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Edition: March 2020

Meet the women helping to improve how we live in cities and with nature

As our cities evolve, so too should our approach to building and planning our urban habitats. Here six RMIT urban researchers share how their work is shaping how we live in our cities and with nature.

Director's Note

Welcome to the first 2020 edition of the Urban Observer from the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University.

It’s been a remarkable year so far with disruptions of bushfires, smoke haze and now COVID-19. I would like to start this note by acknowledging the difficult experiences faced by many of CUR’s friends and stakeholders over the past few months and our hopes for everyone’s safety and wellbeing over the coming months.

The summer bushfires have given us pause to reflect on our contribution to knowledge and understanding of disaster risks and climate change. This issue of the Urban Observer includes summary articles by Anthony Richardson on complex systems shocks, Mittul Vahanvati comparing Indian and Australian disaster responses, Briony Towers highlighting the experience of children in disaster preparedness and responses, and the ICON Science team’s reporting on protecting wildlife after disasters. We hope you find these an enlightening read.

There are also links to more than 20 research articles published by CUR over recent months, across topics that include walking and accessibility for transport, car-parking, liveable neighbourhoods, citizen science, cultural heritage and creative cities. We’ve even got an article on the impacts of climate change on research itself. If it sounds a little indulgent of researchers to be thinking of themselves, I would note that the CSIRO’s crop research unit was wiped out by the Canberra hailstorms while the Australian Academy of Science, the nation’s peak scientific body, was left without accommodation after the Canberra hailstorm gutted its building. But that’s only part of it, as Lauren Rickards’ article reveals.

To celebrate International Women's Day 2020, we’re showcasing the work of a terrific group of early-career urban researchers in CUR. I’m constantly amazed at the talented women we have in the CUR team and the work of our ECRs. Laura Mumaw, Louise Dorignon, Bhavna Middha, Briony Towers, Mittul Vahanvati, and Belen Zapata-Diomedi are just a part of this richness, as the profiles above attest. I’d also like to recognise our talented communications advisor Chanel Koeleman who consistently ensures our internal and external communications, including the Urban Observer, are of high quality.

We’re delighted to have launched the Australian Urban Observatory (name just a coincidence) which is a new data platform built by CUR’s Healthy Liveable Cities Program. The AUO will deliver high quality synthesised data on urban liveability indicators for use by local and state government planners and wider professionals to support improved urban planning and policy. Do take the time to check out the Urban Observatory via Congratulations to the HLC team for this great effort.

We’ve also got some great events coming up - we’re co-hosting a Climate Update with the Australian National University to present the latest knowledge on climate change. And we’re also hosting former Vancouver Mayor Gordon Price who’ll be reporting on that city’s great transport achievements and new urban mobility directions. See below for all details.

I hope you enjoy reading all of our articles and news. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to know more about CUR or our research.

Best wishes, 

Jago Dodson
Director for the Centre for Urban Research

Top stories
New digital platform maps liveability in our major cities

A groundbreaking new digital platform is set to transform how we map liveability in major cities across the country, in an Australian first.

Read more
Meet Jodie Boyd: Expert in cultural history and policy

What role do libraries have in the 21st century in shaping our national narrative? Dr Jodie Boyd explains how libraries are vital to preserving our story as a multicultural society.
For more information, contact Jodie Boyd.

How bringing nature back to cities is good for our health

The rise around the globe to bring nature back into cities has clear links to individual and community health and wellbeing, according to RMIT researchers at the Centre for Urban Research.
For more information, contact Cecily Maller.

Responding to disasters & climate change
Climate action plans must include threats on research, warn academics

Research is not immune from the effects of climate change warns a new paper, urging the higher education sector to adapt their climate action plans to include the threats on research.
For more information, contact Lauren Rickards

Want to help save wildlife after the fires? You can do it in your own backyard

Here we provide various practical tips on things people can do in their own backyards and neighbourhoods to help some of the species hit hard by the fires.

No food, no fuel, no phones: bushfires showed we’re only ever one step from system collapse

This summer’s bushfires were not just devastating events in themselves. More broadly, they highlighted the immense vulnerability of the systems which make our contemporary lives possible.

Briony Towers
Bushfire education is too abstract. We need to get children into the real world

Children and young people have been deeply impacted by the current bushfire crisis. Schools have been destroyed and thousands of houses have burnt down.

Mittul Vahanvati
Rebuilding from the ashes of disaster: this is what Australia can learn from India

A key question facing us all after Australia’s unprecedented bushfires is how will we do reconstruction differently? 



Thousands of city trees have been lost to development, when we need them more than ever

Trees often feature prominently when talking about solutions, but our research shows trees are being lost to big developments – about 2,000 within a decade in inner Melbourne.

No need to give up on crowded cities – we can make density so much better

The more immediate need is to focus on improving conditions in our major cities. Our smaller towns matter, but we can’t neglect the urgent need to get better at doing the bigger ones right.


