Can smart cities improve living conditions?

Over 55% of people around the globe live in urban areas, up from 33% in 1960. In New Zealand that rate is even higher: 87% of us living in urban areas, up from 75% in 1960. Urbanisation has been steadily rising for many decades as cities attract people who want to chase job opportunities, start businesses, attend universities, and meet new people.

See the World Bank’s urban living rates for every country

But with massive agglomeration comes massive consumption. Cities use huge quantities of energy and emit high levels of carbon. They create enormous amounts of waste and air pollutants. They are often tangled with traffic and hard to move around. All these issues make cities hard to run, causing headaches for local and national governments.

The Internet of Things can help cities to save money, save time and improve the lives of all the people who live in them.

Lower costs, better living

How do you make a city ‘smart’? A smart city uses IoT devices to connect its infrastructure, utilities and services. That might mean city street lighting that dims when nobody’s around and brightens when it sensors movement. It means rubbish bins that send an alert when they’re getting full, so bins don’t overflow in some spots and get needlessly emptied in others. IoT can measure pollution and water quality so both can be improved. It can manage traffic by adjusting traffic lights to match flow, reporting on public transport, and telling drivers where to find car parks.

The benefits of IoT in cities are threefold: they cut costs for cities; reduce energy use and emissions; and they can improve the living experience for the city’s residents. Research by PWC estimates:

  • Smart lighting can reduce lighting costs by up to 30% and network maintenance costs by up to 20%
  • Smart bins can reduce waste collection costs by up to 20%.
  • Monitored city vehicles can reduce fuel costs by up to 10%.

Intelligent traffic systems have the potential to increase road capacity by 30%, while smart parking can add an additional 10%. Plus, the report estimates that street monitoring cameras could reduce street crime by as much as 10%, while connected public transport can reduce wait times for everyone using these services.

New Zealand’s award-winning smart cities

New Zealand has been a leader in applying smart city IoT. Our small scale and well-connected population make this a superb testing ground for new technology. This year Hamilton was ranked 21st in the top 50 Smart City Governments in the world, with both Wellington (33rd) and Christchurch (43rd) also making the cut. In August, New Zealand became the first nation in the world to have all our local councils join the Smart Cities Council.

Listen to the Spark IoT podcast episode on Smart Cities

You can see urban IoT in action at Innovation Precinct in Wynyard Quarter, Auckland. It features connected lights to limit energy use, smart benches including charging ports, and smart parking to monitor occupancy and usage. There are also smart bins, which it’s estimated could reduce the number of waste collection runs by up to 80%. This Auckland Transport and Spark collaboration is a finalist in the 2021 SCAPA awards.

Discover more about Auckland’s innovation precinct

Christchurch has rubbish bin sensors and solar-powered bins, connected earthquake sensors and the SmartView app which tracks huge amounts of information about the city. SmartView can help you find a public toilet or drinking fountain, check if a car is stolen or take you on a tour of public street art. In 2020, these initiatives earned Christchurch an IDC Asia Pacific Smart Cities Award (SCAPA) – and SmartView has been nominated for another SCAPA in 2021.

Find out more about Christchurch’s Smart Cities programme

Better city living

Smart cities have the potential to make urban living more appealing and enjoyable for their inhabitants, and this technology can also make cities more cost-effective to run and more sustainable, with lower carbon emissions.

A surprising number of these smart city innovations can also be applied at universities, ports, hospitals, airports and businesses – get in touch with the Spark team today and find out how we can tailor IoT solutions to solve everyday problems in your organisation.

Get involved - be inspired. 

Spotlight Series


Join guest speaker Jannat Maqbool as she explores what New Zealand’s cities and towns of the future could look like and why it matters.

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Innovation Precinct, Wynyard Quarter

The AT Innovation Precinct in Wynyard Quarter is Ground Zero for testing the newest smart ‘things’, as Spark partners with Auckland Transport to bring the future faster.

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Launch & Announcement

8th March

Applications open

15th March to 28th June

Finalists Announced

27th July

Judging Starts

26th August

Winners Announced

4th September

Funding and the 5G Co-Lab testing

September to October

Winners fly to New York