Learning Together

How Smart Technology Can Make Cities Great

By Paul McComb

Cities matter more than ever. The majority of the human population is now living in urban areas for the first time in history. By 2050, cities will be home to 70% of the world’s projected 9 billion people. As such, cities are having an unprecedented impact on the economic and social development of nations.

However, rapid urbanization is not without its challenges, from consuming 75% of the world’s resources to generating 80% of greenhouse gases.

As cities become ever more populous and complex, there is a pressing need to identify new solutions to ensure sustainability and efficiency. In other words, they will need to get better as they grow, in the way they manage resources and stresses.

One answer is the Smart City. UK engineering firm Arup – appointed to consult on the development of the first Smart City district in Hong Kong – estimates that the global market for smart urban services will be US$400 billion per annum by 2020.

Great Cities For All
In short, smart technology – from the Internet of Things (IoT) to software and hardware design – can make cities run better and contribute materially to the wellbeing of citizens. The results are economic, social and environmental benefits for all.

In practice, this can mean using sensor networks and analytics software to monitor city performance and overcome bottlenecks, or prevent cyberattacks that can hamper the lives of citizens. There are government benefits, too. As cities become more devolved and self-sustaining, smart technology can take the burden away from central government.

In Asian world cities that function as city-states, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, the opportunities are abundant. While their populations number no more than several million, their influence is global. From ID systems to aviation hubs, they undoubtedly rival far bigger states in influence, and in domestic challenges and services.

Hong Kong is responding. In her maiden policy address, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a HK$700 million investment in projects to develop the territory into a Smart City. The city is well positioned, owing to its ICT infrastructure and existing commitments, such as expansion of its free WiFi coverage.

However, Hong Kong can also learn from other experiences around the world.

Open Britain
Thanks to a growing ecosystem of technology companies, the UK has some of the most-advanced Smart Cities in the world. Peterborough, for example, beat Dubai and Buenos Aires to win the Global Smart City Award in 2015 at the Global Smart City Expo in Barcelona. Smart City expertise is focused around the convergence and integration of healthcare, transport, education, energy, smart grids, the built environment and digital media.

Some UK cities focus more on open-data driven initiatives, some have become pioneers in eGovernment, and others have highly developed sensor/IoT initiatives.

Smart Networking
While we’ve embarked on the journey to making our cities more intelligent, technology continues to evolve. Cities across the world also have their unique challenges and cultures, suggesting an imperative to learn from each other.

From March 21 to 24, some of the brightest innovators from the UK and Asia will share their expertise at the GREAT Festival of Innovation, to be held at Asia Society Hong Kong Centre. Part of the UK Government’s globally-recognized GREAT Britain campaign, the Festival will explore how the latest technology and innovation will impact our future lives.

Industry leaders, entrepreneurs and creatives will dive into the future of Smart Cities. Discussing how AI, big data and complex simulations are already changing the way people interact with the built environment. Attendees will discover how creativity and gaming technology can be applied to develop smarter cities, and will learn how cities – like London – are already taking real-world steps towards powering the evolution of affordable and equitable living environments.

The Festival will provide a platform for connecting minds, creating new partnerships and strengthening relationships between British and Asian innovators and international business leaders and investors. This will lead the way for collaborative innovation and life-long partnerships for the decades to come.

About The Author
Paul McComb is the Director General, Trade & Investment for Hong Kong and Macau at UK Department for International Trade (DIT), having led the establishment of DIT as Transition Director in London. From 2011 to 2016, he was the Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (DWP), where he was integral to the biggest reform of the Welfare State in 60 years.