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Urban Flâneur

A flâneur is the one who saunters around town and taking more of things. According to the cultural critic Walter Benjamin (1892–1940), an urban flâneur is a casual stroller through the city enthralled by the dynamism and diversity of the city. CUHK’s Urban Studies programme (URSP) admits around 20 prospective flâneurs each year, and grooms them to be future urban leaders who take upon urbanization challenges with sustainable measures.

Jackin Yip, a third-year URSP student, is fond of city-roaming. He chose URSP as it would offer him the lens to read cities, and more importantly, enable him to explore some innovative solutions for the urban issues. He likes the programme’s diverse pedagogical approach—from lectures, tutorials, field trips to studio-based learning. ‘I find the two overseas field trips the most valuable. Not only did we learn from the overseas scholars, we also sauntered in the cities and conducted empirical research there.’

Before entering URSP, Jackin simply wished to find the magic formula to remedy the worsening environmental problems in cities. Now he realizes that cities are much more complicated and heterogeneous than he had expected. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to address the urban problems because of their regional variation in demographics, economic status, policies, etc.

‘URSP aims to help students develop a capacity to read cities, and equips them with concepts and skills to understand the urban realm and make it a better place for the humankind,’ remarked Prof. Mee Kam Ng, Director of URSP. The programme enables students to inquire broadly and deeply into the nature and dynamics of cities through the theoretical perspectives of different schools of thoughts, the rigorous application of skills and techniques for urban analysis, and the contextual learning of the world’s best practices in sustainable urban development, governance, planning and design.

The learning atmosphere in the URSP community impresses Jackin. ‘Most of my classmates are diligent. We love to spend extra time on research in order to perfect our assignments and, of course, the result is worth our effort!’ The joy of applying knowledge and seeing results in challenging group research assignments is beyond description. He added, ‘We share learning resources, and always engage in fruitful discussions on academic and non-academic matters. I also enjoy the time observing some overseas cities with my field trippers. This is one of the most unforgettable moments in my university life.’

To better prepare for further studies, second-year students need to declare their concentration out of three specialized streams:

  • Urban Planning and Design
  • Urban Environment
  • Urban Policy and Governance

Jointly organized by the School of Architecture and the Department of Geography and Resource Management, URSP not just teaches students urban development theories but also equip them with skills, techniques and abilities to appreciate the importance of aesthetics in urban development.

‘As I aspire to be an urban planner, I have chosen the concentration of urban planning and design to equip myself with the basics on planning theories and some technical skills in using software for urban planning and design uses. I hope to contribute to the improving of the existing living conditions of Hong Kong and other regions,’ said Jackin.

URSP is dedicated to widening its students’ perspectives with experiential learning such as interning in professional practices including urban planning and environmental protection practices. These real-life experiences offer students opportunities to explore their potential career pathways and prepare themselves for their capstone theses/projects. In 2016–17, the East Asia Community Engagement Committee of Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Limited (Arup) established the Arup Scholarship for senior URSP students. There will be one award each academic year, comprising a scholarship of HK$15,000 and an eight-week paid full-time summer internship with Arup.

The first batch of URSP graduates completed their studies in 2015–16. The programme conducted a survey in October 2016. Half of the respondents indicated that they would pursue further studies in fields related to the built environment including urban planning, urban design, transport planning and landscape architecture, etc. One of them recently received a scholarship from the Japanese Government and is now in Japan pursuing her master’s studies. The rest of them are employed. ‘The career paths of our graduates are diverse. Some of them are engaged in advocacy work in NGOs,’ Professor Ng explained.

Solutions originate from detailed observation. In a highly-specialized world, an integrated understanding of fragmented issues help us develop sharp analytical and problem solving skills. ‘After all, urban issues are often wicked problems demanding creative and out-of-the-box solutions. The knowledge and skills acquired in the interdisciplinary programme will allow students to be marketable in the public, private and third sectors,’ said Professor Ng.

Jackin welcomes more flâneurs to join the URSP family. Here are his tips: ‘You should have a keen interest in cities as it is part of your learning motivation. Second, be active and curious enough to raise questions on urban phenomena and environmental issues you’ve observed. What you learn in URSP and experience from the overseas field trips will change your perception towards cities!’

Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2018

Programme Code




Open for

JUPAS, Non-JUPAS Year 1 Entry, International, Mainland