Australia: Gen Y is behind the wheel of our future Smart Cities

Last Updated: 18 June 2017
Article by Troy Webb

For the next two decades Generation Y (Gen Y) will be the main driver of both the property market and future 'Smart Cities' throughout Queensland and the world, something planners and local authorities need to be more aware of and prepare for.

Executive Director of Planning at Place Design Group Chris Isles says that by 2020, Gen Y and the eldest members of Gen Z will be the main buyers of property across Australia (and globally). Therefore, it is imperative that planners and Councils take great measures to better understand this market and what makes them tick. A commitment must be made to planning for these future generations based on their needs, not the needs of past or current generations.

"At this point we are seeing their wants and needs in housing being different from past generations," said Chris.

"They might be the first generation to resist social pressure to have the 'quarter acre block' lifestyle.

"Yet we are still planning based on the experiences and desires of older generations and not looking forward enough in our planning.

"Many cities are making heavy investments in IOT, sensors, data and a variety of Smart City technology and programs. This is both enviable and exciting.

"However, it raises a question as to whether those cities are investing in this space just to make up for short comings in the underlying design and function of a city."

Chris believes that when politicians and developers focus on technology rather than people, "smart quickly becomes stupid", which can threaten to undermine the underlying social fabric that is essential to successful cities.


"Having researched and visited cities all around the world, I believe that truly 'Smart Cities' are those that implement modern technology to support human and social capital of their cities – in other words, the residents," he said.

"Cities are ultimately for people. When we create great places, we do it for the current and future residents.

"Technology and smart city thinking should enable and facilitate that process, but not lead it.

"I fear that if we let the technology agenda get ahead of the people agenda, we may lose sight of why we are even here.

"Consider how technology influences our future cities, by adopting technology and smart city thinking to create the cities we want as residents."

Chris says a 'Smart City' is defined by its mobility, logistics, built environment and services delivery. And local government needs to play a critical role in their development.

"Whilst I think the 'Smart City' story for the more urban parts of Queensland is perhaps obvious, I see as much of an opportunity and need for regional councils. Particularly those councils struggling with wider economic decline and the need to retain communities, businesses and jobs," he said.

"The 'Smart City' movement is so much more than sensors and apps to help you park your car, it should first and foremost be about empowering the local community to reach their full potential. This means providing the right environment and access to technology to connect local businesses to the world and provide the conditions to attract the Gen Ys.

"With talent now being so mobile, people, particularly Gen Ys, will travel the world for work. With so many choices, it is now as much about 'where' that job is, as 'what' that job is – and they will choose places that have amenity and quality of life to perform those jobs.

"In the race to secure talent and ideas, the 'Smart City' concepts could bolster the chances of regional Queensland to keep and/or attract new young talent into the regions."

A good example is Rockhampton Regional Council, seen as the most advanced of the regional local authorities, having adopted a Smart City Strategy in 2015. More recently, Moreton Bay Regional Council has acquired a major parcel of land in Petrie to facilitate the development of a University and Innovation Precinct. They are working to embed 'Smart City' principles into this precinct.

"Just the act of recognising the need and opportunity to intervene in the market to deliver this critical educational facility is incredibly smart" Chris said.


Open government and open data is:

  • Making civic data available to residents
  • Using place-based technologies to geographically track, discuss and develop ideas
  • Used by some cities for co-design
  • Challenging with crowd sourcing in relation to data volume and quality
  • Engaging the public to 'grow' in value
  • Opening cities policies, plans and data set to a 'new way of doing business'

"I would say that the biggest leap of faith for some local governments will be the willingness to release data free of charge so that the wider industry can use and innovate with that data," Chris said.

"It is no good locked up within the servers of government. The issue of data privacy is by no means less important. This is eminently solvable, so there should never be a reason to not share and use the data in the first place.


Crowd sourcing has emerged in recent years as a powerful approach to reaching many people. It creates broad participation at low cost. "Data is the unseen infrastructure of the emerging digital economy, important as any road" Chris says.

"We have entered a data-rich environment where we can have data almost instantaneously. The potential applications for sensor technology are fantastic. Collect data, communicate it to different departments to help create smart solutions and, share it with citizens.

"How cities learn to adopt and use 'Smart City' technology and big data to make our cities better places to live will be the indicators of liveability in the cities of the future."

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