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Planing map of a city


Investigating the complex dimensions of urban living and planning
We research the design, characteristics and processes of urbanism (living in cities) and the policy and planning solutions proposed to create better cities.

We are a group of urban researchers concerned with the dynamics, experiences and governance of cities and regions. We are especially focused on the intersections between markets and policy intervention in shaping urban structure, housing, transport/ mobility, community and the public realm.

We conduct multidisciplinary, engaged research through the Urban Housing Lab which brings together urban planners, geographers, economists, architects and computer scientists; we focus particularly on housing through our Australian Housing and Research Institute Sydney research centre; and we examine digital technologies and their transformation of cities, including, but not limited to smart cities.

Our research domains include international studies with a focus on Southeast Asia and the Pacific; metropolitan planning; housing studies; regional policy and many other fields of policy and development.

The group’s expertise contributes to the following Labs:

Our researchers also contribute to other groups in the University:


We collaborate and engage with a range of industry and community partners. They include state and local governments, community- based organisations, and the private sector. These include:

Current funded projects

Funding source: 2018-19, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI)

Researchers: Enquiry led by Professor Nicole Gurran and Professor Robyn Dowling

Funding source: 2018-19, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute

Researchers: Enquiry led by Professor Robyn Dowling with Dr Tooran Alizadeh, Dr Sophia Maalsen, Ms Catherine Gilbert and Professor Peter Phibbs.

Funding source: 2018-19, Australian Federal Governement Smart Cities and Suburbs Program

Researchers: Dr Tooran Alizadeh, Professor Robyn Dowling, Dr Martin Tomitsch, Dr Somwrita Sarkar and Dr Luke Hespanhol

This project develops new algorithms and tools to capture citizens’ voices and better inform local government decisionmaking. It investigates active and passive crowdsourcing channels and their potential for reaching out to citizens and collecting their opinions and attitudes on major urban development and infrastructure projects. A range of online sources will be used to source data, including social media, public comments on relevant online media releases and news articles.

The project will produce a flexible digital platform that will enable local governments to capture and visualise citizens’ voices. Using machine learning, the platform will be able to predict citizens’ responses to urban interventions before their completion. This project is run under the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, funded by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

Funding source: 2018-19, Henry Halloran Trust: Blue Sky Project

Researchers: Professor Michael Darcy (UWS), Dr Sophia Maalsen (University of Sydney), Dr Dallas Rogers (University of Sydney), Dr Marilu Melol (University of Sydney), Dr Jenna Condie (UWS), Mr Alistair Sisson, Ms Pratichi Chatterjee (University of Sydney), Ms Laura Wynne (UTS) and Mr Joel Sherwood-Spring

This project will evaluate the resident-led masterplanning process underway for the Waterloo public housing estate. Its central research questions address the HHT priority theme of ‘engagement infrastructure’, with implications for state- and resident-led community engagement. The project’s innovative methodology involves collation and cross-analysis of data that has already been collected, or is being collected, by the investigators. The project will not involve collecting new data from this over-researched community, but rather will involve this community in the analysis. The project investigators include three early career researchers (ECRs) and three PhD students; as such, the project is also one of ECR capacity building.

Funding source: 2017-19, Human Health and Social Impacts Node of the NSW Adaptation Research Hub Climate Change, Housing and Health

Researchers: Professor Nicole Gurran, Associate Professor Tess Lea, Dr Ollie Jay

Project aims

  • Scope the extent to which unaffordable, insecure or marginal forms of housing exacerbate existing climate -elated vulnerability.
  • Identify particular risks associated with specific dwelling types occupied by high-need groups in low-cost social, private, rental and marginal forms of housing tenure.
  • Identify the magnitude of physiological heat strain experienced by householders against this housing typology during laboratory simulated extreme heat events.
  • Assess the efficacy of low-cost cooling technologies for mitigating physiological heat strain during simulated extreme heat events.
  • Develop suggested communication strategies to raise awareness about adaptation options.
  • Develop a wider range of policy measures that might be introduced to reduce housing and health-related risks arising from climate change, in dialogue with housing and health professionals.

