UTC 3.0 Report: James Cook University - Urban liveability in tropical Australia through urban diaries and community engagement


UTC 3.0 Report: James Cook University - Urban liveability in tropical Australia through urban diaries and community engagement

Title of the Campus: Urban liveability in tropical Australia through urban diaries and community engagement
Organizer(s) Names: James Cook University
Partner Organization(s): Planz Town Planning, Milford Planning, Cairns Regional Council, Townsville City Council 
Date and Location: Friday 8th June to Friday 15th June 2018 
Urban Thinkers Campus in figures: 

Executive summary: 

This report provides a summary of the Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) held at James Cook University, Australia in June 2018. It includes details regarding the sessions, their outcomes and the next steps forward. With 105 participants, 29 partners, and representatives from 9 countries, the UTC entitled ‘Urban Health and Liveability in Tropical Australia through Urban Diaries and Community Engagement’ took place on the 8th June 2018 in Cairns and 15th June in Townsville. 
The UTC drew on the participation of American author Chuck Wolfe, whose book “Seeing the Better City” (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2017), provides a new methodology to analyse the city. This was supported by the Fulbright Specialist Grant by the United States Fulbright Program and the Australian-American Fulbright Commission awarded to James Cook University and Mr Wolfe. The awarded grant had the objectives of: 1) help enable the UTC, 2) fund Mr Wolfe’s travel to Australia from the United States and, 3) support take an important part at Mr Wolfe’s cooperative role in the planning and implementation of the UTC in Cairns and Townsville.  
This UTC was based upon the premise that urbanisation is an opportunity and can lead to a positive transformation toward sustainable development, improving public health. The event was divided in two days, one taking place in Cairns and one in Townsville. The event was based upon active discussions around the theme “Cairns and Townsville that we need”. The main objective was to use UTC act as catalysts of new ideas while emulating consensus among participants and partners in order to inspire and drive contributions to the implementation of the New Urban Agenda locally.
The discussions were focused on urban planning and design to promote public health, and based upon three main issues central to each of the Urban Labs:
  • Urban Lab 1: Urban infrastructure promoting healthy lifestyles
  • Round-table 1: What existing urban infrastructures and amenities promote or restrict active lifestyles? 
  • Urban Lab 2: Urban infrastructure promoting social inclusion
  • Round-table 2: What existing urban infrastructures and amenities promote or restrict social inclusion?
  • Urban Lab 3: Urban infrastructure promoting healthy eating
  • Round-table 3: What existing urban infrastructures and amenities promote or restrict healthy eating?
The UTC was based upon discussion of existing issues during the morning sessions and possible solutions and action plan development during the afternoon. Data was collected in Cairns and Townsville through roundtable discussions, which informed ideas placed in an ‘Impact Effort Matrices’, which then informed the generation of ‘Value Questions’. These strategies for organising and analysing ideas were presented to discussion leaders prior to the event. The discussion leaders met between sessions to synthesise the themes that emerged out of the morning sessions in order to focus the activities for the afternoon. After the event, all data was summarised, classified and coded based upon interpretive categories according to emerging local issues and concerns.
Findings show that important concerns include the promotion of alternative modes of transportation, mixed-use developments throughout the cities, responding to local climates through planning and design and promoting evening lighting along pathways. Regarding social inclusion, the main concerns are to promote community engagement, listen and apply people’s suggestions, including elderly, youth and indigenous peoples, to design for activate city spaces and to support village like suburb hubs to support community values and connections. Finally, regarding healthy eating, the main issues identified require the implementation of a food strategy to provide incentive for the production and commercialisation of healthy foods while reducing fast food availability. These main outcomes are elaborated in this document. Results from Cairns and Townsville’s workshops show that although the concerns are similar, the cities have different priorities.
In summary, the “Urban Health and Liveability in Tropical Australia” UTC organised by James Cook University and partners and held in Cairns and Townsville (Australia) on 8th June and 15th June 2018 contributed to the following 9 of 17 Sustainable Development Goals:
  • (3) Good Health and Wellbeing
  • (5) Gender Equality
  • (10) Reduced Inequalities
  • (11) Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • (12) Responsible Production and Consumption
  • (13) Climate Action
  • (15) Life on Land
  • (16) Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • (17) Partnerships for the Goals
The event was intended to build consensus between partners and identify the role of each stakeholder group in addressing urbanization challenges and proposing solutions for urban futures. We were interested in what each group can contribute as key actors for change.

