Managing the 21st century’s metropolises

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Shenzhen, China - April 03, 2012: Street Scene in Huaqiang Bei District, China Shenzhen business center at night. Huaqiang Bei is a district in Shenzhen and has the biggest electronics market in the world.

In the last few decades, cities around the globe have been expanding at breakneck speed. Nowhere has the rate of growth, and the pace of change, been more explosive than in China. In the 1970s, the population of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, was numbered in the tens of thousands. By 2017 it was home to just under 13 million registered citizens, with the actual population believed to be millions higher.

Lingnan’s geographical location, however, is just one of the reasons why the university is so well placed for the September 2020 launch of its innovative new MA in Cities and Governance. To equip students with the types of practical skills required to tackle the challenges facing today’s megacities and regions, the programme draws together input from a broad range of disciplines: history, business, economics, politics, social policy, sociology and science.

“A lot of the existing programmes on city planning or city management tend to be less interdisciplinary, and instead focused much more on technical aspects,” explains Professor Ray Forrest, Research Professor in Cities and Social Change and Programme Director of the MA in Cities and Governance. “Whereas this MA, I would claim, is much more people-centric.”

Throughout history people have migrated to urban centres, placing escalating demands on  basic services such as health and housing. However, many challenges are unique to the modern age, notes Professor Forrest. Sustainability, climate change, air quality, and other issues concerning the overall experience of city life, are increasingly seen as interconnected and requiring urgent attention. What’s more, rapid rises in property prices and rents, stoked by today’s globalised capital flows, are generating significant pressures on city governance as well as urban populations.

Complicating the picture yet further, is the way in which the nature of urban governance itself is also changing, due to the increasing readiness of government to share responsibility with a wider range of organisations and communities.

The goal of Lingnan’s, one-year full-time or two-year part-time, programme is to equip graduates for careers that engage with all aspects of urban governance and public policy in relation to cities. This can be in government, or with quasi-government bodies, NGOs, think tanks or corporations. Beyond the breadth of expertise offered by Lingnan’s own faculty, the MA will incorporate input from universities in Hong Kong and China, and from Lingnan’s international partners, such as the UK’s University College London and University of Sussex.

A notable feature of the programme’s course structure is the large volume of experiential learning it contains. “Field visits in the region are going to be very much focused on giving people real experiences that will be relevant when they go into real jobs,” Professor Forrest points out.

The Greater Bay Area, which encompasses Hong Kong, Macau and nine major cities in Guangdong, can be seen as the programme’s ‘laboratory’. This region has been earmarked by the Chinese government for investment intended to turn it into a globally significant finance and technology hub in the coming decades.