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Stories from the frontiers of urban and housing research. A podcast from the researchers at Urban Housing Lab within the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at The University of Sydney.

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Homeless Cities

The state government recently passed legislation to remove a group of homeless people camped for several months in Sydney’s central business district.

Located just metres from New South Wales Parliament and some of Australia’s largest banks, the homeless camp was a practical response to a lack of affordable housing and a political activity designed to capture the attention of policy-makers and the general public. The state government’s legislation—which gave the relevant minister power to confiscate property and remove people from Crown land on public safety grounds—sought to end months of disagreement about who should take responsibility, and about what the appropriate responses might be. Was it the job of local government or state government? Should the campers simply be excluded from the central business district of Sydney? Or should there be a response that addresses the root causes of their homelessness?

The events in Sydney are not unique. Melbourne’s Lord Mayor recently attempted to introduce by-laws that would ban people from sleeping on the streets of the central business district. Public protests quickly followed. Elsewhere in the world, governments and civil society organisations are grappling with how to manage the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness, particularly in large cities.

In this episode we talk to Dr Tom Baker, a lecturer at the University of Auckland, about the ‘problem’ of homelessness. We discuss the factors that have led to the crisis of homelessness. We ask what policy makers and academics can do to address homelessness in the 21st century city.

For more on this topic see: Baker, T. and Evans, J. (2016). ‘‘Housing first’ and the changing terrains of homeless governance’. Geography Compass 10(1), pp. 25-41.

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Population & Cities

Can cities experience growing pains? Not the pains we usually associate with awkward teenagers but the growing pains of population and economic growth.

Australia has one of the fastest growing populations in the world with most of us living in major urban centres. This puts pressure on urban planners, who have to deal with the city’s growth. To add to the pain, state governments do not always have the financial resources to cope with the development that is needed to keep up with the growth.

Associate Professor Glen Searle is an adjunct at the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney’s Urban Housing Lab. He talks with us about how other big cities have dealt with increasing populations, and what it might take for Australians to have the difficult discussion we need to have about population and economic growth.

Glen Searle was Associate Professor in Planning at the University of Queensland from 2009 to 2014, during which time he was Director of the Planning Program for several semesters. Prior to that, he was Senior Lecturer and Planning Program Director at the University of Technology Sydney from 1991-2009. Glen’s academic research has focused in particular on metropolitan strategy development and dimensions of strategy including urban consolidation and economic development. His research has also covered the economic geography of advanced producer services and inter-urban economic competition. In 1996 his monograph Sydney as a Global City was published by the NSW government, and he co-edited the book The Economic Geography of the IT Industry in the Asia Pacific Region (Routledge, 2013). He has twice had articles of his included in collections of global academic best papers published by Global Planning Education Associations Network academics.

Read about Glen’s work on population growth and cities: City planning suffers growth pains of Australia’s population boom in the The Conversation 

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Race and Cities

Is the history of urban and land use planning connected to racial discrimination in the U.S.?

In 2014, an African American teenager named Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson Missouri. Michael Brown’s death led to widespread protests across the United States and the rise of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

Many of us watched these events unfold on television. We probably made assumptions about Ferguson being one of those typically poor black US neighbourhoods, riddled with violence, crime and drugs. But according to Associate Professor Sarah Coffin, nothing could be further from the truth.

Sarah takes us back to the Civil War to show how the history of urban and land use planning are connected to racial discrimination in the US. She discusses the unexamined role that planning played – or didn’t play – in creating these systems of inequality. Using Ferguson, Missouri as a backdrop, she explores the challenges that concentrated poverty creates for communities.

Dr. Sarah L. Coffin is an Associate Professor of planning and development at Saint Louis University in St Louis, Missouri. Her work focuses on the spatial impacts of planning and development decisions on distressed communities. She has published work that considers the role that tax increment financing plays in the distribution of resources and investment across metro areas in the US. She has also published work that examines the impact of brownfields on distressed communities. Dr. Coffin has a PhD in City and Regional Planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Music via Free Music Archive: Catching Feathers RMX by Ketsa


Smart Cities

The ‘Smart City’ is not an urban planning term, it was dreamed up by large global tech companies.

This week we hear from Dr Tooran Alizadeh about smart cities, the digital infrastructure that is required to enable them, and the need for telecommunications planners. This Sydney Business Insights podcast is from our friends over in the University of Sydney’s Business School.


Tooran is an interdisciplinary academic leading cutting-edge research on the policy and planning implications of telecommunication infrastructure. Her research agenda covers the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia, smart cities, urban digital strategies, and telework. Tooran has published widely on the urban and regional policy and planning implications of telecommunication infrastructure.

Read more about Tooran’s work on digital infrastructure and cities here: The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short in The Conversation

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Digital Cities

The terms ‘Car Sharing’ and ‘Smart Homes’ conjure up images of driverless cars and automatic coffee machines.

But the digital transformation of our lives is a bit more complex than this. In this episode, Robyn Dowling and Sophia Maalsen take a look at the digitisation of our urban lives. Sophia talks about doing digital ethnography and Robyn talks about the politics of digital infrastructure and data.

Professor Robyn Dowling is well-known for her work on social and cultural geographies of cities, and in particular suburban homes, neighbourhoods and lives. This includes long-term research on the suburbs and homes of Sydney, documented in international journal publications and her co-authored book Home (with Alison Blunt, published by Routledge). This is currently being extended in a project on the ways in which energy transitions are being enacted in commercial office spaces. She conducted Australia’s first qualitative research on car sharing that is being widely cited internationally.

Dr Sophia Maalsen is the Ian Fell Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, where she is researching the role of technology in ‘smart homes’ as a locus to address future environmental and social challenges. Prior to joining the University of Sydney, Sophia was a postdoctoral researcher on the EU funded Programmable City Project where she investigated the digital transformation of cities and urban governance. In particular, she worked on the development of the Dublin Dashboard, a city metrics indicator designed to provide Dublin City Council and the residents of Dublin with real-time and relevant data on the City’s performance.

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Foreign Investment & Cities

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Chinese are the only foreign investors buying housing in Sydney and Melbourne.

Sha refers to this chart

There has certainly been a lot of stories about foreign real estate investment in Australia in the news lately. Often, this news is about Chinese investment in housing. In this episode of City Road Podcast we talk with University of Sydney PhD scholar Sha Liu, who has been digging into the patchy data to find out just how much foreign investment in Australian housing comes from China, and what makes Australian property so attractive to foreign investors.

Sha’s research focuses on the growing interactions between domestic housing policies in Australia and international housing markets and buyers. Her current research looks toward China, and the way the Chinese housing market is driving foreign investment.

Music via Free Music Archive: Catching Feathers RMX by Ketsa

Pets and Cities

There are more than 24 million pets in Australian homes. But our cities are not the easiest places to own a pet.

You can’t take your dog on the train in Australia, and if you’re a renter owning a pet, well that can make things really difficult when you try to secure a home. In this episode of City Rd Podcast we talk with Drs Emma Power from the University of Western Sydney and Jen Kent from Sydney University, about why Australian cities don’t necessarily share Australians’ love of pets.

Dr Jennifer Kent is a University of Sydney Research Fellow in the Urban and Regional Planning program at the University of Sydney. Jennifer’s research interests are at the intersections between urban planning, transport and human health and she publishes regularly in high ranking scholarly journals. Her work has been used to inform policy development in NSW and Australia, including Sydney’s most recent metropolitan strategy – A Plan for Growing Sydney. Prior to commencing a career in academia she worked as a town planner in NSW in both local government and as a consultant.

Dr Emma Power is a Senior Research Fellow at Western Sydney University. She is an urban cultural geographer who researches housing, home, ageing and human – animal relations. A particular focus is on everyday practices of homemaking and neighbouring, and the governance of everyday life within home. Emma’s research interests include: companion animals and community making; and the governance of companion animals in urban Australia, including in strata apartments and through tenancy policy; the place of wildlife in cities and suburbs.

Music via Free Music Archive: Catching Feathers RMX by Ketsa

Airbnb and Cities

Is Airbnb really about sharing, or are they about big business and profitmaking?

We talk to Professor Nicole Gurran from Sydney University’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning about the impact of online home-sharing platforms for global cities like Sydney.

Short term rental websites have certainly transformed the way we travel around the world. More than 150 million people have already stayed in an Airbnb home and you can choose from over 3 million homes listed in more than 190 countries. That’s more than the world’s largest hotel chains, such as the Marriott and Hilton.

But by reimagining local residential homes and bedrooms as potential tourist accommodation, Airbnb and others might also be transforming local communities. These global digital tech operators are operating beyond the established tourist quarters of many cities, and in some places, they’re trying to bypass existing urban planning and building management controls.

So not everyone is convinced of the local benefits that these global digital tech operators promote. In fact, there’s increasing opposition to so-called “holiday home-sharing” platforms from local residents and authorities throughout North America, Europe, and Australasia.

There are concerns about the influx of tourists, and along with them, increasing noise, rubbish and traffic congestion. Then there’s the declining business for local tourist operators and a decrease in permanent rental accommodation in major global cities.

Nicole has published widely on urban and housing issues. Read more about Nicole’s work on Airbnb and cities here:

When Tourists Move In: How Should Urban Planners Respond to Airbnb? in the The Journal of the American Planning Association
Australian governments are treading lightly around Airbnb in The Conversation

Music via Free Music Archive: Catching Feathers RMX by Ketsa


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