The Critical Urban Governance (CUG) Program aims to shape public debate, create new knowledge and provide an inclusive space for discussion and the development of new governance practices to address the challenges facing contemporary cities. 

Our key themes/projects are:

  • Policies for a just city 
  • Emerging modes of urban governmentality
  • Critical urban infrastructure
  • Urban renewal and displacement
  • Social innovation at the local scale
  • Transforming climate governance
  • Eco-collaborative housing
  • Inclusive urban governance
  • Politics of urban greening
  • Biodiversity offset policy and decision-making
  • Transitions to a low carbon society
  • Co-design and biodiversity governance 
  • Urban governance and obligations to Treaty
  • Decolonisation and urban / built environments
  • Sovereignty and dwelling
  • An indigenous-led urban research agenda
  • Child-friendly cities
  • Smart city governance
  • Urban and planning theory, methodology and praxis

Researchers working in Critical Urban Governance aim to critically engage with the contemporary challenges confronting urban planning and governance in Australia and beyond. We do that by building capacity in research which we see as an active, engaged and inclusive activity; fostering new conversations, debates and collaborations; communicating our ideas to diverse groups of people by diverse media. 

Projects

Talking Country: Sharing Indigenous stories of place through mobile media

2019–2023

This project aims to investigate how media technologies can facilitate cross-cultural engagement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Digital innovations, PropTech and housing – the view from Melbourne

2019 (ongoing)

This research is concerned with the collection, digitisation and use of housing information in Australia.

Understanding the assumptions and impacts of the Victorian Public Housing Renewal Program

2018–2019

This research project aimed to evaluate the claims of the PHRP and its underlying model in order to establish an accurate evidence base and assess the anticipated impact of the model on public housing residents in Melbourne.

Willum Warrain Gathering Place: Connecting Country, culture and community

2018–2019

The Willum Warrain Aboriginal Gathering Place offers a space, in Hastings, south-east of Melbourne, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can come together to explore their goals, ideas and identity.

Climate Adaptation Australia

2017–2019

The project investigates the framings and practices of local governments, community groups and NGOs as they seek to create local adaptation strategies.

Possibilities and practicalities of more inclusive urban governance

2018 (ongoing)

Research on the governance of selected wicked problems in Melbourne, Bristol and Mannar (Sri Lanka) aim to flesh out a workable understanding of emergent, inclusive and multi-scale governance.

Network of Integrated Study Sites

2018 (ongoing)

This project aims to establish a network of integrated urban greening study sites to understand, quantify and qualify the multiple benefits of urban greening, including for biodiversity outcomes and for human health and wellbeing.

Urban Systems for Liveability

2018 (ongoing)

This project investigates the impacts on the lived experience of people in major Australian cities, focusing on the effects of land-use, diffuse air pollution, transport, urban heat and the interconnections between them.

Australian Environmental Justice: RMIT– FoE (Australia) partnership

2016 (ongoing)

Exploring and enhancing environmental justice (EJ), including contributing Australian case studies to the international EJ atlas.

Social innovation for local climate adaptability

2015–2017

This research critically investigates tensions and potentialities between risk-based assessments by local governance agencies and innovations by local groups and NGOs.

Planning for Co-Existence? Recognising Indigenous rights in planning

2015

This project looked at what happens when demands for recognition of Indigenous rights meet planning systems in Canada and Australia.

Seeing the good from trees: remotely sensing the urban forest

2015–2017

We are trying to understand how to efficiently measure the benefits of the urban forest in Australian cities.

Who owns the Sustainable City?

2016–2018

Cities are central to achieving sustainability, yet urban redevelopments – often justified as sustainable – have displaced 15 million people. This research asks how we can find socially sustainable paths of urban development.

Key People

Lead researchers

Professor Libby Porter

Professor Libby Porter

Convener of Critical Urban Governance Program

Associate Professor Wendy Steele

Associate Professor Wendy Steele

Convener of Critical Urban Governance Program

Program Researchers

Higher Degree Research Students

Related Content

News & Blog

Blog

Churches have legal rights in Australia. Why not sacred trees?

