Story of the Month - April 2017

Story of the Month - April 2017


Urban Thinkers Campus 2.0


By Elton Chan


The Urban Thinkers Campus is an initiative of the World Urban Campaign (WUC), an advocacy and partnership platform coordinated by the United Nations Human Settlement Programmes (UN-Habitat), to allow its many partners and networks around the world to raise awareness in developing sustainable cities. This year WUC has approved 74 Urban Thinkers Campuses around the world including the one organised by the Urban Studies Programme (URSP) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) on 1 April 2017. This was the second time CUHK organised an Urban Thinkers Campus, and the focus of this Urban Thinkers Campus 2.0 (UTC2.0) was “Global Vision, Local Action: Aligning Hong Kong’s 2030+ with the UN New Urban Agenda”.


Figure 1. Prof Mee Kam Ng (CUHK) addressing the audience on the key principles of the New Urban Agenda. (Source: Alex Cheuk)

One of the main objectives of the Hong Kong UTC2.0 was to provide a platform for different stakeholders to discuss Hong Kong’s urban future and to identify areas of linkages and synergies between the HK2030+ study and the New Urban Agenda (NUA), which was adopted by the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador last October as a global framework to mobilise cities and regions to intentionally develop in a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive manner over the next 20 years.


Figure 2. Dan Chan (UN SDSN-Youth) and Wilfred Lau (ARUP) leading the discussions on Urban Resilience and Environmental Sustainability. (Source: Jiageng Zhu)

On 1 April 2017, more than 120 participants, including students, academics, professionals, advocates and activists from green groups and other NGOs gathered at CUHK to discuss the urban future of Hong Kong. In addition to the introduction of the HK2030+ Study by Ms Phyllis Li, JP, the Deputy Director of Planning department, as well as Prof Mee Kam Ng’s presentation on the key principles of the New Urban Agenda, the participants took part in different discussions during the breakout sessions before putting forward their individual ideas and comments in the “Action and Policy Recommendation Brainstorm Session”. As a partner organisation supporting the event, our team from the IOFC Centre of Community and Place Governance were on hand to provide the following observations and reflections from the UTC 2.0: 


Figure 3. Prof Hendrik Tieben (CUHK) and Paul Zimmerman (Designing Hong Kong) in the Urban Design and Public Space Session. (Source: Jiageng Zhu)

Elton Chan:

Most of the participants in the “Urban Design and Public Space” session were professionals and practitioners, including architects, planners and designers. Recognising the lack of a clear and holistic vision in the HK2030+ Study, the participants argued that master planning should be a continual process, and the study would greatly benefit from more interdisciplinary collaboration and public participation. They also called for a more diverse and dynamic urban form by reducing the development of plot size, as well as utilising the left over spaces in the urban area. Moreover, it is vital to liberalise the use of different public realm and to create better public space through design competitions and better community involvement.


Figure 4. Urban Prosperity and Inclusive Economic Development session. (Source: Jiageng Zhu)

Jiageng Zhu:

The participants of “Urban Prosperity and Inclusive Economic Development” session emphasized the importance of local and small businesses in the creation of unique and prosperous communities. People would like to see neighbuorhoods with their own characteristics, instead of similar stores owned and operated by a handful of big corporations that have dominated most of Hong Kong’s new towns. In addition, to boost the prosperity and inclusiveness of Hong Kong’s economy, the government needs to facilitate the development of new industries, deal with the issue of high rental cost, and to ensure that the benefits of its supportive policies can be distributed to those industries to stimulate further innovations.


Figure 5. Urban Inclusion and Leaving No One Behind session moderated by Prof Wong Hung (CUHK). (Source: Jiageng Zhu)

Prof. Mee Kam Ng:


In the session on “Urban Inclusion and Leaving No One Behind”, the participants agreed that it was important to recognise housing as a human right. In order to develop an “empowering” urbanism, it is important to ecologise our cities, boosting biodiversity and increasing urban compactness; and to humanise our cities, encouraging creative, diverse and inclusive socio-economic developments and fostering cohesive and relationship-rich communities. The group also considered two additional qualities of cities in order not to leave anyone behind: we should aim at building a slower city and at the same time we should reconnect ourselves within the region.


Alex Mak:

I was the rapporteur of the discussion group on “Urban Inclusion and Leaving No One Behind”. Following the joyful and relaxing coffee break, participants of our group quickly started the discussion. The session included discussions, debates, sharing and suggestions. Participants freely expressed their views, experiences and gave their comments. As we used Cantonese in the discussion, ideas and thoughts were naturally exchanged and developed. I was grateful to witness a process of consensus building within a group of 13 people in 2 hours’ time. Indeed, whenever we have a sense of humbleness and respect for others, common ground for all can always be found.

Dr. Huiwei Chen:

I was impressed by the active participation in the “Action and Policy Recommendation Brainstorm” session towards the end of the event. After the debates and discussions in the breakout sessions, many participants chose to remain and share their ideas regarding to the implementation of policies. In my opinion, this brainstorm session was very important because realisation of the ideal visions depends on whether practical and pragmatic ways could be found to make things work. As the old saying goes, every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty. In advocating the “right to the city”, our UTC 2.0 participants demonstrated passion and commitment to the city—and this is really encouraging.


Figure 6. A participant answering one of the questions during the Action and Policy Recommendation Brainstorm. (Source: Jiageng Zhu)

It was truly wonderful to have so many people from such diverse backgrounds taking part in the intense and productive discussions on the integration of the NUA and the HK2030+ in the UTC2.0. The participants provided key insights and recommendations that are not only valuable to the ongoing HK2030+ Study, but will also help shape the future of Hong Kong. The outcome of the discussions, together with the participants’ individual responses, were synthesised and compiled into two separate reports: one for submission to the Planning Department as part of the official public consultation process of the HK2030+ Study, and another one submitted to the WUC and is shared with UTC organisers and participants across the world. To conclude, while the UTC2.0 had been a great success, we believe it is crucial for the future development of Hong Kong that practitioners, academics, and, more importantly, the general public, to continuously engage in such useful debates and make their voices heard.

For more information and photos, please kindly visit the
Event Website and Facebook Page.