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How Whittlesea views Connectivity and the Power of Place in it's Smart City vision

One of the great advantages of attracting technology early is the so called ‘first mover’ advantage.  The ‘first mover’ advantage enables you to be able to market your community and attract the early adopters or those that are already using the technology for competitive advantage.

The City of Whittlesea, is on the northern fringe of Melbourne in Australia. The municipality is a growth area which is adding over 8000 new residents to the municipality each year mainly due to greenfield development or converting rural land into urban land and creating new suburbs.

Council has noticed the impact of this ‘first mover’ advantage with the types of people buying into the municipality. The municipality has traditionally been a blue collar workforce, with manufacturing being the key sector of employment. Council has been tracking the changes to demographics using an annual census style survey.

Analysing the survey data shows that in 1997 the percentage of the local workforce classified as being professional was 7%. This slowly grew to about 15 % and plateaued at that level until 2012, when it shot up to 25% and has retained that level since. It is postulated that the growth is fuelled by two main drivers.

The first is the greenfield development which uses great land planning to build new communities with a village feel using town centres and interconnected community spaces linked by parks and trails. This has been a constant driver that has attracted a constant influx of new families looking for an attractive place to raise their children.

The second driver is the broadband connectivity which has been facilitated through a series of Council facilitated programs conducted over the past 16 years. These programs have attracted over $100 million investment in high speed fixed line broadband since 2006. The municipality currently has about 30,000 active premises with optic fibre infrastructure providing 100 Meg/bit/sec. This covers half the municipality and is well above most municipalities in Australia.

Council’s first fibre to the premise (FTTP) housing development was launched in 2006 but Council attracted the federally funded National Broadband Network (NBN) program in 2010. This resulted in a large rollout of FTTP in 2012. The increase in the growth of professionals coincides closely with the rollout of optic fibre networks.

These demographic changes included a significant number of IT professionals and many home based businesses who made the move to Whittlesea to take advantage of the low cost high speed broadband. One example was a Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) provider who moved from a different part of Melbourne to the City of Whittlesea to reduce his broadband service costs from $12,000 per month for a 10 Meg/per/sec symmetrical digital subscriber line (DSL) service to $400 per month for four by 100 Meg/bit/per/sec fibre services provided by one of the NBN internet service providers. The prime reasons they moved was the reduced cost to run the business and have high speed access at home in combination with the area being a great place to raise their family.

Having the first mover advantage has been a great way to attract talented people into the community and create more diversity into the demographics. In the future it is expected that it will reflect in the sorts of businesses that will emerge in the community and greater diversity of opportunities available to residents.

While the first mover advantage is a useful driver of change, eventually other communities will catch up and get similar levels of technology capability. Then the question becomes: what will be the competitive advantage that our community has to attract and retain talent if other areas have similar technology?

The answer will strongly feature place. Using the power inherent in a highly connected world allows many of the benefits of cities to be accessed from wherever people choose to be when the high speed broadband is in place and being utilised. This means that if you can fully participate in economic and social life from wherever you live, you will likely pick the place which best meets your broader needs.

Some people will choose to stay near their extended family and be able to maintain friendships from their childhood networks throughout life without compromising economic, educational and health opportunities. For others it provides the opportunity to find a place to reside where they want to live such as a scenic spot near the beach or in the mountains. Therefore the key differentiation will more likely be locations that are attractive and more about liveability. This is the power of place.

Those places that are the ‘most liveable’ while still retaining access to opportunities that traditionally the city provides will attract the best people and potentially become the hubs of vibrant activity. It may even lead to the decline of cities as the more toxic by-products of high density such as congestion, poor air quality and lack of tranquillity become drivers to shift people out of the city to other more liveable places.

This power of place means that developing your community into a smart city should not preclude you working on creating attractive and liveable places for your community to live and work in. Looking at the impact of increased connectivity and its broader impact on local communities can help add sustainability to your strategic planning. With increased connectivity comes dynamic changes to the way society operates.

At the City of Whittlesea, our focus is on creating sustainable communities together with our constituents. Council is constantly looking ahead to foresee the changes that technology is bringing not only to our economic space but to the core of our society.

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