07 November 2019

In Australia, corporations such as Coles and Westpac and even some churches operate as legal entities entitled to most of the rights and responsibilities that individuals possess. Why don’t the Djab Wurrung sacred trees have legal standing?

Shh! Don’t mention the public housing shortage. But no serious action on homelessness can ignore it

10 October 2019

Today, October 10, is World Homeless Day. Next week the Council to Homeless Persons will convene the Victorian Homelessness Conference to discuss options for ending homelessness.

Blog

How can we improve our homes to be energy efficient?

04 October 2019

With rising energy bills the new normal, we need to focus on improving Victoria’s housing stock to help householders adapt. New research in Moreland is exploring the barriers and opportunities householders face in improving their homes.

Blog

What kind of state values a freeway’s heritage above the heritage of our oldest living culture?

23 August 2019

What kind of world do we live in when freeways are valued as of greater cultural significance than the practice of the oldest living culture in the world?

News

Tackling urban heat

13 August 2019

Students on an RMIT Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) study tour in Barcelona have developed strategies to tackle urban heat – a growing challenge for cities around the world as urban populations increase.

Media

Public housing program risks reducing homes for vulnerable groups: report

29 May 2019

A new report evaluating the Victorian Government’s program to redevelop inner suburban public housing estates says the plan may reduce the amount of homes available for vulnerable households.

News

Willum Warrain Gathering Place: Connecting Country, culture and community

27 May 2019

A new RMIT project celebrates the powerful story of an Indigenous gathering place and how it connects cultures, communities and Country.

Blog

Indonesia isn’t the only country planning new cities. Why not Australia?

02 May 2019

The announcement that President Joko Widodo’s government will move Indonesia’s capital to another location, due to the severity of human-induced degradation in Jakarta, highlights a key tension for cities today.

Blog

Mapping our urban forests

05 April 2019

How do we ensure we have thriving and extensive urban vegetation as our cities develop, consolidate and grow? This is one of the key urban challenges of Australian cities.

Blog

Assessing the evolution of Victoria’s environment portfolio

20 March 2019

A new report by Dr Brian Coffey contributes to a better understanding of Victoria’s environment portfolio, how it has evolved, and how it might be improved.

News

Meet the women helping plan the cities of tomorrow

05 March 2019

As Melbourne grows, we need to better plan how we build healthy, equitable and liveable cities. Here four RMIT researchers talk about how their work is helping deliver better cities.

Blog

Business as usual? The Sustainable Development Goals apply to Australian cities too

19 September 2018

We are still settling Australian cities on unceded Aboriginal lands. With the global agreement on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, development has finally come home to the developed world.

News

Implementing sustainability in the built environment

09 August 2018

Why we should be challenging the status quo to increase the role and effectiveness of the building and planning system in delivering sustainable cities

News

August 2018 edition of The Urban Observer out now

09 August 2018

With Australia’s population reaching 25 million this month, the liveability of our cities has become critically important for our national prosperity and sustainability.

News

Urban researcher wins Graduate Women Victoria scholarship

18 July 2018

RMIT PhD student Ani Landau-Ward has been awarded the prestigious William and Elizabeth Fisher Scholarship for her research on property registration for marginalised communities.

Blog

Decolonising Settler Cities

29 May 2018

Decolonising Settler Cities was a series of events held throughout 2017 bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists, scholars, communities and practitioners to share their questions and critiques, experience and knowledge of cities as settler-colonial modes of power, and the possibilities and obstacles they present for Indigenous land justice.

News

May 2018 edition of The Urban Observer out now

18 May 2018

This third edition of our dedicated Centre magazine The Urban Observer, is testament to the strength of our research effort. This issue reports a remarkable volume of thinking and analysis across a diverse array of topics.

