Ester van Steekelenburg (MSc Urban Planning, University of Amsterdam, PhD Urban Economics, University of Hong Kong) has over 15 years of international experience in urban regeneration and heritage preservation. She’s the founder and director of Urban Discovery, a Hong Kong based social enterprise specialised in heritage economics.
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. As part of her efforts to bring more awareness to the region’s living heritage, she set up iDiscover, a socially responsible travel app with community curated neighbourhood walks in Asia’s historic cities.
Marketing & business development
Born and bred in Australia with Italian heritage, Gina has lived in Hong Kong for five years. She brings over 10 years of experience in the tourism industry varying from hotel investment for Macquarie Bank to marketing for Qantas. Gina adds a corporate perspective to the team and her strength is to connect Urban Discovery with the different players in the travel industry and cultural sector to explore how we can add value to their products. Gina likes the buzz from travelling and exploring new cultures, but also the serenity of the yoga studio. A natural people-person, good listener and positive thinker, she’s embraced HK’s can-do attitude and loving the ride!
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.
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.
- Don Mak . Hong Kong . illustrations
- Emmanuel Serra . Hong Kong . photography
- Heritage Strategies International . Washington DC . feasibility studies for adaptive re-use
- Hypsos . Hong Kong/ the Netherlands . interiors & exhibitions
- Property Conservation Ltd . Hong Kong . conservation architecture
- Ramon van der Heijden . Hong Kong . drone imagery
- Studio Refill . Hong Kong/ the Netherlands . graphic design
Our core values
- We build capacity and train local heritage groups and communities across Asia
- We provide an innovative web & app platform to bring local knowledge to an international audience
- 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
- We provide regular internships to students from educational institutes in the Netherlands and Hong Kong
- We treasure collaborative partnerships with universities and schools
- 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
- We love to inject creative elements because we think it makes learning more fun