Smart City New Zealand: Digitally Connecting Communities with Neighbourly

Ian Apperley

One of the aims of creating a Smart City is to digitally connect its residents to each other so that they can communicate seamlessly across neighbourhoods, suburbs and the city proper. Neighbourly is a New Zealand homegrown application that was launched late last year and is growing rapidly. It’s a great free service that is address-validated to increase security and trust.

In the Wellington City area there are already well over 2000 residents signed up and interacting. The website is similar to a Facebook style, without the constant barrage of advertising and other nonsense that goes with it. Residents need to be address verified, which involves Neighbourly sending letters with a unique code in a similar way to Trade Me.

Once address-verified you can access a lot more on the site and it’s structured to be community friendly.

Their are community noticeboards, a Crime & Safety section, buy, sell, exchange, free stuff, lost & found, recommendations, rent, hire, borrow, community events and community groups.

You can message your neighbours securely and maps show which neighbours are part of the community. Content can be configured to just show your neighbourhood or all the surrounding neighbourhoods. Only address verified neighbours can see aspects of your profile and you can choose to display as little or as much as you want too including contact details.

Those who are community minded can apply to be their suburb “Leads,” which allows them to moderate discussion, edit the suburb’s details, and be a point of contact for people who need help.

The entire site encourages people to interact in a digitally connected way. Internationally, these kind of sites have ultimately driven much larger resident interaction with local government. In some cases that is seen as a threat, having a community site that can rally several hundred people at once on local issues can be concerning for dinosaurs in local council.

I’ve spoken to a couple of the councillors in Wellington about what they think, which is generally supportive. They think that anything that is going to raise community interaction with each other and the council to be a good thing. There are still some luddites in the woodwork who see Neighbourly and other similar initiatives (Loomio) as off limits because they are too “commercial” or for other dinosaur reasons.

The reality is that Neighbourly is growing at a good rate of knots and from a cynic such as myself, I think it is quite valuable. There is no doubt that at some point the advertisements will appear and, talking to the creators, this is likely to happen just to keep the service alive. In other words, the creators aren’t in this to become millionaires, they are doing it because they see a gap, support Smart City thinking, and just love the buzz of it.

The reality is that the website is not run by the council, it’s run by the community, and it supports another way of messaging entire suburbs about what is going on in the city. So council officers who are opposed, in my opinion, should be relegated to rubber stamping paperwork and managing archaic processes, because they are just standing in the way of progress.

Rotorua District Council has been brave and signed a partnership with Neighbourly. It believes that service supports their long-term vision and strategy; “by promoting community engagement on Neighbourly alongside other initiatives to improve communication among Rotorua residents, neighbourhoods and wider communities.”

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick says the site “provides an excellent platform for the council to support its Rotorua 2030 vision, in particular its focus on resilient communities. “Our goal of inclusive, liveable and safe neighbourhoods will be further supported by our use of Neighbourly,” she says. “We believe that as a social media platform it will give our community the confidence to be more involved and form stronger connections with one another, in turn helping us achieve our community’s vision for the future.” – Source

Neighbourly is the first service that we’ve seen in New Zealand that looks at creating those digital communities. While there is a lot more work to be done, it’s a fantastic start. Councils, for example, need to consider how they can promote free internet access within communities so that, where there is a lower socio-economic group, it too can participate.

In the meantime, sign up, get verified, and start communicating with your neighbours.

Ian Apperley is the director at Isis Group and blogs at Whatisitwellington

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