News

Remaking imperial power in the city: The case of the Barak building

18 May 2018

On 3 March 2015, the enormous drapes that had been covering a new building in central Melbourne were thrown off to reveal an extraordinary sight: a colossal image of a face staring down the city’s civic spine.

News

Dry zones and other temperance hangovers

18 May 2018

Anti-alcohol measures like dry zones are not just a part of history: their legacy continues to feed into our approach to urban planning today.

News

The struggles over empty space

18 May 2018

Why are there empty spaces in our cities? Does it matter? I’ve been thinking a lot about vacancy lately. Firstly this was because my family received a ‘Notice to Vacate’ late last year.

News

The mark of the covenant on housing and planning

18 May 2018

The recent Reserve Bank of Australia report The Effect of Zoning on Housing Prices put forward the argument that restrictive zoning is driving Australian house prices up - particularly in Melbourne and Sydney - arguing that that planning policy reform is necessary in order to meet projected population increases.

Blog

Indigenous communities are reworking urban planning, but planners need to accept their history

08 May 2018

Nearly 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia live in urban areas but cities often exclude and marginalise them.

Blog

How tree bonds can help preserve the urban forest

20 March 2018

Great cities need trees to be great places, but urban changes put pressure on the existing trees as cities develop. As a result, our rapidly growing cities are losing trees at a worrying rate. So how can we grow our cities and save our city trees?

Blog

Enhancing Science Impact: Bridging Research, Policy and Practice for Sustainability

16 November 2017

Sustainability challenges blur the boundaries between academic disciplines, between research, policy and practice, and between states, markets and society. There is also significant policy interest in ensuring that the research undertaken by universities and other scientific organisations has impact.

Blog

Sustainable cities? Australia’s building and planning rules stand in the way of getting there

27 September 2017

Australia’s building and land-use policy settings fall well short of what’s needed to make meaningful progress toward creating sustainable cities.

Media

Poor policies block green housing goals: study

21 September 2017

Australian states are failing to deliver sustainable housing because of poor building and land-use planning policies, and a lack of enforceable standards, according to a new RMIT University report

Blog

Low-energy homes don’t just save money, they improve lives

21 July 2017

Household energy use is a significant contributor to global carbon emissions. International policy is firmly moving towards technology-rich, low- and near-zero-energy homes.

Blog

When will the democracy deliver ‘car independence’ day in Yangon

08 June 2017

At the dawn of the 21st century, planners around the world will consider a new agenda for cities. They would shrug off the dimly remembered nightmare of snaking concrete highways and smog-occluded horizons.

News

Indigenous people and planning: How Australian planning practice has miserably failed

23 May 2017

While planning is undoubtedly important in creating better places for people, the connection between people and place, for Indigenous people globally, in all their diversity, is even more profound and central to everyday life.

News

Decolonising Settler Cities Symposium — call for participants

04 May 2017

This event is the joint initiative of the Urban Geography Study Group and the Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledges and Rights Study Group of the Institution of Australian Geographers.

Blog

We must plan the driverless city to avoid being hostage to the technology revolution

28 April 2017

As with Uber and the taxi industry, public sector planners and regulators will be forced to respond to the anger of those displaced by the new products the IT and automobile industries will bring to the market. But can we afford to wait?

Blog

How do we restore the public’s faith in transport planning?

04 April 2017

This is the third article in our series Making Cities Work. It considers the problems of providing critical infrastructure and how we might produce the innovations and reforms needed to meet 21st-century needs and challenges.

Blog

What’s critical about critical infrastructure?

03 April 2017

This is the first article in our series Making Cities Work. It considers the problems of providing critical infrastructure and how we might produce the innovations and reforms needed to meet 21st-century needs and challenges.

Blog

Gas crisis? Energy crisis? The real problem is lack of long-term planning

20 March 2017

If you’ve been watching the news in recent days, you’ll know we have an energy crisis, partly due to a gas crisis, which in turn has triggered a political crisis.

News

High school students’ innovative urban solutions rewarded at RMIT

15 November 2016

RMIT’s Urban Futures competition has showcased Victorian high school students’ best and brightest ideas to improve the liveability and sustainability of cities.

