Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong [22°19'40.17"N 114° 9'37.49"E]
Image by Rebecca Judy
Keeping heritage alive for a vibrant and viable urban future

About Us

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MEET THE TEAM

Ester van Steekelenburg . Founder

Ester van Steekelenburg (MSc Urban Planning, University of Amsterdam, PhD Urban Economics, University of Hong Kong) has over 20 years of international experience in urban regeneration and heritage preservation and is the founder of Urban Discovery. Ester’s main strength is helping NGO’s, local governments, cultural institutions and property developers in Asian cities better capitalise on their heritage assets. Clients include multilateral agencies like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the United Nations, but also the Thai Crown Property Bureau, Asia Society and the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors. Recent signature projects include an urban regeneration plan for a historic district in Istanbul (Turkey), a heritage management plan for the UNESCO listed imperial city of Hue (Vietnam) plans for adaptive re-use for historic buildings in Semarang (Indonesia) and an investment programme for renovation of historic properties in Yangon (Myanmar).

Her experiences in academia at Erasmus University’s Institute for Housing Studies, real estate industry at Jones Lang LaSalle HK and NGO’s and local governments at Urban Solutions Advisory, have equipped her with the necessary skill set to facilitate an inclusive and positive dialogue with different stakeholders to assess the feasibility and impact of adaptive re-use of heritage buildings and regenerating historic neighbourhoods. Ester lives in Hong Kong from where she works across Asia.

Lisette van Rhijn . Sustainable business development

Lisette van Rhijn, (MSc Construction Management, London Southbank University) has 15 years’ experience in helping corporate and non-profit organisations in Europe and Asia achieve long term social benefits while creating financial returns.

A strategic and conceptual thinker, she brings creative and alternative solutions to a process using her solid background in construction engineering and experience in sustainable business development, community impact and corporate social responsibility. As a results-driven team player, she’s built up a network that includes decision makers in companies, foundations and organisations in Asia and Europe.

Thematic areas in Lisette’s career include heritage preservation, future proofing of old trades, inclusive business, shared value, social innovation, low income housing, bottom of the pyramid (BoP), millennium development goals (MDGs), social entrepreneurship and ISO26000.

For Urban Discovery, Lisette acts as the strategic adviser for sustainable business development with a focus on the huge challenges involved in maintaining local livelihood and liveability while preserving heritage.

Tiffany Tang . cultural heritage research & special projects

Tiffany Tang (BSsc Geography, Chinese University Hong Kong, MA Governing the Large Metropolis, Institut d’études politiques de Paris), is a young researcher with a particular interest in the emerging field of interest for policy makers in SE Asia: where cultural development meets urban management.

Tiffany has gained experience from working across Urban Discovery’s research, training and consultancy projects. Recent projects include case study research on renovation of historic properties in Yangon (Myanmar), facilitating a cultural mapping exercise in Lampang (Thailand), researching the development of the Creative Tourism sector in SE Asia (Asia Society Hong Kong) and fact-finding for a book publication on adaptive reuse in Hong Kong.

Tiffany actively participates in community networks, and is keen to build bridges with like-minded individuals: people that want to make Asian’s cities a better place to live.

Lee Ann Deuben . urban planning and housing

Lee Ann Deuben (MSc International Development, London School of Economics, MSc Urban Planning & Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago) is a results-oriented urban planning, community development, and public policy professional committed to the belief that all people deserve equal access to opportunity.

Lee is passionate about finding strategic solutions to building more just, sustainable, and inclusive communities with a solid a knowledge of innovative capacity building and community engagement tools. With professional experience in the all three sectors: government, non-profit and private, she has demonstrated expertise in project leadership, program implementation, fiscal management, policy development and research.

Lee is based in Jakarta, from where she works all over Asia.

Awardwinning

award

Urban Discovery is extremely honoured to receive a number of awards in the past years:

  • 2017 UBS and Chinese University Hong Kong – Outstanding Award – for NGO Leadership Programme
  • 2016 American Institute of Architects – Citation – in recognition of distinguished achievements in promoting the value of architecture in society, and fostering public awareness of issues related to the built environment
  • 2016 Internet Society and Civic Exchange – City Tech Award – for integration of smart elements into urban settings to innovate the modern walking experience
  • 2014 Cathay Pacific Airways – Shooting Star Award – for successful, innovative, creative and sustainable entrepreneurship
  • 2011 Dutch Chamber Hong Kong Magic Touch Award – for innovative business approaches and its contribution to preservation of Hong Kong’s cultural heritage and the community in general

Supporting Global Goals

Culture and cultural heritage/landscape have now been recognised on the international stage as playing a role in promoting promote sustainable urban growth and have been embraced as topics in the New Urban Agenda and the 15 year sustainable development goals, the “SDGs” for the world.

Rightly so, as tangible and intangible cultural heritage are a vital aspect of social development and sustainability and bring a variety of benefits to urban areas. These benefits range from the embodied energy of reused structures, to the value of compact and dense urban forms, public spaces, recognising diversity, enhancing social cohesion, and through bringing back the human scale in walkable spaces and forms. Across the world from Australia to North America, governments and developers have started recognising the value of historic towns, districts and the historic parts of the cities for their uniqueness and sense of place. They help to attract tourism, employment and local investment, fostering the sustainable development of the city.

Yet, in Asia the awareness on the role of heritage as a contributor to sustainable urban growth is still in its infancy. Often, in Asia’s highly competitive urban economy, the financial feasibility is the key decisive factor which makes it difficult to put together a viable business case for regeneration instead of demolition. To have a more fundamental debate on the longer term societal value of heritage, there is a need for city makers and developers to understand, appreciate and quantify the wider economic, social, cultural, and environmental costs and benefits.

Sustainable Development Goals

  • #11.4. by 2030 strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s natural and cultural heritage

The New Urban Agenda

  • #38. leverage natural and cultural heritage in cities to safeguard and promote cultural infrastructures
  • #45. develop urban economies, building on cultural heritage and local resources
  • #60. support sustainable tourism and heritage conservation activities
  • #124. include culture as a priority component for urban plans
  • #125. support leveraging cultural heritage for sustainable urban development

Social Enterprise

Happy kids

For a vibrant and viable urban future

Our core values

Empowering

  • We build capacity and train local heritage groups and communities across Asia
  • We provide an innovative web & app platform to empower heritage NGOs and local communities

Social

  • We strive for a positive social & cultural impact alongside a financial return
  • We tap into the network economy and adopt a flexible free-lance business model to create value with low overhead
  • We assist local charities in HK with fundraising activities

Educative

  • We provide regular internships to students from educational institutes from around the world
  • We treasure collaborative partnerships with universities and schools

Sustainable

  • We engage local craftsman and use durable materials for our products
  • We advocate preservation of heritage buildings as alternative to new construction
  • We contribute to sustainable forms of cultural tourism

Fun!

  • We love to inject creative elements because we think it makes learning more fun