SCP E49: Urbanism, tech and meaningful Smart Cities, with Nicola Balch

SmartCityPodcast_BlogTitleImage_Episode49In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I interview Nicola Balch. We had a great chat about urbanism and tech. Nicola is an associate at McGregor Coxall. We also talked about the intelligent use of data, including why we need to be thinking about the metrics: why we want to collect certain data and what it is we will use the data for. Nicola shared about a number of different projects across the world, which I found really interesting.

Listen Here:

What we cover in this episode:

  • Nicola’s background in architecture and urban design, and how winning a competition sparked her interested in the Smart City space
  • Why she’s kind of strict about her definition of Smart Cities
  • How the UK is embracing the Smart City concept and why Bristol has a positive approach
  • The need for a holistic rather than product-based approach to Smart cities
  • The issue with the mega-player centric approach and why we need the smaller players involved to better integrate across disciplines
  • Projects Nicola’s currently working on, including Smart Carpet
  • The importance of taking a global approach and what Nicola learned on her traveling scholarship last year
  • How the LinkNYC kiosks can be an example of what not to do
  • The need to look beyond the cool techie perspective and have more community-centric rigour in the design process,
  • The emerging trends of place metrics, cultural parameters, and qualitative aspects of space
  • The EU Project Create Project
  • Quantifying the vision-oriented, qualitative projects to help projects gain funding


“I’m really interested in how we can use data to empower and engage with communities to create long term, meaningful change. So not just the idea of using data but really questioning how we can use it to test and change cities for the better in a way that actually empowers and works with communities.”

“I believe that if we start being really flexible in how we define things then it enables them sometimes to be used for purposes that might not necessarily be appropriate.”

“I think a Smart City is one that intelligently uses and responds to data, particularly live data…It’s really highly related to ICT, IOT and the tech side of things.”

“As we move through, because we’re going to have tech more and more in our lives, Smart Cities is just going to become a conversation about cities again.”

“Putting people at the centre, looking at the issues and the advocacy needs, and then raising the question, ‘What can technology do to help achieve outcomes on top of that?’”

“Technology companies hopefully will start employing a lot more people who have engaged academically and professionally in the urban environment, to really start to think about Smart Cities from a much more holistic and integrated perspective rather than the development and deployment of products.”

“Our education institutions have a huge role in Smart Cities and that will hopefully start to grow. A better cross-disciplinary response means looking at more creative ways to bring in smaller practices and people doing interesting things with technology rather than relying on the big players. I think the industry is really mega-player centric at the moment.”

“It takes a look at how Smart Cities projects are funded and driven today….We need to have a look at different ways of initiating and funding these projects to make them accessible to more people. Then we’ll start to really see diversity.”

“When you actually really start to engage with the most complex parameter of the city, and that is people, then we start to see these really interesting questions that come up.”

“It’s a shift in terms of “What do we want to measure, and why?” and then seeing whether or not technology can do that.”


Urban Land Institute Global Ideas Competition: George St 2020

McGregor Coxall’s Smart Carpet project that won the London Smart City competition

Bristol Smart City Research and Development Platform

Byera Hadley traveling scholarship with Architecture Registrations Board

The Array of Things in Chicago

Link NYC

Kylie Legg of Place Partners (check out Kylie’s episode SCP EP15)

Peter Jones from UCL

The EU Create Project


Connect with Nicola on LinkedIn or Twitter @NixBalch, or email her

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

SCP E48: Different approaches to Smart Cities, with Janice Lee


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast I interview Janice Lee. Janice is the Director of Infrastructure Advisory at EY and also recently joined me on the Future Leaders, Future Cities delegation to Japan. It was really great to hang out with Janice in person in Japan, and in this episode we discuss our observations; we talk about how Australia and Japan are approaching the Smart City space differently, but also how some things are exactly the same. We also discuss work that Janice is doing in the government advisory in the Smart City space, and the emerging trends that other people aren’t talking about in depth. As always, I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

