In 2011, the city of Ipswich published a 20-year economic development plan for its population of 195,000. It forecast the addition of 292,000 new residents, who will require an additional 120,000 jobs, and will live in a network of distinct communities interwoven with centers of employment, recreational facilities and green space. The plan responded to future challenges but also to past ones. Because Ipswich offered affordable housing and an attractive lifestyle, its population has grown rapidly in the booming economy of 21st Century Australia. Yet the decline of industrial employment in the 70s and 80s had left the city with legacy of long-term unemployment and bred unacceptable levels of crime and social dislocation.
Ipswich has been quick to seize multiple opportunities to carry out the plan. The Australian government’s National Broadband Network (NBN), announced in 2009, opened the possibility of attracting significant investment into the region. Ipswich City Council partnered with surrounding city and regional councils to build a case for NBN rollout of what it termed the Western Corridor National Broadband Network. The governments mapped current and proposed broadband infrastructure, developed joint policies and solicited support from business and industry groups. Their work was rewarded in 2010, when NBN announced that two locations in the region would receive the first deployments of fiber to the premise. Work has progressed rapidly since then with over 39,000 premises now able to connect to the NBN fixed-line high-speed broadband network as of September 2017. Another nearly 34,000 premises are currently in build-commencement for FttN, FttDP, HFC, and Fixed Wireless connections. Ipswich is projected to have 100% city-wide connection by 2019.
A similar strategy has driven 3G and 4G mobile deployment. Governments combined to conduct independent testing of availability throughout the region, which sent testing vehicles across more than 2,300 kilometers of roads. The effort paid off by letting governments bring objective data to their negotiations with carriers about where towers should go to provide the broadest possible coverage. But Ipswich has been as ready to partner with the private sector as to pressure it. Acting as intermediary, Ipswich has coordinated between property developers and NBN to direct NBN investment in conduit to areas where property developers or the city are launching construction, which saves all parties time and money. The Ipswich City Council has simultaneously worked to raise awareness of the NBN deployment within the community by facilitating community education sessions, providing presentations to city stakeholder groups about the benefits and adding NBN construction impacts and rollout timings to Council e-newsletters, social media posts and advertisements. The city’s awareness campaign has already produced results with NBN’s latest report estimating that 51% of premises in Ipswich with NBN fiber connection have opted for the service, well over the state and national averages.
An Innovation Hub
Ipswich faces an unusual growth situation, having both the fastest growing population in Queensland and the youngest on average. This has put pressure on the City Council to ensure many new jobs are available when its young citizens join the workforce. Enter Fire Station 101.
Fire Station 101 is a hub for startups and innovators that provides education, mentoring and even potential funding. The hub has been open since March 2016 as a place where entrepreneurs come to build new ideas around digital technology. By raising the profile of entrepreneurship and innovation in the community, Ipswich aims to foster economic diversification while developing a skilled, knowledge-based workforce and jobs.
And it’s working. Fire Station 101 gained 50 member startups in its first six months of operation and has hosted over 150 startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses as of 2017.
In 2016, the hub began serving as home to Ipswich’s Application Studio. The Application Studio is a formal framework for city service experts, open data analysts, and innovators to collaborate in developing new city services and projects. In its first year, the program has brought in over $190,000 in new public-private funding of projects by the Ipswich City Council, the Queensland State Government, Ipswich and West Moreton Hospital, the University of Southern Queensland, Queensland Urban Utilities and Motor Trade Association Queensland. Due to this success, the Queensland State Government has allocated a further $500,000 for a new Application Studio initiative to build a schools-focused entrepreneurial program and a variety of accelerator programs.
The Ipswich Smart City Program
Building on its first twenty-year plan, the Ipswich City Council has created the Smart City Program. The program has adopted a human-centered design approach, focusing on the needs of citizens, local entrepreneurs, city workers and even tourists. The Smart City Program has three core goals: jobs, growth, and livability for Ipswich.
To meet the goal of jobs, the Council has extended Fire Station 101’s mandate to researching civic challenges in partnership with local industry and universities. Ipswich has also created a Digital Skills Initiative for all Ipswich residents, working with schools and adults in the community. The Digital Skills Initiative includes a wide range of digital skill and technology demonstration classes with many delivered for free in the city’s libraries and innovation hubs. Finally, the Council hosts the Build and Learn Fair, an event that encourages residents and visitors to build and showcase creations like robots and wood works. This event aims to give residents a hands-on experience of the new possibilities available in the Ipswich jobs market.
The City Council has adopted multiple green initiatives to help Ipswich sustain its current and future growth. These initiatives include Eco-Village Micro, a grid program with solar energy, batteries and energy trading technologies currently in development, and also a smart lighting program for the city with LEDs, sensors and data analytics for maximum efficiency. The Council is investigating converting some of its fleet to electric vehicles and is in the trials phase of autonomous public transport for the city.
As part of the Smart City Program, Ipswich has partnered with the Department of Transport and Main Roads to run the Cooperative and Automated Vehicle Initiative (CAVI), Australia’s largest cooperative intelligent transport system program. The initiative focuses on analyzing the safety and benefits of cooperative vehicles, publicly demonstrating the technology to increase awareness and adoption and increasing technological readiness for new vehicle innovations. CAVI’s eventual aim is to facilitate a dedicated study and trial of autonomous electric vehicles for public transport through partnerships between the public and private sector.
To enhance the livability of Ipswich as a city, the Council has adopted the Safe Precinct initiative: leveraging its city network to create a safe precinct via video analytics, smart lighting and noise detection. The Council has also helped to develop a healthy living lab with wearables and other technologies designed to capture real-time data about the health and activity of residents in order to better meet their needs. Perhaps most importantly of all, the Ipswich City Council has created new platforms for delivering its services online, making it easier for citizens to learn about and utilize all the city has to offer.
Beginning in 2015, Ipswich commenced a major redevelopment of its city center, where digital technologies will be used to attract commercial and residential tenants and to improve public safety through video monitoring, license plate and facial recognition software. Green standards will make the city center one of the most sustainable in Australia. When it is completed in 2031, it will mark the emergence of one of the nation’s model cities.
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