Smart City Podcast E04 The nexus of people, place and technology, with Marcus Foth
In. This episode of the smart city podcast, I interviewed, founder, and director of the urban informatics. Research lab, at QUT, in Brisbane, Marcus, forth although, the term smart city wasn't around market. Has been involved in this space for over 10 years and, worked, in computer, science before the internet, became ubiquitous he. Is passionate about bringing together people places. And technology, in a user centric approach we. Discussed a lot of exciting topics including, using technology, to make a difference, how Australia is moving up in the smart city ranks and how climate change and sustainability. Need to be at the heart of a smart city we, also discuss, the next generation, of personalized, joining planets that would see me bumping, into or avoiding, my Facebook friends on my daily commute depending, on how social I'm feeling that day as well as is Marcus, introduces, a number of global networks embracing, the Smart City space that you as the smart city collective, can, check out and get involved in as always. I hope you enjoyed, this episode as, much as I enjoy making it it's the Smart City podcast. Smart. City, expert. Connecting. Smart technology. But big and small, smart. Cities, are making, life better. Big, data emerging. Trend self-driving, cars, and more. The. Podcast is, what you're looking, for. Hi. Marcus how you going today yeah, not to Bob thanks sorry, perfect. So, let's just get straight into it and we'll start with the past can you tell us a bit about your background and, what you are passionate about sure. That's, quite, a long answer possibly. So we've we've, been working in that space of cities. For over ten years now my own background, was. Originally in computer science I studied. Computer science in, Germany. And at that time it was already a bit of a exotic. Degree specialization. Because it, contained. A lot of Media Studies and digital, media elements, which in, the mid-90s was really, quite quite hip and and sexy and up-and-coming, you, know I can imagine the. Internet back then wasn't really you know as. Commercially. Successful and, as widespread as what it is now but, that. Kind of gave me a sense that it was really interesting. For me to be exposed to those media communication, studies, parts. Of my degree and seeing. Those connections, to the technology, and so then I came to Australia initially. Really to do, a study abroad program, and. One. Thing led to another I eventually, kind of stayed, and and enrolled. In a ph.d program, and so as, part, of that I also. Embraced, an interest, in the built environment in in, people, living in cities interacting. In in, cities, and so it's. A mix of people. Place technology, so I'm really passionate about. Very. Multi. But also kind of what we call transdisciplinary. Research, approaches. That bring different.
Areas. Together and so my my, original background in in computer science has now been, kind. Of, enhanced. By also looking at the. Social sciences, and the humanities and, then, the third area is around architecture. Urban, design urban. Planning, everything to do with urbanism and and with cities so it's kind of people place on technology, and everything, that, is at that Nexus that I'm passionate about right, so what sparked your interest in, smart cities. I'd say I've already, had an interest, in in, that in, that, intersection, of combination, of technology and the city. Much. Of earlier before that term smart cities even came about so we call our, research, field. Urban informatics, and we've. Started. This group here at QUT in 2006. Or just, had our ten-year, anniversary last, year and around. That time and. Possibly a couple of years earlier when I started my own PhD, it, was a moment, when the internet became, quite, quite popular, and a lot of the research. But also a lot of the kind. Of technical. And commercial developments. They pointed, in this direction of. The. Death of distance of bridging, distance, of the. Big words at the time were ecommerce. Telework. Distant. Education, and. So forth so it was about the way that cyberspace, at the time and what, Bill. Clinton and Al Gore called the information superhighway, how. Those kinds. Of. Technological. Advancements. Could, bring, us all together but. Bring, us together in cyberspace, and I had in a way a. Feeling. That that wasn't right it was not. Going to to, be about. Humanity. And society and, cyberspace, in this kind of virtual, space but it would actually provide. Really interesting, opportunities, in the real world and so, I didn't subscribe to this dichotomy, of the. Virtual, and the real, I thought, that the online and offline will come together in, in really interesting ways, and. Enhance. Our experience, of place so my my, interest, in the smart city, started much early and I think around probably. 2011. 2012, that the term smart City came up there, is now being been used everywhere to describe. This field but there, is actually a lot of work that happened, not just here at QUT but, also with. Our colleagues, across. The world a lot of research and development and, a lot of interest. In that space of what is now termed, the smart city great. So are there any particular technologies. That you've come across that you're, really interested in exploring. Definitely. So in, in. The last decade or so we've been focusing. Particularly, on on, a social, honor on a people led on, a user centric, approach to. Our work so the technology, usually comes in a bit, later we first kind of understand, and we, try to immerse ourselves in. The city in order to understand, and the, different interactions or different challenges the different opportunities, but, as part of that we've had for. Instance a focus. On urban, planning, and particularly. The the, community. Engagement. That. Is, part. Of urban planning decision-making, and so the technologies, that we've been exploring as, part, of that in the early days were around obviously, mobile, technology, and mobile phones smartphones and, what role and what impact, they, would have on, enhancing. Community, engagement, and more. Recently it's also a more hybrid approach we've developed, what, we call the the insta blue which is a.