Introduction to the Campus: 

The event was conceived as an open space for critical exchange between all stakeholders and partners involved in promoting sustainable urbanization focused on the relationships between urban planning and design, and public health towards the implementation of the New Urban Agenda locally. 

The UTC was structured around day-long workshops based upon discussions and the development of action plans for Cairns and Townsville with the input and active participation of multiple stakeholders including government, professionals, academics and the community in general. The event drew on the participation of Mr Chuck Wolfe who presented the LENS Method and urban diary tool. This UTC used urban diaries as tools, consistent with the New Urban Agenda’s call to action and implementation of equitable framework. 

Upon registration, participants were sent a guide to prepare urban diaries prior to the UTC (https://goo.gl/cy9Lrg) and an invitation to join the relevant Facebook group. During the morning discussion, these photographs provided insights on existing issues. The main issues were listed by table moderators over lunch and presented to the groups at the start of the afternoon session. Participants then worked on preparing actions to overcome the identified deficiencies.

Results of the event were presented to Cairns Regional Council and Townsville City Council and this final report addresses prospective actions towards the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. The event brought a wide range of key stakeholders together and focused broadly on urban planning and design supporting public health - including walkability, public transport to support walking and cycling, social inclusion and mental health, and ways of producing and making healthy food options available.

Key outcomes: 

