A recent Government report explored New Zealand's smart city potential, finding the country had a big opportunity to act as a laboratory for the world, just as it had with eftpos in the mid-1980s.

The smart city concept comprised four key principles: that cities of tomorrow would have to be efficient, environmentally sustainable, resilient and able to deliver the social outcomes expected by their citizens.

As it happened, New Zealand already led the way in some of its uses of smart city technologies, and in integrating them with the way Kiwis inhabit their urban landscapes.

One collaboration between Japan's NEC and the Wellington and Christchurch city councils developed a platform collecting sensor data on air and water quality, waste management, parking, street lighting, and solvent and graffiti detection.

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Other examples were sensors used by Auckland Council to monitor water quality and issue real-time warnings, or the real-time data that allowed Auckland Transport to evaluate congestion-relieving solutions.

Yet there was much more to ponder: how could we make better use of technology like distributed computing, hand-held devices, cloud processing and storage or low-cost sensors?

The Auckland Plan 2050, Auckland Unitary Plan and City Centre Masterplan 2012, have put plenty of creative and innovative thinking into the future of the country's biggest city.

And they should: Auckland's population is set to hit 2.4 million by 2050.

That's a near-unthinkable figure, given how the city is already struggling to provide its 1.6 million residents with housing, public transport, uncongested roads and resilience to climate change.

Ludo Campbell-Reid, Auckland Council's "design champion", says the city hasn't always been known for the thinking and planning that a smart city demanded.

"We stopped investing in public transport in favour of road building, ripping up tramways and pouring marathon stretches of concrete motorways," he saysd.

"We built our city for rush-hour traffic resulting in congestion, road deaths and pollution."

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But, more recently, Auckland has turned to this forward-focused approach to urban design.

Campbell-Reid envisaged a quality, compact city, built on finite space, but offering flexible living options to meet the lifestyle choices of Aucklanders — Hobsonville Point being a good working example.

"Our growing population also needs smart city thinking to serve our transport demands. We're currently designing the future mobility plan for Auckland's city centre."

One concept, dubbed Access for Everyone, aims to create a pedestrian haven for the Queen St valley, from Mayoral Drive right down to the waterfront.

This innovative traffic movement system will remove discretionary vehicle trips in and out of the city centre, easing traffic congestion and slashing carbon emissions.

Technology incorporated into the trials will monitor traffic flows and air-quality in real-time and give residents a feedback mechanism to co-design future changes.

"With Queen St currently suffering the highest levels of black carbon in New Zealand; Access for Everyone has the potential to create the cleanest air of any city in the world," Campbell-Reid says.

"That is significant."

Rapid transit projects like the City Rail Link and light rail would also emerge over the next 10 years to strengthen regional transport and triple accessibility in and out of the city centre.

"Light rail is a smart response to our rapidly changing city — it will enable transit orientated living, specifically along the corridor from the city centre to Mangere."

This urban corridor is expected to accommodate about 30 per cent of Auckland's population growth — and 36 per cent of Auckland's employment growth — over the next 30 years.

This population, already the size of Hamilton, could access a rapid transit system within a five-minute walk.

But smart city thinking didn't always need to be large scale.

Small, urban acupuncture projects, like turning streets into thriving shared spaces benefit everyone, says Campbell-Reid.

The Fort St upgrade, for example, saw an increase in hospitality spending in the area by 429 per cent.

"We've turned vacant brownfield land on our prime waterfront into one of the world greatest waterfront developments.

"And we've converted vacant infrastructure for cars into world-class cycleways to help people move around the city better and reduce congestion and carbon emissions — building the Lightpath on a redundant piece of motorway ensures the asset will always be utilised."