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The BSSc in Urban Studies, an interdisciplinary undergraduate programme, was founded by the Department of Geography and Resource Management and the School of Architecture in 2012. In the past ten years, we have endeavoured to train students to develop innovative and sustainable solutions to urban challenges. In addition to foundational courses on various aspects of urban development, the programme offers four areas of concentration: urban planning and design, urban environment, urban governance, and smart and sustainable cities. To help students establish links with the world of practice, the programme has obtained two professional accreditations: the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). The programme is the first and only undergraduate programme in Hong Kong that has obtained the Spatial Planning accreditation from RTPI.

This year, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Urban Studies Programme (URSP). From 4 to 18 June 2022, the “Mobile City Lab 2022: Co-Creating Liveable and Healthy Places” exhibition took place in the Central Market. The Mobile City Lab turned our city into a co-learning and knowledge co-creation space. At the opening ceremony on 4 June 2022, a roundtable discussion entitled “Co-Creating Liveable and Healthy Places” was held. Experts and professionals from the field of urban studies were invited to discuss multifaceted urban issues collectively, cultivating place-based knowledge and deepening multifarious understanding.

Urban Flâneur

A flâneur is one who saunters around town and appreciates things. According to the cultural critic Walter Benjamin (1892–1940), an urban flâneur strolls casually through a city, enthralled by its dynamism and diversity. CUHK’s URSP admits around 20 prospective flâneurs each year, grooming them to become urban leaders who meet urbanisation challenges with sustainable measures.

Nick Yau, a URSP graduate who now practices as a landscape architect, is interested in city development. When he was studying in Kwun Tong, several urban renewal projects were taking place. He chose URSP as it would offer him different lenses through which to read cities and, more importantly, enable him to explore innovative solutions for urban issues. He likes the programme’s diverse pedagogical approach, including lectures, tutorials, field trips, site investigation, and public forums. ‘Our programme not only focuses on academics but also lets us experience real cities practically.’

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

‘URSP aims to help students to develop a capacity to read cities and equip them with concepts and skills to understand the urban realm, making it a better and more sustainable place for 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 thought; rigorous application of skills and techniques for urban analysis; and contextual learning of best practices in sustainable urban development, governance, planning, and design.

The learning atmosphere in the URSP community impressed 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 in one of four specialised streams at the end of their second year of studies:

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

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

‘URSP helped me develop a passion for designing a better physical environment, which I believe is a direct way to help our society.’ After Nick graduated from URSP, he earned a Master’s degree in landscape architecture and worked in urban design and landscape architecture. He is currently working in development companies and international consulting firms.

URSP is dedicated to widening its students’ perspectives through experiential learning, such as interning in professional practices ranging from urban planning to environmental protection. These real-life experiences offer students opportunities to explore potential career pathways and identify topics for their capstone theses or 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. One award is given 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 in different planning systems, URSP has developed an exchange programme with the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield, one of the top RTPI-accredited planning schools in the UK. Selected students from both institutions can choose to stay for one term or the whole academic year.

The sixth batch of URSP students graduated in the 2020–21 academic year. The programme conducted a survey in August 2021. More than a quarter of the respondents indicated that they would pursue further studies in urban planning, urban design, social work, and real estate development in Hong Kong. The rest are employed or seeking jobs in administration, marketing, sales, surveying, and urban planning. ‘The career paths of our graduates are diverse. Some of them also engage in advocacy work with NGOs,’ Prof. Ng explained.

Sustainable solutions often originate from detailed observations and place-based knowledge. In a highly specialised 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 allow students to be marketable in the public, private, and civic sectors,’ said Prof. 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 with our standard of living. Thus, I believe social communication becomes more essential to co-developing solutions or strategies to alleviate the current situation and help develop a more harmonious society. The programme will teach you how to communicate more effectively and efficiently with different parties and social groups.’

Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2022