12 March 2020, 5:30PM-7:30PM
Climate Update 2020 – Melbourne

Co-hosted by ANU and RMIT University, Climate Update Melbourne will present an overview of how our climate is changing, how it is impacting us, and how we need to respond.

7 March 2020, 5:30PM-7:00PM
Lessons from Vancouver: Transport success and a new mobility agenda

Gordon Price shares some of the cornerstones of transport success in Vancouver.


Allan, C., Ison, R. L., Colliver, R., Mumaw, L., Mackay, M., Perez-mujica, L., & Wallis, P. (2020). Jumping off the treadmill: transforming NRM to systemic governing with systemic co-inquiry. Policy Studies, doi: 10.1080/01442872.2020.1726312.

‘Assemi, B., Zahnow, R., Zapata-Diomedi, B., Hickman, M. and Corcoran, J., 2020. Transport-related walking among young adults: when and why?. BMC Public Health, 20(1), pp.1-13.

Beer T, Hernandez-Santin C, Cumpston Z, Khan R, Mata L, Parris K, Renowden C, Iampolski R, Hes D, Vogel B. (2019) The Living Pavilion Research Report. The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Coffey B., Bush J., Mumaw L., DeKleyn L., Furlong C., and Cretney R. (2019) Towards good governance of urban greening: insights from four initiatives in Melbourne Australia, Australian Geographer.

Coffey B. (2019) ‘Environmental Policy’, in: P. Chen, N. Barry, J. Butcher, D. Clune, I. Cook, A. Garnier, Y. Haigh, S. Motta, and M. Taflaga (eds) Australian Politics and Policy, Sydney University Press.

De Gruyter, C., Truong, L.T. & Taylor, E.J. (2020) Can high quality public transport support reduced car parking requirements for new residential apartments? Journal of Transport Geography, vol. 82, pp. 1-11.

Grechyn, V. & McShane, I., 2016. What influences international differences in broadband prices?. Australian Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy, 4(4).

Currie, G., Fournier, N. and De Gruyter, C., Valuing public transport customer experience infrastructure: An International Expert Delphi Study of methods & application.

Fatima, K., Moridpour, S., Saghapour, T. and De Gruyter, C., Comparison of elderly public transport accessibility indices: time-based methods.

Hooper, P., Foster, S., Bull, F., Knuiman, M., Christian, H., Timperio, A., Wood, L., Trapp, G., Boruff, B., Francis, J. and Strange, C., 2020. Living liveable? RESIDE's evaluation of the “Liveable Neighborhoods” planning policy on the health supportive behaviors and wellbeing of residents in Perth, Western Australia. SSM-Population Health, p.100538.

Hotker, M., Steele, W. and Amati, M., 2020. When gambling fails: Caring-with urban communities at the local scale. Cities, 100, p.102642.

Kleyn, L. De, Mumaw, L., & Corney, H. (2019). From green spaces to vital places: connection and expression in urban greening. Australian Geographer, 0(0), 1–15.

Kusmanoff, A.M., Fidler, F., Gordon, A., Garrard, G.E. and Bekessy, S.A., 2020. Five lessons to guide more effective biodiversity conservation message framing. Conservation Biology.

Mata L, Vogel B, Bolitho J. (2020) Pollinator Observatories – Citizen science to engage people with nature in cities. Report prepared for Westgate Biodiversity: Bill Nursery & Landcare.

Maseyk, F.J., Maron, M., Gordon, A., Bull, J.W. and Evans, M.C., Improving averted loss estimates for better biodiversity outcomes from offset exchanges. Oryx, pp.1-11.

Nguyen-Phuoc, D.Q., Young, W., Currie, G. and De Gruyter, C., 2020. Traffic congestion relief associated with public transport: state-of-the-art. Public Transport, pp.1-27.

Putra, B.D., Horne, R. and Hurley, J., 2019. Place, Space and Identity Through Greening in Kampung Kota. Journal of Regional and City Planning, 30(3), pp.211-223.

Ranathunga, G.M., Karunarthne, P.V.M., Ratnayake, R., Grodach, C. and Butt, A., 2019. Creative cities in Sri Lanka: understanding the cultural heritage, modernity and the sustainability of creative industries in Pilimatalawa, Molagoda and Wewaldeniya.

Rickards, L., Verlie, B., Towers, B. and Lay, B., 2019. Climate is disrupting children's education [online]. Eureka Street, Vol. 29, No. 23, 17 Nov 2019: 55-57. Availability: <864556937760147;res=IELLCC>">;dn=864556937760147;res=IELLCC>

Rickards, L. and Watson, J.E., 2020. Research is not immune to climate change. Nature Climate Change, pp.1-4.

Torabi, N., Lindsay, J., Smith, J., Khor, L.A. and Sainsbury, O., 2020. Widening the lens: Understanding urban parks as a network. Cities, 98, p.102527.

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.

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