Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures

Fitzroy Melbourne

Commission housing in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia, 2011. © Tommaso Durante, The Visual Archive Project of The Global Imaginary

How can communities, cities and regions support the transition towards sustainable futures?

With the goal of ensuring the productivity, liveability and sustainability of cities and regions, the Program seeks to develop the evidence base for policies, strategies and tools for delivering planning productive cities and regions that are diverse, vibrant and affordable and in which the social capital and resilience fundamental to productivity are promoted.

Research focus

Cities and regional centres are the engines of economic and cultural growth. Some 80 per cent of Australians live in them, contributing over 80 per cent of GDP and associated economic and employment growth. However, this era of urban-based prosperity is being challenged by the side-effects of success, including regional disparities resulting from unequal and uneven development, the rising ecological footprints of cities, social unease, road congestion, resource scarcity and escalating living costs.

Description of program

The program advances the evidence base for policy, planning and decision-making for urban and regional development in ways that enhance community resilience, promote social well-being and increase productivity whilst conserving the natural resource base upon which all social and economic development depends.

The Sustainable and Urban Regional Futures (SURF) program is multidisciplinary, bringing together researchers from fields as diverse as geography, planning, cultural studies, sociology, business, architecture, media studies, economics and education in the common quest for solutions to the challenges facing cities, regional centres and communities. With an emphasis on the values of sustainability, resilience appropriate development and social inclusion, research in the SURF program is organised around 13 themes.

Research themes

With an emphasis on the values of sustainability, resilience appropriate development and social inclusion, research in the program is organized around 13 themes:

1. Urban policy and planning
Studies of urban policy and planning include a focus on questions of urban governance and political economy, development regulation, metropolitan strategic planning, peri-urban development, the need for and conflicts around urban consolidation and urban renewal, urban infrastructure and transport and urban mobility systems.

2. Place and health
In response to the increasing importance of creating ‘healthy places’ in the planning and design of new residential communities and revitalizing established ones, this theme investigates the production, experience and governance of health and wellbeing in urban environments in the context of climate change adaptation, sustainability and social inclusion.

3. Environmental management
This theme examines the diverse drivers of ecosystem change, particularly in urban and semi-rural environments. Its aim is to address the gap between conservation theory and real world practice in complex planning environments. Research includes studies of biodiversity planning, natural resource planning, water security and pollution control.

4. Housing studies
Research in this theme focuses on the areas of housing economics, housing policy, homelessness, housing and particular demographic groups (such as immigrants, the aged, etc.) and housing within the urban planning framework. Housing affordability is a critical focus for research as ‘housing wealth’ is a major determinant of social and economic wellbeing and governments are reducing the provision of public housing to only the most needy.

5. Sustainable built environments
This theme develops strategies and tools for sustainable construction management and procurement, environmental performance assessment and modelling of buildings, innovative building materials and fabrication, retrofitting for climate change, and building life-cycle assessment.

6. Urban metabolism and low-carbon systems
Research towards advancing sustainable production and consumption systems includes: closed-loop design, product stewardship, life-cycle assessment, eco-footprinting, environmental assessment and modelling.

7. Smart cities
This theme recognises the growing importance of collaborative informal learning and its contribution both to promoting balanced economic, social and environmental development in city-regions, and addressing urban challenges. New information and communication technologies are a particularly important resource in some smart city initiatives.

8. Resilient regions
Cities are reliant upon the regions that supply the resources necessary for human health, social wellbeing and economic productivity. However pressures from globalization, national development strategies and global environmental climate change are undermining the capacity of regions to contribute to supply the needs of cities. At the same time, other resource rich regions are experiencing “boom” conditions and the impacts of overly –fast, reactive development. Policies and strategies that support sustainable regional development and build resilience to the impacts of change are the focus of this research theme.

9. Urban education
Social learning is central to sustainable cities and regions. Research focuses on the processes of learning that underpin the cultural changes required to support sustainable and resilient communities and the importance of education and training in innovation and sustainability systems. Key emphases include the roles of schools, colleges and universities, as well as adult and community education, in building understanding and capacities in social inclusion, active and informed citizenship, international understanding, sustainable lifestyles and green skills.

10. Social change for sustainability
The challenges of sustainability and climate change involve significant change in the ways that we live, work and interact. This theme explores opportunities to facilitate social change that move beyond the current focus on individual resource consumption and behaviour to consider why and how people produce and consume from broader societal contexts. Sub-themes and concepts include: sharing economies, beyond behaviour change, sustainable consumption, de-growth and affluenza.

11. Green economy transitions
This theme emphasizes equity and justice in regional transitions to a low-carbon economy. This theme also focuses on the governance and management of transitions in social and economic development infrastructure systems and the policies and practices required for an equitable, just and low-carbon future.

12. Sustainable business practices
Sustainable logistics and supply chain management are fundamental to sustainable cities. This theme investigates these and related issues such as sustainable procurement, sustainability indicators and reporting, ethical governance and finance, corporate social responsibility, and carbon accounting and management.

13. Social innovation
The concept of social innovation describes a new approach to solving a shared problem or unmet demand where the returns or benefits of the innovation are realized at the social rather than individual level. Where the classic formulation of innovation focuses on business entrepreneurship, social innovations involve new processes, technologies or institutional partnerships that advance human needs and capabilities.


For more information on the SURF program, contact Gayle Seddon at or +61 3 9925 9013.