"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy program
What are your research and engagement interests?
My research lies at the intersection of urban heritage conservation and the creative city paradigm. I want to find out how creative city ideals have influenced the authenticity of urban heritage in the conservation process. This project focuses on a particular type of historical architecture in Shanghai, the shikumen lilong, and its 4 unique cases of conservations. By analyzing GIS images and mobilizing secondary literature, I will engage with different strategies of shikumen lilong conservation and analyze the types of authenticity they exhibit - values that have been prioritized and overlooked. I will create a travel guide book that introduces readers to Shanghai’s shikumen lilong through the appreciation of its various values of authenticity.
What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?
I have always been interested in the relationship between urban identity and globalized trends of development, such as the creative city and the global city paradigms. To me, built structures and visual symbologies are important sites where this process of negotiation takes place. By studying both the physical and social layerings of these architectures, I want to pay closer attention to what is happening to urban identities in an age where development strives towards attracting investments, tourism potentials, and the creative class.
What’s the latest project you have been working on that you would like to share with the SofC audiences?
In my inquiries into Shanghai’s shikumen lilong, I am simultaneously pursuing a project that looks at the regeneration of industrial heritage as creative spaces on Shanghai’s waterfronts. The project looks more closely at the results of regeneration and the long-term sustainability of these projects. Although concerned with the contention between heritage conservation and creative city ideals, the project is situated against the broader context of China’s economic transition from a manufacture-based economy to one that is driven by culture and information. I am excited for the continuation between the two projects and the way they portray a fuller picture of Shanghai’s urban renewal process.
As a student, researcher and or activist, what have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact? How do you envision post-pandemic recovery? What do you hope for?
As a student, the pandemic has taught me that “where there's a will there's a way”. Faced with unprecedented challenges, I feel privileged to be part of an intellectual community that is always able to find ways to pursue passions and engage in meaningful dialogues. Seeing the way others work has really inspired me to diversify my toolbox and explore creative methods to project my ideas. I was also astonished by the level of care that this period of time has given rise to. I hope, after the pandemic, the conversations regarding mental health, intersectional identities, accessibility, and so on, will continue to happen and generate changes.
Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student?
As an undergraduate student in the Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program, I benefited tremendously by attending group meetings and hearing about the research processes of other scholars. The diversity of topics and methodologies opened my eyes to the amount of liberty that original research enables. The experience also pushed me to think about the “after-life” of academic work - how current projects may usher in new directions for academic pursuits and career navigation.
Any final words or message?
I would like to thank all the people who have supported me - my family, friends, supervisors, and mentors - to stay in my own lane instead of following the paths that others have laid out.
Amy Chen is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto St. George Campus pursuing a double-major in Contemporary Asian Studies and Diaspora and Transnational Studies, and a minor in Political Science. This year, she is the Vice President for the Contemporary Asian Studies Student Union and the Creative Director for the Victoria College Environmental Fashion Show. With the experience of growing up in Shanghai, she is passionate about exploring urban identities in modern Chinese cities. Her life goal is to curate art that exhibits intersectionalities between memory, landscape and development. She believes that art is the ultimate medium through which people may unite through “affect” and progress as a horizontal cohort.