Christchurch gets smart

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Christchurch has grabbed the opportunity to change the built environment for the better and is harnessing 21st century technology as an exemplar of how a smart city can function.

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MORE THAN any other city in New Zealand, it’s the built environment in Christchurch that has seen the most transformation over the past decade. Christchurch City Council has its eye on the next decade and beyond – and it’s taking the Smart approach.

A chance to do things smarter

We weren’t left with a blank slate, but the 2010/11 earthquakes really did get everyone thinking along the same lines – if fate was going to force us to rebuild, we should take the opportunity to do things smarter.

In many respects, we’re carrying out the same core business that councils all over New Zealand have always done – creating a better experience for the people who live in Christchurch, strengthening communities and making the place more liveable.

The difference now is that we have 21st century technology, and more of it every day. The challenge for us is harnessing it and weaving it into everything we do.

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Making vision a reality

Christchurch City Council’s vision for its post-earthquake, 21st century incarnation was simple. A city of opportunity for all, open to new ideas, new people and new ways of doing things – a city where anything is possible.

Smart Christchurch kicked off in 2016 to carry out rapid proof-of-concept projects that would make that vision a reality.

We’re using 21st century technology to promote Christchurch as an exemplar city, make life better for the people who live here and showcase solutions so that they can be replicated by others.

The city’s digital twin

Three-dimensional models of Christchurch CBD created from flyovers in 2010 and 2018 are being used for consultation purposes, augmented reality projects and visualisations of the CBD pre- and post-quake and by members of the public who want to explore a digital version of the city.

Smart Christchurch also helped develop a prototype that is designed to make the creation of digital twins as easy as possible. The Christchurch digital twin lets multiple agencies share information about the city and its assets and provides a visual representation in time and space.

Dense network of seismic sensors

Smart Christchurch is changing the Christchurch narrative from one of seismic risk to one of seismic resilience. The council is now in its second year of trialling EQRNet, a network of 150 earthquake monitoring sensors installed at council facilities around the city and some traffic signal boxes.

Developed by Canterbury Seismic Instruments (CSI), the sensors measure ground shaking and provide critical, real-time information for building owners, leaseholders, engineers and Civil Defence during a seismic event. EQRNet works on a subscription basis, eliminating the high capital expenditure outlay from building owners.

While seismic instrumentation in itself is not a new idea, CSI’s lessons from the Canterbury, Seddon and Kaik¯oura earthquakes have been instrumental in its development.

There’s never been such a dense network of seismic sensors in an urban environment before. We’re placing the sensors in locations where we have critical infrastructure, and it will see massive benefits in terms of minimising disruption to business, schools and the general public after an event.

Businesses and decision makers are able to get information straight away and prioritise resources accordingly. That means there’s no guessing or drawn-out process to determine whether the building is safe to occupy.

Open data, open platform, open city

We want Christchurch to have a reputation as one of the world’s most connected cities, and Smart Christchurch is fostering that. This involves creating a reliable platform for city data that’s easy to access and completely secure.

Christchurch SmartView

Smart Christchurch has started aggregating and visualising data in real time, and Christchurch SmartView is an accessible web platform that pulls it all together from a range of sources. Essentially, it is a way of putting the city in people’s pockets.

The data available on SmartView includes parking, cycle counters, bus network, scooters, cycle tracks, news, events, weather and other environmental and amenities data about Christchurch. All of this makes it easier for residents and visitors to navigate the city and improves wayfinding and access to transport.

It also lets us generate valuable insights. As we build all this aggregated data, it makes it easier for the council to plan effectively and find ways to be more efficient in how we go about our everyday business.

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Christchurch Free

Smart Christchurch is also looking at Christchurch Free seamless wifi in hot spots ranging from the airport to the sea. This will provide access to the digital information required to make people’s experience of Christchurch an enriching and connected one, particularly where communities come together and for those who have just touched down.

Inspiring fresh thinking

The programme is committed to creating sustainable innovation not just at Christchurch City Council but at the city level. If we can demonstrate how effective these 21st century approaches to things like crowdsourcing data, participatory democracy and citizen science really are, it will have a flow-on effect across the city.

Networking and collaboration are other big factors. Smart Christchurch initiatives are designed to be shared with other organisations and cities in New Zealand so Kiwi ratepayers don’t have to pay more than once for the same innovation.

Wherever possible, we work with local innovators and collaborate with partners in all sectors – it lets us make the most of others’ experiences and funding opportunities.

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