The digital revolution and city building

The data revolution has begun but we do not know where it will take city building. It seems unlikely that big data could challenge current city building practices and property paradigms in Australia before 2030 because:

  • The implications of big data are unknown for city building.
  • Urban planning and zoning regimes will not react quickly.
  • There are insufficient systems and processes to properly manage the privacy and confidentiality of data.

For the medium term (to 2025), big data could start to challenge the garden city shape as it redefines personal mobility by managing congestion, introducing driverless cars in parallel with public transport, forcing efficient use of built form through much more efficient taxation (e.g. congestion taxes), and creating new business sectors and business types.

The Second Machine Age (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2014) argues the case for robotics and machine-to-machine communication for non-complex products and for a wide range of household robotics. Urban planning should now (as it did for universal age designed buildings) ‘plan in’ robotics and on-demand lifestyles in residential projects. Community health and medical facilities could join retail facilities as the anchor at the centre of new 20-minute neighbourhoods as part of the shift from consumption to lifestyle.

Long-term planning (to 2050) in 2016 should focus on low-cost cities and low-cost city life as world labour costs begin to equalise, i.e. bottom decile wage levels fall. Rather than expensive smart cities, low-cost ‘people cities’ (with big constraints on big data collection and use) should be the key objective. Planning for large-scale infrastructure should focus no further than 2030 because of likely large ‘scale’ changes in Australian city building as technology affects city building and city life.


For example, driverless cars could actually reduce demand for trucks and public transport and increase congestion, backyards could be leased for storage, parking and other purposes, retailing and services could be widely distributed from mixed residential areas (yes, even on sanitised urban fringes). Peer-to-peer lending of equipment, use of garages, short-term stay for close family, etc. could become the norms. That is, initially, the productivity of existing urban form (not necessarily just density) can be significantly increased through the peer to peer and sharing economies.

Economic output, enabled by new technologies, should become a major key performance indicator for residential zones, destroying the mono use ethos that is still dominant in city life and city building in Australia.

Technology and appropriately used big data can extract significantly more value from Australian cities and increase productivity by:

  • Optimising vehicle usage through congestion charges and sharing.
  • Maximising walking and cycling.
  • Variable public transport and parking charges with time of day.
  • Private use of public infrastructure e.g. parks and reserves for functions, parties and business with online directions and payments.
  • Crowd sourcing funding for local infrastructures.
  • Using spare bedrooms (more than 50% of all bedrooms are vacant).
  • Encouraging work patterns which reduce peak hour travel.
  • Encouraging job mobility.
  • Much higher utilisation of existing public infrastructure.
  • Developing prosumers as a key entrepreneurial force.

Get in touch:

For more information or to discuss your property research requirements, please contact Amy Williams, National Marketing Manager on 02 9221 5211 or

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