Portable. Structure. That we can set up in, places. In the city and it combines both online. As well as offline above analog, and digital means, of engaging the public in. Questions. About future, urban proposals. For instance so so, people can actually have a better say in. Indoors. Proposal, so the technologies, that are involved. In in that example, for instance some of them are actually quite quite. Analog it's about, the. Written, or even sketches. And, then the the, more digital parts, with regards, to projections. We're, using iPads in there we also use interactive, installations. In. Order to convey other ways of knowledge. And other ways of of. Expertise. That the public might bring to it and then, kind of fast forward more to today I'm quite, excited. And interested. In what blockchain. Technology, and in distributed, ledger technology, can do for for. Cities and the. List goes on there is obviously, a lot of exciting technical, developments, for regards, to, machine. Learning with, regards to big data and algorithmic. Analysis, with regards, to artificial, intelligence with regards, to the internal things and, and different, devices but I think, one thing that I've learned in, in, in. All of this time is that we. Shouldn't allow, ourselves to be blinded, by, the. Shiny, new objects, and these different devices I think it's really important, to, focus, on the. Actual. Both. Problem. Spaces. As well as opportunity spaces, and then think of technology, as a means to to. Make a difference yeah, definitely, so, you've really touched on this a little bit but we'll talk about what's happening with you right, now and so, some of the projects, and things you're working on and you mentioned. The insta. Booth is it yeah the insta booth was a recent project and that, we've been building, and working on yeah, great do, you want to either. Delve a bit deeper into that or talk, about some of the other things and projects, you're working on at the moment sure. I might kind of mention a couple of other projects, there's so. Many great things going on it's kind of one of the benefits of being an academic that you have exposure. And, the the the, freedom ability, to. Really. Curate your your. Work in that way so some, of the other things we're currently thinking, about and putting. Together one. Is a project that looks specifically, at. The. The, way people. In the city use, their, mobile phones and other digital devices and, the.
