Connected Cities Lab

The Connected Cities Lab is a centre of excellence designed to address the challenges that city leadership faces, and the information it needs, in an interconnected and increasingly urbanised planet.

The Lab works with key stakeholders in urban governance to provide evidence, build capacity and offer advice on the global dynamics shaping the leadership of cities. The Lab offers reliable and innovative sources of applied urban research, producing both policy material, practice-oriented education and scholarly reviews. It specialises on the ways networks, international processes and information influence urban governance, and strives to link academic research to practical needs.

A collaborative Lab for urban innovation

The Lab relies on the urban research strengths of the University of Melbourne and a purpose-built team focused on the international dimension of urban governance. With a base in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning and the state-of-the-art Melbourne School of Design, it operates in partnership with the built environment industry, UN agencies and several city networks. The Lab’s ethos is one of collaborative, applied and international urban research that responds to pressing issues impacting the governance of cities worldwide. The Lab believes in the need to co-produce research with those who are on the frontline of urban challenges, collaborating for instance with local governments in both the Global North and South. This extends not just to single local governments but also to a familiarity, research programme and close collaboration with key city networks. Lab research is for instance working with the city leadership of Dubai, Melbourne, Milan or Havana, but also networks like Eurocities, C40 Cities, Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities, or Metropolis, and major industry and public opinion players like Arup and the Economist Intelligence Unit, seeking to support efforts at better connecting the leadership of cities across national and regional divides.

The Lab also works in partnership with established and emerging research centres in urban studies to promote a collegial approach to investigating cities, with for instance shared initiatives partnering with the likes of University College London, but also think tanks and information hubs like the Chicago Council on Global Affairs or the Gauteng City Region Observatory. The Lab believes that sound and independent academic research does not preclude an up-front engagement with the practice or with making on-the-ground difference in sustainable urban development.

In 2018-19 the Lab is, amongst others, kicking off its activities with:

  • The final report of the Nature Sustainability International Expert Panel on "science and the future of cities" gathering 30 global experts on urban research-policy links
  • The $12.5m KNOW (Knowledge in Action for Urban Equity) programme in collaboration with the Development Planning Unit (DPU) at University College London, working on the role of international institutions in shaping urban planning knowledge in Havana, Lima and Freetown.
  • A global review of ‘city diplomacy’ in collaboration with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Metropolis network and C40 Climate Leadership Group
  • The international workshop and scoping study on the “comparative imagination” of cities in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)
  • The Melbourne School of Design ‘Night studio’ in partnership with Arup and University College London focused on the way we govern cities at night
  • The launch of the Lab’s 'city evidence' policy briefing series detailing usable and internationally-focused evidence on urban governance, starting with global reviews of city networks, city leadership and city rankings
  • The launch of the Lab’s ‘matter of fact’ podcast series on key global urban challenges

There are many ways in which you can connect with us:

  • Propose a project or raise a pressing issue for the Lab’s team to tackle via quantitative and qualitative urban analysis – testing methods with real-world applications.
  • Propose a Melbourne School of Design studio partnership on a key issue of international urban planning/governance for your city, industry or program
  • Engage with the Lab’s professional education in city leadership, urban governance and negotiation
  • Apply for the Lab’s “Impact Fellowship” for PhD students to engage with the Lab and its core partners from industry (e.g. Arup), government (e.g. City of Melbourne) and the multilateral sector (e.g. UN-Habitat)
  • Take advantage of the Lab’s “Visiting Practitioner” programme offering support to established and emerging policymakers in the built environment profession to collaborate with Lab staff and partners on innovative project
  • Collaborate with the Lab on a 'city evidence' policy briefing or a ‘matter of fact’ podcast
  • Support a Melbourne School of Design doctoral or master scholar to work on a pressing challenge that currently shapes your practice
  • Or simply get in touch: urban research is an inherently collaborative endeavour!

Lab rationale and remit

The way we govern cities, and in turn the way cities contribute to addressing global challenges, is key to ensuring the long-term sustainability of humanity. Yet cities are now confronted with a rapidly changing landscape of international politics, interconnected infrastructures, and shifting global economies. Cities can no longer be thought in isolation from each other, and the business of deciding who gets what, when and how in urban development has become a global affair. Focusing on these networked challenges for city leadership, the Connected Cities Lab is an experimental hub tackling the international complexity underpinning urban governance. It does so with a focus on information and connectivity. Located within the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning (ABP) and the Melbourne School of Design (MSD), with support from the University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Research, the Lab aims at research that is inherently impact-driven, interdisciplinary and collaborative to address pressing city leadership challenges in and between cities. Lab research and education programmes engage with the ways decisions about the present and future development of cities are shaped by global information flows and more-than-local networks. It is supported by an interdisciplinary team of researchers and practitioners, and well-established links into industry and government. The Lab's research program is geared towards developing a scholarly and international appreciation of urban politics in both academia and practice. The Lab does so by encouraging evidence-based policy making and focusing on comparative and applied urban research, working with key voices in the built environment to ensure scholarly advancement translates into urban innovation, and vice-versa.

Prof Michele Acuto
Professor of Global Urban Politics | Melbourne School of Design
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning
Director | AURIN (Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network)
University of Melbourne