HK should follow Singapore to export smart city experience

July 05, 2023 09:22

As of April this year, around 5,160 unique machine-readable datasets from the government, public and private sectors of Hong Kong were available to the public for free, an increase of more than 50% over 2018. Massive data is the source of intelligence for smart cities. Today, with a worldwide growth in the adoption of data and information technology in city development and management, aiming at transforming urban cities into smart and sustainable ones, building smart cities has become a common objective globally. It is timely for the Hong Kong government to leverage on this global trend and use our years of experience to expand export opportunities to boost the economy, and at the same time increase high-quality employment opportunities for local talents.

Regarding the use of data for smart cities, those with spatial elements are particularly critical. Singapore has recently demonstrated how to make good use of these resources to serve both internal and external needs.

The Singapore Geospatial Master Plan was developed by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) in 2018 to serve the business community and citizens through effective spatial decision-making, planning and operations; and expanding and deepening the use of relevant technologies and data to create a thriving business environment conducive to productivity and innovation. In addition, it cultivates a skillful workforce in understanding and application of geospatial data to improve their everyday lives and increase competitiveness.

Over the past 10 years, SLA has produced the renowned Virtual Singapore – a real-time interactive three-dimensional (3D) map that combines details of buildings, streets, infrastructure, green spaces and almost every aspect of life, from demographic data about where elderly people are living, where businesses, shopping malls and restaurants are, and the schedules of public transport, to benefit not only citizens and businesses, but also emergency relief teams in the event of natural disasters.

In recent years, Singapore has gone a step further and created business potentials by sharing these experiences with other countries. For example, in May this year, the SLA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on geospatial technology and infrastructure with the Estonian Land Board under the Ministry of Environment, paving the way for deeper knowledge sharing in geodesy, precise positioning infrastructure, 3D mapping, remote sensing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data interoperability to improve capabilities in productivity and environmental sustainability of both countries. In June, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) signed another MoU with the Seoul Metropolitan Government of Korea, a renewal to the previous agreement signed in 2008. The updated version covers a number of smart mobility initiatives. These include promoting a pedestrian-centric and "car-lite" lifestyle which encourages cycling and walking, reduces driving, implements car-free zones, with a hope to improve the city's sustainability and livability.

It can be seen that Singapore is actively seeking opportunities to export its smart city experience, not only to Mainland China, ASEAN and neighbouring regions, but also to the European continent.

I think the key success factor of Singapore lies in its holistic manner in digital transformation which drives the whole government to work towards the same goal. At the same time, being a small economy, Singapore is able to turn itself into one of the world’s best laboratories for digital solutions. The Virtual Singapore is one example, another is self-driving taxis, Singapore led in adopting the service as early as 2016 which grabbed headlines. These achievements made it more convincing when Singapore tries to export the services.

It is expected that Hong Kong's post-pandemic economic recovery will take time, so the government should be more proactive in maintaining a leading position in the global trend of smart cities development which will bring new and huge opportunities to a wide range of sectors. We have made well-known achievements in education, transportation, urban renewal, and more. Therefore, the government should take the lead in promoting these to the outside world which will also create better development opportunities for our talents.

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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