During the day, Adelaide’s central business district is filled with throngs of office goers. But when night falls, this crowd ebbs away, and the district’s benches and pavement become home for another familiar crowd: the homeless.

Homelessness is a growing problem for Adelaide. In 2017, over 120 people slept out in its central business district on an average night – a marked 44% increase from the 76 people per night in 2016. They live in carparks, on stairwells, and at shopfronts, evicted from their temporary quarters as day breaks.

This is an odd conundrum for the world’s fifth most liveable city – as judged by the Economist Intelligence Unit – and its city council wants to eradicate it by 2020. “The vision for Adelaide is to become a smart, green, livable, and creative city,” Martin Haese, Lord Mayor of Adelaide, tells GovInsider. In an exclusive interview, Haese shares how the city is using data to support the homeless and fight climate change.

Fighting homelessness 

The city is gathering data on the homeless to find ways to help them better. “In July, there was a very comprehensive audit done right across the city, in one night, to determine the number of people sleeping [outside] right at that point in time,” says Haese. These audits allow city officials and non-profits to collect the names of the homeless and where they sleep – so officials and social workers can formulate plans to rehouse and provide care services for individuals.

Currently, a local foundation has launched an online dashboard to track the numbers of homeless people and of those who have obtained secure housing. Meanwhile, a city council database is being built to connect homeless people with social service providers, like mental health counsellors. “Providing care services to those who have mental health problems, and a whole variety of other health problems,” says Haese, is “just as important as having a roof over your head.”

Carbon neutral by 2025

Adelaide has a goal to become carbon neutral by 2025. And it is meeting this goal with a series of initiatives to reduce the city’s carbon output.

One area it wants to cut is carbon emissions from traffic. Approximately 20% of city traffic comes from drivers looking for parking spots. The city has launched a smart parking app – called Park Adelaide – where drivers can find parking spots available nearby, rather than drive around looking for spaces.

Drivers can pay for parking spots on the app, and get alerts when their parking spot is about to expire. “You won’t need to use a parking meter, cash, [or even] credit card, you’ll be able to do it all online.” shares Haese. The app is linked to sensor units embedded in the ground beneath parking spots, which detect and send information to drivers over the app. It was launched in August and has since been rolled out to 2,800 car parks.

The city wants residents to switch to electric vehicles (EVs). Since 2016, the city council has installed 40 EV charging stations throughout the city, with plans to increase the number of publicly accessible EV recharge points to 250 by 2020. “We will soon be leading Australia in terms of the take-up of electric vehicles,” Haese declares.

“We will soon be leading Australia in terms of the take-up of electric vehicles.”

The council is also offering local residents and businesses a stipend of AUD$5,000 to install their own charging points. Meanwhile, the state government has invested AUD$9 million to trial hydrogen-fuelled buses on Adelaide’s roads by 2020, reported local media.

Environment monitoring

City officials are using data to understand environmental conditions to manage pollution rates better. Adelaide monitors weather conditions via sensors around the city. “As I speak to you today, there’s a dust storm happening in Adelaide,” says Haese. These smart sensors gather and transmit data on carbon dioxide, dust and temperature levels to public officials.

The city’s parking and environmental data are fed into a cloud network, and is being made available to the public via open data. In the future, Haese hopes that local communities will use the open data to come up with innovative environmental solutions. This is “a very pronounced opportunity for the city council to open source for data and for the entrepreneurial community to use that data to find solutions,” he says. The data network will be completed by the end of 2019.

These solutions are possible because Adelaide city council owns the “vast majority” of city infrastructure, says Haese. In Australia, public infrastructure is often owned by utilities and power companies. As the city council owns most of the city’s public infrastructure, this has allowed them to “move very quickly” in implementing traffic, parking and environmental solutions.

Despite Adelaide’s data-savvy efforts, Australia faces poor internet connectivity on a national scale. In Adelaide, the local government has taken matters into its own hands. The city is building a 10 Gigabit fibre optic network to allow for dedicated connections between local businesses and the cloud. “In rolling out 10 Gigabit Adelaide, it’s not only for the community, it’s also to assist us with the delivery of services,” the Mayor says.

Greening businesses

Commercial buildings, in particular, generate massive amounts of carbon emissions from their electricity and gas usage. In 2015, commercial and apartment buildings contributed to 48% of Adelaide’s greenhouse gas emissions. To combat this, the city council grants loans to allow building owners to make their facilities more energy-efficient with technologies like solar power and battery storage. Under the project, building owners can “effectively borrow [money] to upgrade their equipment of their buildings,” he says.

For instance, building owners can install energy-saving lighting systems in their carparks, such as LED fittings and smart controls. By 2021, 50% of all commercial carparks in Adelaide will be upgraded to high efficiency light systems, according to the Carbon Neutral Adelaide Action Plan.

As Adelaide continues to reduce carbon emissions and homelessness, there is still some way to go before the city can solve all its problems.

Image from the City of Adelaide Facebook pageCC BY 2.0