Listen here:

What we cover in this episode:

  • Janice’s background in government in economic and infrastructure portfolios and why she is passionate about what public policy
  • What sparked her interest in the Smart City space and long term planning for transport
  • What a Smart City is to Janice and why she believes it’s so important
  • Similarities and differences between Japan and Australia’s approach to Smart Cities
  • The importance of resilience to cities in Japan’s city solutions
  • Why we don’t need to wait for future tech and how to make a Smart City while still using Windows 98
  • The tension between the technology and how it gets used
  • How Australia is embracing the Smart City concept and the opportunities for how to make our cities digitally enabled
  • What inspired Janice about her experience in Japan
  • Why Janice and EY are evolving their services and practices for resilience, citizen centricity, ecosystem collaboration and data/tech enablement
  • The challenge of integrating across different disciplines, governments and private sector
  • The emerging trends of data and integration and collaboration


“The things that I’m most passionate about really are just what public policy can do for improving the way governments think about some of the problems that citizens face and what it can do in terms of applying good discipline, data and analysis to solve those problems.”

“What is the role of high quality infrastructure in making cities function really well, in making them prepared for growth?”

“There’s a huge potential in the way in which technology is developing at the moment just to reimagine how some of this traditional infrastructure networks deliver and how they service citizens.”

“In my mind [a Smart City] is really about a city that uses technology and digital enablement to improve the wellbeing of citizens, and to improve the liveability of that city.”

“How do we work with this trend of urbanisation that we’re seeing to actually make sure that individuals aren’t left behind, and that they’re able to live in this inclusive way within these very large groupings of people within cities?”

“Because cities are these vast and complex physical and social networks, and all around the world we’re seeing massive urbanisation…cities can capture both the best and the worst of places, and they can have these incredible opportunities that are created by that density and that diversity, but they can also have really intractable problems around affordability, safety, …poor planning.”

“It’s never about the technology, it’s about how it gets used. Who adopts it, in what ways does it change the delivery of services…how do we harness that?”

“I really felt inspired after our Japan trip. I saw a complementarity…a difference in emphasis between the Japanese and Australian companies, but also a difference in approach…I left thinking there are some real opportunities for partnership here.”

“The integration piece is really the challenge, because we’re seeing already these pockets of innovation happening all over the place but what is missing is the piece that brings it all together.”

Links and resources:

Japan’s concept of Society 5.0


Adam Fennessy


Connect to Janice on LinkedIn

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

SCP E47: The power of Smart concepts in regional areas, with Neil Glentworth


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I had an awesome chat with Neil Glentworth. Neil is the Executive Chairman at GWI and he is passionate about the ethical use of data to make informed decisions. He is also passionate about Smart happening in the regions, which of course I love, so we had some great conversation about what the regions are doing in this space. As always, I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

Listen here:

What we cover in this episode:

  • Why he’s passionate about economics and data

  • What a Smart City to him is and why he believes it’s so important

  • The challenges of urbanisation on coastal Australia

  • Projects GWI are currently working on with different regional areas

  • The superficial way Australia is embracing the Smart City concept

  • The tough conversations we need to be having about automation

  • Why it’s so important that we better integrate across the disciplines

  • The mistakes city dwellers make when thinking about and talking about regional areas

  • Some of the ways the regions are making better decisions using Smart ideas

  • The ethical and moral dilemmas that we face in our use of data
  • The impact of GDPR on businesses and consumers
  • Emerging trends in regional areas


“I’m interested in civic innovation, in communities taking control of their social and economic wellbeing.”

“A Smart City to me has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with community choice. That is a choice to interact with transport, to interact with buildings, to interact with open green spaces. It is a choice so that local governments, state governments, federal governments can make better decisions of the scarce allocation of resources. Ultimately enabled by technology but at its core it’s about people and how people fulfil their social and economic needs.”