Impact. That has on how people not only. Traverse. Navigate. And negotiate spaces. So in the impact it has on geography, but, also on the way that people. Are coming together in cities so give, you a simple. Example if you use a journey planner to. Get, you from from A to B or you're trying to figure out how. To get from A to B if you're in your new city and they're, usually optimized. For speed, or for distance so. Some of the experiments. That colleagues. Have already been, undertaking. And that we are interested. In as well as how we can add. Different variables. And different search parameters. Into, such interfaces, so if it's a journey planner for instance can, we also have, personalized. Journey planners, that would optimize your, journey not for speed or distance only, but also for instance. For, the least, carbon-intensive. Way. To get, me from A to B or you. Might imagine that there is data available. Correlated. To social media where. I can say I want to have a social way home where I can increase. My chances, of bumping into people that I'm friends with on Facebook it, can be the reverse or that I say I've, had a bad day or I've had I've you know I got, a cold I don't want, to actually see anyone find me the incognito way to get me from A to B where I eat. My, chances, that I that I bump into anyone that I'm friends with on Facebook and so by. Allowing people to be more. Exposed to the kinds, of search. Algorithms, not just when it comes to place but, also when it comes to recommender. Systems and searches, for finding. Other people and finding, other. Content, online, we. Actually are able to counter, a. Trend, that has been already studied, in media, and communication studies. And the term used a lot also. In in, the press and in, newspapers, is filter bubbles and echo chambers, so the fact that these. Algorithms. That we rely on increasingly. Not, just online but also in the city, they, usually optimized. For like-mindedness, for sameness, and for home awfully, if. You for instance think of your newsfeed, on on Facebook. There's. A particular. Interest. That Facebook, as a platform wants, you to come back wants you to have a good experience and, wants. To curate, and use feed on. The Facebook side and that. Gives. You an enjoyable experience now. If you extend, the story into the city it all of a sudden means that the, kinds of places that we are exposed to tend. To be those where we need the same people the same ideas, and. The. It, provides, a level of familiarity. Now that. May not be something bad overall. But it, actually renders a reduced. Version, of, the city so we are less likely to be exposed to new places we are less likely to discover, new. People and new ideas and, so that, is particularly problematic when.
Australia, In Australian. Cities more to be innovative and want to, make. The most of a. National. Innovation agenda, because, innovation thrives, on diversity and, if the algorithms. That are in place are, sorting. Us, into. Certain categories it actually, keeps us apart ya, know that's really interesting so basically, setting up algorithms, to, enhance that diversity, rather than you. Know if I like to travel, this route, and I've done that for the last three. Weeks or whatever I can choose a different routes and then I can add some diversity, into my life yeah that's right and so at the moment we on a, kind. Of trajectory where, we are exploring this before regards to places, but I think it'll be more interesting, and challenging once, we actually try and also apply this to. The social, layer and then the actual, discursive. Or content, layer way it's about people's, interactions. And conversation, so once. We. Were, able to get to that level it'll, become quite, interesting, because there. Is some projections, that say that the city will become the fifth estate and so. In addition to the three estates. Of. Of. Polity, in Australia, or in elsewhere, in the world with, the, internet and media. Being seen as the Fourth Estate the, city might actually be something like a Fifth Estate where, some. Of these, discourses. Come, come, together yeah. Great and do, you use the term city, to. Not just be the big city but you know those regional, centers, as. Well the, same the, same theory apply there I. Wouldn't, necessarily say that the same theories, apply but you're. Correct in that, we have an interest in in. A in, a very, diverse. Understanding. Of cities so not just the the, big metropolitan, areas. In fact, I'm. Today. Just putting, together a, proposal, that, specifically. Specifically. Focuses, on regional, Australia, and we've been working, with councils, in regional areas, particularly. In the. Northern Rivers area of New South Wales and up in in Cairns and the table ends and so. Our work doesn't. Just. Focus on on, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney on the larger cities and that, are usually, associated. With the term smart city but we are also actively, thinking. About how this translates, into other. Urban. As well as peri urban and regional contexts. Hmm very good so, leading onto that where do you think that Australia, ranks, when it comes to smart cities um, it's. Probably relatively. Mixed. And it also depends. What. Kinds, of, expectations. Or what kinds of indicators, you use for your ranking so, if. It's about. The. The level of interest, and the. Level of awareness that, something is going on I think Australia has really, caught on to, the fact that the. Smart City agenda is not going to go away anytime soon it's actually very important, to to. Engage with that agenda and to understand, it better however. More. Differentiated. View actually looks at the Smart City agenda, critically, and so the, first, experiences. And the first. Levels. Of maturity when. It comes to applying Smart, City technology, I think a lot of them were. At. That, kind of level of window, dressing and. Investing. In technology, because it would be seen as the right thing to do and particularly. By a. Lot. Of the consulting. Accounting, firms and by the technology. Providers, so I don't, think that a very simplistic, notion. Of just investing, in public. Wi-Fi in, smart. Street, lights in. In. Screens, and public displays is, sufficient. Just, to tick the box of we've, we've now turned ourselves into, a smart city I think, a lot of cities in Australia are now starting to make. Sense of these early examples, and are trying to reach. A, more, mature level, of development, and I think we're quite excited working, with with some of those councils, and local governments, and so that mid should more mature level I think is about not, just the technology, piece it's actually about looking.
