Space and Place

Research is needed to find the best use our spaces and create senses of place for all members of our diverse communities. Using proven and novel approaches, we the study co-design of our communities.

Person walking in busy city at night

There is a long term shift occurring around the world: the increasing urbanisation of our population. Nearly a quarter of the world’s 7 billion plus people now live in cities of a million or more people. By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities. How we live our lives is very much determined by where we are, or where we will be in the future. If we are going to thrive as a society in these expanding, changing urban environments we need to understand more about the interplay between the built environment and the people who design it, live in it and move through it.

Space matters to our everyday lives and personal interactions. Spaces for human activity are not passive or static places, but rather are active environments which influence, and in turn, are influenced by the interaction of people. An area of our research in space and place focuses on environmental risk management, especially climate change adaptation, our links between conservation and development and how we educate for sustainable development. This research is used to learn how places and associated socio-ecological systems, will adjust to new situations of climate, agriculture and natural resource management.  Our work has been used in many contexts from international organisations, state and national governments to local community groups who are aiming to establish sustainable places.

An individual’s sense of identity, of who they are, is embedded in their history, memories and past experiences, in their social connections and daily activities, and their sense of place. Our research investigate the visual components of how people pay attention to location and country. This includes traditional forms of visualisation, like drawing and making comics, as well as through newer technologies like smart phone applications. From rock paintings to navigation apps, human cultures have used visual communication to understand places and tell stories about them. We use images to understand where we are, where we would like to go, and what it means to be an inhabitant of particular places. Our research on visual placemaking can be applied to develop clearer ways of understanding where we are, including through smart phone applications, drawings and diagrams.

Unless people are connected to their place and the environment, there is less likelihood they will be responsive to undertaking the change that is needed to survive as a community in the face of challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Our research aims to understand communities through urban ecology projects such as the value of trees in urban environments and how people connect with community gardens. Researchers are also involved with a nationwide project on urban placemaking which develops modes of community engagement and explores the utility of citizen science to connect people to their place and spaces. This research is incorporated in to policy and strategies around how to undertake community engagement, assists communities to build cross cultural environmental initiatives around space and place, and spatial planning for cities.

Cities are spaces that are usually imagined, planned and structured with a younger, working age demographic in mind. Many people are marginalised and excluded socially, economically and spatially due to low income or older age. Older people and low income households are not typically incorporated into the mainstream of thinking and planning around inner city housing and environments. While these urban environments may be increasingly experiencing unemployment and an ageing population, these vulnerable people are marginal to city living and design of urban spaces. Thus our applied research seeks to understand the needs, aspirations, expectations and experiences of older people and vulnerable households in their access to services, employment, housing, income support or aged care. All of these factors impact on quality of life and wellbeing. Our research in space and place looks into providing a greater understanding of the living experiences of older people and vulnerable households, raising awareness of the issues confronting these groups in society, and identifying the inequities and conflicts within policy arenas.

Our key researchers in this area:

  • Professor Chris Leishman - CHURP. Chris explores population trends, housing markets, and economic growth and development including the effects of space and place using applied economic and econometric methods.
  • Professor Susan Oakley - Head of the School of Social Sciences and a research member in CHURP. Susan’s research expertise is the relationship between urban planning, governance and urban regeneration with a focus on disused docklands in Australia.
  • Associate Professor Melissa Nursey-Bray - Director: ACE (Adaptation, Community, Environment) Research Group. Melissa’s research specialty is in community adaptation, socially just conservation and urban greening. She focusses on what drivers affect communities in this context, including conflict, knowledge, power, risk, values and perception. She works with Indigenous communities and fisheries. 
  • Dr Douglas Bardsley - GEP. Doug’s work focuses on environmental and agro-ecological risk management, and especially climate change adaptation; links between conservation and development; and education for sustainable development, in partnership with local and international partners, including with reference to bushfire and viticulture. 
  • Dr Helen Barrie - Hugo Centre. Helen’s research is on social gerontology with a focus on older people, community connectedness, the built environment, and social networks including inter-generational family ties, ageing and migration, age friendly communities, and demographic changes in rural and regional Australia.
  • Dr Georgina Drew - Senior Lecturer. Georgina explores development, sustainability, and resource use and management, including associated sociocultural and religious issues and conflicts, both in Australia and in South Asia and the Himalaya, with particular focus on water politics.
  • Dr Debbie Faulkner - CHURP.  Debbie investigates the housing, social, and support needs of the older population and other groups at disadvantages in the community, and the impact of housing circumstances on wellbeing, access, and utilisation of services and supports.

Our research groups working in this area

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