The main intention of the Urban Labs was for participants to share their own experiences and perceptions, therefore all presentations were brief and the discussions longer. The key outcomes were identified based on the ‘Impact Effort Matrix’ (second step of the process). We were primarily interested in the High Impact/Low Effort ideas, as they can be readily applied, and have also considered the High Impact/High Effort ideas, as they can be considered for long-term strategy planning. These are the key outcomes as they have been identified as actions for generating a significant positive impact. The key outcomes are presented below.
Urban Lab 1: Urban infrastructure promoting healthy lifestyles
Round-table 1: What existing urban infrastructures and amenities promote or restrict active lifestyles?
The first Urban Lab started with a brief presentation intended at emphasising relationships between urban infrastructure and healthy lifestyles. Images extracted from the Urban Diaries shared on the UTC Facebook groups were used as examples to inspire the beginning of the conversations. Below are the main ideas for both hosting cities. High Impact/Low Effort ideas can be implemented in the short-term, therefore are taken as priorities and High Impact/High Effort ideas are actions to be considered in longer term strategy. 
High Impact/Low Effort 
  • Human scale way-finding signage on cycle paths
  • Climate-wise planting to promote natural breezeways, shade and counter greenhouse gas emissions. More trees to shade cycle and pedestrian routes
  • Better path networks
  • Bike racks on buses
  • Minimum levels of embellishment for parks
  • Revitalise urban areas so they are less sterile and more natural 
  • Mixed-use development to add interest to walking and cycling trips 
  • Improve street lighting along existing paths and in suburbs
  • Regulating shopping centres to provide external green space to make public spaces interesting
  • Reduce speed limit in CBD to 40km to prioritise pedestrians by promoting walkability and cycling 
  • Increase neighbourhood watch participation for safety
  • CRC (Cairns Regional Council) to adopt (1) QLD Health and Climate Adaptation Strategy and (2) National Framework for Climate, Health and Wellbeing for Australia 
  • Roll out council supported active lifestyle program into suburbs
  • Planning requirements and minimum urban heat island targets for new developments
  • Create a Cairns wide place-based strategy with plans for each suburb to activate each community 
  • Water cooler facilities in public parks to avoid the use of bottled water 
High Impact/High Effort 
  • Allocate more income from rates for infrastructure and safety 
  • Build a North-South light rail
  • Bike paths lining northern beaches along attractive coastal route
  • Opportunities for bike hire businesses
  • Access to enable people to play sport
  • Paths that connect green spaces together
High Impact/Low Effort
  • Free bike repair and air stations around city 
  • Offer discounted sporting memberships
  • Increasing public lighting – map areas of concern  
  • Devise and roll-out plan to improve lighting: feasibility study of solar for lower cost running
  • Creation of temporary art installations program that pop up on key pedestrian ways
  • Promote school children group active transport
  • Incentivising alternative transport to work: ride sharing, walk/bike 
  • Bike share program
  • Design paths and tracks to be fully connected – including connections within the suburbs (homes to precincts)
  • Trees everywhere especially in the CBD and public areas
  • Promote mixed-use to make the city centre a precinct rather than a CBD 
  • Create more landmarks, street art, path side shops, points of interest, etc
  • Pedestrian crossings: Longer pedestrian time to enable mobility impaired/parents with prams to cross safely
  • Access to water points 
High Impact/High Effort 
  • Remarket council guidelines for housing and planting
  • Develop dry tropical shade guidelines 
  • Illuminated bike paths and green walkways
  • Route buses according to community demographics
  • Creation of a bike hub (similar to http://cycle2city.com.au/) with possibility of business integration (tourism/bike hire) within CBD/South Townsville precinct
Urban Lab 2: Urban infrastructure promoting social inclusion
Round-table 2: What existing urban infrastructures and amenities promote or restrict social inclusion?
The second Urban Lab started with a presentation intended at emphasising the relationship between urban infrastructure and social inclusion. Below are listed the main ideas for both hosting cities.
High Impact/Low Effort 
  • Use all forms of media and technology for engagement 
  • Activate city spaces with events and keep the lagoon open later
  • Provision of local app to locate all community facilities and infrastructure
  • Under 18 precincts in the City Centre
  • Create spaces for Aboriginal people to gather
  • Promote empathy walks with vulnerable people to better understand city
  • Promote intergenerational creative labs for neighbourhoods led by NGOs and community groups
  • Co-facilitate a children’s play strategy 
  • Seasonal trading allowed for, e.g. live music and bean bags at beaches promotes gathering in public spaces into evenings
  • Indigenous cultural references in urban design to show values of strong history. Ensure there is more available information alongside art through plaques or QR codes
  • Youth programs (chosen through engaging with youth) including developing urban spaces
  • School projects for real life issues
  • More community involvement in infrastructure maintenance and care – i.e. adopting parks/ gardens
High Impact/High Effort
  • Create affordable housing social housing strategy for Cairns
  • CRC to focus more attention on liveability in suburbs – access to walk and cycleways and public transport 
  • Recognise Cairns as gateway city for Cape York, Torres Strait, Papua New Guinea, Tablelands and work with those groups to make Cairns more "user friendly"
  • Policy of village development in city boundaries
High Impact/Low Effort 
  • Understanding peoples values, wants and aspirations – evidence-based
  • Long tables in parks to encourage people to sit together
  • Big play out event which showcases parks, outdoors and messy play
  • Improve areas that have lost community physical infrastructure – look at existing open space areas and what can be added to reactivate areas 
  • Multiply events in the suburbs not only city centre
  • Events for elderly citizens to socialise, "Old Time Greats" Festival for all ages
  • Planning for mobility of elderly
  • Creation of node attractions for people to meet
  • Legitimise alternative use of public spaces by encouraging street dwellers to contribute to their environment
  • Improve interest of children in healthy lifestyle – develop high health knowledge
  • Include local Indigenous people to participate in planning and community needs
  • Activation of public spaces, more regularly e.g. food trucks
High Impact/High Effort 
  • Parks with activities – i.e. tennis, small court soccer, chess, evening activities
  • Inclusivity of aged and youth: plan for both
  • Buddy system to pair up elderly with students or other social demographics
  • Allow for pop-up commercial uses in parks
Urban Lab 3: Urban infrastructure promoting healthy eating
Round-table 3: What existing urban infrastructures and amenities promote or restrict healthy eating?
The third Urban Lab started with a presentation intended at emphasising the relationship between urban infrastructure and healthy eating. It followed a similar structure from Urban Labs 1 and 2 and below are the main ideas for both hosting cities.
High Impact/Low Effort 
  • Weekly farmers markets at the esplanade or local communities
  • Provide fruit shade trees – ‘foodpaths’ instead of footpaths. Create easily accessible interconnected pockets (e.g. gardens, meeting places)
  • Allow for healthy options using food trucks in suburbs and key gathering places such as parks and esplanade
  • Community cooking initiative
  • Self-watering herb and salad boxes
  • School-based food gardens and programs
  • Cooking schools through Rustys Market to celebrate local food and culture 
  • Promote education about healthy tropical fruit and veges in schools, TAFE and via Nutrition course at JCU
High Impact/High Effort 
  • Community Kitchen
  • Improve Rustys Market precinct to improve access
  • Planning controls for the clustering of fast food
  • Promote healthy street food and restrict junk food take away 
  • Reduce the number of liquor and poor takeaway options
  • Support development of healthy eating options through provision of funding and in-kind for community gardens and city farms 
High Impact/Low Effort 
  • Stewardship through the deregulation of street landscaping, so adjoining owners can plant whatever they want on the provisions that it is safe and they maintain it
  • Learning lunch box: Schools plant food that then gets managed and utilised by kids
  • Special target of school children and food providers
  • Places for roadside food (fruit etc)
  • Effective resourcing for community initiatives 
High Impact/High Effort 
  • Implementation of an intergenerational gardening program where elder people teach kids and their parents how to grow food successfully and how to prepare them
  • Urban Farming Classes

