Southern Cities Research Centre

The SCRC is a multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary research centre with hubs in Brazil and Australia.

Introduction to the Centre

The Southern Cities Research Centre is a broad academic-led network of university, government, private and community sector partners whose collective purpose is to improve future urban outcomes in 'southern cities'. The Centre offers a hub for dialogue, applied research and partnerships on urban issues across Australia and South America.

Australia shares common attributes with many South American countries, like Brazil and Chile, as resource-rich highly urbanised nations facing challenges in managing urban growth while fostering equity and sustainability in cities. While many of the urban issues faced across these regions bare similarities, the solutions applied vary considerably. Herein lies an opportunity for comparative study to understand complex urban issues and explore alternative approaches to advancing equitable and sustainable cities in some of the world’s most urbanised nations.

The SCRC seeks to deliver excellence in research by bringing together researchers from the University of Melbourne and across South America with public and private sector partners to analyse complex urban problems shared by many cities. The Centre’s research strives to explain complex urban problems and communicate transformative research findings to academic and practice-based audiences. This serves to foster consensual solutions to urban problems and advance sustainable and equitable urban futures across both regions.


To be a centre for excellence in the study of cities in Australia and South America by conducting high quality urban research, education and partnership projects. Through promoting and facilitating collaborative applied research, the Centre will contribute to the debate and resolution of major challenges facing ‘southern cities’. It will also link findings from research in Australia and South America to global urbanisation trends. The Centre will strive to make a difference to Australian and South American cities and the communities within in them.

Focus Areas

Building on existing shared strengths and challenges, the SCRC is structured around specific research themes. The following themes are currently under development and will be further elaborated and refined with partners:

  1. Governance & finance. Study of governance and funding models in urban policy; project definition and implementation.
  2. Health & Urban Environments. Study of the urban determinants of poor health and pathways to promote health through urban design. In particular, addressing chronic diseases caused by preventable lifestyle-related risk factors and poor urban design.
  3. Urban ecologies. Study of ecological processes in cities, urban effects on the environment and climate change.
  4. Vitalising Infrastructure. Study of city ‘vitalising’ or ‘shaping’ megaprojects including transport, basic infrastructure and urban renewal.
  5. Affordable living. Study of the affordable housing deficit in cities and the systems for affordable living.

Each theme is guided by two central principles: equity and sustainability. Research in these themes should therefore demonstrate a commitment to advancing these principles in order to address widening inequality and pressing environmental concerns that impact our ‘southern’ cities. Additionally, the elaboration of each theme should be underscored by analytics and design methodologies that promote critical and propositional exploration of alternative urban futures.


The SCRC analyses and seeks to address major urban challenges identified in consultation with its research partners (via an Advisory Board) through activities such as: funded research projects; Think Tanks; Focus groups; Visiting fellow program; public lectures, publications and resources, annual seminars, etc. Furthermore, research will be integrated with cross-disciplinary education of students within the host universities and faculties, with the aim to foster a spirit of enquiry and grow mutual understandings of complex urban problems. A joint PhD and research training program should form a central tenet of exchange and collaboration. In addition to these core activities, the Centre encompasses a research network that extends beyond the host regions of Brazil and Australia via the Southern Cities Network. It also seeks to establish and maintain community and commercial partnerships, for example with urban development industry bodies, local government authorities and non-government organisations involved in urban issues.

Southern Cities Network: is a network hosted in the SCRC to enable engagement. This Network of academics, industry and government representatives and students has an extended reach across Australia and South America. While the SCRC is hosted within Australia and Brazil, research and teaching links are fostered between other leading South American and Australian universities via the SCN to engage in broad critical debate and learning about the challenges facing ‘southern cities’. The SCN can optimise avenues for collaboration on high-level research projects and facilitates postdoctoral and doctoral student placements, as well as masters intakes and exchanges (including professional and government exchanges) that involve inter-regional fieldwork and study trips. It fosters applied research through industry links in cities such as Melbourne, São Paulo and beyond, seeking to facilitate opportunities for internships and job placements across both regions. There may be opportunities in the future to consider establishing hubs in other cities where research grounds and funding exist.

Community & Commercial Partnerships: The SCRC would maintain strategic partnerships to collaborate with organisations where there are mutual benefits between our research objectives and evidence-based analysis required by organisations. The SCRC could be contracted to provide high quality and independent advice on urban issues. This form of consulting work would be informed by research undertaken by SCRC and offers the possibility for governmental, non-governmental and private organisations to seek policy and project-related advice and evaluation.

Current projects funded by the São Paulo Research Support Foundation (FAPESP)-University of Melbourne Sprint scheme

Achieving sustainable food production and irrigation in São Paulo and Melbourne
The United Nations projects that by 2050 more than 6 billion people—or 65 per cent of the world’s population—will live in cities, generating an unprecedented need for sustainable food production. Using the cities of Melbourne and São Paulo as case studies, this project builds knowledge and capacity to improve the resilience of urban food systems. It advances two complementary research agendas: (1) understanding and improving the governance of urban farming in both cities; (2) building technical knowledge to upgrade irrigation practices, improve water harvesting, and optimise the selection of edible plant species appropriate to the two environments. The University of Melbourne (UoM) team is led by Associate Professor Adrian Hearn, an anthropologist who researches the governance of food production and urban sustainability in China, Latin America, and Australia. The USP team is led by Professor Thais Mauad, a specialist in urban health and co-coordinator of the São Paulo Air Pollution Laboratory.

Complex adaptive systems and rule-based design
Applications of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) will be developed in urban design and architecture, with an emphasis on both research and teaching outcomes. Despite recent work investigating the properties of CAS, relatively little research adopting an explicit complex systems approach has been carried out in architecture, and even less in urban design. Given the current advances in information and computing technologies, a wide variety of software tools and modelling paradigms are now available to investigate the dynamics of complex adaptive systems. The main aim of this project will be to develop applications of this technology to support innovative adaptive designs and planning to meet the needs and complexity of the contemporary urban environments. This research project is led by Associate Professor Justyna Karakiewicz from The University of Melbourne with Associate Professor Maria Gabriela Caffarena Celanie from The University of Campinas, Brazil.

Project details

Project team

Prof Mark Burry (University of Melbourne)
Associate Prof Adrian Hearn (University of Melbourne)
Hayley Henderson (University of Melbourne)
Associate Prof Justyna Karakiewicz (University of Melbourne)
Prof Tom Kvan (University of Melbourne)


Hayley Henderson