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Event Review

Successful Inaugural Conference of the Urban Systems Institute at Loke Yew Hall, The University of Hong Kong 

The Urban Systems Institute (USI) at The University of Hong Kong (HKU), successfully held its inaugural conference, titled "Towards New Paradigms for Urban Research", on 11-12 January 2024. The conference brought together a diverse group of 147 participants from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas, including Ireland, UK, USA, France, Kuwait, and South Korea.  The event was attended by 18 distinguished academic guests and 14 notable figures from government and industry.  

The conference featured an impressive lineup of 7 keynote speeches, 2 roundtables, and 104 speeches in 4 parallel sessions, including 19 sub-sessions. 

The conference commenced with opening remarks by Ms. Winnie Wing Yin HO, Secretary for Housing at the Housing Bureau of the HKSAR Government, who spoke about “Well•Being in Public Housing". Prof. Zhiqiang Wu, an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and Professor of Urban and Rural Planning at Tongji University, and Prof. Jin Duan, an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Professor of Urban and Rural Planning at Southeast University, shared their insights on advancing urban system. Prof. Peng Gong, Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Development) of HKU and Chair Professor of Global Sustainability from the Department of Geography, delivered a warm welcome speech on behalf of the university, emphasizing the importance of global exchanges. Prof. Shenjing He, Executive Deputy Director of the Urban Systems Institute and Head of Department and Professor of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, provided an introduction to HKU-USI. 


Four keynote speakers delivered informative speech. Prof. Renzhong Guo discussed “The Time Perspective of Spatial Planning”, highlighting the significance of time in urban development and planning. Prof. Anthony G.O. Yeh spoke about "Smart City, AI, and Urban Planning," exploring current smart city technologies and their applications in urban planning. Prof. Mei-Po Kwan discussed "Geospatial Big Data Modeling and Analysis for Smart and Healthy Cities," emphasizing the benefits of smart cities in environmental health research. Dr. Marc Barthelemy addressed "Towards a Science of Cities," focusing on data, modeling, and engagement with policy-makers and planners.  








The opening session was followed by a roundtable discussion that further explored the topics presented in the keynote speeches. Prof. Peng Gong moderated the discussion, which touched on the influence of emerging technologies on urban planning practices and the importance of temporal considerations. Prof. Gong and Prof. Kwan engaged in a dialogue about statistical methods and environmental estimation in health research, while Dr. Barthelemy addressed questions about model estimation and interpretation. The session concluded with a discussion between Dr. Nan Shi and Prof. Gong on the impacts of technological advancements on urban planning practices and future developments in the field. 


The dynamic panel discussions encompassed a broad array of topics, including Urban AI, Urban Social System, Urban Transport System, Urban Environment System, Transforming Urban Landscapes. Special sessions were also held, focusing on Area Development and Policy, Transactions in Planning and Urban Research, Transactions in Urban Data, Science and Technology and Rushan. These sessions provided opportunities for intense exchanges and discussions among participants. 




In the afternoon on the second day, the closing session featured keynote presentations by three guest speakers. Prof. Jianya Gong discussed "Geographic Twins in Informatic Geography," highlighting the concept of geographical twins and their applications in the digital twin paradigm. Prof. Michael Batty delivered a speech on "A Robust Science of Cities: Is It Possible? and What Might It Look Like?" emphasizing the shift from a top-down to a bottom-up spatial order in urban science research. Prof. Chris Webster spoke about "Urban Scaling and the Biological Turn in City Planning," exploring the connections between city planning and biological ideas. 

The conference concluded with a round-table discussion hosted by Dr. Zhi Liu from Peking University, focusing on smart cities and data-driven urbanism. Prof. Chris Webster, Prof. Tinghai Wu, Prof. Bo Huang, Prof. Yang Yue and Dr. Marc Barthelemy discussed the ethics of smart cities and provided policy recommendations for smart city governance, emphasizing ethical considerations, inclusivity, transparency, individual privacy, and the use of AI to assist in policy-making. The panel called for cautious and inclusive smart city development and good governance for e-governance.





In her closing remarks, Prof. Shenjing He, enriched discussions and knowledge-sharing that took place throughout the conference. She extended her gratitude to all the participants for their invaluable contributions and enthusiastic engagement throughout the event. Prof. He expressed her hope that the insights gained and connections forged during the conference would serve as a catalyst for further advancements “Towards New Paradigms for Urban Research”.  

For more information about the Urban Systems Institute and our initiatives, please visit the official website at

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