Auckland can become a global smart city in its own authentic way, writes Graham Skellern.

Ludo Campbell-Reid is focused on creating a design-led Auckland. Matt Montgomery is focusing on a technology-driven Auckland.

Put them together and you might think there'd be some professional tension and suspicion. Actually, they are yin and yang.

Campbell-Reid, the general manager of Auckland Council's Design Office, firmly believes technology is the servant, not the master.


"In creating a smarter city, people must be at the epicentre of the whole design and decision-making process.

"The smart city concept pushed by technology companies is to sell their tech solutions to the city. But who's the customer of the city? It's people, not technology."

Montgomery, head of innovation at Auckland Council, says a smart city uses technology to gain data and make better decisions, and communities and individuals use the data to make their lives better."

Matt Montgomery.
Matt Montgomery.

He says there is a privacy concern and "first we must understand the data properly to protect the city and citizens from unwanted intrusions. Some data can have unintended consequences."

Campbell-Reid and Montgomery both accept that when "smart city" technology is included in urban planning and executed successfully, it can positively affect many areas of the city's future growth and development.

The most powerful approach is getting city leaders, citizens and businesses including technology companies to collaborate and identify smart city needs and applications, and propose solutions to the city's unique problems.

For Campbell-Reid, a smarter city means developing long term integrated plans and injecting innovative and creative thinking.

"It's thinking about the future and making decisions that solve problems for multi-years, not one year.

"If Auckland had been smart, it would not have made some of the decisions it did — like ripping up the tramways in 1956."

He believes Auckland has made strong progress. "Building the Lightpath (cycleway) on a redundant piece of motorway is smart thinking. It ensures the asset is utilised.

Achieving a $22 million targeted business rate — that's smart money being used for developing the downtown.

"The City Centre Masterplan 2040 delivers a vision that is smart. We are living in a city where demand is infinite but land is finite. Creating a quality compact city centre and putting a green belt around it is smart thinking," says Campbell-Reid.

"The Destination AKL 2025 is a smart strategy. We are not just a gateway to the rest of New Zealand. We are a destination with a big story for New Zealand and visitors spend 13-14 times more than locals.

"The way we chase major events like the Rugby World Cup and America's Cup, that's smart. The Commonwealth Games must happen within 10 years, as it will be a powerful catalyst for speeding up further urban renewal in Auckland.

"The world can watch us as we prepare for the event. Civic and urban renewal planned over 30 years can be done in six years. We can't wriggle out of the deadline."

Campbell-Reid and his team are now designing Access for Everyone that will reduce and control traffic flows in the city centre, create more public spaces, and pedestrianise Queen Street and adjoining streets.

The innovative concept that includes modern trams along Queen Street has the backing of Auckland Council's Planning Committee.

Motorists will choose to park their cars in eight designated zones around the city centre fringe. The zones are linked to the central motorway junction and the motorists must drive out the same way they came in. Only servicing and emergency vehicles and drivers with disabilities will be allowed to make trips across the city centre.

"We want to prioritise buses, light rail, walking and cycling, and ferries as more efficient ways to move around the city, and if we reduce the non-discretionary trips we can reduce traffic in the city centre by 30 per cent," says Campbell-Reid.

If he had his way, Campbell-Reid would like to see the whole city centre free of cars.

"Access for Everyone is preparing for the future — the streets don't need to operate as car parks, and we want to reclaim our city for the people," he says.

"Before O'Connell Street became a shared space it was a car park with small pavements.

Now the street is used as public space and dining in front of buildings and businesses for a commercial benefit.

"Deliveries can be made between 7-9am when no-one is around, so at different times of the day the street becomes a flexi space. A courier van may make 50 to 60 drop-offs a day to a high-rise. Why can't they be done on an e-bike? There are a lot of unnecessary trips in the city centre," says Campbell-Reid.

Back on the technology front, Auckland Council has developed the award-winning Safeswim website, with digital signage, that enables Aucklanders to make informed decisions about where and when to swim.

Safeswim combines real-time data on the performance of the wastewater and stormwater networks with predictive models to generate forecasts of water quality at 92 beaches and other swimming sites around the Auckland region.

It is complemented by advice from Surf Lifesaving Northern Region and the Auckland Regional Public Health Service. The Safeswim programme won the Smart Water Category at the IDC Smart Cities Asia Pacific awards.

The council has created a digital platform called Upsouth that connects the South Auckland community by sharing creative ideas and feedback about local topics.

Council and businesses pose questions relating to civic issues and the users post creative feedback (poetry, spoken word, videos, music, drawings), and can be paid for it.

Upsouth is used by South Auckland schools and other community members, and it builds digital skills and promotes civic participation, especially amongst marginalised youth.

Montgomery says people assume Auckland is a little bit behind the curve in using smart technology but "I think we are a little bit above par. We are not over-selling ourselves.

There is a genuineness here about doing things in a smart way and not just using technology for technology's sake.

"We have to focus on what makes Auckland unique, our connection to the environment, our community identity and culturalism, and our link to the past.

"We can use technology changes for delivering infrastructure that makes Auckland a world-leading sustainable city.

"We have the opportunity of being entirely self-sufficient. Auckland has a strong, vibrant young population, most global cities are ageing, and we have to invest in our young people," Montgomery says.

Guiding principles
We must identify what makes us unique, how we want to enhance what it means to be Aucklanders, and how technology can support this vision. By including diversity in our conversations, we will enable social inclusion and truly equitable outcomes. We must tell our story so that all may see the benefit and create space for a different way of working, open, connected and in charge of our own destiny.

Source: Matt Montgomery in his Innovate Auckland presentation
Steps to becoming a smarter city
After starting his new role as Head of Innovation for Auckland Council earlier this year, Matt Montgomery has focused on identifying what a smart city means to Auckland.

He has conducted one-on-one interviews with city and business leaders, and held workshops with industry, communities and council organisations about potential opportunities and risks.

Montgomery has scoped out a strategic direction to make Auckland a smarter city. Here are some key themes in the Smart City programme:

* Connection between people is vital — if connection is central to the smart idea, then the users of the system become the vital connecting components.
* Genuinely embracing diversity will help ensure social inclusion and equitable outcomes and Auckland will become truly unique and authentic.
* Use data wisely to make better decisions that can deliver better outcomes for Aucklanders.
* Protect Aucklanders from some of the potential risks surrounding technology, data use and incursion of privacy.
* Create an environment of education, entrepreneurship and leadership that is accessible to all people, not restricted by barriers related to social status, culture, language or education.
* City government has a dual role to play in Smart City initiatives — to execute some intelligent solutions on its own and to orchestrate and enable the evolution of a broader ecosystem.
* Business is a willing partner for Smart City initiatives, forming private-public partnerships (the vendor works with the city to map out a viable business model and take an active role in keeping the project going).
* Auckland tells its own story, tapping into those already doing things well in their own specialties to help shape the city's vision and providing inspirational leadership.
The Smart City programme will focus on resource optimisation, asset utilisation, organisational effectiveness, and community empowerment and interaction.