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The Urban Studies Programme is a four-year undergraduate interdisciplinary programme that leads to a Bachelor of Social Science degree. It is designed for students who have an interest in exploring the complexities and challenges of the rapidly evolving urban world, the global urbanization processes and the various strands of urbanism. The interdisciplinary 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, planning and design.

The Programme aims to develop students' awareness and understanding of how their own urban experiences are shaped by broader historical, cultural, environmental, socio-political and economic forces at different geographical scales. The Programme will prepare students for a wide range of careers and will equip them with a uniquely interdisciplinary perspective on investigating and understanding urban issues and developing sustainable solutions to developmental challenges found in Hong Kong, the Greater Bay Area and beyond.

Urban Flâneur

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

Nick Yau, a URSP graduate and now practices as a landscape architect, is interested in city development. When he was studying in Kwun Tong, there were several urban renewal projects. He chose URSP as it would offer him the lens to read cities, and more importantly, enable him to explore some innovative solutions for urban issues. He likes the programme's diverse pedagogical approach, including the lectures, tutorials, field trips, site investigation and public forums. 'Our programme is not only learnt from an academic aspect, we can also experience the real cities practically.'

One of the key elements Nick has learnt from URSP is public participation. Everyone has different understanding and aspiration of a good society. Public engagement and social communication are crucial platforms for citizens to express their needs and concerns to achieve consensus, both of which are currently lacking in Hong Kong.

'URSP aims to help students to develop a capacity to read cities and to equip them with concepts and skills to understand the urban realm, making it a better and more sustainable place for mankind,' 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 Nick. 'Since URSP is a small programme and there are many group projects in major courses, the bonding among classmates, professors and staff is very strong.'

To better prepare for further studies, students may choose to declare their concentration out of four specialized streams at the end of their second year of studies:

  • Urban Planning and Design
  • Urban Environment
  • Urban Policy and Governance
  • Smart Sustainable Cities

Jointly organized by the School of Architecture and the Department of Geography and Resource Management, URSP not only teaches students urban development theories, it also equips them with skills, techniques and abilities to appreciate the importance of aesthetics in directing urban development towards a sustainable future.

'URSP helps me to develop a passion for designing a better physical environment, which I believe would be a more direct way to aid our society.' After Nick graduated from URSP, he has worked as a Project Landscape Designer in a private landscape architecture and urban design company.

URSP is dedicated to widening its students' perspectives with experiential learning such as interning in professional practices, ranging from urban planning to environmental protection practices. These real-life experiences offer students opportunities to explore their potential career pathways and prepare themselves for their capstone theses or projects. During 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.

To broaden students' international exposure and experience on different planning systems, URSP has developed an exchange programme with the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield, which is one of the top RTPI accredited planning schools in UK. Selected students from both institutions can choose to stay for one term or the whole academic year.

The fifth batch of URSP graduates have completed their studies in the 2019-20 academic year. The programme conducted a survey in August 2020. More than one quarter of the respondents indicated that they would pursue further studies either in Hong Kong or Australia in areas such as urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture and early childhood education. The rest of them are employed and entered the field of urban planning, transportation, GIS, surveying, real estate and property. 'The career paths of our graduates are diverse. Some of them are engaging in advocacy work in NGOs,' Professor Ng explained.

Solutions originate from detailed observation and place-based knowledge. In a highly-specialized world, an integrated understanding of fragmented issues helps us to 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 this interdisciplinary programme will allow students to be marketable in public, private and third sectors,' said Professor Ng.

Nick welcomes more flâneurs to join the URSP family. 'Currently, Hong Kong is full of debates and controversies. One of the reasons is the dissatisfaction of our living standard. Thus, I believe social comminution becomes more essential for us to seek for a solution or a strategy to alleviate the current difficulty or even helping the entire society. The programme would teach you how to have more effective and efficient communication among different parties and social group.'

Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2021