Spotlight | Zoe Eather, My Smart Community
a big picture-thinking engineer on a mission
it’s women like zoe eather who will change the world.
Zoe looks at how cities function – and how they should function. Her consultancy business looks at smart communities, and in particular smart mobility – how people get around now and into the future. She’s not just about self-driving cars though – she thinks how mobility fits with current infrastructure, what the role of public transport is, and how people generally get around. We first came across Zoe through her podcast, where she speaks to guests all around the world about their intriguing work in this space.
We sat down with Zoe to learn about her recent Churchill Fellowship (no biggie), what brought her to Toowoomba, and how she’d spend her ideal weekend.
Name: zoe eather
Occupation: CEO, my Smart Community
Known For: running an awesome podcast; winning a churchill fellowship
Local since: 2014
First things first: what brought you to Toowoomba?
I was born and bred in Roma then moved to Brisbane for university to study engineering. I moved back out west to start working in road construction and then moved to Toowoomba to work on the Second Range Crossing.
At the end of 2016, I lived in South Korea for three months as part of an engineering exchange and looked at self-driving cars, advanced technology, innovation in construction and this is where I learnt about the smart city concept. When I came back to Australia, I was a bit obsessed with this smart city thing so I would talk to anyone and everyone who knew anything about it so I could learn more.
I needed a better way of having these conversations and I also wanted to be able to share it with the community so I decided to start a podcast: The Smart City Podcast, which is now re-branded to The Smart Community Podcast (to also ensure that the regional, rural and remote communities are included and think more about a smart region approach). So I left my government job on the Range Crossing last year to start the podcast and start my own consultancy.
what is My Smart Community? and what about this fellowship?!
I run a boutique consultancy called My Smart Community. I offer smart city and community advisory services with a focus on smart mobility, smart project management, and smart technology in regional areas, dealing with disruption and facilitating genuine collaboration.
The smart community concept is about using different technology and ways of thinking as enablers to make the places we live more accessible, liveable and sustainable for all. To share this message I host The Smart Community Podcast where I interview people all around the world, as well as speak at conferences internationally with a focus on including regional areas.
Around the time I started my consultancy, I also applied for a Winston Churchill Fellowship to research smart mobility. I was successful in my application, so from March to May this year I visited nine countries in nine weeks – Mexico, USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and South Korea. I looked at the current transport network in each place, what the problems and issues were in each community, and what people were thinking and doing about the future. The aim of my fellowship was to bring back the real learnings to accelerate the adoption of smart mobility and community concepts in Australia.
My real interest is not in the flashy new technology, but how we can use these new concepts to create better places to work, live and play– and also connect them both physically and digitally for the benefit of everyone and open up opportunities for people . I think Toowoomba could definitely be a great place to trial and test new concepts and technology in a real way that solves some of the community pain-points. There’s a bit of a re-think needed about public transport and what makes a place connected and liveable.
I love the idea of the Super Block from Barcelona where the streets are “taken back” by the people and the idea that everything you need is within walking or cycling distance with the right infrastructure and green spaces available. (You can read a bit more about Super Block here.)
What have you learned about running a business in Toowoomba?
There are lots of awesome places to work and a lot of smart people around. I love that Toowoomba is a nice mix of country and city and has everything you need to run a successful business.
At the moment I’m doing a lot of travelling so the airport has been amazing, but it would be good to have a better connection to Brisbane so I could leave my car at home and travel there and back easily in the same day. We could also improve the walkability of the streets around Toowoomba to connect our beautiful parks and gardens together with shops, cafes and other places people like to hang out.
It has been good to work out of different spaces such as Canvas Coworking and the many great coffee shops when I need to get out of my home office. For Toowoomba to continue to be a great place to grow and sustain business and attract and keep talent, we need to work together with the government to create the community we want to see.
What does an average day look like for you?
Not very average! Some days I work from home, others I’m in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, but I try to stay in Toowoomba as much as possible.
What does your ideal Toowoomba weekend look like?
Hot yoga in the morning at Zama and a coffee with a friend (probably at Burrow), then either going 4WD and camping with my boyfriend somewhere around the region or heading out to a great lunch at The Barn Finish with a nice dinner at Encores and/or drinks at Bar Wunder with some friends. So basically – good coffee, food and company.
Only a Toowoomba local would know…
Sleepless City Roasters roasts a mean bean ;)
FAVOURITE WEEKEND SPOT TO:
PERK UP: Sleepless City Roasters
RELAX: Zama Yoga or a walk down Geddes Street
EAT: Encores or Gip’s Restaurant
INDULGE: Pure Hair (The Ridge) – Kayleigh is amazing
SHOP: Deli Delicious and Toowoomba Farmers Market (I love food clearly!)
BE INSPIRED: Nourished – Health Through Nutrition (love Daniel’s work)