In 1836, Colonel William Light surveyed vast plains and coastlines of South Australia, settling on a spot that soon became Adelaide.

The city was carefully planned, with a gold rush enabling the creation of buildings that still stand proudly today.

180 years forward, the city is looking to “a very bold and exciting, new future”, says Martin Haese, Mayor of Adelaide City Council. But even as tech may spur change, Haese intends to make those changes within the context of Adelaide’s heritage.

GovInsider caught up with him to discuss his four key priorities in 2017.

1. Mobility

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First, Haese plans to improve mobility. The council is placing traffic sensors throughout the city, collecting data on pedestrian and vehicle movement. The Mayor wants to share this data with the public so that businesses can offer competitive products of benefit to residents. “Governments have a lot of data, but they don’t always use it for the benefit of the community”, he admits. “We want to open source our format, so that entrepreneurs can uncover opportunities.”

The data gathered will help the council allocate different parking solutions based on congestion patterns. Haese is positive that smart parking tech can help shape the behaviour of drivers and clear bottlenecks on roads. “We have a goal by 2020 to be almost expiation or fine-free, so we’re putting the power back into the hands of the customer”, he says. This can be done through an app that will “enable people to identify the availability of on-street car parks”; it’ll save their time and cost, and cut carbon output, he adds.

That’s not all – Haese plans to use traffic movement data to plan ahead for electric and driverless vehicles. “By the end of 2017, we will have more electric vehicle charging stations on our city street than any other capital city in Australia.” Work is underway: “We’re putting in place the technological infrastructure”, he says.

2. Energy efficiency

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Second, the Mayor is pushing out services that will help residents save energy, and incentivise them to cut waste. Adelaide aims to be “the world’s first carbon neutral city” by 2025, Haese asserts.

The council is using South Australia’s financial scheme to improve energy efficiency for heritage buildings, giving building owners easy access to bank loans for efficiency upgrade works. They can then repay the debt to the council through set levies. Essentially, it allows “the building owner to implement an entire new plant equipment into the building, to make them more efficient, and to pay that bank overtime without passing that cost on to the tenant”, he explains.

Haese is also on a mission to install smart lights for the city. The council has converted much of its lighting to LED, but they are now “smart-enabling” them, he says. Street lights will be sensitive to movements, with adjustable brightness depending on the street activity. “It’s saving energy, it’s saving carbon output, and it’s reducing costs for our ratepayers of the city”, he adds, “almost a triple bottom line benefit”.

So far, upgrade works on city lightings has saved the council US$600,000 (A$800,000) in the past year. The council has managed to slashed Adelaide’s energy usage by 15.5 percent over the last four years, Haese says. “We see environmental benefits and economic benefits as closely related.”

3. Improved connectivity

Third, the Mayor wants to boost internet speed in the city, an initiative he believes will bring “transformational” change. “Our goal here is to position the city of Adelaide as having the fastest data speed in the nation”, at 10 gigabit per second. It’ll be a “catalyst for business attraction, employment growth, innovation, [and] investment attraction”, which will translate to job creation, Haese continues.

The Mayor believes that fast internet connection will also help the city attract more startups. “Every city that’s done this has been able to measure the growth in startup activity”, he says.

Comparatively, Brisbane is improving its connectivity by expanding its free-wifi zones, which now includes all of its CBD. The move ties in with the city’s plan to attract more businesses.

4. Transparency

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Technology is bringing about rapid changes to the city scape, and the Mayor believes that it is “critical” for citizens to be aware and involved in these changes. including the population is “one of the biggest challenges” for the Mayor. “What are the benefits? And why are we doing this?”, says Haese; citizens should be able to answer these.

The council is currently working on a digital dashboard that publishes the local government’s efforts “towards becoming a smart, green, liveable [and] creative city”, the Mayor says. This is a “transparent” way that the council will be reporting on its progress to citizens, all “110 separate actions of the plan which we must deliver by 2020”, he says.

Haese’s team is also using innovative measures to carry out community consultation. For example, the council has built a demonstration project in one of the city’s parks so residents can choose – out of six options – the type of cycling bike lanes they like, before the council invests US$9 billion (A$12 billion) investment to build the infrastructure. “It’s a very practical way of doing a demonstration project”, he says. “We need to get [the bike lanes] nice, we need to make sure that our motorists are happy, and we need to make sure that our cyclists are safe.”

Learning from other countries

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The Mayor looks to Austin, Texas for inspiration. Known as the ‘Live Musical Capital of the World’, the city houses a number of tech juggernauts – Google and Apple, for instance, Haese says. “They have been able to combine liveability, and technology very, very well”, he says, the same direction Adelaide is working towards.

He also looks to Singapore for inspiration, learning how the country is using tech to improve city standards. “Adelaide and South Australia draws, from a technology perspective a great deal of inspiration” from Singapore, he says. ”It’s running a very strong smart city agenda.”

Growing the creative sector is important to the Mayor. “The state government’s been changing legislation from our live music, to make it more freely available.” He sees “a very strong link between creativity and innovation”, and “between innovation and commercialisation”. Some of council’s efforts have paid off: last year, the city was recognised by UNESCO as a ‘city of music’.

Colonel Light faced resistance when he decided on the location of Adelaide. Who knows what he’d make of this high tech metropolis that grew in his chosen spot. At least he’d still recognise some of the buildings.

Cyclists from Santos Tour Down Under 2015 by Brian Townsley, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Austin, Texas by Earl McGehee, licensed under CC BY 2.0