Dorte Ekelund may have more than 30 years’ experience in urban and regional planning, but her appointment to the SMART Advisory Council is a homecoming.

Back in 1982, when the Illawarra was suffering a chronic recession due to a downturn in the steel industry, Ekelund was one of 82 candidates for a trainee planner position at Shellharbour Council.

‘The town clerk didn’t want to employee me because he thought I’d go off and have babies, but the mayor had presented my award as the dux of Oak Flats High a couple of weeks previously, so I got the job,’ Ekelund says.

It was the beginning of a long career in urban planning that currently sees her working as a consultant providing advice on another key idea for SMART – smart cities.

‘There is a big debate in Australia and around the world about what exactly smart cities are,’ she says.

‘Some people think it’s about technology and data, but others think it’s about making better decisions to get the most liveable, sustainable and productive cities.

‘My view is, that we shouldn’t get hung up on the definition. The main thing is that we are trying to get the best outcomes and communities – however we do that.’

Ekelund’s homecoming began in 2008, when she was appointed the executive director of the Major Cities Unit by the Rudd government, focusing on the 18 major cities in Australia with populations of more than 100,000 people.

She was involved at the start of SMART and part of the federal department that helped set up the facility.

‘I feel passionate about what SMART’s about, and passionate about what the university has done for Wollongong. I want to contribute to that,’ she says.

Her appointment to the SMART Advisory Council comes at a time that Ekelund is rebalancing her career to include a mixture of paid work, and her role as an experienced advisor.

‘I see myself as glue, I like to connect people and issues and opportunities together,’ she says.

‘If I can do that to make a difference, then I will.’