Since the 2000s, Hong Kong (HK) and Singapore (SG) have been working to reinvent themselves as smart cities. Despite their similarities, SG has consistently ranked ahead of HK on several smart city indices. To explain this gap, the smart city initiatives of both cities were categorized using a six-factor typology of public sector innovation. Further analysis indicated that SG was ahead of HK because its government has been more aggressive in funding and fostering innovation. This paper suggests that a government’s financial support for public sector innovation, as well as its ability to redirect resources within the public sector and get citizens involved, will catalyse transformational efforts into a smart city.
The cities of Hong Kong (HK) and Singapore (SG) are often compared as a result of their similarities—a colonial history (Kratoska, 2006; Onimaru, 2019; Tan, 1997), values and culture (Chia et al., 2007), relatively high levels of human development (Delang & Yu, 2015; Ramesh & Holliday, 2001), strong economic competitiveness (Li et al., 2013; Schwab, 2018), as well as being two of the four ‘Asian tigers’ and important regional transport and financial hubs (Huat et al., 2004; Jarvis, 2011; Woo, 2015). The IMD World Competitiveness Center ranked HK at third place in 2018, second in 2019, and fifth in 2020; SG was ranked second in 2018, and first in both 2019 and 2020. A separate ranking by the Global Competitiveness Report ranked HK at fourth place in 2018, third in 2019; while SG ranked second in 2018 and first in 2019 (at the time of writing, rankings were not available for 2020). Overall, the two cities are very close rivals in global rankings of governance and development, and they are in competition for foreign investment and global talent.
Although SG and HK have been relatively close rivals in various areas, SG has consistently ranked ahead of HK on indices related to smart cities. These include the IMD Smart City Index 2020 which ranked SG first and HK 32nd, the Global Innovation Index 2020 where SG ranked eighth and HK ranked 11th (Cornell University, INSEAD, and WIPO, 2020), and the IESE Cities in Motion Index 2019 which ranked SG ranked seventh and HK 11th (Berrone et al., 2019). The disparity is curious, especially since the governments of both cities had been proactively seeding and steering various initiatives to transform them into smart cities.
Both HK and SG need to thrive economically, while ensuring sustainable development and building up capital for the future. While the two cities are unique, one would expect more similarities in their global standing as smart cities. The comparison of the two cities in this paper sheds light on how PSI and governance has affected the development of the cities. Smart city initiatives often require support from both the public and private sectors. Both the design and delivery of public services need to change, so innovation needs to come from within the public sector. Using private sector resources and funding, the SG government has been more effective than HK in creating a smart city. However, it has also been more exposed to criticism when initiatives have failed. The paper shows that the development of smart cities is also accompanied by new challenges, such as the risk of cyber-attacks and citizens’ reluctance to use new technologies. Governments need to be prepared to handle these challenges. Future studies should examine how well the governments of smart cities have adapted and innovated in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.