A smart city should put its focus on people

Updated: 2018-01-09 07:23

By Ho Lok-sang(HK Edition)

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Ho Lok-sang points out we can make many improvements to livelihood without calling on high-tech solutions

Hong Kong has a Smart City Blueprint. The planning and delivery of the smart-city initiative is coordinated by the Government Chief Information Officer's Office. Its vision is to "embrace innovation and technology to build a world-famed Smart Hong Kong characterized by a strong economy and high quality of living". But the starting point of any smart-city initiative must be a genuine care for people's lives, rather than innovation and technology, which is only one of the many tools available. If we care enough, we can already do a lot to improve people's welfare even without the use of the latest technology available. Of course, blessed with the latest technology, a caring and innovative mind will help us achieve a lot more.

I have been championing the cause of the public interest for decades, and the public interest is all about people: The city's administrators must put themselves in the shoes of every member of the community. If they could be anyone in the community, what would they do ex ante, i.e., to ensure that if and when various difficult circumstances happen to themselves, they would be in a better position to face them? If they could be anyone in the community, what would they do ex ante, to remove the direct causes of those difficult or unfortunate circumstances that would hurt themselves? Thinking about these things and addressing them do not always require modern technology. For example, last week a child aged 5 was found unconscious and eventually died, allegedly a victim of gross child abuse. This child had failed to show up in her kindergarten for two months. Should the kindergarten at least try to find out what happened to the child? Should the government require kindergartens and schools to report long absences of pupils and at least make sure that there is nothing wrong?

A smart city should put its focus on people

The most vulnerable among us are completely defenseless in the face of child abusers, unscrupulous fraudsters, dishonest businessmen, employers who care more for profit than for the lives of their workers. And there are those among us who are caught by such misfortunes as rare diseases, traffic accidents, natural disasters and fires. I have always used the example of rare diseases to explain the concept of public interest to my students. I asked my students: If one rare disease strikes and hurts one person in Hong Kong each year, and it costs $7.4 million to cure, would you favor spending such big money on just one person? Actually the answer is very clear: $7.4 million is of course big money, but divided up, it is just $1 per Hong Kong resident per year. The amount is entirely negligible. Committing to spend such money costs the community almost nothing but protects all of us, so that if anyone of us is hit by the misfortune of this rare disease, that person would be protected.

There are traffic accident black spots (TABS), and according to the government, TABS are defined as: a location with six or more traffic accidents involving pedestrian injuries over the past one year; a location with nine or more traffic accidents involving personal injuries over the past one year; a location with two or more fatal traffic accidents over the past five years.

My question to the government is: Has the Bureau of Transport and Housing studied if there are things in common among these TABS, and tried to correct these causes throughout the entire road network in Hong Kong? Are there inadequacies in terms of road design, road signs, traffic management or pedestrian traffic management? Now that we have modern information technology, can we systematically study the traffic accidents that have taken place and distill what can be done to reduce the accidents?

Hong Kong's industrial safety record is also quite poor, and it is not improving. Actually for the first half of last year industrial accident fatalities jumped to 14 (from nine in the previous year), and the rise was found in all three categories: construction, manufacturing and others. If we are becoming a smarter city, how come we cannot even reduce our industrial accidents and especially fatal ones?

Finally, I cannot understand why some currently illegal structures cannot be legalized if they can be proven safe and do not constitute a nuisance to others. The new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah was criticized for having illegal structures in her home. She explained that they were already there at the time of purchase back in 2008. Her fault was that she did not tear them down after purchase. But if we are a smart city, why should she tear down something that is useful, that is safe, and that does not cause anyone any inconvenience or harm? I would argue that the government should legalize illegal structures that meet these criteria: useful, safe, and doesn't cause anyone any inconvenience or harm. The government can charge a fine if appropriate, and additional rates. This should make everybody happy except those who think people should serve the law, and not the other way round.

(HK Edition 01/09/2018 page8)