Urban Poverty Essay Competition: Lyn Chia

by Rebekah Revello and Lyn Chia

Each year, IHC, the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Woodrow Wilson Center and USAID collaborate to hold an Urban Poverty Essay Competition, in order to hear from the best and brightest in the urban development community and to encourage new thinking and innovation about urban poverty from young scholars. This is the third of the interviews with our three finalists.

Lyn Chia is one of the finalists for the 2015 Urban Poverty Essay Competition. She uses her background in design and passion for inclusivity to forge her way in the urban development world. After returning from a 7-month fieldwork in Sao Paolo, Brazil where she worked with a multidisciplinary group called Habitacidade to fix the city’s housing deficit, she is now dedicating her time to a public realm consultancy in London, England.

  1. What inspired you to get into the urban development sector?

I’ve always been curious about how people relate to one another and to spaces. It was this interest that led to my background in architecture and urban design. However it was really during my masters degree when I became involved in urban development, particularly around inclusivity and capacity building. 

Coming from a design background, the research/practice opportunities offered by the course deepened my understanding of the wider socio-political, theoretical and economic aspects of cities. Working [with Habitacidade] alongside highly driven members of social movements, academics, field practitioners and residents who all shared a common goal was inspiring in itself. At the end of the day my inspiration comes from the people around me and from being on site.

  1. What are your current or future plans? 

I’ve recently joined a public realm consultancy in London. The office produces evidence-based urban proposals that are rooted in extensive local analysis. I’m really enjoying the hands-on aspect of working on live projects; there is a lot to learn from being in practice. Once I’ve settled in I’d love to continue writing and perhaps in a few years return to academia. 

  1. What is a particular cause you are motivated by? (One that you haven’t discussed)

Homelessness and housing are both issues that are close to heart. I believe housing is far more complex than just a place to live. It represents status and economic growth, expressions of private aspirations, social networks, but above all, it provides the security and stability to build individual capacity. 

  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing cities is, as they work to reduce and eliminate extreme poverty?

Cities are growing at an accelerated rate and there is an increasing imbalance in the distribution of wealth, power and resources. Finding ways to prevent and reduce inequality is one of the biggest challenges faced by cities.

  1. Is there a benefit of thinking through development issues through an urban lens (rather than a specific sector)? Have you seen differences in how projects might be implemented in cities vs rural areas?

Absolutely. Good cities are highly complex entities that have been moulded by a diverse range of people over a long period of time. They are as such, products of co-creation and should therefore be seen as a whole, with geographical rather than sectoral forms of understanding. 

  1. As you continue your research, what topic(s) do you think are most in need of further research and attention? 

I think technology is an incredible resource, one that is relatively new and isn’t currently being used as well as it could be. It would be fascinating to explore less prescriptive forms of technological innovations that could transform how people engage with their cities and their governance structures.

Lyn is one of the many students honored for their participation in the Urban Poverty Essay Competition, and who are dedicated to creating sustainable urban communities across the globe. Check out the rest of our blog to learn about the other honorees.