“There’s a real challenge in Australia that we have some very big handbrakes on the wider economy and there’s a lot of superficiality about it. There are some communities who are really committed, really forward thinking, but when the reality of so many jobs could face automation, there isn’t the economic density, we actually need to double down on the whole focus of how we reinvent our urban environments and our regional environments. I personally don’t believe we’re taking it as seriously as we could be, because the impacts are so great.”

“One of the mistakes that we can often make being city dwellers is discounting how advanced some of the regions are, and also woe the ‘poor regions’. Far from it…. They’re incredibly advanced, we just don’t hear a lot about it, which is a shame.”

“Just because you’ve got data doesn’t mean you should use it…We can use data for good, but we can also use it to cause a bit of harm as well, so the real emerging trend is people starting to deep think about the use of data.”

“At the heart of anything Smart, where we use data, is treating people as individuals, not as a group.”

“[On GDPR] Those businesses that have been acting ethically, no change. It is more making the customers aware that data basically is the customer’s own.”

“There is a very different level of community resilience in the regional areas where people just get on and make things happen…the tyranny of distance is gone through connectivity, and regardless of how good or bad the connectivity is, they’re making the most of it.”

“People are thinking different [sic] and are changing the game. There is not enough attention on what is going on in the regions. If they got even a fraction of the money that is going into the urban areas.”

Links mentioned in this episode:

Professor John Cole

Marcus Foth on the Smart City Podcast Episode 4

RAPAD: Remote Area Planning and Development Board

Off the Track Training


Connect with Neil through LinkedIn or on the GWI website.

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

SCP E46: BONUS | Smart Chats from the Future Leaders delegation to Japan


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast I come to you all the way from Japan. I’m here on an AusTrade delegation with the Honourable Steven Ciobo, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and we have had such an amazing time. First, each member of the delegation will introduce themselves and give you a short snippet of their companies. Then I get some reflections from 4 of the 13 delegates. As always, I really hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

The four delegates who give their reflections are Janice Lee, John O’Callaghan, Tim Lucas and Emma Hendry. The other delegates you hear from in the beginning are Ashleigh Morris, Bronwyn Voyce, Andy Roberts, Gabrielle Hall and Katherine Tobias as well as prior podcast guests Brian Ashton, Nick Kamols, Marika Svikas and Dan Barr.

Listen here:


Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

SCP E45: Connectivity and Collaboration for Smart Communities, with Daniel Fletcher


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I had some great discussions with Daniel Fletcher. Daniel is the General Manager of Communities for the Central Highlands Regional Council in Queensland. He is very passionate about supporting and nourishing regional communities. As you know, I am also very passionate about the regional areas, so Daniel and I had some great conversations about this. Daniel also shares about what Central Highlands Regional Council is doing in the Smart City space, and how he is trying to close the technology gap for the community.

Listen Here:

What we cover in this episode:

  • Daniel’s background in psychology and criminology, and local government
  • How his experiences in Slovenia and Europe shaped his thinking around and passion for communities
  • What sparked his interest in the Smart City Space and Smart Communities he’s witnessed
  • Daniel’s definition of a Smart City or Smart Community
  • Why it’s important to make intelligent decisions on behalf of the community, now more than ever
  • Projects Daniel’s currently working on
  • The impact of the digital divide on regional communities and why Council is going to get involved in facilitating citizens with their banks
  • How and why projects and infrastructure are now including digital components built it in
  • The digital and other challenges faced in regional, rural and remote areas, not only in keeping current people but also in attracting people to the area
  • How to better integrate across the industries, and the city/regions
  • The problem with Australia’s competitive sporting nature in collaborating on Smart Cities projects
  • Why it’s so important that we place the value on the connection between people while we continue to embrace ever increasing technological advancements
  • The emerging trend of decentralisation of major cities in Australia
  • The challenges facing Australia from cryptocurrencies


“All of my work in some way shape or form has been connected to the community or a community approach to things. I’m definitely really keen to maintain that within my career and I’m very passionate about liveable, attractive and economically sustainable communities.”

