, Gregory S. Parnell, Eric Specking, Edward A. Pohl and Randy Buchanan
Smart Cities 2023, 6(4), 1719-1743;

2. ‘What is the impact of smart city development? Empirical evidence from a Smart City Impact Index’, by Yirang Lim, Jurian Edelenbos and Alberto Gianoli
Urban Governance,

3. See, eg, ‘Smart Cities and Data Privacy Concerns in Japan’, by Muneo Kaigo & Natalie Pang


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