What if the people who lived in neighbourhoods had an easy way of sharing their ideas and transforming them through a mobile phone app?

What if you could combine the skills of an urban design studio with a dedicated team of experts in infrastructure?

And what if a visionary industry body gave you $50,000 to pursue the idea?

What if? What if no more.

Last week, SMART’s director, Senior Professor Pascal Perez led a team in the ‘City Life Labs Round Two Pitch Event’ organised by the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) NSW.

With eight high-powered projects, a team of judges had to choose just two that, in their opinion, would “make our cities more, liveable, affordable and connected”.

SMART’s collaboration with urban design studio, arki_lab, won with “a digital platform for co-creation in city planning, designed to transform the traditional citizen involvement and urban planning processes”.

Professor Perez says the genius of this idea is to hand back control of the way cities operate to the most important, and most knowledgeable people – the people who live there.

“The idea is to bring together traditional college activity and cutting-edge augmented reality technology,” Professor Pascal says.

“The project will develop a new app called arkicity that will allow citizens to contribute to the (re)design of their neighbourhood in a playful and exciting way.

“Individuals will be able to download and use the app to create and share their vision of a more liveable public space, street or precinct.

“They will do this by taking a picture of the project area, making a collage that illustrates their vision for the area and uploading it on the web.

“The outcome would be a big collection of citizen input, consisting of both collages that illustrate citizens’ suggestions and wishes for the project, and a big database about the project area.”

The project is part of SMART’s Digital Living Lab – a project that aims to create smarter, more liveable cities using a network of LoRaWAN gateways that enable the cheap uploading of small packets of data to the Cloud.

The latest use of the Internet of Things network will take place in Wollongong and in Liverpool, where the University of Wollongong has just opened a new campus.

Rasmus Frisk, arki_lab CEO, says the core of the idea is the democratisation of planning, using technology.

“With over 12 billion devices currently connected to the Internet … digitalization can democratically connect this huge potential platform to educational engagement,” he says.

“By making tools for place-making, city-shaping, and improving urban well-being more accessible to the citizens of those places, spaces and cities, one can engage them more efficiently and the importance of civic engagement becomes clear.”

The judging panel included John Brogden, CEO of the NSW Government’s land and development agency Landcom, and Sarah Hill, CEO of Greater Sydney Commission.

Also making the shortlist was a University of Wollongong proposal for converting existing commercial buildings into independent microgrids harnessing renewable energy.

The project, led by Sean Elphick, from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, looks at the challenges facing the electricity supply industry.

“The project aims to investigate the technical and economic factors and requirements that must be considered when examining the potential for conversion of existing buildings to operate as independent microgrids,” Mr Elphick said.

“Retrofitting existing buildings to operate as microgrids has the potential to result in a number of benefits which will lead to direct increases in the affordability and livability of cities.”

UDIA NSW is a leading industry body representing the interests of the NSW property development sector.