“I’ve had the opportunities to see lots of different communities, lots of different cultures, lots of different ways that they embed what is a Smart City [and] Smart Community Approach.”

“A Smart Community is digitally connected to its infrastructure, citizens and future.”

“At any moment we should not fear losing what we once were as a community and be able to embrace something different which is going to be able to provide benefit for all. There’s a real balance between that fear of the technology and the warp speed at which it’s taking over some of our lives, but I think that’s probably why it’s so important that we start to embed that in our decision making. It’s happening whether we like it or not, and we just need to find a way for it to be an essential part of decision making.”

“Regionally we’re certainly disadvantaged. There is a digital divide, whether we’re able to quantify it or not…and we’re suffering in regional areas from the advancement of other commercial businesses.”

“Our investment as a local government into those small communities is going to be critical to not only maintaining the actual community itself, but also to keeping the regional communities up to speed with the advancement of technology in the digital economy.”

“The attractiveness of an area is now highly dictated by the fact of it being connected to the internet.”

“It’s amazing what can be achieved when you do not care who gets the credit.”

“As a country, we’re inherently competitive…internally we really struggle to see the benefits from collaborating.”

“I’m hoping that the continual conversation around collaboration as opposed to competitiveness is going to see some changes in [integrating across disciplines.]”

“We [in Australia] have an abundance of land and space. Some of the challenges include water security and being able to allocate that appropriately for communities. But I think one of the really big trends that technology will help solve in some way is manifesting itself in the decentralisation of major cities in Australia.”


Connect with Daniel on LinkedIn

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is Produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.


SCP E44: Holistically Smart Cities, with Dan Barr


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I had a great conversation with Dan Barr. Dan is the director of the Better Cities Group and is passionate about making cities more liveable. Dan has a wide and varied background, and most recently embedded Smart City concepts into the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Dan and I also discovered that we’ll both be going to Japan in early July on the Future Leaders, Future Cities mission, which is super exciting. Dan also covers some of the emerging trends that he thinks are important but aren’t being talked about enough.

Listen here:

What we covered in this episode:

– Dan’s background in population health, development and environmental health, and public space project management
– How working on the urban planning of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games sparked his interest in the Smart City space and led to starting his own consultancy
– Some of the ways the city of the Gold Coast was managed in real time, 24 hours per day, during the 2018 Commonwealth Games
– Dan’s definition of a Smart City
– Why the Smart City and Collaborate City concept is so important
– The opportunities and challenges facing Australia in the future
– Projects that Dan is currently working on
– Zoe and Dan’s hopes for their upcoming trip to Japan as part of the Future Leaders, Future Cities mission
– How Australia is embracing the Smart City concept as a whole
– How Dan believes we can better integrate across different disciplines, government, industries and academia
– The advance in VR and gaming technology for interactive communication of potential new infrastructure and developments


“I really got interested in how the way we design and build our cities, and how that affects population health and even individual health.”

“Recognising that cities are really complex ecosystems and making sure that we don’t look at it just from a land use or a transport or an economic perspective, but really holistically.”

“When we [the team working on planning the city for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games] started to look at it, it became really clear that it wasn’t the technology that was holding us back, it was our inability to use the technology well.”

“We know that there’s plenty of challenges ahead for Australian cities, and I think obviously technology and data is one of the opportunities in front of us.”

“It’s about the appropriate application of technologies and data depending on what issues you’re trying to resolve or which opportunities you’re trying to optimise.”

“I don’t think it’s whether or not the Smart Cities concept is important, it’s just about how each city best gets on board and applies it for their own benefit.”

