The implication of smart city appearing in the HKDSE paper

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A holistic approach is crucial for the success of implementing smart city development in Hong Kong, which includes engaging in discussion with all sectors of society.

Smart city schooling

In the Liberal Studies Paper 2 of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) this year, it excited me that out of the three questions, there was one about smart city development. Why? Being selected as an examination question means that “smart city” has become a topic of significance and great interest in Hong Kong.

Although there are various definitions, a smart city is generally based on using information technology to achieve the goal of improving a city’s increasingly serious problems of living, employment, environment, an ageing population, and achieving greater and more sustainable benefits. 

The United Nations predicts that by 2050, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities – up 15 percent from the 55 percent that reside in cities today. The future trend of rural residents moving into cities mainly occurs in Asia and Africa. With booming population growth, there will be another 2.5 billion people added to urban areas by 2050. This is why smart city has become an urgent topic being pushed in many advanced and developing regions.

There are numerous examples of smart city systems being considered that may someday support energy sustainability such as autonomous vehicles which could save up to 90 percent in fuel, as estimated by the US Department of Energy. 

Denmark shows that smart means holistic

Denmark is even more aggressive in its sustainability. Copenhagen, the capital, has set a goal to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2025. It is also a leader in turning waste into energy. Amager Resource Centre (Arc), Copenhagen’s cutting-edge waste-to-energy power plant combines hedonism with sustainable development. NIMBYites around the world often fight the building of an incinerator within their neighbourhood. But this three-year-old building is only 5km away from the Town Hall Square (approximately the distance from Central to North Point). It also serves the dual purpose of an artificial ski resort, with combination of outdoor climbing walls and running trails. The incinerator provides heating for 160,000 households and electricity for 50,000 households in the city. The efficiency of power generation doubles that of the old one, and sulfur dioxide emission is reduced by 99.5 percent.

However, even with cutting-edge technology, it would be difficult to achieve without the endorsement and participation of the public. For example, the major reason for the high energy efficiency of Denmark’s incinerator is the strict garbage classification with taxation to discourage landfill waste. From 1987 to 2018, its landfill tax per tonne of waste increased almost 12 times in 31 years.

In Hong Kong, we have neither law nor custom supporting waste separation. Furthermore, household solid waste in Hong Kong is currently the wettest in the world, with more than 70 percent of food waste classified as “ultra-wet”, which is higher than 50 percent in Japan and South Korea and 30 percent across Europe. Wet waste is not suitable for generating waste energy; therefore, it may not be that efficient for waste energy generating in Hong Kong.

Smart city is everyone’s business

The major prerequisite for smart city development is that all people participate through brainstorming and discussion to reach consensus, otherwise it will be difficult to achieve the ultimate goal of benefiting the whole society.

To help facilitate this dialogue, the non-governmental organisation Smart City Consortium (SCC) was founded four years ago to gather industry professionals to provide the government expert advice on the development of smart city. I participated in the discussion sessions recently with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to consult members, industry experts and scholars on the future realisation of Hong Kong as a smart city. After months of consultation, a proposal was completed and submitted to the Innovation and Technology Bureau.

The proposal covers six major areas: Smart Mobility, Smart Living, Smart Environment, Smart People, Smart Government and Smart Economy. Among them, there are many practical measures that are relevant to people’s livelihood, such as smart solutions to deal with “double-ageing” of ageing population and ageing buildings; using information technology to improve public toilet management; applying sensing devices to analyse air pollution to identify effective solutions, strengthening digital infrastructure to enhance the competitiveness of SMEs, exporting smart city experience to other countries, etc.

Are there other more creative smart solutions? Certainly! But the future smart city cannot be built overnight. That’s why I am so excited about the appearance of smart city related questions in the HKDSE, because it reflects that the public appreciates the benefits brought by smart city. Moving forward, I hope that the Liberal Studies will include smart city in key learning units and independent topics for studying, encouraging students’ interest and mental engagement on the topic. Only an informed populace can work together to develop a smart city.

Dr Winnie Tang, University of Hong Kong professor and smart city advocate.

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