Mining for historical gold

People in every city have their own collective memories, and these are reflected in public events or landmarks. That’s why conserving and revitalizing the city’s heritage is such an important matter for a cultural hybrid like Hong Kong.

An example of this is the wrath many Hongkongers felt when Queen’s Pier was demolished for reclamation purposes in 2007.

And when heritage conservation comes to a local community, socially responsible education is needed to encourage students to research and profoundly understand the needs of the neighborhood they live in.

Luen Wo Hui, also known as Luen Wo Market, was built in 1951 by a group of local leaders and merchants east of Fan Ling in North district and was the largest market at the time.

A thriving and vital market that had a bazaar comprising open-air stalls behind it and shophouses in the surrounding streets, people often went there to buy daily necessities and groceries.

Lasting for 50 years until 2002 – when all the stalls were relocated to Luen Wo Hui Market and Cooked Food Centre – the historic building is now being rented out short term as a recyclable collection center and green market.

As part of the MineCity project, a group of students from Fanling Rhenish Church Secondary School recently reimagined the historic market by designing a shopping mall on the popular sandbox video game Minecraft, which allows players to create and build things in an open virtual world using three-dimensional blocks.

“Students were encouraged to present their ideas about future communities and cities imaginatively, address community needs and solve related problems through Minecraft in a creative way,” said Joyce Man, general secretary of MineCity’s organizer, Breakthrough.

The nonprofit educational services provider believes students can become more familiar with the local community’s needs by conducting research and exploring possible ways of reshaping urban spaces in the community.

Supported by Zurich Insurance (Hong Kong), the program, now in its third year, has supported more than 250 students in designing online community maps of areas such as Sham Shui Po, Sha Tin and North district.

North district, especially Fan Ling and Sheung Shui, is an old area that largely accepts cross-border students and parallel traders, resulting in a large floating population.

Eric Hui, chief executive of Zurich Insurance (Hong Kong), said: “From my engagement in the community guided tour, I found the program can enrich students’ lives by encouraging them to feel the pace of life in our communities and gain an understanding of local cultures and stories.”

In the students’ work, the single-story market was transformed into a seven-story shopping mall with a rainbow facade. Inside, shops selling local products meet the lack of local retail outlets and a well-developed shopping mall in the community.

The virtual Fan Ling map also features a “Student Paradise” building that provides space for eating, resting, exercising and features an outdoor green rooftop. “Luen Wo Hui is actually surrounded by several schools, but there’s no space designed for students to take a break or catch up with friends after school,” the team explained.

A double-story building dedicated to the elderly features French windows. “The design enhances the natural lighting and creates a spacious feeling so that the elderly won’t feel cramped staying inside,” the students said.

After three years of the program, the MineCity project team plans to launch a curriculum for schools and teachers to use technology as a tool for participatory urban design and planning.

“We hope MineCity can bring students closer together and let them contribute more to the community, which in turn benefits their future growth and learning,” Man said.

(This article was published at The Standard on April 27, 2021: Education: Mining for historical gold )

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