Planning the smart cities of the future
Smart cities, sure – you’ve probably heard of those. But smart beaches? According to UTS Master of Planning graduate Claire Chaikin-Bryan, they’re the next logical step in our tech-driven, data-centric urban future.
Chaikin-Bryan, the Smart Cities Lead at Lake Macquarie City Council, is currently working on the Smart Beaches initiative, which is funded through the Australian Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program and led by Lake Macquarie City Council, Northern Beaches Council and UTS.
The project team is using combination of sensors and other smart technology to monitor wave and swell movement at trial NSW beaches, as well as to record visitor numbers and the use of amenities like toilet blocks and bins. This data will provide lifeguards, councils and the broader community with critical information about water conditions and beach usage patterns.
“Ultimately, we’re looking at how we can improve safety and amenities through the use of technology and data,” Chaikin-Bryan says.
The project, which is currently being trialled at Redhead Beach and Blacksmiths Beach in Lake Macquarie, and Manly Beach and Shelly Beach in Sydney’s north, is just one example of how Chaikin-Bryan is using technology to deliver a better, more interconnected experience of urban environments for the local community.
In her previous role as a project manager and smart cities specialist at Sydney’s Northern Beaches Council, Chaikin-Bryan’s projects included developing community feedback portals to enable improved interaction between residents and Council, and creating a Digital Transformation Strategy to equip Council to meet the growing needs of its community.
In a nutshell, she says, this focus on the end user is what her smart cities work is really all about.
“The focus of smart cities isn’t actually on the technologies themselves anymore – it’s become, over the years, a lot more people-centric and a lot more about engaging the community in the space,” she says.
Chaikin-Bryan might be an old hand when it comes to smart cities now, but getting to this point was a bit of a circuitous journey. A graduate of the UTS Bachelor of Engineering, she started her career as a construction engineer with a specific focus on building information modelling. But when the construction industry went through a downturn, she found herself staring down the barrel of unemployment.
Instead of panicking, she pivoted.
“As part of my undergraduate engineering degree I did environmental planning and law, and I really enjoyed it. That made me think, okay, what else could I look at? And so I decided to look into the Master of Planning,” she says.
The focus of smart cities isn’t actually on the technologies themselves anymore – it’s become, over the years, a lot more people-centric and a lot more about engaging the community in the space.
The course delivered everything she’d hoped for, including a heritage elective that let her indulge her love of history. She engaged with masterplanning projects, built some solid research skills, learned to work in multidisciplinary teams across the breadth of the built environment, and gained firsthand experience with the community engagement process.
“Being able to explore so many different topics throughout the master’s was really useful, because it gives you more background knowledge – you never know when you’re going to use it, but you will end up using it,” she says.
“For example, I got to do research and write a little report on urban rooftop agriculture, which was something that I was interested in, and it does come in handy now whenever I’m having conversations with people about how we can grow our local economy in different ways and how we can make buildings more sustainable.
“At the same time, the community engagement component has really given me a good foundation in understanding the people side of things – at Council, I put things out for community engagement, I get a lot of feedback and then I’ve got to interpret that to make decisions.”
Today, Chaikin-Bryan says, her highly technical background and broad understanding of the built environment has been the key to making her mark in this still-emerging area.
“Having a background in engineering and planning is unusual, but for the smart city space it’s really useful,” she says.
“I can do everything, from understanding the legislation, understanding urban design, interacting with the community and encouraging public participation to understanding how to build things, how to plan to build things and put things in place.”
Learn more about the UTS Master of Planning.