At The. Business and the social piece more. Closely where technology, becomes a. Means to an end, rather. Than the starting, point of the conversation so for. Instance my my colleague Adam back he's heading, up the smart, cities council the, cradle. That they use is livability. And workability and sustainability, and you can see that in those three words. They are very broad but they actually encapsulate. Much. More in an impact and engagement, driven. Aspiration. For smart cities rather, than one that is that is technocratic, and I think that's, something that Australia, is still. Lagging. Behind internationally. But we are quickly catching up I think and so that's really, useful, to see that a lot of the cities, that we are dealing, with if they are trying, to reach that level of maturity and, are moving, up I suppose in the rings of genuinely. Smart cities yeah, that's. A really exciting time, to be in Australia I think where. Do you think a good places to trial, this type of well not even technology. But the smart city you, know objective, like, in the big cities or in particular cities, for whatever, different, reasons or in the regional areas I guess, it depends on which technology we're, talking about but could. You give us a bit of insight. Into which areas, you think good, places to utilize the. Smart setting objective, I think. It, you're, right it does, depend on what. Priorities. Have been identified and, so, it's it's difficult to have like a universal. Answer for. This but in in my experience, it seems that the, smaller local governments, are able to be a bit, faster. More agile and more responsive, to some. Of these opportunities. And developments, than the larger, local, governments so, we've been. Working with both. The larger. And the smaller and it, seems that with regards, to doing, pilots. Experiments. With regards, to getting approvals, from, the. Different government structures, within a, council. It. Seems, that the the smaller councils. Especially. At. The. In. That kind of sweet spot between metropolitan. Areas, and in rural areas, so the, likes of Logan. City Council, Galka City apes which Moreton. Bay if I think of examples. Here in southeast Queensland they, actually very switched on it's probably a little bit easier for them just in terms of their structure and their size. To. To, react to these opportunities having. Said that there's also really. Great, work. That is being done in in, the larger metropolitan areas. I think their response, or strategy, has been to designate. Either. Specific, projects, or specific areas so I think it's quite interesting that for instance in. Melbourne. Recently. The Melbourne. Innovation, district has been launched which is a joint venture between the city of Melbourne. RMIT. University of, Melbourne and a number of other partners so it's kind of like a living lab a designated. Area in the city where, these.
Kinds, Of smart. City interventions. Both the technical ones as well as those that might be much more based on urban. Policy, reforms, and different, regulatory reforms, and I, think both have to come together where, they can be trialed, and, assessed. And evaluated yeah. So, let's talk about the future now, how. Do you think that we can better integrate across the disciplines so. Government, industries, universities. For example what. Do you think we're doing a good job what. What are your thoughts on that and I, think we. Are doing a relatively good job but there's, always room for improvement. I. Do. Believe there, is a. Bit. Of skepticism. Every, now and then with regards, to the. Research that happens, at. Universities. Not. Just here at QUT but, across, the board I'm, working. With colleagues. At, UNSW. At. University. Of Sydney at RMIT, at and, other universities. Across the country and I think there's, there's great work happening and it would be, fantastic. To have. Better. Linkages, between local. Governments, and universities in, fact in. Other places, those. Links, have been formalized. In not. Just on a project-by-project, basis. But it actually is a much more ongoing in, systemic. Way, to, connect. The research and development, in the. University. And, tertiary education. Sector we've. Benefits. And and outputs, that are beneficial. To cities, so one. Example that aria really liked is the, city, studio Vancouver, which is a collaboration. Between the city of Vancouver, in Canada in, British Columbia in the two-year, main University, Simon Fraser University and, the University of British Columbia and so, they have set up a classroom inside, Town, Hall and so there's. Cohorts. Of students, of, various. Different disciplines, coming together each. Semester and, they are paired, up with public servants, and they work on real-world. Projects. And each, of these projects, is is quite specific, and and bespoke and they, improve, the city on an ongoing basis. So there's this, ongoing. Mechanism. To go about city. Making and, enriching. The city with these different, courts. Or students, now I think something like that would be really useful to, explore. And how. It can be tailored. To the Australian, context, because, there is as I said a lot of great work happening with. Not just universities, but also with, within. The the, startup and entrepreneurship, community in. The, arts. And design world, with a, whole, bunch of different communities, and I think, what I've noticed, is that the most progressive local. Governments they are actually, not. Only. Making. It possible, for these groups to do, their work but they also think, well this is really. Useful for our. Mission. Of improving, the city as well and so they are partnering, with them and collaborating, and become.
