How debate can improve urbanism and design - The University of Sydney

How debate can improve urbanism and design

4 September 2023
The Festival of 'Contested' Urbanism 2023
From debates about housing density to protests over environmental heritage or the impacts of platforms and digital automation, the 10th Festival of Urbanism will engage in the complex challenges facing urban life.

Featuring panel discussions, talks, walking tours, and podcasts involving researchers, policy makers, industry experts and community leaders, the Festival of Urbanism program brings new and diverse voices together around shared concern for the future planning and design of Australia’s cities and regions.

“We are currently witnessing a series of decision-making processes which are inflaming conflict or inviting distrust, with local communities feeling disempowered or ignored.

“Despite increasing recognition of Aboriginal custodianship of country, traditional owners continue to fight for sovereignty over land, while difficult decisions about whether to retrofit or relocate localities impacted by the escalating climate crisis threaten to divide communities.” Said Nicole Gurran, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning and Director of the Henry Halloran Research Trust.

Presented by the Henry Halloran Research Trust, University of Sydney, the Festival will be held across multiple cities where debate will tackle these topics head on.

Australia is at a crossroads when it comes to housing, cities, and regions, but the national discourse often seems dominated by interest groups, politicians, or a small number of expert commentators.

"The Festival of Urbanism expands and informs these discussions each year by bringing new and diverse voices to the table."
Professor Nicole Gurran

“Topics will range from how and where to accommodate the new plan for 1.2 million homes – and whether it will solve Australia’s housing affordability crisis – to protecting environmental or cultural heritage, or the implications of AI and automation for cities and urban life.”

This year’s line-up includes University of Sydney’s Professor Nicole Gurran, Dr Luke Hespanhol, Dr Sophia Maalsen, Professor Rosemary Lyster, and Dr Robert Stokes, former minister for Planning, Public Spaces, and Cities, Tegan Mitchell, Manager Major Transport Projects, City of Sydney, and Dr Elizabeth Farrelly, author, journalist and Henry Halloran Research Trust Writer in Residence - to answer the most pressing issues around urban planning and design:

·       How will new housing, environmental, or infrastructure reform agendas advanced by governments and others confront challenges of  affordability, socio-economic exclusion, cultural heritage or biodiversity protection, and whose voices will, or should, be heard?

·       How are Australia’s Indigenous and settler histories recognised and confronted in cultural heritage conservation and urban planning practice, alongside wider struggles for native title, land rights, and spatial justice?

·       Is increasing housing supply, as advocated by the new YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) movement, the solution to Australia’s housing problems?

·       Can contests of ideas and values lead to more innovative or inclusive models of urban governance or design?  

"By keeping events free and open to the public, the Festival of Urbanism welcomes everyone to engage in evidence-based debates over solutions to the urgent crises facing urban and regional communities across Australia."
Professor Nicole Gurran

Festival highlights for Sydney:

Contested Platforms: from Airbnb to the autonomous city

Contested Housing: The great YIMBY v NIMBY debate

Saving Sydney: Skyscraper/Fryscraper

Contested Streets: Roads, footpaths and curbs

Walking Tour: Redfern/Waterloo with Redwatch

Wicked Assumptions: How planning premises from the past shape the cities of tomorrow


The annual Festival of Urbanism is an initiative of the University of Sydney’s Henry Halloran Research Trust and is hosted in partnership with Monash University.

Brought to you by the Henry Halloran Research Trust and Monash Urban Planning and Design with the assistance of the University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning

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