Cities policy and citizen benefits

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James Riley

Innovation policy at all levels of government has to demonstrate benefit for everyday Australians clearly in order to have a chance of being effective, Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said.

Mr Pisasale, who has been Mayor of Ipswich since 2004, has described the technological push that has transformed Ipswich into one of Australia’s smartest cities and how to sell innovation policy.

“Unless Mr and Mrs Brown on Smith Street understand what the hell you’re talking about, it ain’t going to work. They’re the ones that are suffering and hurting, and they’re the ones paying rates and taxes and feeling like they’ve been hard done by,” Mr Pisasale told the Intelligent Communities forum.

“There’s no use doing anything when you’re in business or government unless the people at the grassroots understand it. But when they do understand it, it then flows to the roots. People respect and vote for good leadership.”

Ipswich was one of the first cities in Australia to embrace the concept of smart cities and has the support of most of its population, with Mr Pisasale enjoying about 85 per cent of the vote in the last two council elections.

A key part of the smart cities push is convincing everyday Australians that innovation can help them – something the federal government has been mostly unable to do.

As a city previously reliant on mining and engineering, Ipswich was especially vulnerable to the shift towards innovation and technology. But an early focus on a smart cities agenda has transformed the city into one of the most technologically advanced in Australia, Mr Pisasale said.

“Nobody wanted to go there before. But look at it now, everyone wants to go there. You’ve got to start spending money where there is growth – that’s one of the things we usually do wrong in this country,” he said.

“Technology leads to a smart city [which] leads to dollars for the community.”

It was after asking his daughter what she planned to after finishing Year 12 that Mr Pisasale realised something had to change with his home city Ipswich.

“I can’t wait to get out of this hole,” was his daughter’s blunt reply.

This led Mr Pisasale to realise that there were few job or university opportunities for young people in Ipswich, and the city was failing to capitalise on the technological revolution that was already underway. So he decided to do something about it.

“And I knew information technology was the key,” he said.

Ipswich’s push to become a smart city began in 2015 as part of the $470 million Advance Ipswich Plan.

It has focused on an integrated approach to using technology and innovation to improve the government’s delivery of services, reduce costs, improve the liveability of the city and better address environmental issues.

This included the development of the Ipswich Smart City Blueprint, which detailed the council’s future direction for prioritising efforts that “foster innovation to achieve improved economic and social outcomes”.

“We really believe that digital cities are better enabled by digital governments who are not afraid to adopt a more human-centred approach in order to better serve their citizens,” Mr Pisasale said in the plan.

Initiatives in the smart cities space launched by Ipswich include a self-driving car trial, traffic lights that are linked with emergency services, connected LED lights in car parks and sporting fields and the Fire Station 101, an innovation hub in the centre of the city.

The city’s efforts extend globally too, with Ipswich signing an agreement with the Netherlands in November last year to expand its focus on innovation, investment and education, providing a stepping stone into the Global Smart Cities initiative.

A focus on practical innovation with clear public benefit has transformed Ipswich’s identity, with the city’s population set to double from 200,000 by 2031.

“I’ll never say that Ipswich is better than anywhere else but we’re doing the best we can to be the best we can, and I’ve got the whole city believing in that and wanting to be part of it,” Mr Pisasale said.

“This is about leadership and making sure you know where you’re going. It’s about changing perceptions.

“The perceptions drove everyone away, now we’ve changed them and everyone wants to be here.”

Mr Pisasale said that this practical approach with demonstrable benefit to everyday citizen is crucial for government policy in this space.

“Only less than one per cent of people believe advertising, less than 20 per cent don’t believe organisations anymore and they don’t believe governments.

“That’s why you get Donald Trump. People like that will keep getting elected unless governments can start showing what they’re doing. You’ve got to start listening to the majority,” he said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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