‘Sustainable’ NZ hosts first Digital Earth Summit

Auckland needs to move towards becoming a competitive, international city, says councillor

The first Digital Earth Summit on sustainability is being held in Auckland this week (27-30 August).

Digital Earth is a global initiative launched in 1998 by former US vice president Al Gore. It aims to capture data and information resources from all over the world to create a virtual 3D model of Earth, and to monitor, measure, and forecast natural and human activity on the planet, says Richard Simpson, Auckland City councillor and chairman of the Digital Earth Society of New Zealand.

Simpson also sits on the executive committee for the International Society for the Digital Earth (ISDE), along with Al Gore and scientists from NASA, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and UNESCO, among others.

At the fourth Digital Earth international symposium held in Tokyo last year, Simpson suggested that Auckland should be the location for the first Digital Earth Summit. The committee agreed after considering a number of different suggestions from Paris, Canberra and Hong Kong.

The chosen nation had to fulfil certain criteria, such as having a relatively high uptake of technology, good infrastructure and embracing the four sustainability areas at all levels of government: environmental, economic, social and cultural sustainability, says Simpson.

Simpson sees this first summit as a chance for New Zealand to become the base for future Digital Earth Summits and a world exemplar for sustainability.

“We need to find a way to couple technology with sustainability,” he says. “Sustainability is about survival, not for this generation, but for the next and there after.”

He says we have been very short-sighted in the way we have used technology to “thrash the planet”.

Auckland needs to move towards becoming a competitive, international city, says Simpson, who is driving the Digital Auckland project, which aims to have the whole city broadband-wired by 2010.

“It is in the greater interests of New Zealand for Auckland to be taking a hard lead towards becoming an innovative technology hub. These initiatives and of course Digital Earth and projects such as asTTle (Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning) are critical for New Zealand’s future as a leading knowledge economy in the 21st century,” he says.

Auckland has been rated the fifth best city in the world in terms of quality of life, according to Mercer’s annual Worldwide Quality of Living Survey. And there is an opportunity to make Auckland the first — for example by participating and collaborating in the Digital Earth initiative, Simpson says.

“We must re-orientate the city towards a network of transport hubs, and away from the anachronisms of thinking in the old paradigm of just road hierarchies,” he says.

According to Simpson these hubs should be 24x7 retail centres, facilitated with broadband, possibly wi-fi, and hot-desks.

“We must encourage people to start their days online at home doing their emails [in order to] soften congestion and better utilise the existing infrastructure,” he says.

The speakers at the Digital Earth Summit include Prime Minister Helen Clark, Auckland University’s Peter Hunter (the Physiome Project) and John Hattie (the asTTle project), as well as international speakers such as Tetsuya Sato, Guo Huadong and Ian Dowman.

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