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Manchester Urban Institute

Humanities profile: Cecilia Wong

16 November 2018

In a recent newsletter, the Faculty of Humanities have included a profile of Professor Cecilia Wong and asked her about the recent international conference on China and the new urban agenda.

  • Please can you tell us a little about the Manchester Urban Institute, and your role?

MUI was formally launched two years ago to combine strengths of all urban researchers across different disciplines and research centres across the university. We have a strong vision of making MUI the leading international hub to engender urban debates with leading academics, policymakers as well as early career researchers across different parts of the world.

I am currently leading the Spatial Policy and Analysis Lab, which is a research group of MUI. The SPA-Lab, formerly the Centre for Urban Policy Studies, was established in 1983 by Professor Brian Robson. The Lab has a chequered history of conducting applied policy research for government and public and private agencies. We are proud of our unique strengths in developing innovative methods of analysing and visualising large datasets to address challenging urban and regional development issues.

  • MUI recently organised a major international conference around China’s new urban agenda. How will the event help the MUI to achieve its vision for more inclusive, just and sustainable cities?

The conference was part of the output of a major collaborative project funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and the National Natural Science Foundation of China under the Newton Fund to examine ways to develop a more sustainable and human-centred approach to urbanisation. The integration of community level living style data to model spatial variations in the sustainability performance of the Beijing metropolitan region helps to shed light on policy outcomes under the rampant urbanisation process.

This 3 year collaborative project between the University of Manchester and the Chinese Academy of Sciences is coming to an end. This conference had a strong focus on China, but we also wanted to have an international dialogue by bringing together experts from China, Asia, Europe, Northern and Latin America and Africa who share a common interest in striving for a more inclusive and sustainable urban future globally. Despite the fact that cities are operating under different socio-cultural, political and economic contexts, they all face similar challenges in the process of urbanisation and there was a strong sense of conviction and resonance of the critical issues during the discussion. The debate throughout the two-day conference helped us all learn from each other about how to adopt more innovative methodological approaches in research and more nuanced solutions to complex policy issues. The papers presented in the conference were of a very high quality from established researchers, senior policy officials, and many new faces from the doctoral and postdoctoral community.  This type of cross-sectional exchange was very productive and enjoyable at the same time, which is what MUI hopes to achieve.

  • Over 100 papers were delivered at the conference.  Of the ones you saw, what most stood out for you and why?

Of the many excellent papers I heard, it was unusual to have a paper on action research by Professor Wen Chen, Director of Regional Development and Planning Research Centre at the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She has been working on a rural development project in Jurong city of Jiangsu province (the nearest city is Nanjing). She and her team have tried to establish innovative approaches of helping a traditional village located in the ecological protection zone transform into a sustainable modern village by carefully balancing between economic development and environmental protection. The demonstration village is known as Chen Zhuang and rather than focusing on the superficial upgrading of the façade of buildings, her work is about bringing interdisciplinary team to resolve the drainage, waste treatment and water quality issues to improve villages quality of life in an ecologically sustainable pathway. She has spent the last five years initiating various nature-based programmes to promote sustainable rural development by providing villager education and training, water environment protection, organic farming and online trading of farm produce.

  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you most like to visit and why?

As a planner and with an interest in urban research, it is always a delight to visit places. However, I increasingly love to do repeat visits as cities and places do evolve and change over time (just like a person). There is always too little time but too many places that I would love to visit. 

You can read more about the conference in the news story on Humanities StaffNet.

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