Researchers: Associate Professor Kurt Iveson, Professor John Keane, Dr Madeleine Pill, Dr Adrienne Keane, Professor Helga Leitner, Associate Professor Mark Davidson, Professor Jane Wills, Professor Romand Coles, Professor Leo Penta

In a growing number of cities, citizens are channeling frustration with existing citizen engagement processes into the creation of urban alliances that bring together diverse civil society actors to articulate and pursue common interests. The intention of such alliances is to enable citizens to play a proactive role in the shaping of their cities, as an alternative to the reactive role they are often ascribed in existing governance and planning frameworks. This will be the first international comparative study of these alliances.

Through desk-based mapping and qualitative case studies, the project will examine their global extent, their different forms and activities, their relationship to existing forms of citizen participation in existing structures of urban governance and planning, and their effectiveness as infrastructures for citizen engagement and empowerment. The research will contribute to scholarly understanding of citizen participation in urban governance and planning. It will also make significant practical contributions to the efforts of citizens seeking to build new infrastructures for participating in urban governance, and it will also aid the efforts of those working in planning agencies who are seeking more genuine citizen participation.

Funding source: Australian Coastal Councils Association Inc

Inquiry leader: Professor Nicole Gurran

This inquiry aims to identify appropriate planning responses to the impacts of online platforms on short-term holiday rental accomodation in coastal Australia.

Funding source: 2016-17, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute National Research Program (AHURI), $351,000

Inquiry leader: Professor Nicole Gurran

This inquiry examines efforts to increase affordable housing supply, focusing on government-industry partnerships, planning levers and 'best practice' housing projects. Informed by international and local practice, it identifies principles and policy options for different market contexts and will develop a model for estimating affordability outcomes for various policy scenarios in different market contexts.

Funding source: 2016-17, Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW)

Inquiry leaders: Dr Peter Davies, Associate Professor Linda Corkery (UNSW), Dr David Nipperess (Macquarie University), Dr Paul Osmond (UNSW), Guy Barnett, Dr Adrienne Keane (University of Sydney), Ms Caragh Threlfall (University of Melbourne), Associate Professor Melanie Bishop (Macquarie University), Associate Professor Sara Wilkinson (UTS), Dr Brenda Lin, Associate Professor Grant Hose (Macquarie University) and Associate Professor Adam J. Stow (Macquarie University)

The urban ecology renewal investigation project provided in-depth research into ways to improve biodiversity outcomes for major cities in NSW including Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle.

Funding source: 2015-17, Henry Halloran Trust, Research Incubator

Researchers: Professor Nicole Gurran, Dr Somwrita Sarkar, Dr Jennifer Kent 

Housing is a central component of urban infrastructure, yet provision of appropriate and affordable housing near transport and jobs remains a key challenge. Addressing this challenge depends on better understanding the mechanics of the housing market and how policy interventions – like urban planning – might enhance housing outcomes. Building on the big-data capacity of UrbanLab@Sydney, this Incubator constructs a research platform for examining housing market dynamics in Sydney and potential levers for change. Research fostered within the Incubator will connect to wider scholarship on planning, infrastructure, the market and big-data analytics, while distilling key implications for urban policy and practice. 

Our researchers



Refereed journal articles
Refereed book chapters
Refereed journal articles
  • Jones, P 2016, Unpacking Informal Urbanism - Urban Planning and Design Education in Practice, ITB University Press, Penerbit.
Book chapters
  • Dowling, R, McGuirk, P, & Bulkeley, H 2016, 'Demonstrating retrofitting: Perspectives from Australian local government', in M Hodson, & S Marvin (eds), Retrofitting Cities : Priorities, governance and experimentation, Routledge: Abingdon.
  • Gilbert, C, Gurran, N, Phibbs, P 2016, 'Targets for Affordable Housing: Supporting Equitable and Sustainable Urban Growth', in R Leshinsky, C Legacy (eds), Instruments of Planning: Tensions and Challenges for More Equitable and Sustainable Cities, Routledge, New York.
  • Jones, P 2016, 'Challenging student thinking on informality and informal urbanism: The experience of an international studio in an informal settlement', in F Janches, R Amette, C Jaimes, & M Corti (eds), From Knowledge to Development: New University Challenges for a Contemporary Urban Development, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • Jones, P 2016, 'Informal Urbanism as a Product of Socio-Cultural Expression: Insights from the Island Pacific', in S Attia, S Shabka, Z Shafik, & A Ibrahim (eds), Dynamics and Resilience of Informal Areas: International Perspectives, Springer: Switzerland.
  • Kent, J, Dowling, R 2016, 'The Future of Paratransit and DRT: Introducing Cars On Demand', in C Mulley & J D Nelson (eds), Paratransit: Shaping the Flexible Transport Future, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, UK.
  • Maalsen, S, Perng, S 2016, 'Encountering the city at hacking events', in R Kitchin & S-Y Perng (eds), Code and the City, Routledge: Abingdon.
  • Mclean, J, & Maalsen, S 2016, 'Case Study: From #destroythejoint to far-reaching digital activism - Feminist revitalization stemming from social media and reaching beyond', in E Gordon and P Mihailidis (eds), Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice, MIT Press, Cambridge.
  • Selin, C, & Sadowski, J 2016, 'Against blank slate futuring: Noticing obduracy in the city through experiential methods of public engagement', in Remaking Participation: Science, Environment and Emergent Publics, Taylor and Francis, UK. 

