HK transition: From smart-city planning to future-city planning

June 13, 2022 09:30
Photo: Xinhua

In view of the recent radical shift in the geopolitical landscape around the world, a sense of crisis must be felt that what we took for granted might come to a halt, be that caused by an outbreak of war, supply chain disruption, natural disaster or another public health crises. Hong Kong is not immune.

What Hong Kong needs is future-city planning; the current Smart City Blueprint 2.0 is inadequate to warrant a future city that requires resilience, circular sustainability and people participation. The existing Smart City Blueprint focuses on efficiency and the wider adoption of technology – a technocratic approach to boost the economy to achieve higher living standards, but it neglects an important aspect to build on its future readiness.

Since the second half of 2019, the city has seen seismic political and legal transformation, its global finance status has been called into doubt. Though some deem Hong Kong’s financial industry as too big to fail, the fear of being barred from using SWIFT global payments system, and whether it could maintain its peg to the US dollar was examined. None of these has yet to happen, but we should not be comfortable with the status quo.

Jeff Bezos once commented that Amazon would cease to exist in 30 years during the time of unprecedented success at Amazon in 2018. And he urged his employees to think of ways to innovate under this sense of insecurity. Hong Kong should heed this advice – it should never take its current competitiveness for granted. Hong Kong must persist with humility to devise the city’s future planning.

That said, Hong Kong needs not to be in despair given the current challenges, but to use the crises to diversify its economy and reduce overreliance on certain sectors, and thus be less susceptible to the downfall of individual industries.

Our financial service industry contributes to around one-quarter of Hong Kong’s economy, amounting to nearly HKD 600 billion. While it is much needed to maintain as the global financial hub, assiduous efforts must be put into the sector’s development and kept abreast with the upcoming trends in Decentralised Finance (DeFi), securing itself as the only safe and regulated place to do so in the whole Greater China and to become a regional leader.

Emphasis should be placed on rebuilding a more balanced economy, beyond finance and property development. The reindustrialisation initiative advocated by the Government was back in the 2016 Policy Address. New recommendations on how to assist enterprises to move toward a high value-added industry and adopt smart production lines, must be incorporated into future-city planning. In addition, the tourism industry used to contribute to five per cent of Hong Kong’s GDP pre-pandemic, there is much room to grow sustainably now as we are seeing a clearer roadmap to re-open our borders to the world.

The circular economy is not a new concept in Hong Kong but is yet to be widely adopted in business. Through public education, Hong Kong has been successful in raising awareness of the 3R concept – reduce, reuse, and recycle. However, much work is to be done in closing the action-value gap, as Hong Kong is ranked at the top position of daily waste disposal rate per person among Asian cities with around 1.45 kg per capita per day.

Hong Kong has also committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, a decade ahead of Mainland China. To further reduce carbon emissions, public transportation and infrastructure are to learn from Shenzhen which has extensively adopted electric vehicles years ahead. Another way is to raise public awareness on meat consumption, particularly beef, as Hong Kong is among the top meat-eating regions in the world.

The future-city planning should also be people-focused – not only encouraging the use of smart tech for the sake of efficiency but for the interest of workers’ well-being. Some do feel that the interests of workers are at odds with smart tech, where humans and machines are in direct competition. While such a dichotomy is uninformed and unimaginative, the interests of workers should be reassured, and the selective use of smart tech should help humans make better decisions but not instead of or for humans.

Hong Kong people should be able to feel empowered and safe again to participate in the co-creation of the city’s policy, including the marginal population. The future-city planning should include formal and informal ways to rejuvenate the once boisterous civil society and increase inclusive civic engagement to facilitate responsiveness and feedback loops from the public and the Government.

Trepidation about Hong Kong’s resilience and future readiness was not unreasonable. Hong Kong must set aside its pride to navigate through crises and remerge with didactic future-city planning that will allow the city to rise above current challenges, and weather the storms ahead.

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The writer is an independent researcher on global affairs.