ALL TOGETHER NOW: Integrating industry into urban planning will be one of the key themes of the PIA's state conference this week.
ALL TOGETHER NOW: Integrating industry into urban planning will be one of the key themes of the PIA's state conference this week. Aerial Media Gladstone

'Smart cities' expert has a message for Gladstone

PROFESSOR Marcus Foth has a message for cities like Gladstone: you don't need to be like Brisbane.

The QUT professor of urban informatics will deliver the closing keynote address at this week's state conference for the Planning Institute of Australia, to be held in Gladstone tomorrow and Friday.

It's the first time the conference has been held in the Gladstone Region and with the theme "Fuelling the Powerhouse", the event promises a focus on local industry.

Prof Foth (left) said his address would focus on the human element of urban planning, as well as making sure regional cities knew it was their differences with major cities that made them stand out.

Known as an expert on "smart cities", Prof Foth said his aim was to cut through some of the hype surrounding the technology-focused urban planning philosophy.

"That terminology has been around for about 10 years and there have already been a lot of lessons learned from some of the mistakes made by early adopters like Korea," he said.

"They had a government that was investing heavily into the tech side of things, so they worked with these huge companies to build 'smart cities' in greenfield estates - but they didn't have that focus on urban spaces, which prioritised the richness of human interaction.

"The smart city agenda now recognises we need a strong focus on the human element."


ALL PLANNED OUT: QUT Professor of Urban Informatics Marcus Foth.
ALL PLANNED OUT: QUT Professor of Urban Informatics Marcus Foth. Contributed

Prof Foth said Gladstone Regional Council's stalled attempt last year to introduce magnetic sensor-activated "smart parking" in the CBD was an example of smart-city thinking being technology-led, rather than community-led.

"I think what was missing in that case was a whole-of-government approach," he said.

"A smart city agenda is just as much about consulting with the community as it is about new technology - the technology itself can't make decisions about how to use that data."

Speaking to The Observer from the Australian Regional Development Conference at Tweed Heads yesterday, Prof Foth said the boom-and-bust cycle currently affecting Gladstone was playing out in different ways across the country.

He said planning ahead for different economic cycles with "smart regulation" was just as important as integrating new technology into cities and he expected much of the discussion at Gladstone's conference to focus on this issue.

But one point Prof Foth said he wanted to drive home on his own terms was how improved regional connectivity was leading people to leave metropolitan areas and look for new opportunities in the regions.


NRG's Gladstone Power Station.
NRG's Gladstone Power Station. Mike Richards GLA130215NRGP

"People feel like they're in a hamster wheel - constantly dictated to by the diary on their smartphones," he said.

"There's always been those older people doing the seachange, or the 'tree change', but it's happening with much younger demographics now.

"There's a lot of young people who can't afford housing in Sydney or Melbourne who don't want a two-hour commute, so places like Gladstone are of interest to them.

"What some of these local governments around the country need to understand is you want to avoid the standard gentrification approach ... you don't want everyone sipping lattes next to the graffiti under the LED lights.

"If it all looks the same, they start to look elsewhere."

The conference will be held at Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre and will also feature speakers from the CSIRO, GPC, Gladstone Regional Council, the National Heart Foundation and Brisbane City Council.

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