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City Lights: Khal Asfour, Mayor, City of Canterbury Bankstown, New South Wales

Khal Asfour, Mayor for the City of Canterbury-Bankstown, talks to SmartCitiesWorld about the importance of consulting the community at the start of a smart city journey.

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Khal Asfour is the inaugural Mayor for the City of Canterbury-Bankstown, a local council situated in metropolitan Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia.

 

The Council was created following the forced amalgamations of the former Bankstown and Canterbury City Councils by the NSW Government in May 2016.

 

Canterbury-Bankstown is the largest local government council, by population, in the state of NSW, with more than 361,000 residents. It is also home to one of the largest multicultural communities in Australia, with more than 120 spoken languages.

 

Asfour talks to SmartCitiesWorld about how the city is building a solid base to progress its smart roadmap.

 

SCW: What does ‘smart city’ mean to you?

 

KA: For me, it simply means using technology infrastructure, community engagement and connectivity to evolve our city and make real improvements.

 

We have a responsibility to serve our community the best we can. While obviously this means regularly looking at better ways to use new technology and data, it is also about analysing what we are doing now and making improvements based on fact, not fiction or what we think is best for the community.

 

SCW: Where is Canterbury-Bankstown on its journey to becoming smarter? Are there any particular initiatives you would call out?

 

KA: In my opinion, we are at the start of our smart city journey. While we have developed and accomplished some smart things, we are in the process of establishing the foundations for the type of smart city we want to be, on a consistent basis.

 

Our draft Smart CBCity Roadmap is currently out on public exhibition, so the community can have its say. Once approved by Council later this year, it will provide a solid base and direction for how we can help to make our city smarter and be an even better place for people to live, work, visit and enjoy.

 

"We are in the process of establishing the foundations for the type of smart city we want to be, on a consistent basis"

 

A big initiative for our city is our waste management project, called Closing the Loop on Waste. Waste management is a major issue for many countries, including Australia, and at a local level in Canterbury-Bankstown. It represents 21 per cent of our annual budget and 31 per cent of all engagements with residents.

 

The Council has received a $1 million grant from the Australian Government, which it is matching, to:

  • Use advanced analytics to detect bin contamination, identify when bins have been missed, and investigate illegal dumping;
  • Upgrade resident access to information regarding bin collection days and other programed services;
  • Use data to minimise potential delays on waste collection routes;
  • Enable residents to request services or report incidents in real-time;
  • Provide residents with notifications when jobs they’ve requested are completed; and
  • Enable residents and organisations to upload images of dumped waste, which can be assessed before removal.

SCW: How do you see your smart city plans progressing from here?

 

KA: All levels of government and civic leaders have a responsibility to provide the best level of service for residents.

 

Despite the fast pace of our daily lives, which often make us time-poor, residents are wanting and deserve to receive even more value from their local council, and know their rates are paying for meaningful and quality services they actually want and need.

 

"We also need to understand and learn from the successes and mistakes made by other smart cities in Australia and throughout the world"

 

This means looking at what we currently have in place and improvements we can make, based on fact and data. We can then look at what new techniques and technologies are available to use to achieve those improvements.

 

We also need to understand and learn from the successes and mistakes made by other smart cities in Australia and throughout the world. This will involve working with Smart Cities Council Australia/New Zealand, and speaking with the leaders of other smart cities to discuss lessons learned. It will then be our intention to apply what we learn to the objectives and commitments in our own Smart CBCity Roadmap.

 

SCW: What is your number-one priority right now?

 

KA: Once the community has given its feedback on our Smart CBCity Roadmap and it is then finalised, Council needs to approve and implement it.

 

In addition to this, we will be focusing on getting our house in order by ensuring our systems and processes can support the direction we want to take and deliver important projects.

 

SCW: What is the biggest challenge you face?

 

KA: Ensuring all residents in our city are aware of our Smart CBCity Roadmap and have an opportunity to be part of the journey, where possible. This includes the widespread promotion of our progress in our Closing the Loop on Waste project.

 

SCW: What achievements are you particularly proud of in your role as Mayor?

 

KA: I am proud to be mayor of one of the most multi-culturally diverse cities in Australia, where residents live in harmony and respect each other’s differences.

 

During my time as mayor:

  • We were officially recognised as the first Refugee Welcoming City in Australia;
  • I established free early childhood education and care to support local asylum seeker families, at no cost to local residents (an Australian first);
  • I have led a business improvement model which has achieved greater efficiencies and eliminated Council’s debt;
  • I secured commitments for the establishment of a university campus and new hospital in Bankstown’s Central Business District, which will be delivered over the next five years;
  • We have established an award-winning business support service (Canterbury-Bankstown Business Advisory Service), which provides expert advice on starting a business and making a business more successful
  • Cities throughout Australia and the world have followed our lead by using positive feedback to increase recycling rates (Recycling Right program) and produce garden compost free-of-charge for residents, by using green waste from their bins (Wheelie Good Compost); and
  • I have increased the understanding of both my fellow Councillors and staff on the importance of becoming a smart city.

"I honestly can’t see myself in a role where I am not trying to improve the lives of others or advocating on their behalf"

 

SCW: What is the best part of your job?

 

KA: Knowing I have made a real positive difference to someone’s life is a humbling and rewarding experience. This is exactly what I am focusing on achieving on a grander scale, through our Smart CBCity Roadmap.

 

SCW: Can you describe a typical day?

 

KA: No two days are the same but if I am not supporting or meeting with members of our community, I am leading our progress in the smart city space and lobbying the NSW and Australian Governments, to ensure the voices of our city’s residents are heard.

 

SCW: If you weren’t doing this job, what might you be doing?

 

KA: I’d like to say I’d be playing football for Liverpool in the English Premier League but, in reality, I honestly can’t see myself in a role where I am not trying to improve the lives of others or advocating on their behalf.

 

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