Green Cities 2017: Fast forward to the future

By Switch Automation • March 11, 2017

Green Cities “Fast Forward to the Future” brought together the brightest minds in sustainability and building design from Australia and around the world. The conference showcased emerging trends that lead the way to healthier, happier and more productive cities. The two-day affair featured sessions fusing elements of technology, policy and green building techniques with the goal of spreading innovation, sparking enthusiasm, and accelerating sustainability in the built environment.

We sent David Nolte, a smart Fast Forward to the Futurebuilding software expert for Switch Automation based in Sydney, to soak up the conversation and bring home the truths.

This year’s powerhouse event boasted passionate speakers including Australian property development giants, specialist consultancies, assessment agencies and industry influencers. The topics demonstrated how technology is being increasingly applied to operate cities more efficiently and improve the quality of life for residents. Proactive density management, city resiliency and the application of big data analytics were key themes throughout the two awe-inspiring days.

Density Management

Green and city are two adjectives not historically paired together,” said Reverend Tim Costello, Chief Advocate, World Vision Australia.


We tend to visualize cities as big polluted urban centers with layers of smog floating above and polluted rivers flowing through.” However, recent trends show that well planned high-density city centers can provide happier and healthier environments than low-density suburbs. Michael Rose, the former CEO of Allens, observed, “Low-density areas force people to drive more often which means they are less active. Studies show lower levels of overall health in these areas.” When considering how to shift this paradigm of traditional thinking, it’s important to imagine the lifestyle that strategic green planning facilitates. Kylie Rampa, CEO of Property for Lendlease, remarked, “Cities that manage density well enrich the lives of residents. Mixed use developments encourage activity day and night while providing an atmosphere for people to live, work and play.”

High density mixed use projects like Lendlease’s Barangaroo (Sydney) and Sekisui House’s West Village (Brisbane) demonstrate improved quality of life in thriving urban settings. Chris Riddell, a noted global futurist, highlighted that as the growing trend of ride sharing and driverless cars continues to gain momentum, we will see a reduction in car volume and parking demand. This will “un-pave” the way for green space in highly populated city centers in the coming years. A strategic approach to city planning, including the use of technology to make sense of space utilization data and people counting software, leads to better design and increased resident satisfaction.


A city’s resilience is “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what chronic stresses and acute shocks it experiences,” according to 100 Resilient Cities. As climate change becomes more noticeable and its effects more damaging, it’s important to employ strategies that mitigate risk and facilitate recovery.

An easy way to make cities more resilient is to increase food security. “Developments in urban and vertical farming allow cities to be less dependent on food imports,” said Digby Hall, Architect at Weave Studio. By applying automation to urban farming with technologies like Farmbot, a system that plants seeds, picks weeds and waters plots, we make urban farms more feasible. This technology results in improved food security and reduced environmental impact from food production and transportation.

Analytics for Big Data

One of the most prevalent trends is the growing acceptance and utilization of big data analytics. Consider the implication of applying this intelligence to improve efficiency in the built environment. As Chris Riddell observed, “Data is the new oil. We must find it, mine it, and refine it.” Chris highlighted the reason that Google (not GM) began working on autonomous vehicles was that “it was a mechanical problem in need of an information solution.” This is precisely our approach at Switch Automation to improve ROI for building owners and operators around the world.

There was a time when the CRE industry turned its nose up at big data because it didn’t want to get its hands dirty. As Colette Munro, Chief Digital Officer at AECOM, pointed out, “data can show inconvenient truths. We have to uncover certain things that are uncomfortable before we can move forward.” In many cases, the data shows operations were not as efficient as assumed. Another issue that slowed big data analytics adoption was quality. “Garbage in is garbage out,” says our own Peter Rake, Director of Global Integrations. Recently there have been huge advancements in machine learning which grant the ability to identify and correct inaccuracies. These improvements in data quality allow us to turn assumptions and ideas into actionable, testable real-world hypotheses.

Future-proofing Smart Buildings

An example of big data analytics in action is the Switch Automation Platform. Users benefit from clearly visualized real-time data and often notice immediate energy savings. Our gateways collect information from thousands of building IoT sensors and synthesize the data in our cloud-based Platform. Teams from the site to the C-suite can easily configure their own custom workspaces to reflect information that’s most relevant to them. Facility managers remotely identify and resolve building issues using fault detection, big data analytics, and real-time command and control. As a result, they spend less time finding problems and more time fixing and preventing them. The end result is a fundamental mindset change from “How much did I spend” to “How much did I SAVE?”


Fast Forward to the Future

The message of 2017 Green Cities is clear: We are on an unstoppable train of progress driven by public pressure and support that will ultimately lead to improved social outcomes for everyone. Massive advancements already resonate in the built environment and the velocity of change increases each year. Companies that don’t adapt will fall behind, and the gap between success and failure will continue to widen exponentially.



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