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The power of data in smart city developments

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A computer rendition of the Queen's Wharf Brisbane site, which will be monitored for future infrastructure projects (Screenshot via YouTube)

Developments in data science and analysis have been beneficial in managing key social areas such as homelessness, healthcare and agriculture, writes Paul Budde.

A FEW WEEKS AGO, I attended a one-day conference at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) at the occasion of the launch of their new $7.5 million Centre for Data Science. This laboratory is also the lead node of a new Australian Data Science Network, bringing together data science organisations from across the country.

The new centre aims to support data-led decisions across key areas like health, environment, business, government and society — in short, data for the good.

There was also an interesting link to my work with smart cities. One of the new centre’s flagship projects is a first-of-its-kind study into Queen’s Wharf Brisbane (QWB), a $3.6 billion integrated resort development in the Brisbane CBD. The QWB development will contain hotel and residential accommodation, a casino, retail and entertainment areas along with a new public space.

A longitudinal benefits and impacts study (LBIS), jointly initiated by QUT and the Queensland Government, is monitoring the social and economic effects of the QWB development from the outset. The intention is to record these outcomes over a significant time span, allowing decision-makers to proactively plan, coordinate, manage and improve the development.

Key areas of the study include connectivity, safety, public sentiment, finance and construction as well as tourism and business returns — forming the basis of an analytical framework which could be readily applied to other significant multi-purpose developments.

The study is a unique and critical strategic framework for evidence-based monitoring and decision-making that can be applied where any large-scale infrastructure projects are being considered.

I discussed this project with Professor of Statistics, Kerrie Mengersen, the Director of the Centre. There will be plenty of opportunities to explore the latest smart city developments within this project. There are several councils within the greater Brisbane that have well-developed smart city strategies and plans in place and it would be good to bring the various developments together and share insights and learn from each other.

During the conference, various other interesting developments were presented in relation to the power of data science.

Still on smart cities, the Sunny Street project that started in the Sunshine Coast and has since been further extended into Brisbane gives valuable data on where and when to provide services from the GP and nursing mobile outreach service, with healthcare for those experiencing homelessness and vulnerability.

Other projects discussed included an initiative with the United Nations to help countries use satellite data for agricultural development. This study prompted me to look back in history at the time in the 14th century when the first city-states started to emerge in Italy and what is now Belgium. The power of these cities totally depended on the region around them to supply food, raw materials and labour that allowed growth. The interaction between the cities (megacities) and its regions is an understudied element and the African study will also be relevant for megacity developments elsewhere.

Other fascinating big data developments that were presented included estimates of conflict casualties. This is based on thousands of data points partly based on historic data, population estimates, death records from various lists, historical memories, stories from the field and so on. A different set of data points allows organisations such as the U.N. to forecast genocides. A key input here is data from 18 known genocide perpetrator countries.

Together with AI, data science is also used to build machine learning tools to better predict society changes and the effect this has on social services in relation to homelessness and healthcare requirements. These tools are already used by various city authorities and also organisations such as Google.

Amazing results were presented to use an enormous variety of totally different data sets to assist in the development of public policy. Data that is included comes from environmental data, healthcare, coal train management and water recourse management, just to mention a few of those data points.

Mapping cancer outcomes identifying addressing inequality led to the production of the Australian Cancer Atlas — an interactive, online atlas showing how the burden of cancer varies across small geographical areas for the whole country.

It clearly showed the power of data for the social good; in general, we are only receiving news on the negative effect of big data. However, it is important to realise that there are plenty of developments that are greatly beneficial for our society.

Paul Budde is managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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