Whangarei – NZ first true Smart City

What is a Smart City?

A smart city is a city which provides high quality of living and offering great experiences without major negative impacts on the environment. A smart city addresses all senses: visual, audio, smell, touch and probably soon articifical intelligence (AI).

AI, deep learning and IoT, internet of things, are huge buzz words at the moment. They constitute an exciting opportunity to make our city smarter, create jobs for Northlanders and put us on the global map, as the first Smart City in NZ.  In this blog I am exploring some possibilities to achieve this in a reasonably short period of time for a small capital investment with high potential returns for all people of Whangarei.

How Whangarei could become NZ’s first Smart City?


With the upgrade of Whangarei’s 5,000 street lights to LED energy saving lights there is a huge opportunity to transform NZ’s Northern most town to the first truly sustainable Smart City in Aotearoa. A proof of concept – Smart Town Basin could be a starting point to explore what’s feasible, affordable and delivers value to the general public.

In the Nordic countries of Europe there has been a trend for more sustainable living for a long time, see an example of a Smart City manifesto.


In addition to achieve better energy and environmental sustainability, the LED street light upgrade could be used to upgrade to other digital, transformative technologies as well. This could include Wifi (for businesses (B2C, B2B), the general public, tourists), enabling driver assisted technologies, traffic management solutions. Whangarei District Council (WDC) as the streetlight asset owner could not only benefit from the EECA and NZTA subsidized LED street light upgrade, but could generate commercial revenue from making their infrastructural assets available for organizations. These could include local businesses, universities trialing new technologies (like V2x – vehicle to infrastructure/ cloud/ vehicle communication to guide vehicles through an urban environment).


Fig: Smart City concept (Nordic Built/ McKay Electrical – 2017)


A sustainable Smart City approach can assist with multiple challenges

  1. saving energy and being environmentally responsible (LED streetlights, traffic lights, advertising lights etc)
  2. finding a car park or renting your space for others to park during busy times


Fig: example of NZ’s Parkable app to address parking issues

3. Navigating your vehicle safely and congestion free through Whangarei


Fig: V2X explained by M. Alam (2016)

4. Providing high-speed, low cost internet connectivity to multiple stakeholders (e.g. business owners, tourists)

5. Promote Whangarei as an innovation hub to technology developers from Northland & elsewhere to design & test their solutions on network level. This is normally quite complicated and involved. By providing an infrastructure platform Whangarei could potentially become like an app store for Smart City applications. This is exciting from a talent development and attraction point of you, but also as a revenue opportunity for the council as the asset owner. The revenue generated could be invested in better education, health or other common good investments.

6. Utilize the infrastructure as a backbone for emergency responses. Typically when emergencies like storm, flooding, earth quake happen, the mobile network gets overloaded, the suggested LoRa/ meshed Wifi network can be used as a fall back contingency as a service for the public good.


Smart Art

As part of free, one hour fast speed internet to anyone, we could ask if the users are tourists, where they come from, what they plan to do in Whangarei. This could help to support our tourist needs better and thereby create more jobs and better paid jobs for locals, just as one example of using the then available data/ informatics smarter for the benefits of all people of Whangarei. This is seen very complimentary to the Hundertwasser Arts Initiative.

Smart Education

Free educational services like massive open online courses could be offered to motivated Northlanders and future proving ourselves for decades to come. Cool , specifically designed learning areas could be set up and transform Whangarei from a city more known for lower paid jobs to a knowledge worker community. With digital technologies it is possible to live in a stunning place like Northland, but service national or global customers. The best of both worlds.


Let’s start with a proof of concept of Smart City approaches in Whangarei now, and make our home a safer, more fun and productive environment to live in. My suggestion is to transform the town basin area into the most digtized, safe and environmentally friendly smart city area in Aotearoa.

What does this mean to me:

  • convert 50 streetlights with EECA/NZTA funding to LED streetlights
  • have 10 streetlight poles fitted with fast speed internet capability and smart sensors
  • sign-up local business owners like ASB Bank, Pak n Save, Mokaba, Quay Restaurant, Whangarei Art & Clock Museum, Kids playground to trial this digital technology and develop business opportunities which benefit Northlanders and visitors to the region
  • stop debating what we should do, and just get on with it and do it. The time is ready now to lead Whangarei into the digital future. This small proof of concept is seen as the start of showing innovative leadership in Tai Tokerau.


Please get in touch if you like to discuss, disagree or suggest awesome additional ideas of Whangarei as NZ’s first truly Smart City.


Disclosure:  Martin Knoche has no stakes in any of the above mentioned organisations,  but with the N3T business he is developing smart, sustainable transport solutions for Tai Tokearau & beyond. Digital Infrastructure is critical to achieve those goals.


Our vision:

Tai Tokerau, the most sustainable region in the Southern Hemisphere by 2025.



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