Citizen participation key to Hong Kong smart city plan: expert

December 22, 2017 12:23
In the process of developing a smart city plan, people need to be empowered in order to raise support from society, Dr. Winnie Tang said. Photo: GIS/HKEJ

The government has unveiled its Smart Hong Kong initiative in the policy address of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Several schemes to move towards the goal have been put forward, with HK$700 million in funding allocated for related projects.

Dr. Winnie Tang, honorary professor in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Hong Kong, recently sat down with Hong Kong Economic Journal to discuss what Hong Kong can learn from other countries in developing smart city initiatives.

HKEJ: How would you define "smart city"?

Tang: In my view, the term "smart city" relates to the use of ICT (information and communication technologies) to improve the quality of life and city services, making the city more livable and creating new job opportunities.

Worldwide, countries developing smart city initiatives set their own metrics and goals. For example, Denmark wants to create a "zero emission city" by 2025. Sweden established a program to eliminate all traffic-related deaths by 2025. Dubai focuses on improving its gross national happiness index, an indicator measuring people’s happiness. And Singapore is set to be a global leader in "Smart Government".

For Hong Kong, in developing a smart city plan, the city's low tax regime, established infrastructure and advanced university education all contribute to a suitable environment for cultivating "smart talents".

Further, the government can do more to fuel smart city development, such as by installing free Wi-Fi hotspots, promoting open data policies, and encouraging private enterprises to share data.

Smart Transportation

HKEJ: What do you mean by "smart talents"?

Tang: As I always say, the ideal format of development should embrace the 4Ps: Public, Private, People and Partnership. Among the four elements, People is the most important. In the process of developing a smart city plan, people need to be empowered in order to raise support from society.

The smart city plan should be more than simply importing talents and improving education. We need to stimulate the public to participate in it.

HKEJ: In your view, what should be done to develop "smart transportation", a top focus in Hong Kong’s smart city plan?

Tang: "Smart transportation", in general, consists of intelligent parking and traffic systems, and some of them have been rolled out in Hong Kong as well. There are by now around 40 car parks offering real-time parking vacancy information. And for smart traffic lights, transit authorities can use data analytics to forecast traffic condition and customize traffic light schedules.

In the medium to long term, the government should consider consolidating all real-time transit information from the public and private sectors into one aggregate platform. This would enable the optimization of mobility services planning and operation.

Open Data

HKEJ: Why can’t we get access to data on traffic conditions via navigation platforms?

Tang: In fact, the government should have the data to do that, but they have their concern on whether to open it to the public or not. There is a software that is capable of sharing real-time transit information to the public. For instance, TomTom’s application consolidates transit data from Google Maps and Android, providing real-time data sourced from different platforms including Apple, BMW, Nissan and Uber.

For Hong Kong, local telecoms can indicate areas with large crowds based on mobile phone signals. However, according to current regulation standards, telecoms are not allowed to open up such anonymous data, leaving us with no tools to improve the crowd management program.

HKEJ: Is there a similar regulation on open data in other countries? How can this issue be addressed?

Tang: Several cities have taken an active approach to open up data. In Los Angeles, the government appointed a "chief data officer", responsible for promoting open data of the city departments and various private enterprises.

New York had already passed the Open Data Law back in 2012, which mandates all public data to be made available on a single web platform by the end of 2018. Also, corporations and organizations need to issue regular updates on datasets for use by the public, so they are really useful in improving the efficiency of city operations.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 22

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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