20 March, 2019It’s rare for a panel to be in agreement, but at the ULI’s inaugural Hong Kong Conference on the future of smart city development, everyone felt the government was fully committed to progressing the adoption of technology. While in the past there has been unfavourable comparisons with other Asian cities and a sense that Hong Kong is falling behind, its vision is now synonymous with the term ‘smart’. The recent Budget Announcement and the Smart City Blueprint provide the framework, funding and initiatives to realize the adoption of technology through growth in innovation, research and development.
The discussion covered a lot of ground on how to future-proof Hong Kong; from the cashless economy, to creating and better using space, the need to improve ICT infrastructure and data crowdsourcing from social media to decode behavioural patterns that can help the city adapt to its citizens. For a long time, we thought that the components of a smart city were sensors, cameras and analytics software. We forgot about the most important element, the citizen. Through interaction with technology, the data we are collecting is telling us exactly what they want from their city.
Currently, the Hong Kong government has an open source sharing website, but there is more data available. As the Smart City Blueprint moves forward, it needs to become clear how the data collected in smart assets will be stored, shared and accessed by city stakeholders for use. A lamp post’s data set, for example, could detect pollution levels, car movements and pedestrian footfall, which if there was closer collaboration with the private sector, could deploy resources and expertise to engineer smart solutions to everyday urban challenges.
It works the other way around too. The data that private sector companies collect would also be valuable to the government. With major global and regional trends, such as growth in population and rapid urbanization, Hong Kong’s buildings are coming under major stress to provide a fit-for-purpose environment. Smart cities are the platform for success, but at the asset level, buildings play a major role in enhancing interaction and liveability for the end-user.
Importantly, there is a distinction to be made between smart buildings and technologically savvy ones. Often, innovations have a key role to play, but becoming smart is not just about the use of new technologies. It is about approaching the decision-making process with an informed data-set. If the user experience of a building is improved through technology, it can be considered as smart, whether it has tens of thousands of sensors or not. Technology is the enabler to create smart assets and environments that improve quality of life.Without that outcome, the resulting building can’t be defined as smart.
In the 2018 Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Index, we explored city sustainability from the perspective of the citizen. The cities that will thrive in the future are constantly looking at innovative ways to meet citizens’ needs. Hong Kong must embrace digitally-driven transformation and listen to its citizens. This is the same with smart buildings and the role they play in Hong Kong’s smart city agenda.
With neighbouring Greater Bay Area cities undergoing rapid development, Hong Kong must learn from other cities and seize the opportunity to cultivate smart solutions to retain its competitiveness in the region and globally. Cities of the future need to be designed with more human values in mind and adapt to a new model which reflects how we live, work and play.
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