“I think that Australia is adopting [the Smart City concept] as fast as it has to at the moment. It’s human nature and potentially the Australia way to just carry on until we need to find a solution to a problem. Certainly I don’t think that we’ve been looking to optimise opportunity through the Smart Cities concept, but potentially that will change. The cities in Asia and Europe that have really advanced have done so out of necessity…”

“I suspect we’re 5-10 years away from Smart City thinking becoming integrated in our business-as-usual activity.”

“We’re so good at doing our business-as-usual and staying in our lane, that the integration of ideas within organisations is difficult, outside organisations even more difficult, and then across disciplines is just incredible. I think that that’s an incredible challenge.”

“As [the pilot studies] become more popular around the country and people can see the tangible benefits of these, I think it will become more of a mainstream conversation about how we use technology in cities for the benefit of communities and individuals.”

Links and Resources Mentioned:

Gold Coast Light Rail Project
Gold Coast Comm Games
Smart Cities Council Task Force Centre for Civic Innovation
Smarter Cities and Suburbs Project from the Federal Government
ASCA Smart Cities Conference
V2I Group and Luke Brannely


Connect with Dan on LinkedIn or via the Better Cities Group Website

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene

SCP E41: Engaging people with Smart Cities, with Oliver Lock


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I interviewed fellow member of the Smart Cities Council Emerging Innovators, Oliver Lock. Oli and I had a lot to discuss and had a great conversation about what Smart Cities means to him, what he’s doing in the space (including a PhD) and where we’re moving forward in the tech and data space. With a background in architecture, Oliver has cross pollinated with programming and all things tech and data, which we dive deep into. As always, I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

Listen here:


What we cover in this episode:

  • Oliver’s background and the various disciplines he’s studied
  • How he became involved and interested in the Smart City space
  • Oliver’s PhD and the other projects he’s involved with
  • The importance of education in the Smart City space
  • Why efficiency is not necessarily the most important consideration when looking at Smart mobility
  • Balancing Smart mobility with active mobility
  • How Australia is embracing the Smart City concept
  • The importance of communication and integration in Smart Cities, so we don’t end up with technological incompatibility
  • Why we need to be making sure the people with all the power have the knowledge to be making the right investments and the right decisions
  • The emerging trend of situated analytics that Oliver would like to see discussed more
  • What Pokemon Go taught us about the human side of Smart Cities


“I think it’s important because it adds more computational and quantitative rigour to a lot of the work that is being done in planning. It makes it a little bit more scientific, and I think in a lot of ways that we’ve been doing the Smart Cities stuff for a long time. But the brand of Smart Cities is doing really well in advocating this.”

“That technology is changing very quickly and the skillset to create that technology is actually becoming quite achievable for someone with a planning background to learn in a few weeks and apply it really well. I think having a strong baseline of skills and a strong continuing development in these skills is really important in a space that moves as quickly as Smart Cities and technology.”

“If we have one organisation using one set of technical skills, or one professional using a different set of technical skills to another, we’re going to have these really strange issues of technological incompatibility, with all these embedded technologies. So it’s important to educate people and make sure …we’re all on the same page.”

“What we should be focusing on with autonomous vehicles in particular is the safety element…rather than the efficiency element. I think once you start designing a system to be efficient and respond to demand as quickly as possible, you’re also pushing aside a lot of other social, environmental considerations with that as well.”

“I’m hoping that there will be some kind of integration [between Smart mobility and active mobility] otherwise we’re just going to reduce the kind of door to door walking which will inevitably reduce everyone’s amount of steps, which is quite concerning.”

“I almost think that at the end of the day, Smart Cities should just be planning…so maybe moving towards a time and place where we might not need the term anymore and it will be an embedded part of the planning process.”

“I think there is going to be a growing space in showing data and analytics about the city while you’re actually in that spot…and you could have that experience tailored to your particular interest.”

“So many people were saying so many positive things [about Pokemon Go] that I’m sure for a brief moment there was a little spike of virtual happiness permeating throughout the world.”

Links and resources:


Connect with Oliver on LinkedIn.

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.