Conclusion & way forward:

The third step of the discussion was to transform the High Impact/Low Effort ideas (priority short-term) into action statements. Each stakeholder presented actions they consider important in responding to the identified issues, these suggestions are below.
Government and Council:
  • Community kitchen that helps community eat and interact by sharing meals, cooking together, creating herb gardens and weaving social fabric for a stronger community.
  • Human scale connection – cycle paths, footpaths, trails – between suburbs to help people to be active. 
  • Develop a plan for each suburb to promote local businesses and community activities. 
Academics and students:
  • Transport strategy – including bike racks on buses – to enhance public pedestrian and cycle links by offering safe, convenient, affordable and accessible transport options.
  • Asset map of neighbourhood places to activate community participation.
  • Events calendar for the Lagoon that helps the community to enjoy extended hours.
Built Environment Professionals:
  • Free Wi-Fi platform to activate open spaces and connect council and community, while helping the community to be socially active by promoting consultation opportunities.
  • Healthy cooking and eating program to educate and break the fast food cycle by utilising community gardens and food pathways. 
  • Healthy street food strategy to provide cheap, healthy, accessible food to the Cairns community by allowing and providing incentive for food vans to do seasonal trading in suburbs.
Health Professionals:
  • Tropical health and well-being festival to share skills and celebrate healthy lifestyles by focusing on tropical food(s) and gardening, and waste minimisation.
  • Active suburbs program that helps communities to become healthier, connected and resilient by promoting physical activity, social cohesion and mental health.
  • Indigenous voice that helps plan for an inclusive city that supports Indigenous people to be part of the Cairns community.
  • Cairns as a gateway celebrating Cape York, Torres Strait, Papua New Guinea, and the Tablelands cultures by being user-friendly and improving cultural connections.
  • Street lighting that uses renewable energy and smart systems to promote safety.
  • Community cooking initiative that – through workshops, cultural leaders and schools – helps residents, children and single people to eat healthier food.
Government and Council:
  • ‘Good urban environments’ education strategy – by using think tanks, surveys, and fact sheets – to help community and council personnel to understand both Indigenous and general community  perspectives.
  • Shade to promote community’s healthy lifestyles while out comfortably and safely exploring the tropical climate and environment. 
  • Technology (Apps) to inform community of existing facilities in parks and access to public transport. 
Academics and students:
  • Affordable, accessible, efficient, sustainable, and reliable public transport.
  • Inclusive process that helps community engagement by creating sense of belonging and empowered active voices.
  • Use front median strip in the suburbs to grow vegetables and meet neighbours.
  • Framework that helps generational knowledge transfer by engaging in median strip gardening in neighbourhoods. This will also help decrease water usage on useless grass while building social connections.
  • System of evening places that helps youth to socialise and eat, by having options to be active, access food and entertainment other than those at home. 
  • Design guidelines incorporating shade (trees) and landmarks (art), that help developers to design for better health and social connections.
Built Environment Professionals:
  • Community farm or garden in brownfield space that helps the community’s elderly to share knowledge and grow food. This will also build a sense of belonging and make neighbourhoods greener.
  • Healthy urban living program that guides new residents to visit the ‘Welcome to Townsville’ annual event to be educated about urban farming, active commuting and healthy food – present options and incorporate new residents’ feedback into proposed initiatives.
  • A public end of trip facility that helps commuters and recreational cyclists ride to work or use hire bikes on the community cycling network.
  • Online hub to identify and discover events and resources.
  • Bike path for people working in the city who want to commute while exercising via sea access. This can be done by converting old infrastructure into a bike path.
  • Light replacement to decrease cost while increasing safety and accessibility at night – replace halogen lights with solar powered LED lighting and add additional lights where needed.