Media

New book connects urban planners to Indigenous communities

13 October 2016

A new book revealing the critical role planning plays in delivering land justice for Indigenous peoples will be launched today at RMIT by Wurundjeri Tribe Council Elder, Uncle Bill Nicholson.

Blog

Memorials for drug overdose victims create a place for grieving and inclusion

10 October 2016

Memorials serve important social, political and spatial functions that go well beyond personal or collective mourning. In doing so, the design and location of a memorial can be just as important as its subject.

Blog

How can we meaningfully recognise cities as Indigenous places?

05 October 2016

The return of land to Indigenous custodians in Australia over the past 20 years is a dramatic shift in Australian land tenure and management. Yet this revolution has, as yet, barely touched urban Australia.

Blog

Victoria needs a big-picture transport plan that isn’t about winners vs losers

04 October 2016

There has been no shortage of ideas about how to spend the A$9.7 billion the Victorian government will receive from selling a 50-year lease for the Port of Melbourne.

Blog

Why ‘green cities’ need to become a deeply lived experience

03 October 2016

Enthusiasm for urban greening is at a high point, and rightly so. Green space is increasingly recognised as useful for moderating the heat island effect. Hence, this helps cities adapt to, and reduce the consequences of, climate change.

Blog

Cities in the sky: how do we decide where this urban journey is taking us?

02 October 2016

We shape the city and it shapes us. The idea of “the city” looms large. There are, it seems, no limits to the prospects and possibilities of technology and human entrepreneurship.

Media

Community politics remains central to transport planning: study

13 September 2016

A new study by RMIT offers valuable lessons for community participation in controversial transport projects, examining how citizens respond to the politics of transport decision-making.

News

How urban planners are creating cities for the future

22 August 2016

Well-planned cities can encourage people to spend more time outside, commute more sustainably and connect with their communities. Good planning is central to making cities liveable and sustainable.

News

Urban researcher awarded prestigious scholarship for environmental justice research

29 June 2016

RMIT urban researcher Lisa de Kleyn secures a coveted Victorian Environmental Assessment Council Scholarship (VEAC) for her research on environmental justice and native forests.

News

Urban Futures Competition

30 May 2016

With Melbourne’s population moving beyond four million, significant challenges and opportunities for planning, designing and managing our city arise. How can you help urban environments adapt to meet the future needs of our population?

Blog

‘30-minute city’? Not in my backyard! Smart Cities Plan must let people have their say

24 May 2016

The federal government’s Smart Cities Plan is framed around the “30-minute city”. In this city, journeys will take no more than half an hour, regardless of your location.

Blog

Does higher-density city development leave urban forests out on a limb?

14 April 2016

Greater recognition of the benefits of urban forests is focusing efforts from all levels of government to defend and improve them.

News

Leading RMIT academic examines the challenges of Italy’s urban life

24 March 2016

An RMIT researcher has recently spent three months in Italy studying one of the country's most neglected neighbourhoods and the challenges it presents for its people.

Blog

The ethical city: an idea whose time has come

27 January 2016

Globally, there is intense discussion about the future of urban life through the World Urban Campaign.

News

Students re-imagine sustainable cities

16 September 2015

RMIT’s Urban Futures Competition showcased the ideas of Victorian High School students surrounding the development of vibrant, liveable cities.

Events

Past Events

Postgraduate Master Class: Critical urban research for social change

24 August 2018, 1:00PM-4:00PM

We live in a time where the need for urban research that is critical in its questioning of relations of power and domination is strikingly clear. But what does it really mean to do ‘critical’ urban research?

Past Events

Eco-Suburbia: Low Carbon Futures

13 June 2018, 5:00PM-7:00PM

Join us for an evening with renowned Australian environmental designer and permaculture co-originator David Holmgren together with Professor Ralph Horne and Associate Professor Anitra Nelson as they posit model futures and intervene in the current debate.