How an earthquake helped Christchurch jumpstart smart city efforts

Wed, 2013-09-11 06:05 -- Jesse Berst

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste" goes the old joke. So is an earthquake. “The rebuilding of Christchurch following the 2011 earthquakes presents an extraordinary opportunity to fit the city with sensors and hardware, to collect data that will improve the functionality of the city and the lives of its residents,” explains Roger Dennis, founder of New Zealand's Sensing City initiative.

I suspect that many cities -- are you listening Detroit? -- have problems that create the perfect excuse to bring in smart technology. Indeed, many of the post-Sandy resiliency efforts in the Northeast United States have technology at their core. If you are going to rebuild anyway, why rebuild dumb?

Incidentally, the first small step in Christchurch is a crowd-sourced effort to monitor water quality using smartphones. Called "Little Water Sensor," it provides an important reminder. Smartphones are not just a place to deliver apps to citizen. They can also be used as a sensor network -- and their owners as volunteer labor. -- Jesse Berst

The water sensing project that allows residents in Christchurch to monitor their own water quality is the first of three sensing projects the city has planned. Next up is a pilot focused on communicating real-time information on a huge road construction project, to be followed by a sensing initiative that seeks to understand how environmental variables affect respiratory illness.

Eventually what has been dubbed "Sensing City" will collect data on everything from traffic flows to air pollution, according to an article at TheConstructionIndex.


Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.