Smart city strategy should be sustainable

Dr. Winnie Tang explains why Hong Kong should elevate its smart city strategies if it wants to compete on an international level.

Dr. Winnie Tang

Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong

The government will soon announce the Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong 2.0. It has been two years since the first blueprint was launched, and it is time for us to review the progress and look forward to the future.

The first blueprint contains 70 measures from open data and virtual banking to smart lampposts and Faster Payment System. Take open data as an example. At the end of this year, the government’s open datasets have increased to nearly 4,000. Most of them are machine-readable and connected to geographical locations; this is called “CSDI-ready” and it will ideally promotes innovation by providing valuable data for the development of applications by startups and for research projects.

Teams of One

The data may be shared with the public, but it doesn’t connect to other parts of government. Most departments concentrate on their internal functions and neglect connecting their data with others. This arises from individual departments’ objective of achieving earlier results from information technology rather than allocating resources on collaborating with other departments which may take a longer time to realize the benefits.

The approach towards smart city development among European countries, the United States, and other places are very different from Hong Kong. At the recent Smart City Roundtable organised by the Smart City Consortium, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, KPMG’s Partner of Smart City Group Marcos Chow inspired the audience. He quoted examples of many countries adopting smart city as a sustainable development strategy, which could improve people’s quality of life and protect the environment. Yet, Hong Kong only treats smart city as an individual information technology project, and often focuses on low level – and fragmented – development.

For example, last year, several Finnish universities cooperating with Nokia’s research institute invested US$25.4 million (nearly HK$200 million) to carry out 6G mobile network research. With reference to 5G, which took nine years to develop from research to commercialization, it is expected that 6G will be available in 2027. If the 6G research is successful, Finland will be able to regain its leadership in mobile communication. Advanced telecommunications systems provide a base on which to develop the entire smart city infrastructure. First in 6G means first in smart cities.

Clean future

Today, every country – including China, South Korean, and Japan – is actively pursuing clean energy.

It is reported that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has invested 40 billion yen (approximately HK$2.8 billion) in the R&D of hydrogen as a clean energy, which will be used in next year’s Olympic Games. By that time, the entire Olympic village will be powered by hydrogen, including the village that can accommodate 17,000 people, training centres, and restaurants. There will be 6,000 hydrogen-powered cars, and in Tokyo, there will be a hydrogen refuelling station at 15 minute interval drives between each other.

South Korea followed suit. In October this year, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced a plan to select three cities to test hydrogen for heating and cooling, electricity, and fuelling buses and private cars. The government will spend more than 230 billion won (over HK$1.5 billion) to subsidize vehicles and hydrogen charging facilities. South Korea strives to expand hydrogen fuel to 30% of the country’s cities by 2040; hydrogen is expected to become a new driving force for South Korea’s economy as well.

Clean energy development also drives monitoring of energy use and conversion to cleaner technology sources and battery use that can drive the adoption of other environmentally friendly practices. That’s smart for the whole city.

Building blocks for tomorrow’s government

Other smart city projects like the Dubai government’s full operation of blockchain, which enhances efficiency and promotes industrial development, also hopes to take the lead in the international arena. The blockchain platform, once developed, will serve as a platform for a wide range of smart city data sets.

The above new measures share the same characteristics: they benefit the entire society; they need the cooperation of the government, public and private organisations and the citizens; and they promote economic development. Success begets success. When a city successfully demonstrates its use of innovative technologies, naturally it will have a better chance to export its service and expertise to other places and create new business opportunities.

Hong Kong can do better. First, it can direct government officials to not only develop individual projects. This is a worthy effort – but only a low level, first step effort. A higher level directive, say Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office (PICO), can help to guide data integration (if the private sector doesn’t take it up unilaterally). 

Second, it can invest in next-generation (and next-next generation) technology to provide the underlying infrastructure that the entire community can build a truly smart city on.

I look forward to the forthcoming Blueprint 2.0, which should aim at an integrated, sustainable, and long-term development plan for Hong Kong.

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the author

Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong.