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Inclusive Problem Solving:與各國廢青共創未來

2016/2/27 — 13:53

遠眺愛丁堡市中心 Giuseppe Milo / Flickr

遠眺愛丁堡市中心 Giuseppe Milo / Flickr

中文總結:如果「年輕人被隔絕在施政過程以外」是個問題,那麼「外國勢力」又有怎樣的對策呢?筆者參加了一個由愛丁堡大學、市政府和 NGO 合作舉辦的活動,花了四天探討了城市規劃的種種面向,並跟同學們向「當權者」推銷了自己的見解。筆者想透過本文記錄經歷之餘,亦希望向香港讀者介紹同類的活動。

I can't get it out of my mind that our Chief Executive didn't know what Facebook is until two years ago. This just shows again how he is out of touch with the youth and the present times. My recent experiences in Edinburgh demonstrated to me how things could be different, and I wish to share my thoughts with you all.  

The University of Edinburgh, the City Council*, and an NGO called Common Purpose banded together and organised a "Global Leadership Experience" in the city. 100 students of various nationalities and disciplines were selected from a pool of applicants, and from Feb. 16th to 19th they spent four full days tackling an issue of both global and local significance --- namely, urban sprawl (不受控的城市擴張). Other cities where a similar event was held include Boston, Chicago, Oxford and Singapore --- all of which are global centres of higher education. (*That's the proper name for British city governments)


Although Edinburgh is consistently ranked as one of the most habitable cities in Europe, this may change for the worse as more people move into the city for better employment prospects. In 2012, the City Council estimates that in the next decade, the population will increase by 10% to over 537,000. This will put strain on housing, public transport, healthcare and other public institutions. Careful planning is needed to avert a crisis, and the Council decided to involve university students in the deliberation process. This brings to the Council fresh perspectives, and allows the University to engage the community it is set in.

What did we students actually do? The hundred of us split into eight groups, each of with a mix of backgrounds. My group in particular had three Brits, one Indian, three Chinese, one Bulgarian, and yours truly. At the end of the four days, we had to come up with a concrete, actionable solution to urban sprawl, and "pitch" or promote it to Council and University representatives in three minutes. An adult mentor --- say, from a project management background --- was assigned to each group, and he guided and challenged us in making our ideas practical.




To prepare for the pitching, we spent the first day defining the problem of "urban sprawl": what exactly are the causes and symptoms? The Council Leader (mayor), Andrew Burns, and other officials also gave presentations on related issues. I was especially intrigued to hear why high rises may not be a good idea for increasing population density: not only do they break the skyline, but they require much surrounding space to have a "presence". To the Council, it seems that aesthetics and comfort are just as important as practicality. 

We students then spent the next two days visiting various organisations, and exchanged opinions on how this city could be made better. One of the my allocated visits was to the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, a charity aiming to preserve Edinburgh's historical sites, and at the same time leverage them for economic and business opportunities. On the other hand, two of my teammates visited Homes for Scotland Ltd, which represents the collection of companies delivering 95% of new homes in Scotland --- that's right, even the voice of the "property oligarchs" is important here! It is inevitable that more houses will be built, and developers would like to utilise green belts instead brownfields.

Does that sound familiar to anyone concerned with land development in Hong Kong?

In any case, the pitching went smoothly and was in fact, enjoyable. My own group suggested that the Council could set up internships for students, who can then facilitate communication between local councils and the City Council. Another group proposed setting up a public online forum for debating urban planning issues, and they even managed to create a template site within a few hours. Council, University and Common Purpose representatives questioned us on the feasibility and potential challenges, and the exchange of ideas was civil and intellectual. After the pitching, we also had to present a 1-minute video that introduces our solution; the one below is by my group.

But for me, a true surprise came a day after the event. The Council and the University actually invited all student participants to a "project group", in which we would continue working on urban sprawl, and thus potentially making our ideas a reality. (Participation is voluntary, of course). This is where the programme definitely went beyond being a PR stunt, and became a firm step towards tackling an intricate issue. All perspectives are important in achieving sustainable and equitable growth, and the Global Leadership Experiences is one way to include young people into the conversation.

I grew up in Hong Kong, and I would like to consider the city as "home" no matter where I end up. How ironic it is that I feel the most politically empowered while studying in the UK, in the lair of our former colonial masters. Noting that Common Purpose has organised leadership programmes for Hong Kong professionals in the past, one has to wonder: can Hong Kong students get something similar, too?

One can hope.