On the basis of the UTC outcomes, what are your recommendations to National Governments and other Stakeholders, including local and sub national governments, in order to effectively contribute to the implementation of the New Urban Agenda ?

In this UTC we discussed issues that need the involvement of public agencies to promote change. Thus, we recommend that: 
1) Healthy lifestyles
a. Public administrations at all spatial scales make a commitment to support alternative modes of transportation by promoting bike share and fixing programs, bike racks on buses.
b. Promoting mixed-uses throughout the cities (centre and suburbs)
c. Planning and design for local climates – promotion of shade and channelling breezes
d. Promote water drinking points throughout the city, but specifically along pathways
e. Solar powered lighting along pathways
2) Social inclusion
a. Promote deep community engagement, listening and applying their suggestions, including elderly, youth and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
b. Activate city spaces to promote community values and connections
3) Healthy eating
a. Create a healthy food strategy to provide incentive for the production and commercialisation of healthy foods – e.g. community gardens etc
b. Incentivise the provision of healthy fast food options
c. Implement street shading through the use of fruit/nut trees where possible
d. Facilitate stewardship of community created infrastructure through supportive programs

Monitoring & Reporting:

How do you intend to monitor the achievements and progress in the implementation of your action plan approved at your Campus(sucess indicators and other measures of achievement should be proposed)?

The topics below were the most widely discussed and repeated during the UTC, therefore, they have been chosen to be monitored.
Urban Lab 1: Healthy lifestyles
  • Improve lighting to promote safety, use of solar powered lighting
  • Reduce CBD speed to make it more pedestrian and cycle friendly
  • Designated bike lanes/paths built
  • Promote mixed-use development
  • Climate-wise planting to promote shade, breezes, and natural perception
  • Water points/fountains
  • Map types of uses in the CBDs and suburbs, now and in the future 
  • Application of guidelines for housing and planting and tropical shade guidelines
  • Direct observation – regarding lighting, planting and water points
Urban Lab 2: Social inclusion
  • Promotion of meeting points in public spaces
  • Include and listen Indigenous culture in urban design
  • Use media and technology for engagement and consultation 
  • Focus on elderly and youth 
  • Promote events in the suburbs
  • Map meeting points – now and over the next years
  • Number of feedback sessions to engage Indigenous peoples in urban design
  • Assessment of applications used for engagement and consultation
  • Number of programs for inclusion of elderly and youth
  • List existing events and evolution over time
Urban Lab 3: Healthy eating
  • Education and habit forming from early school years
  • Build upon and improve Rusty’s Market
  • Easy access to healthy choices
  • Involve elderly and help them teach new generations
  • Number of school programs related to healthy eating education
  • Map access to healthy food options (gardens + healthy restaurants + food truck events)
  • Number of programs to connect elderly and younger families and promote knowledge transfer regarding gardening and healthy eating

Explain how you intend to share the results of your action plan with the WUC community and other partners in order to jointly implement the New Urban Agenda?

