Technology alone won’t turn Hong Kong into a smart city

Wendell Chan says if the city is to be a role model, the government must remember that sound urban planning, and truly smart air and water policies are necessary

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 December, 2015, 11:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 December, 2015, 11:53am

One of the aims of the new Innovation and Technology Bureau is to help turn Hong Kong into the leading smart city in the region. While this aim is welcome, the government must also remember that a smart city is made up of more than just technology.

A sustainable city, digital city, eco-city, green city, liveable city and knowledge city are all forms of smart cities, but they are also very different from one another. A smart city should contain elements of a smart economy, and consider mobility, the environment, people, standard of living and governance. This is in line with the UN’s concept in which smart cities should be “inclusive, resilient, safe, sustainable and more connected”.

READ MORE: A new tech bureau can help Hong Kong get on board the smart-city trend

We need an eco-smart city. Vancouver, for example, has a plan to transform itself into the world’s “greenest city” by 2020. It lists 10 goals, from reducing per capita water consumption by 33 per cent to cutting waste disposal by 50 per cent. These objectives cannot be met solely through technological changes, but with a combination of urban planning, policy implementation and behavioural change. Smart city development is also vital for climate mitigation and adaptation measures.

Hong Kong can learn from successful cases around the world. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is a network of more than 75 cities, including Hong Kong, committed to addressing climate change. In particular, it facilitates dialogue on innovative action.

READ MORE: To promote smart cities, governments should get out of the way

Beyond technological prowess, the Hong Kong government needs to consider a number of factors in its urban planning, including:

Water and energy efficiency and security. Electricity generation for buildings accounts for over 60 per cent of Hong Kong’s greenhouse gas emissions, and almost 75 per cent of our local water is imported from the Dongjiang. Do building codes meet the most stringent energy and water standards? Do buildings/districts have their own collection and recovery systems?

Green spaces. Aside from enhancing our living environment, green spaces can help cool surrounding areas and filter air and noise pollution. Are there areas to escape from city life?

Mobility. Private vehicles are the largest contributors to congestion, and roadside pollution frequently fails to comply with our air quality objectives. Are there enough bike lanes and pedestrian zones?

Resilience to climate change. Hong Kong is vulnerable to climate change, such as the risk of flooding and landslides. Are we ready?

Sustainability. Hong Kong imports most of its goods and encourages consumption. Can the city become low-carbon? Are resources being recovered?

What kind of smart city will Hong Kong be? Will it become a role model for the Asia-Pacific region, or even the world? I have reservations, but I am hopeful the government can prove me wrong.

Wendell Chan is project officer at Friends of the Earth (HK)