Published: 02:26, May 9, 2023 | Updated: 17:00, May 9, 2023
Smart city project requires design thinking
By Ho Lok-sang

Hong Kong has been talking about a smart city for almost a decade. The special administrative region government published the first Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong in December 2017, and in December 2020 a new version called Hong Kong Smart Blueprint 2.0. 

However, residents in their daily lives still often encounter experiences that make them ask: Is our city really smart, or not so smart?

I recall the unhappy experience that I personally encountered when I went about replacing my old ID card with a smart ID card. I followed the instructions to go to Immigration Tower in Wan Chai only to discover that the ID Card Replacement Centre was located at the Shui On Centre. Luckily, it was not that far away. So it was not that difficult for me. My son followed the instructions to go to the designated address in Yuen Long for the appointment, only to discover that the Yuen Long Smart Identity Card office was also not at the Yuen Long Government Offices at Kiu Lok Square, but at another location, a 15-minute walk away. It was exasperating.

Recently I attended a talk by a former Hospital Authority chief executive. The topic was about the Primary Care Blueprint. One of the things that she lamented was the fact that we still do not have a unified electronic medical record for patients. One problem is that doctors in private practice do not keep medical records according to a template that would make things easier. Another problem is that doctors may be wary of the possibility that this would open up the possibility for malpractice complaints. Still another problem may be privacy concerns. But if we really care for the well-being of patients, these problems can all be addressed. First is that the results of lab tests, X-rays, scans, etc, and allergic reactions to medications should and can all be entered without jeopardizing doctors professional practices. Second is that access to patients medical records can be restricted to authorized people with the consent of patients. 

It appears to me that while we have access to and often apply the latest technology in the administration of our citys affairs, we still fall short of being a truly smart city by a long way, and that is because our decision-makers and civil servants do not put themselves in the shoes of the residents that they are supposed to serve.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department deals with public health nuisances, while the Buildings Department possesses building survey expertise. Together, they have set up Joint Offices in various districts to handle reports of water seepage through a one-stop service to the public. This excerpt from a government website sounds great. But a story reported recently in a primetime TV program revealed that a flat had been suffering from serious water seepage that came from the floor above it. The problem was reported to the one-stop office without avail for an entire year except perfunctory visits and investigations. Only after the case was reported to a TV production team was the matter finally taken care of. In another case, a home or several homes in the New Territories had their access to the outside world sealed off unless they paid a fee to someone who does not have property rights over that access. The case was reported to the police, but the police officers would not handle the matter because apparently the matter touches on the turf of some weighty personality. I recall the case of a villager who was killed when he was struck by a falling branch from a dangerous tree he was trimming after repeatedly failing to get official attention. It was tragic and totally unnecessary. The irony is that there was supposedly a one-stop tree management office that would take care of dangerous trees.

Design thinking is putting oneself in the shoes of others to make life easier for those who could benefit from an innovation or an action. 

As a driver I discovered that recent raids on unauthorized parking have been much intensified. Recently I stopped by the roadside without blocking the traffic to buy some vegetables from a shop just a minutes walk away. The road was wide enough, and there was no yellow line next to the pavement. Within five minutes I came back to my car and saw a uniformed officer walk away from my car having left a ticket on my windshield. I wondered why the government hasnt set up some additional parking meters that allow just 15 minutes of parking. A five-to-10-minute stop to buy something fast would not warrant finding a parking lot and paying for an hour to park there.

I also go to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park from time to time and have found that these days, much of the space that used to be available for extra parking has been cordoned off. As a result, spaces that could have accommodated a few more vehicles are wasted. 

As a driver, I also find some road signs inadequate and sometimes even misleading. Improving road signs can save unnecessary traffic, save time, and potentially even save lives, as drivers realizing that they are in the wrong lane may make a sudden turn that may be dangerous. I would encourage the government to review road signs from time to time and invite suggestions for improvement from the public. 

The author is the director of Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.