With a population of 276,116, Greater Geelong is the second biggest city in the state of Victoria. Located 75 kilometers (47 miles) south-west of Melbourne, the municipality covers an area of 1,247 km2 (481 sqm), comprising suburban, coastal, and country areas.
The Geelong metro area grew rapidly in the 20th Century as a transport and heavy industry hub for everything from automobiles and processed wool to cement, fertilizer and whiskey. The vast economic changes of the last decades of that century, however, led to plant closures and significant changes in the composition of the workforce. That spurred the formation of Greater Geelong in a search for financial stability and greater scale. In the 21st Century, Greater Geelong has applied the principles familiar to Intelligent Communities around the world to build an innovative and growing economy able to adapt to change in the global economy, society and climate.
One noteworthy example is the Smarter Suburbs project. In simple terms, it is a new 22 km fiber network and set of 50 wireless access points serving three suburbs. But look closer, and it is a strategic effort to address two distinct problems. Two of the suburbs, Norlane and Corio, face greater socio-economic disadvantage , while the third, the Northern Precinct, is a business district focused on technology and advanced manufacturing. The wireless access points are Smart Nodes: poles providing Wi-Fi, CCTV cameras, PA speaker systems, updated lighting, and charging stations for scooters and bikes. For low-income residents, the wireless Nodes provide affordable broadband access to 62,000 users, while businesses in the Northern Precinct have access to business-grade, higher-speed broadband. Better lighting and video and audio monitoring offer improvements in public safety to all.
Equipping the Next Generation
Greater Geelong is taking innovative steps to craft a workforce that has not only the skills to succeed but the habit of successful engagement with their community. Geelong Tech School is similar at first glance to STEM education centers found in most Intelligent Communities. It offers programs in robotics, coding, drones, data analysis, IoT, CAD/CAM, VR and many other technology fields. What sets it apart is its design as a service to the broader region. Rather than having its own student body, it delivers education through partnerships with 31 schools in Greater Geelong. It offers professional development for teachers and builds relationships with local industry and community organizations. As a result, the programs and staff of this single hub facility can reach 25,000 students in class and online.
Greater Geelong’s other innovation is in formalizing the involvement of young people in city governance and community groups. A Youth Council Advisory Committee recruits young people ages 12-17 to serve one-year terms representing the young people of Geelong to government. They gather monthly at City Hall with guest presenters who are seeking their advice on meeting the needs of youth, and participate in mentoring programs with members of Geelong’s Council, through which they both learn and offer recommendations. Along the way, they gain skills in public speaking, leadership and civic education.
A similar program, Youth on Board, places 12-15 year-olds on the management boards of local organizations, from sports clubs to social welfare. The program recruits, mentors and supports young people to ensure that a youth voice is heard and validated in planning and decision-making. The young people gain skills in interviewing, presenting, governance, data analysis, legal operations, financial management and communications.
Clever and Creative
Greater Geelong signed a MOU in 2021 with Changwon City in South Korea to collaborate on trade, education and cultural exchanges. It had immediate result: an announcement by Hanwha, the South Korean defense contractor, to build a state-of-the-art Armored Vehicle Center of Excellence in Geelong. The Centre will manufacture self-propelled howitzers for the Australian Government, creating more than 1,000 highly-skilled jobs and adding five local companies to its supply chain under an A$1.3 billion contract. It joins a defense sector in Victoria State made up of 6,300 businesses employing 24,000 people. And more is expected, Hanwha and Geelong’s Deakin University have begun exhibiting jointly at Australian defense industry trade shows, which attract tens of thousands of attendees from around the world.
Tech-based economic development is one of three pillars of Geelong’s Clever and Creative Vision, a community strategy developed in consultation with more than 16,000 residents at workshops, community meetings and school visits. It aims to promote innovation and entrepreneurship to continue growing the city’s commercial ecosystem – but equally to foster creativity and culture through the arts and prioritize sustainability as it grows.
Acting on the Vision
The vision is given reality by programs like Live Life Connected, which trains older and low-income residents in dealing with online misinformation, cyber fraud and privacy issues through a large network of community mentors. The regional library network joins in with the Learn to Use program, which provides free education and training in digital skills that have reached more than 7,000 residents over the past seven years.
Citizen science programs also engage community members in collecting, analyzing and interpreting local data to inform solutions. One example is the city’s Urban Forest Dashboard, which helps citizens locate, map and record “tree hollows,” natural gaps in old-growth trees that provide homes for birds, mammals and reptiles in urban areas. The age of the trees in which they form puts them at risk as old trees are removed for safety reasons, and the Dashboard provides a means to balance public safety and habitat protection.
Protecting habitat is also the goal of reef restoration projects in the bay. The coastline undergoes constant change, receding sharply in some areas and building up in others in unpredictable ways. Concern over severe storms and rising sea levels drove Greater Geelong to explore ways to protect the coastline without building seawalls or other structures. Instead, a partnership of the city, the University of Melbourne and an environmental center has developed artificial reefs that are being rapidly colonized by seaweed, invertebrates and fish species. By reducing the height and energy of waves reaching the shore, they have already stabilized beaches and brought back seagrasses that had suffered significant loss.
Greater Geelong has become Australia’s second fastest-growing city in population terms. Its Smarter Suburb program recently won an award from the World Smart City Expo in South Korea. But it is the city’s coordinated effort to structure an innovative economy, engage its people in embracing change and unleashing their creativity that has made it a Top 7 Intelligent Community.