ACTIVATE! SERIES - Transforming a Dystopia into an Utopia: A Case Study of Hong Kong
Date : 14 Mar 2018
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC

Jointly organized by the Asian Urbanisms Cluster of Asia Research Institute, and Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore.


Dr Cho Im Sik, Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore


A growing body of academic literature on ‘urban resilience’ explores how inhabitants and institutions within cities cope and develop strategies in response to the social, economic, environmental, and political challenges they face in the twenty-first century. But what does urban resilience mean, how is the resilient city being envisioned, and how does urban resilience manifest, in the context of an Asian city? Using Hong Kong as a case study, where urban (re)development has increasingly become a point of contestation between the local government, the corporate sector, and the vernacular domain (inclusive of individual actors and grassroots communities), these queries will be addressed by the roundtable panellists from different angles. Professor Mee Kam Ng examines how a hawkers’ community at a temporary fabric bazaar, responding to their imminent closure by the government to make way for the construction of subsidised housing, have transformed the threat of their removal into an opportunity to consider creative ways to strengthen the economy and a sense of community in the locality. Focussing on the efforts of Hong Kong youths at a community art centre and at Occupy Central, Dr Sonia Lam-Knott reviews how they have strived to reassert the interests of ‘the public’ in public spaces that have come under the ownership and management of private corporations, and the problems they have encountered. In turn, through close analysis of a social enterprise, Kai Fong Pai Dong at Yaumatei, Dr Minna Valjakka investigates how site-responsive artistic and creative practices reshape the cityscape and contest the limited perceptions of socially engaged art.

For Further Reading

- Ku, A. 2012. “Remaking Places and Fashioning an Opposition Discourse: Struggle over the Star Ferry Pier and the Queen's Pier in Hong Kong.” Environment and Planning. D, Society & Space. 30(1): 5-22.
- Ku, A. 2009. “Contradictions in the Development of Citizenship in Hong Kong: Governance without Democracy.” Asian Survey 49(3): 505-527.
- Law, L. 2002. “Defying Disappearance: Cosmopolitan Public Spaces in Hong Kong.” Urban Studies 39(9): 1625-1645.
- Saskia, S. 2012. “The Global Street: Making the Political.” Globalisations 8(5): 573-579.


Mee Kam Ng is Vice-Chairman of the Department of Geography and Resource Management, the Director of the Urban Studies Programme, Associate Director of the Institute of Future Cities and the Hong Kong Institute of Asian Pacific Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, a fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners and an academic advisor of the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design. She was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in the United Kingdom in 2016. She has She has completed over 20 research projects and published widely on planning, governance and sustainability issues in Pacific Asia. Her publications have earned her six Hong Kong Institute of Planners’ Awards and the 2015 Association of European Schools of Planning Best Published Paper Award. She has been consultant to the United Nations and the European Union.

Sonia Lam-Knott is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore. She was awarded a doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Oxford for her research on youth activism in Hong Kong. Her publications include ‘Understanding Protest “Violence” in Hong Kong from the Youth Perspective’ (2017) and ‘Defining Politics in an “Apolitical City”: An Ethnographic Study of Hong Kong’ (forthcoming). Her current research interests revolve around the socio-political ambiguities that have emerged in Hong Kong after 1997, viewed through the lens of heritage politics, nostalgia, and the vernacular city.

Minna Valjakka holds a title of Adjunct Professor in Art History and Asian Studies at the University of Helsinki and currently is Research Fellow in the Asian Urbanisms Cluster, Asia Research Institute (ARI). She has a PhD in Art History (University of Helsinki) and MA in East Asian Studies (University of Helsinki). During her postdoctoral research projects, she has thematically shifted and geographically expanded her expertise into artistic and creative practices in urban public space in East and Southeast Asian cities. Through an interdisciplinary approach bridging together art studies and urban studies, she examines urban creativity as a response to the distinctive trajectories of geopolitical circumstances, developments in arts and cultural policies, and translocal mediations.


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In recent years, the multifaceted forms of civic practices—ranging from participatory urbanism, to artistic interventions, and to street protests launched by activists—have become more prominent in Asian cities, attracting scholarly attention across different disciplines. The transformations in civil society have raised the following questions: What are the emerging challenges and contingencies the varied interest groups are facing? What kind of conflicts can arise during and after instances of civil activism, and how can these tensions be ameliorated? How can social engagement, practice and research be bridged together by, and for, different individuals and agencies? When does social engagement become perceived as civil activism?

This seminar series, jointly organized by Asian Urbanisms cluster (ARI) and the Department of Architecture, critically presents and examines the novel forms of civic practices that have manifested in the Asian urban context through a transdisciplinary framework. Bringing together academics, practitioners, students, and the general public interested in urban spatial strategies in relation to negotiate the formation and role of civil societies, the seminars seek to initiate discourse on the following themes: First, to explore how the varied stakeholders involved in civil society groups, including academics and educators, activists, artists, NGOs, NPOs, informal interest groups and community associations, political parties, and governmental organizations currently de/reconstruct the contextual and physical understanding of shared urban space in Asia. It is of interest to review the main goals of the novel civic practices, and the extent in which these aspirations are realised. Secondly, these seminars seek to articulate how stakeholders engage in the process of collaborative knowledge production through these practices. More importantly, the aim of the series is to conceptualise civic practices as a product of the distinctive trajectories of socio-economic development, spatial/cultural policies, and the structures of political governance in the Asian region. To reiterate, these seminars provide an overview on the distinctive challenges and opportunities that contemporary Asian cities pose for civil societies, and the kind of local and global characteristics that are emerging in these locales.


Asia Research Institute | Minna ValjakkaSonia Lam
Department of Architecture | Cho Im Sik & Lee Kah Wee

Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY