I booked a flight to Wellington and a Masterton motel. Next minute my smart phone was wishing me a great visit to the Wairarapa … it’s a little unnerving, but companies are not the only ones making increasingly smart use of technology.

Wellington City Council initiatives

Wellington City Council is also embracing technical innovation for the benefit of its citizens. Projects include:

  • Pedestrians — gaining quality data on the number and movement of cycles and pedestrians to understand how streets are working for people, as well as how people interact with public transport. This enables transport planners to understand more than the number of cars travelling through an area.
  • Birds — supporting  university scientists, Zealandia and companies to use artificial intelligence to translate recordings of bird calls to the numbers and type of birds in an area. This helps the Council to assess the effectiveness of funding and support for predator free Wellington initiatives.
  • City VR —using a metropolitan scale virtual reality environment to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by the city, including accommodating growth, climate change and better integrating planning processes.

Innovation Officer Sean Audain says these initiatives change the Council’s relationship with citizens and businesses. Good data allows Council to engage more continuously with communities and be more proactive, rather than responding to issues. There are also much greater opportunities for the public to access information collected by the Council, promoting more informed and equal dialogue between members of the community and the Council.

The Council is already collaborating with a number of other agencies. Sean says there are opportunities for the councils in the Wellington region to work together on any really good problem. Examples of collaborations occurring with other agencies include:

  • Stadium injuries — working with the Capital & Coast District Health Board to understand where injuries in the stadium are happening
  • Anticipating alcohol-related issues depending on the weather— looking at how liquor enforcement patterns change with the weather (and therefore what bins will need emptying, where broken glass is likely to be, and where alcohol-related harm is likely to be occurring)
  • Support on the street — measuring the issue of begging allows the Council to be better informed and to help to provide a multi-agency response.

The future of council work

What does this emphasis on automation mean for the future of work in a council? It’s highly likely there will be fewer jobs involving manual collection and management of data, as data is handled increasingly efficiently by machines rather than people.

Future council jobs are likely to have a much greater focus on responding to the data. Here are some examples.

  • Mapping trees — Wellington City Council recently mapped all the trees in the city using artificial intelligence. Sean says this is ordinarily a very boring job for a person that takes a very long time.
  • Inspecting buildings — drone technology is currently used by building owners and construction companies in many cities to monitor progress on completion of buildings. However, use of drones could also reduce the number of on-the-ground building inspections required by Council staff, which would both reduce costs and speed up consent processes.
  • Testing water quality — ‘submarines’ in Wellington harbour can be used to pick up the presence of Triptophan in the water, which is used as an indicator of recreational water quality. This technology drastically cuts water quality testing time, allowing water quality information to be quickly conveyed to citizens considering a dip, rather than finding out afterwards that it wasn’t safe.

Resilience to natural hazards

Wellington’s Smart City approach was a significant advantage when responding to natural hazards such as the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 14 November 2016. As Sean Audain wrote in his 17 May 2017 article, “the following days involved the assessment of over 1600 multilevel commercial and residential buildings, the cordoning of streets, the evacuation of residents from affected properties and the demolition of the more severely damaged buildings”.

The use of 3D technology enabled staff to show decision makers that the cordoning and closure of the entire central business district wasn’t necessary, saving disruption to lives and loss of economic activity. It also enabled high quality information to be provided to the public across council boundaries. Over the longer term, this technology has enabled the recovery team to understand the patterns of earthquake damage.

Thanks to Wellington City Council Innovation Officer Sean Audain for discussing these initiatives with me. For more information about Wellington’s smart city work please contact Sean at sean.audain@wcc.govt.nz