Whanganui’s Climate Change Action Wins 2022 Smart21 Communities Listing

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Whanganui, a city on the North Island of New Zealand, has every reason to be proud of being selected as one of the world’s Smart21 Communities of 2022.

This distinction is not the first time for Whanganui. Every year, from 2013 to 2017, the city has made it on the Intelligent Community Forum’s (ICF) list. In 2016, the city made it to the top seven spots.

This year, 2022, Whanganui made it on the 21 Smart Cities list worldwide again, along with other cities from Canada, Australia, the U.S., Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Brazil, and Greece.

The ICF selects 21 cities to comprise the Smart21 Communities of the Year every year. The selection process is nine-month-long and will conclude when the ICF names the 2022 Intelligent Community of the Year in October at the ICF Summit.

“Economic development agency, Whanganui & Partners, which is funded and follows the strategic direction set by Whanganui District Council, said city initiatives in areas including work, innovation, equality and inclusion were key components of the Whanganui application, but the council’s approach to sustainability and its digital strategy tipped the balance” (Ellis, 2022).

“Following community consultation and discussion, the council declared a climate emergency in 2020 and committed to taking action on climate change” (Ellis, 2022).

“A climate change strategy, written in collaboration with iwi, outlined priorities and goals for the council, including leading by example, working collaboratively, increasing resilience and encouraging everyone in the community to play their part. The strategy was resourced in December 2021 with the appointment of a council climate change advisor” (Ellis, 2022).

“The council’s digital strategy, passed in 2019, built on the early rollout from 2012 of ultrafast fibre, which put Whanganui ahead of most of New Zealand, Whanganui & Partners said. The strategy has an ambitious vision to “harness digital opportunities to empower and enrich our community” (Ellis, 2022).

The ICF based their 21 Smart cities selection on these six critical factors, under two overarching themes of Economic Growth and Social and Cultural Growth: (What Makes, 2015).

  • Connect. The availability of a city’s digital infrastructure it needs for growth. A high-speed connection will create opportunities for employment, education, commerce, information, entertainment, and community participation.
  • Work. The ability of a city to prepare its people for the jobs of the future, giving them a chance to learn or upgrade skills to raise earning capacities for better employment or career opportunities.
  • Innovate or the city’s ability to tap the 80% of all economic growth that comes from developing and using new technology.
  • Engage. Does the city engage with its people for its community’s transformation, using traditional tools and the new generation of digital tools to educate citizens and seek their real involvement in decision-making? It is about giving them a framework for understanding, listening to them and letting them know they have been heard.
  • Include. Or the city pushes back against the deepening inequality delivered by technology due to poverty, lack of education, prejudice, age, disability, or simply where they live.
  • Sustain. It means that the city is taking action toward sustainability goals – water and air quality, reining in human impact on the environment, to improve quality of life and protect communities from climate and natural threats.

The early rollout of the superfast fibre in 2012 has allowed the Whanganui council to build a digital strategy in 2019. The council appointed connected community adviser Jo Buckingham in April 2021 to drive the strategy’s action plan.

Buckingham put together the Smart21 City application with the support of Whanganui & Partners strategic lead capability Lou Tyson Walker.

According to Walker, “Being announced as a smart community means we’re one of 21 global communities that are models for growing local economies, societies and culture, and the things that can really make Whanganui a good place to live, raise whānau, build a career or a business, and bring forward the next generation.” Adding that “Being a smart city is about applying technology to make this city work better, faster, cheaper and all those kinds of things. But ‘intelligent’ means something more: it’s bringing in collaboration in planning and carrying out our innovations and projects” (Ellis, 2022).

The ICF is a global network of cities and regions with a think tank at its centre. Its mission is to help communities in the digital age find a new path to economic development and community growth – one that creates inclusive prosperity, tackles social challenges and enriches the quality of life (Owen, 2022).

The Smart21 Communities of 2022

The Smart21 Communities of 2022 include cities and counties from eight countries (Owen, 2022).

  • Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  • Alexandria Lakes Area, Minnesota, USA
  • Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
  • Binh Duong Smart City, Vietnam
  • Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil
  • Durham Region, Ontario, Canada
  • East Central Region, Minnesota, USA
  • Elefsina, Attica, Greece
  • Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
  • Township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada
  • City of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada
  • Markham, Ontario, Canada
  • New Taipei City, Taiwan
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Prospect, South Australia, Australia
  • Rochester, New York, USA
  • Seat Pleasant, Maryland, USA
  • Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
  • Townsville, Queensland, Australia
  • Whanganui, New Zealand

The ICF’s think tank is an impressive list of influential minds and leaders across various government and business sectors. This includes Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan; Michael Bloomberg, a former New York Mayor and founder of Bloomberg LP, a leading financial news and information services; Suvi Linden, Finland’s former minister of communication; Jim Balsillie, former CEO of BlackBerry smartphone; and Nicola Villa, Global Director of Cisco’s Connected Urban Development program, among other influential personalities (Thought Leaders, 2015).


Ellis, M. (2022, March 17). Climate change approach tips balance for NZ’s only Smart City. NZ Herald. Retrieved from https://www.nzherald.co.nz/whanganui-chronicle/news/climate-change-approach-tips-balance-for-nzs-only-smart-city/BGGETTEKBL6JRZFDYTFTMCVSWM/

What Makes a Community Intelligent? (2015). ICF. Retrieved from https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/method

Owen, M. (2022, February 24). ICF Names the Smart21 Communities of 2022. ICF. Retrieved from https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/icf_names_the_smart21_communities_of_2022

Thought Leaders. (2015). ICF. Retrieved from https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/thought_leaders

PHOTO CREDIT: Whanganui, New Zealand by Ang Wickham – Flickr: Whanganui River to Dublin Street Bridge, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19738474

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