Prior to the event we published an article on the online journal “The Conversation” entitled “Making a global agenda work locally for healthy, sustainable living in tropical Australia”, available on https://theconversation.com/making-a-global-agenda-work-locally-for-healthy-sustainable-living-in-tropical-australia-97069 
Following the event we published an initial, widely circulated summary article that appeared in Planetizen, CNU Public Square (Congress for the New Urbanism), and Minds and Hearts (Australian-American Fulbright Commission) as follows:
In the near future we intend to publish and expand the outcomes of this UTC in both public and academic outlets, including:

The organisers will keep working closely with Cairns Regional Council and Townsville City Council in projects related to the main topics of this UTC. Our focus will include the importance of continued use of the LENS Method and urban diary tool to elicit further information concerning key issues and indicators and to inform implementation of related solutions.

We will follow up the progress of these issues and the implementation of solutions and report back to UN- Habitat.

UTC key speakers:

  • Mr Chuck Wolfe, Seeing the Better City Group Principal, Seattle, United States and London, United Kingdom
  • Ms Deborah Wellington, Program Leader Strategic Planning and Sustainability, Cairns Regional Council, Cairns, Australia
  • Ms Siân Ashton, Senior Public Health Officer, Cairns, Australia
  • Mr Jeffrey Kerr, Senior Urban Design Officer, Townsville City Council, Townsville, Australia
  • Ms Julie Mudd, Public Health Specialist at Queensland Health, Townsville, Australia
  • Mr Greg Mews, Urban Synergies Group, Director, Canberra, Australia

List of participants: 

List of participants

List of organisations represented: 

  1. Arcadis
  2. ARUP
  3. James Cook University
  4. Ken Wilson Consulting
  5. Lendlease Communities
  6. Milford Planning
  7. Organic Motion - Edible Landscapes & Design
  8. Otium Planning Group
  9. Planning Institute of Australia
  10. PLANZ Town Planning
  11. Queensland Health
  12. Smithfield State High School
  13. Australian National University
  14. Tettamanti Vani Architects
  15. Townsville City Council
  16. Townsville Public Health Unit
  17. Tropical Urbanism and Design Lab at James Cook University
  18. u3a
  19. University of Canberra - Health Research Institute
  20. Urban Sync Pty Ltd
  21. Urban Synergies Group 
  22. Vos Architect
  23. Working Visions
  24. Cairns Regional Council
  25. Cairns Safer Streets
  26. City Space Architecture
  27.  Fulbright Specialist Program, Australian-American Fulbright Commission
  28. Green Business
  29. Greens Townsville Branch
  30. Griffith University

List of partner groups represented:

  1. Children & Youth
  2. Businesses & Industries 
  3. Research & Academia 
  4. Local & Subnational Authorities
  5. Civil Society Organizations 

List of countries represented:

  1. Australia
  2. Brazil
  3. France
  4. Germany
  5. Italy
  6. Qatar
  7. Netherlands
  8. New Zealand
  9. United States

UTC Documents:

UTC Photos & Weblink to key tweets, Facebook and/or Instagram posts: 

#UrbanThinkers Campus 3.0: James Cook University


Facebook groups:


Was UN-Habitat directly involved in organizing/hosting your UTC? if yes, How? if no, why not?
Yes. The UN-Habitat through the World Urban Campaign team has provided guidance for organising the event days.
Please indicate if (and how) you shared information about your partnership with UN-Habitat/WUC and how you communicated the purpose of holding your UTC
Yes, we communicated through email and had Skype calls to help structure the days.