Facilitators Of, these connections, and so I think. The the. Way that these frameworks are cutting about of citizen, co-creation, they, will be. A quite, important. They will play, an important, role in, the, Smart City agenda, moving. Forward, in reaching new, levels of maturity especially. I. Think when it comes to the, existing, models and local government and how they I. Increasingly being questioned, I'm thinking of for instance procurement. Procurement, is a is, a big topic, right now in the smart. City agenda, and a lot of people are pointing the. Finger at this notion of open innovation and, that's where these, ideas and frameworks, like citizen co-creation, and, in social living labs play. A key role because. They actually are then enabling. Local governments, to do things differently, yeah, sounds. Like a really interesting model and something that I, mean it would take a bit of a change, in thought but will, be pretty, simple, to implement. In a place you know somewhere, in Queensland, so yeah, it's I well, if listeners. Are interested, in and just, Google City studio Vancouver, and there's. Some amazing, works, been done and they have their portfolio, of projects, online yeah. Excellent, so do you think Australia, already, is in certain aspects or how. Can we become some, of the leaders in the smart city space um, I think in in different ways we are ready leading, the, conversation there's, a lot of. Colleagues. That. Are. Doing, fantastic work both, in the in. The research space and the commercial, space and the local government space and those working across, that's. Also evident. By a lot of the invitations. Of Australian. Key thought leaders, being, invited to go overseas so it's not just that we, are learning obviously. A great, deal by, looking. At examples, elsewhere in the world but it's also that, Australian. Examples, are increasingly, being used on the international, stage, particularly. Because we have this high rate of urbanization where, we are I think just over 90%, with regards, to our very specific, geography, and I, think. At, the same time as I. Said earlier. It's always useful to kind of think of, other. Kinds of opportunities, where we're. Not quite leading. Yet and we can still learn from from, others so one of the things that, is trying. To facilitate this this, mutual. Kind of peer learning is, the open, and agile smart cities Network which was, an idea that started, by, a colleague of mine at Aarhus University and. In Denmark and by now it's turned. Into a global. Network, of cities that warm to become, smart. Cities but they want to become smart cities in an open and agile manner, so this is a community. Of practice if, you like of cities. And city representatives, that. Are coming together to, to. Talk about their experiences. To exchange, ideas. And, exchange, also. Solutions. And proposals, and they. Form these networks, both within. Regions as well as internationally, and so, the OAS. See the open energy or smart cities network is definitely, one, of those where Australia has now caught. On and has started signing.