Refereed journal articles
Book chapters
  • Dowling, R 2015, 'Parents, children and automobility: trends, challenges and opportunities', in R Hickman, M Givoni, D Bonilla, D Banister (eds), Handbook of Transport and Development, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham.
  • Jones, P, & Kep, M 2015, 'Understanding Urbanisation in the Papua New Guinea Context' in J Ritchie, M Verso (eds), Securing a Prosperous Future: Papua New Guinea, Crawford House Publishing, Adelaide.
  • Hamin, E, & Gurran, N 2015, 'Climbing the Adaptation Planning Ladder: Barriers and Enablers in Municipal Planning', in W L Filho (ed), Handbook of Climate Change Adaptation, Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
  • Kent, J, & Thompson, S 2015, 'Healthy Planning in Australia', in H Barton, S Thompson, S Burgess, & M Grant (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Planning for Health and Well-Being: Shaping a Sustainable and Healthy Future, Routledge, Oxford.
Refereed journal articles
Conference papers
  • Kent, J 2015, 'Making Health a Planning Priority: how was health framed in the review of the NSW planning system?' State of Australian Cities National Conference (SOAC) 2015, Urban Research Program at Griffith University on behalf of the Australian Cities Research Network, Gold Coast.
  • Kent, J, & Dowling, R 2015, 'When what's mine isn't yours in collaborative consumption: the politics of parking for car sharing cars', 37th Australasian Transport Research Forum, Australasian Transport Research Forum, Sydney.
  • Gilbert, C, Gurran, N, Rowley, S, James, A, & Phibbs, P 2015, 'Planning regulation and the mediation of housing outcomes: new evidence from planners in four metropolitan regions', State of Australian Cities National Conference (SOAC) 2015, Urban Research Program at Griffith University on behalf of the Australian Cities Research Network, Gold Coast.
  • Jones, P 2015, 'Housing Resilience and the Informal City', Third Planocosmo and Tenth SSMS International Conference, Aula Barat dan Aula Timur - ITB: Program Studi PWK SAPPK ITB kerjasama dengan Kochi University of Technology.
  • Jones, P, 2015, 'Urbanization Trends and Key Issues in the Pacific Region', (CLGF) Pacific Urban Forum 2015, Nadi: UNESCAP, UN-Habitat and CLGF Pacific Urban Forum.
Book chapters
  • Mantai, L, & Dowling, R 2014, 'Supporting the PhD Journey: What Acknowledgements Tell Us', 11th Biennial Quality in Postgraduate Research (QPR) Conference, The QPR Organising Committee, Adelaide, SA.
Refereed journal articles
Conference papers
  • Jones, P, 2014, 'Informal Urbanism as a Product of Socio-Cultural Expression: Insights from the Island Pacific', UN-Habitat Cairo University Responsive Urbanism in Informal Areas, Cairo University, Cairo.
  • Mantai, L, Dowling, R 2014, 'Supporting the PhD Journey: What Acknowledgements Tell Us', 11th Biennial Quality in Postgraduate Research (QPR) Conference, Adelaide.


Professor Nicole Gurran
Professor Nicole Gurran
"We are focused on the social and economic dynamics of housing and transport in the city. This includes research on city science and urban computing, and applying novel data mining and computational methods to solve problems in urban design and planning."
Visit Nicole Gurran's academic profile