Collaborative and local: Wellington’s Safe City Living Lab

By on 8 November, 2017

Wellington is New Zealand’s centre of government and the world’s southernmost capital city. It is also the country’s cultural capital, and the third most populous urban area in New Zealand. Image provided by Wellington City Council.

This article was written by Wellington City Council and originally published in the Aug/Sept 2017 Issue of Position Magazine (out now in print).

By integrating real-time datasets and maps, a council has found a way to correlate day-to-day street activity with larger social trends.

At a time when concerns with alcohol and drug abuse were rising, and the reports of homelessness and begging grew, the council of New Zealand’s capital city sought to find an intelligent and timely way to respond. The solution was data: a more informed approach was able to support evidence-based future planning and real-time response to local incidences.

Wellington City Council’s Safe City Living Lab initiative came to life in in 2014, when the council signed a collaboration agreement with NEC, a Japanese multinational provider of IT services. The project began with the two organisations exploring how technology could improve city services, create economic growth, reduce environmental impact and enhance community wellbeing.

The council and NEC facilitated workshops to co-design an approach with over 100 stakeholders from agencies such as NZ Police, NZ Fire Service, Capital and Coast DHB and Regional Public Health as well as social service providers, residents, retailers and agencies working with the city’s vulnerable, including members of the homeless population.

The workshop identified a common interest in developing a mechanism for evidence-based future planning and a more informed situational tactical response to local incidences and wider issues affecting Wellington.

A key element in addressing these challenges was identified as improved data and information sharing, including mapping and the integration of numerous data sources. This added significant value to situational awareness and the ability to respond and plan. It was also identified that new technology, such as video and acoustic analytics, could assist with data collection and provide new insight into day-to-day street-level behaviour all while being tested in a low-risk, cost effective manner.

The Living Lab approach

The Safe City Living Lab project aimed to put the collaborative approach to good use by ensuring the whole of the city can benefit from the final solution. Viewed with this perspective, the Living Lab provides the opportunity to use existing assets and sources of information in a streamlined and integrated way; coupled with new sensory and analytical methodologies to inform future planning and delivery of programmes and services for the city.

The proof of concept also enabled us to test a number of analytical sensors include glass breaking, detection of beggars/rough sleepers and behavioural changes. It also provided a situational view in the form of a GIS map overlaid with real-time alerts/detections and shared data from external partners. The collaborative approach meant that customisable solutions were necessary. Individual user account settings were able to provide individualised data access and ensure privacy principles were upheld whilst maximising the effectiveness of the system.

A platform for inter-agency collaboration

The Living Lab allows for the collection and analysis of data, sharing of data between agencies and integration of third party data sources to assist with evidence-based planning and more effective real time responses through a new data platform. Known as the Smart Board, it integrates sources from existing internal Council datasets, partner agencies and data from external web based databases, including the national graffiti database, Stop Tags.

For incidents requiring a real-time response Living Labs is able to ensure appropriate support is in place and informed. For example, visual sensors can be used to detect occurrences of begging and can notify the Outreach team via email of the incident. This will enable them to quickly connect with the individual to ensure they are connected to appropriate support services.

While the visualisation of discrete datasets is essential for quantitative analysis, the platform provides a facility for the same data to be visualised according to specific applications. Heat maps are also useful for looking at trends over time. Image supplied by Wellington City Council.

The platform innovative data visualisations to support tactical and evidence-based planning and incident response. This includes heat maps, clusters, individual points and time slider functions which can inform future resource deployment and urban design. It can also be used to overlay multiple and shared data sets to assist with identifying trends and patterns. Through the visualisation tool, the user is able to view data on a scale from city wide right down to specific incident points and view incident metadata. It also enables more specific spatial analysis through searching in defined geographic areas and/or within a defined buffer zone from a centralised point.

The capabilities of the Living Lab are set to expand as the project continues to evolve. The next steps include developing a business intelligent function which will enable in-depth analysis of the data and trends highlighted through the Smart Board. This platform will also enable other smart city projects to be connected together providing shared benefits. The existing visualisation function will also be developed to include three dimensional mapping and a virtual reality component where the user will be able to ‘walk’ through the streets of Wellington as well as view the landscape with a bird’s-eye view. Eventually the platform will be able to provide behaviour prediction tools useful for looking at how people interact with spaces and better inform proposed urban design changes.

An award-winning partnership

The Living Lab project is an award winner. In 2016 the year the project won the New Zealand Supreme Spatial Excellence Award, and Community and the New Zealand Engagement Spatial Excellence Award. In April 2017, this year the project received further accolades, winning the Community Engagement Award at the Asia Pacific Spatial Excellence Awards in Sydney. It went on to receive the overall JK Barrie Spatial Excellence Award, which is awarded to the best overall project in the Asia Pacific region.

Aside from the unique combination of technology that brings the solution together it is believed the success of the Safe City Living Lab comes down to the strength of Wellington City Council and NEC’s community’s partnership approach – which is one of true open collaboration and co-design to achieve positive community outcomes. The wave of modern technology that can be applied to make our cities safer and smarter holds great promise. Through partnerships there is a fantastic opportunity to practically apply and field-test these technologies so that other cities can benefit from these experiences. Wellington City Council sees the Safe City Living Lab as a medium for ongoing innovation and are keen to extend an invitation for other cities to engage and share learnings.

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