Debate on liveability of cities at Eslite bookshop

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Students and staff from the departments of Architecture and Urban Planning and Design at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University contributed to an open debate at Eslite Spectrum bookshop in Suzhou, ‘Livable Cities & Urban Communities’, that attracted more than 50 registered participants and an audience of over 200 people.

Three XJTLU postgraduate students presented their research projects related to liveability at different spatial scales. Two XJTLU staff members, Dr Austin Williams from the Department of Architecture and Dr Chia-Lin Chen from the Department of Urban Planning and Design joined the discussions.

Aura Istrate (pictured below) from Romania, a PhD student from the Department of Architecture, drew on her case study of Shanghai to argue that the term ‘liveability’ can be applied in very different ways to how it is used in in the West.

“There needs to be a more nuanced and culturally-sensitive approach to urban design that doesn’t simply repeat the claims of Western urban strategists,” said Aura.

Sharvari Shanmugam (pictured below) from India, a masters student from the Department of Architecture, argued that there are some common features related to rapid urbanisation and rural decline both in India and China.

Her research addresses regeneration of ‘peri-urban’ areas (areas immediately adjoining urban areas, between the suburbs and the countryside) and she proposed a series of revitalisation schemes at the community level for three non-urban areas in China - Nanping, Bishan, and Tongli.

Brian Chan Yook Fo (pictured below) from Mauritius, a masters student from the Department of Architecture, introduced Mauritian Creole architecture and urban morphologies that reflect the country’s colonial history and diverse culture. Brian suggested a modern liveable model from a perspective of sustainability and heritage inspired by the traditional Creole architecture.

The seminar on was co-organised by XJTLU, Urban China Magazine, and Eslite Spectrum Suzhou, the third event in the Glocal Insight Series (and the first one outside of Shanghai) that Urban China Magazine initiated last December.

Liqun Xie, Urban China Magazine’s director of events and international communication, said: “We aim to build platforms to connect professionals with common people and to connect China to the world. It was beyond our expectations to see such a heated debate and such a big crowd. Without the support of XJTLU, we could never have imagined it.”

Dr Chia-Lin Chen from the Department of Urban Planning and Design, who helped coordinate the event, said: “XJTLU is a research-led international university and I’m pleased to see XJTLU staff and students playing a key role in exploring the key concept of ‘liveability’ through global and local connections.”

Dr Austin Williams from the Department of Architecture reflected: “The debate was an excellent opportunity for students to engage with each other’s ideas in a way that was relevant and accessible to the wider public. Our students performed very well indeed, presenting their research confidently and also responding well to some tough questions.”

This debate inspired various XJTLU students studying architecture and urban planning and design. “The most impressive point for me was to explore liveability from the architectural angle in Mauritius,” said Chang Sun, a Year Two student from the Department of Urban Planning and Design.

Members of the public also offered their comments: “This event helped us to reflect more on the role of the city in our lives and personal experiences. I really enjoyed this inspiring seminar,” said Xianhan Chen, a local participant.

Photos by Di Zhu

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