Using intelligent technology to improve our environment is paramount, writes Brett O'Riley.
With the massive growth globally of urbanisation, cities are not only growing in size and shape, they have to become smarter.
Auckland is on the cusp of becoming a Super City. We must ensure it also becomes a smart city to attract and retain the best possible people, to become the best possible economic performing city that it can, and achieve this in a balanced and sustainable manner.
With cities like Shanghai, Singapore and New York in mind, it has fast become a fact that urban metropolises are the economic hubs of countries. The economic edge these cities have is that they act smarter and more innovatively than their competitors. After all, they are competing on a global scale.
From an economic point of view, cities have to rely on a smarter, more skilled workforce for competitive differentiation. They need to be able to manage their growth, ensuring they are able to provide effective services to their citizens in a healthy and efficient environment.
These points of difference will become more prominent as 70 per cent of the world population is set to be living in cities by 2050. Even in massive countries like China, this year marks the first time that more than 50 per cent of their population is urban-based.
Cities grew rapidly in the 20th century, but generally in an unplanned fashion - we are all familiar with the term urban sprawl. Globally this placed massive pressure on existing infrastructure, drove housing prices and local rates up, but generally lowered the standard of services the citizens received.
Information technology is the power engine of smarter cities. The advancement of IT is not just about automating cities, but about creating a developed, energy efficient and productive place. Governments and private industries that understand this are becoming global powerhouses because smarter cities attract and retain a smarter workforce.
The Chinese Government has already made moves to ensure Shanghai remains one of the world's fastest-growing economies. I recently attended the IBM Smarter Cities conference in Shanghai and heard first-hand how cities globally are developing smart infrastructure, with the host city being one of the best examples.
Shanghai's IT sector, worth around 800 billion RMB, (NZ$164 billion) is now growing at 20 per cent annually.
IT is a fundamental plank in the Chinese Government's vision to continue Shanghai's growth levels and make it a smarter and more attractive place for its citizens.
Congested commuting can have a negative impact on a city's liveability and productivity. Shanghai will have 2.5 million private cars by 2020 and daily motor vehicle trips will increase to seven million, compared to just over three million in 2000. So Shanghai has had to prepare and produce intricate transport management systems.
The Government introduced what it calls ShanghaiGrid hardware infrastructure as a way to ease congestion over transport infrastructure. Connected to different networks at a 100Mbps network ultra-fast broadband speed, Shanghai has a world-class transport management system in place using video, sensors and traffic lights, all integrated to manage the enormous flows of traffic and people.
China has also implemented smart e-government technology-based services. Citizens have the ability to access online administration services that have been used to consolidate applications, services and licenses. They also have social security cards which can be used for 20 different government services through smart kiosks and community centres.
China Mobile, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, now has 550 million mobile subscribers. China also has 750 million animals tagged with radio based RFID chips, meaning it can track and monitor livestock from the farm to the plate. As a business application, this assists primary sectors exponentially. The same technology and others, like GPS, can be used to track assets, vehicles and products, all contributing to productivity.
With all this smarter technology in place, Shanghai ensures its people receive education and training. It has already trained 730,000 people from its 'One million family on-line' initiative.
Cities rely on the connectivity of core systems composed of different networks, infrastructures and environments, all related to citizens, services, business, transport, communications, water and energy.
They rely on these smart services to perform efficiently to provide better quality of life for the people.
Using smart technology to improve our environment is paramount. One example of this is in Stockholm, Sweden. Through smarter technology and logistics, Stockholm has used tolling to dissuade people from driving at peak times, which has reduced emissions by 35 per cent.
With New Zealand's 65-plus age group projected to make up more than one-quarter of our population from the late 2030s, compared to 12 per cent in 2005, our health system will also need unprecedented access to new technologies as it copes with an ageing population.
But this connectivity across systems is not necessarily enough.
With education spending at about 6 per cent of GDP in most cities, we need to ensure we increase spending on learning for smarter cities.
This is not just about continued learning for our young people, but education for those who have limited computer and IT skills. Initiatives like the Computer Clubhouse in Otara are demonstrating that all communities have an appetite for access to the internet and its smart services.
This is no longer an option, it needs to be a basic service available to all citizens if we are to scale smart services and ensure no-one is disadvantaged because of a lack of connectivity or speed.
The Tamaki Transformation Programme is one of New Zealand's largest urban renewal projects targeting another area where smart services are generally not available.
This is being driven by a unique partnership between central government agencies, local government, the Tamaki community and the private sector. All are striving to achieve ambitious housing, infrastructure, social services and economic performance goals for the area by working together in new ways. Broadband infrastructure will underpin this transformation, giving citizens in Glen Innes, Panmure and Point England access to smart services, in many cases for the first time.
In this context, the Government's Ultra Fast Broadband initiative focuses on providing the platform for Auckland to truly become a world class smart city.
Auckland has geographical challenges which have constrained growth using 20th century style infrastructure. We now have the opportunity to create infrastructure for the city to operate much more efficiently and for people to have more flexibility in their daily lives.
Brett O'Riley was recently a guest of IBM at the Smarter Cities conference in Shanghai.