Up To it membership, but we are always open. For for other cities to join this network as well it's a non, commercial network it's pretty. Much a. Nonprofit, organization that. Is in. The pursuit of ensuring. That we don't have a vendor lock-in when it comes to smart city standards. But then it's also going in the direction of implementing. Ideas and implementing. Smart. City proposals, yeah, great so, what are the emerging trends, that you see that people are talking about at the moment I think, the biggest one that in a way people are talking, about what they're not talking about, all. The kinds of things under. The veneer. Under the bonnet is climate change and sustainability, so, climate. Change disability, is being talked about but, I think on a very superficial level I just this morning, I saw a news, article I, think about. LED. Streetlights. And how they've been heralded, as one of the cornerstones, in the smart city agenda particularly, for, their ability, to bring about more sustainable, cities but, there is a. Notion. Economics. That's. Called, the rebound effect or that the kazoom Brooks postulate, so if you enable. A. Consumer. Of energy to, save energy the, effect. Is that and, they will just use the surplus, in. Using energy for other means and for other purposes and, so this is exactly what we are seeing with LED. Lights for instance the cities that have installed those. They actually using, the savings in. Order to install more lights and so the actual, net. Effect, is that we're not reducing, our energy consumption. At all in fact it goes up and so this is quite, an alarming, trend when. We. Not only see, those developments. But we also are lacking, these. Conversations. About genuine. Sustainability. Efforts, that are about reducing our footprint, and reducing. The the impact we have on, greenhouse. Gas emissions, and so we have to have a conversation about, the. The, use of of energy by. Those devices we have to also have a conversation about, a lot, of the batteries, that are used in in mobile, digital devices and engine of things those, batteries, especially, if they're lithium-ion, based they contain, cobalt. And cobalt is, a. Challenging. Mineral. Because the. Supply, chains are not regulated, so they the. Majority, of the cobalt if it's not sourced from, Australian. Mines. Comes from the Congo for instance and there's. A number, of material. And specifically, one piece that the Washington Post produced. An investigative, journalism piece about the mining of cobalt and how it, actually puts those mining, workers in very precarious. Situations. And then if you kind of follow their supply, chain to the other end because. Of planned obsolescence a, lot of these devices end up as a waste and we, then shift, them overseas to, places, in in Malaysia in China and in. In. Ghana in in Africa and they just accumulate, but they're out of out, of sight and out of mind and, I think one. Of these emerging, trends definitely, is how we can, think. About the. Smart city move in a sustainable manner that is genuine, for these efforts of actually, reducing, our carbon footprint, reducing our energy footprint and also, how humanity can make a net positive contribution. To the environment rather than just one that is driven around the, idea of efficiency, I'd, like to delve. Into that a bit more deeply maybe you'll have to have a another, podcast episode, just on that because the environment space, definitely. I think it's. Not missing in the conversation, but I think maybe. Not. Not. The the overarching, theme but, I think smart cities space we, need to think not just, about, right. Now but what we reuse, and and and. Also the lowering, emissions and, the, supply, chain and all those types of things so maybe, we can have another chat about that yeah, yeah I agree with you that would be great yeah, cool okay and, so, how can people connect, with you and anyone. Listening to this podcast and, there's, a number of ways I mean on Twitter which is usually the easiest way to to. Connect with me literally. By by following me my Twitter, account is, Sunday. 9 p.m. 9 the number 9 and we. Also got, these, two. Research entities the research group around smart. Cities and urban informatics. Our. Website, is urban informatics, top net and the Twitter account is Urban Ink and then. We are embedded within the, larger. Quixote design lab which is the research, entity that hosts. Our work and also does fantastic. Research, work in other areas such as design, robotics, and health, and well-being and, so forth and so the website for the design lab is. Cutie. Dot design and the, Twitter handle. Is at, QT, design yeah, I'll, put all that in the show notes so people can can. Connect with you fantastic thanks. So much much I've, learned so much and, I'm sure the listeners have as well but. Yeah definitely I think, we've, got a lot more topics, that we can unpack there, and. Yeah. Really exciting, so thanks for talking to me today thank you so much for having me Zoe I'll send you a couple of links as well for for the for the show notes and yeah, very interested.
In Hearing, your. Feedback and feedback from listeners and having a dialogue about some of these issues perfect, thanks very much thank you sorry it's the smart suit. Thanks. So much for listening to the Smart City podcast, show notes, for this episode and, all other episodes, can be found at the Smart City podcast, com if you have any questions, or comments for me or any of my guests, connect with me by email, zowie at the Smart City podcast, comm or via the socials, I'm on Twitter and Facebook at smart, city pod as always, I hope you enjoyed listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making a podcast. Is. What you're looking for.