How data (and sharing it) is key to Sydney's smart transformation

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Australia - New Zealand.

Do we really know how our cities are performing? This is a question I ask daily, at the events and forums I participate in. And to date, no one has wanted to dispute this provocative claim, as I suspect we know it’s somewhat accurate.

In this article, Chris Pettit of University of New South Wales again shares the benefits of data-driven city making. With substantial data collected by the minute, it’s not a quantity issue, but rather one of analysing data to help in solution creation. When you know how you are performing, and where and what the challenges are, only then do we have the basis for investing in suitable strategies.

As we say at the Council – data is good, but actionable intelligence is great! — Adam Beck


Sydney is on the cusp of a population explosion. In 30 years, it could have twice as many people as it has now. So how can it remain liveable? One urban scientist says it needs to make better use of data. And that means partnering with businesses.

Government lags significantly behind the private sector
Professor Chris Pettit, director of the city analytics program at the University of New South Wales, says for all the data that’s collected every day, cities use astonishingly little of it. While businesses — from online retailers to mobile services providers — know what you buy, where you go and even how you get there, cities have comparatively little data. And the availability of data isn’t consistent.

For instance, cities know how many people use certain sections or roads or ride mass transit, but they don’t know how many people walk or ride their bikes. Your mobile service provider, however, likely knows.

"That information is already in the private sector, so if they have it, I'd like to see that information used to not just exploit us as consumers, but use it to help us plan our cities,” Pettit told ABC. "Data should not just be used for targeted advertising and marketing and where to put the next pop-up donut store."

Data can lead you to solutions
Mobility is an area where there is significant potential to better leverage data to understand where people need to go throughout the day. And simple ridership figures aren’t enough.

When Pettit took a deeper dive into the city’s Opal card data he found that long commutes are not a universal problem. The vast majority of people traveling to Blacktown are very well served. Three-quarters have a commute time of less than 30 minutes.

Students, on the other hand, spend considerable time commuting. More than a third of the UNSW students who study in Kensington travel more than a half hour to get there. And most of them live and work in western Sydney.

Once you understand the needs of that population, you can devise strategies to help, such as developing better transit connections or even encouraging the development of more services to certain suburbs so people don’t have to travel as much.

Public-private cooperation
Pettit says Sydney does a good job of sharing its data. Its Open Data Portal not only provides useful data — such as greenhouse gas emissions by suburb — but brings that data to life by making it mappable. And the state government provides even more data, encouraging people to find uses for the datasets that range from travel times to pet ownership.

But the data doesn’t flow the other way. Businesses have been reluctant to share their information for fear of triggering privacy concerns.

Pettit says those challenges can be overcome. The city can use its data as a way to open conversations with companies that collect useful data and needs to think of ways that it can anonymize and protect that outside data so that people’s privacy is secure.