Meet the team

Urban Discovery is a group of planners, geographers and creatives, all passionate about cities, culture and community. We are a boutique agency, operating as a small core team complemented by loyal flexible freelancers from different disciplines. With a strong international focus, we operate out of two offices – in Hilversum (the Netherlands) and Hong Kong SAR – from where we work on projects across Europe and Asia.

Ester foto

Ester van Steekelenburg

co-founder – avid urban explorer & enthousiastic educator

Ester van Steekelenburg is one of the founders of Urban Discovery, a boutique agency that works at the intersection of cities, community and culture. In a mission to unlock the value of cultural heritage for the urban future, they work with governments, developers and NGOs to build the business case for heritage revitalisation and with schools and universities in heritage education and (re)interpretation projects. Her experience in academia, real estate industry and the NGO sector have equipped her with the necessary skill set to facilitate an inclusive and positive dialogue with a range of different stakeholders.

 

Ester is also the brains behind iDiscover, a digital platform that enables communities to map what matters in their own neighbourhood. Before it’s too late…  Ester holds an MSc Urban Planning from University of Amsterdam and a PhD in Urban Economics from the University of Hong Kong. She lived in Asia for over 20 years and recently moved back to the Netherlands with her husband and twin boys.

 

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Paul

Paul Schuttenbelt

co-founder – fervent football player & passionate lecturer

Paul has lived in Nairobi, Zanzibar, Accra, Hanoi, Delhi, New York Bangkok and now Rome. He’s specialised in participation & partnerships in urban management particularly to increase liveability in older districts. He worked as an urban planner for a range of international agencies and as a trainer, facilitator and lecturer he is experienced in managing complex multicultural environments. In many of the cities he lived, he also started youth football leagues introducing the sport to over 50,000 children in deprived neighbourhoods. Paul holds a BSc Land & Water Management, College for Forestry, Land & Water Management, Velp an MSc Urban Planning, University of Amsterdam and an MSc in International Sports Management, Johan Cruyff Institute, Barcelona. He now lives in Rome, where he enjoys cycling along the ancient city walls.

 

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Charlot Teng

project manager – experienced urban planner & group facilitator     

Charlot is an urban planner with expertise in guiding multi-stakeholder processes and community building. For many years Charlot worked as a place maker for a municipality in the Netherlands where she connected strategic, long term focus points of the city with the needs and opportunities of businesses, entrepreneurs, and residents. She has lived in Mumbai where she developed a keen interest in grassroots planning processes including climate adaptation strategies and scenario building for sustainable development. Charlot holds a BSc in Urban Planning from the HTMsc in Urban Geography from the University of Utrecht. She now calls Hong Kong home where she works on community projects to enhance life and liveability.

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Board of Directors

Dr. Johnson Cheung

Johnson brings a wealth of on-the ground experience as a social worker in Hong Kong. For many years he was responsible for children and youth projects in deprived and transient communities. He worked for the Hong Kong Young Women’s Christian Association (HKYWCA) where he collaborated with different stakeholders, i.e., NGOs, district committees, government officials, pressure groups, residents, community organizations, and local SME’s. He now teaches at the Department of Social Work at The University of Hong Kong because he believes that it is important to pass on his practical and theoretical knowledge to a growing young generation who want to enter this industry. We’ve met Johnson at a UBS/CUHK NGO leadership trajectory in which our colleague Tiffany recently participated and he was one of the key advisors.

Yeone Fok-min

Ms. Yeone Fok

Yeone is an avid traveller and heritage lover. She has lived in the US, Asia, and Europe, and today calls Hong Kong home. After a career in investment banking at bulge bracket banks, Yeone founded SparkRaise.com, a crowdfunding platform for the socially conscious that helps social enterprises, startups and non-profits succeed. SparkRaise also proudly hosted iDiscover’s first and successful crowdfunding campaign, helping iDiscover launch the first co-created travel guide to be crowdfunded. In addition to exploring urban jungles, Yeone’s wanderlust has led her to trek in more remote locations, including small parts of the Himalayas and the Gobi and Sahara deserts.

 

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Prof. Johannes Widodo

Johannes originally from Indonesia, now a Singaporean- is a lecturer at the National University of Singapore where he teaches urban history of SE Asian cities, modern Asian architecture, and heritage conservation & management. He is a well-travelled and greatly respected academic and hands-on expert and tireless advocate for heritage conservation throughout Asia. He is a member of several international advisory bodies and industry associations in the field of heritage and has a very wide network of local heritage professionals and NGO’s. We have crossed paths many times and recently collaborated on a cultural mapping exercise for cultural heritage students at the Institute for Tourism Management in Macau.

 

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What drives us

Supporting Global Goals 

Culture and cultural heritage/landscape have now been recognised on the international stage as playing a role in promoting 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.

Global goal #11.4

by 2030 strengthen efforts to protect the world’s natural and cultural heritage

The new urban agenda #38

leverage natural and cultural heritage in cities to safeguard cultural infrastructures

The new urban agenda #45

develop urban economies, building on cultural heritage and local resources

The new urban agenda #60

support sustainable tourism and heritage conservation activities

The new urban agenda #124

include culture as a priority component for urban plans

The new urban agenda #125

support leveraging cultural heritage for sustainable urban development

Our core values

Empowering

  • We build capacity in places where heritage is under threat
  • We provide an innovative digital 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 and NGO’s to amplify their voice 

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 adds value to our products and also makes our work more fun!

Awardwinning!

We love what we do and we’re delighted there is a community out there that values our work. We even managed to pick up some awards on the way. No matter how big or small, each of these marks another step in our journey. It means the world to us and the people we work with. Together we try to keep heritage alive for a better urban future. A big thank you for the recognition and making us feel humbled and honoured:

 

2021 . Global . Our World Heritage . winner . IT solutions for World Heritage Sites

2020 . Hong Kong . W3 Awards . silver award . best travel mobile sites & apps

2020 . Hong Kong . DFA Design For Asia Awards . bronze trophy . communication design & new media

2019 . Hong Kong . HKICT Awards . runner up . innovative smart tourism product

2018 . Myanmar . Responsible Tourism Award . runner up . best tourism innovation

2018 . Chiang Mai . Chiang Mai Design Award . winner . graphic design for social purpose

2017 . Hong Kong  . UBS/Chinese University NGO Leadership Programme . outstanding performance .

2016 . Hong Kong .  American Institute of Architects Award . winner . raise awareness for built environment

2016 . Hong Kong .  City Tech Award . winner. innovation of urban walking experience

2014 . Hong Kong . Cathay Pacific Shooting Star Award . winner .  successful, innovative, creative and sustainable entrepreneurship

53,000

app downloads

13,604

exhibtion visitors

 

$11.8k

social capital unlocked

666

cultural assets mapped

1,111

local participants joined iDiscover workshops

43,000

neighbourhood maps distributed

773

local community connections

77

collaborative partners

 

600

local dishes sampled