Smart City advice for China from a former NY deputy mayor

November 01, 2018 10:42
New York offers valuable lessons on how data can be used to better manage a city. Photo: AFP

This is the third part of my discussions with Stephen Goldsmith, former deputy mayor of New York City and co-author of the book The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance.

The first part talks about his experience in building a smart city in New York. Part two discusses further how data can help improve the efficiency of city management.

HKEJ: Do you believe that when there is a sufficient amount of data, it can tell us what’s happening in our cities?

Goldsmith: Of course, you can see some real patterns when you have enough data, in terms of transportation, air quality, construction quality, etc. You can make decisions based on these data and monitor how the trend changes in real time. But only data is not enough. We don’t want to turn government into robots. Instead, governments can make use of helpful information and new decision-making tools to do a better job.

Q: How do you define “smart” in smart city?

A: I think “smart” is the behavior of a group. Like how do you use data to solve your problems? What information can you obtain from Internet of Things sensors? How do you make predictions and analysis? How do you improve work efficiency using data? How do you restructure the workflow? How do you use social media tools to listen to local citizens? How do you recognize and tackle a crisis using smart tools?

Why can't the government respond to customers just like Alibaba or Amazon? Why can’t we offer customized services? Why can’t we solve problems before people raise questions? All these are possible. The government should focus on how to respond in a better way. Smart city can utilize data in various areas and each aspect can find a digital solution.

Q: What advice do you have for smart cities in China?

A: First, they have to think clearly the data structure of a smart city, such as smart driving, censoring devices, high-speed network, etc. The road map and source of capital for these. Second, they have to decide what problems they want to solve, identify what problems can be solved with data, and then draw insights with data technology.

Q: Some say government is both a player and a judge in a smart city. How can it balance these two roles?

A: The situation in China and the US is pretty much the same. In the US, most data work is owned by local governments, and they are responsible for data privacy, security and authorization for access. Nevertheless, the balancing act is very difficult.

Q: You have a legal background, and there are many legal issues in connecting data. Is that very hard to deal with?

A: It’s extremely difficult. Some anonymous data is very easy to obtain. But if we are talking about issues concerning children, for example, more information sharing will help social workers to help these families, and such data can’t be anonymous. It’s tricky to decide who can access these data and under which conditions.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 31

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Venture Partner of Sequoia Capital China, former head of the data committee and vice president at Alibaba Group.