Key themes and concepts

The Global Cities Research Institute ceased operation at the end of 2015, ending an era of successful collaboration under a more traditional discipline based research framework which has been replaced by Enabling Capability Platforms in eight focus areas.

  • Urban-Rural (Region)
  • Globalisation, Culture and Media
  • Resilient Cities Regions


Key Concepts:

Two of the most pressing overarching issues facing the world today are globalization and global climate change.

They encompass questions of urban adaptation, cultural change, community sustainability, human security, and global learning. Over the last decade, billions of dollars have been spent on ameliorative and security-oriented projects by both government and non-government agencies. However, many communities continue to live under difficult circumstances. Understanding this set of problems is central to the research agenda of the Global Cities Institute, and has important implications for sustainability in general.

These two themes of globalization and global sustainability are understood in terms of five key concepts: sustainability, security, resilience, adaptation and reconciliation


Bridging all research in the Institute is the concept of ‘sustainability’. Our concern here is to understand positive social sustainability—economic, ecological, political, and cultural. This involves developing the interpretative, practical and technical bases for more adequately understanding how conditions of positive human security, resilience, adaptation, and reconciliation might best be cultivated or revitalized under different circumstances. By bringing the interpretative social sciences and the natural and engineering sciences into a dialogue, the Institute works to develop a deep understanding of how to deal with broad issues of social sustainability. In other words, in collaboration with our local-global partners, we want to develop practical, socially-engaged, and ethically-considered responses to the question, ‘What is to be done?’ Critical sustainability is thus our core concept.


Our key focus here involves examining the broad question of human security with particular attention to the local-global context of a range of cities and communities in the Asia-Pacific region. These settings range from communities dealing with the aftermath of widespread violence or natural disasters to those polities-communities in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States where, despite the absence of the immediate pressures of violence or natural disasters, cities are facing new kinds of insecurity. This is expressed in economic, ecological, political and cultural terms. Here one of our most pressing concerns are those local groups and communities who are most vulnerable in the face of insecurity, violence and risk.


Our aim here is to understand the technical and social capacities of cities and communities to respond actively to and practically address processes of globalization and the emerging impacts of climate change. In the face of social and environmental change, cities are experiencing increasing pressures. Existing and emerging patterns of resilience are important to the ongoing viability of communities and their infrastructures. Such patterns of resilience give communities a basis for considering different ways of ameliorating or adapting to emerging conditions before they reach crisis proportions. Here our research ranges from a concern with housing and infrastructure to the nature of community and different ways of living.


Adaptation is the process by which responses to questions of sustainability are embedded in the practices of communities, organizations and governments. This involves developing and implementing strategies to ameliorate, moderate and cope with the consequences of global insecurities, including climate change and broader social pressures. Adaptation is one possible approach to enhancing resilience. In most cases, however, adequate research has not been done to guide such processes of adaptation.


Our approach to concept of reconciliation is closely aligned with how we treat human security. Both are understood critically rather than as straightforward ideals. In these terms, positive reconciliation requires more than dialogue, truth-telling or saying ‘sorry’. It requires rethinking conventional approaches—approaches that might be considered to be involved in negative reconciliation, and which seek to achieve comfortable harmony or to dissolve difference. Rather, reconciliation is best understood as dialogue and practical engagement across continuing difference where the aim is recognition and respect, even across boundaries than continue to be uncomfortable.