The UN food agency, FAO, warned that hunger and fatalities could rise significantly in urban areas, without measures to ensure that poor and vulnerable residents have access to food.
– United Nations

We are playing our part in achieving this goal through targeted research, industry collaborations and university initiatives.

Direct actions by the university include renewable energy agreements, water recycling and energy-efficient buildings.

Collaboration with community and industry partners brings into our research into sharper focus, with projects addressing sustainable packaging, water infrastructure and use of waste products in building materials.

11: Sustainable cities & communiities (builidings icons)

Research, engagement & education 2020-21

Research with impact

Moondani Balluk’s Aboriginal research focuses on self-determination, displacement and identity, knowledge and climate change. The Aboriginal History Archive documents over half a century of Aboriginal activism in Australia’s contemporary political history.

Other research examines ways to improve sustainablity and liveability in cities and rural communities.

A study by Elmira Jamei and Hing Wah Chau from VU’s Built Environment and Infrastructure research group together with Ahmadi Khatereh from the University of Modhaghegh Ardabil in Iran, Mehdi Seyedmahmoudian, and Aleksandar Stojcevski from Swinburne University of Technology and Ben Horan from Deakin University, aims to provide a review of promising urban design parameters to enhance walkability, using Frank Lawrence’s theory of “Objectively Measured Urban Form”. The study uses the main design features of traditional Iranian cities to analyse their impacts on promoting walkability. This study concludes that incorporating inherent values of traditional urban design elements will complement modern planning and design practices.

Elmira Jamei and Hing Wah Chau undertook further work with Mehdi Seyedmahmoudian and Alex Stojcevsk to review the effect of green roofs for providing a cooling effect in different climate types. Green roofs provide a partial solution to the combined trends of urban heat island (UHI) intensification and global warming. This review of 89 studies confirms that green roofs have the highest median cooling effect in dry climates (3°C) with hot–humid climates have the lowest cooling effect (1°C). Further investigation of the effects is necessary, as only a few of the looked at the cooling effect at pedestrian-level air temperature/thermal comfort and studies of temperate climates had contradictory results.

Hing Wah Chau and Elmira Jamei also looked that the issues relating to age-friendly built environment for housing, transportation, outdoor spaces and public buildings for active aging and independent living. For achieving an age-friendly living environment, a holistic approach is required to enable independent living, inclusion and active participation of older adults in society. To achieve ageing in place, and the benefits for quality of life, accessible, adaptable and affordable housing options with integrated smart technologies are needed to support independent living. There is currently a lack of incentives for private developers to put additional resources to address the needs of the ageing population. Regulatory requirements are needed to benefit people of all ages and abilities and government efforts to develop the age-friendliness of the built environment. Co-design is a way to engage with older adults to ensure that their needs are addressed in enhancing the overall age-friendliness of housing options and their neighbourhoods.

Only 63% of Indigenous people have access to internet at home. Addressing digital inequities for young Indigenous Australians by Corinne Reid of VU and a group of researchers from universities around Australia, examines the importance of digital connectedness and access to social media for strong cultural identity, community and mental health. More targeted policies and funding are urgently needed to promote digital technologies to enhance Indigenous young people’s access to mental health and well-being services, maintain cultural connections and evaluate the effectiveness of these initiatives using Indigenous well-being indicators.

Jerome Rachele from VU joined researchers from University of Melbourne, Monash, RMIT to look at the role of access to public transport for improving healthcare use, including for people with disabilities. Availability of public transport encouraged use of general practitioner and specialist health services. Public transport access was found to also decrease use of nervous system prescriptions, which includes anti-depressants, for people with disabilities, with the implication that the social and/or physical activity benefits of being more mobile in their communities supports better mental health.

Jerome Rachele and Gavin Turrell from VU, together with Tayebeh Saghapour from RMIT and Billie Giles-Corti from the University of Melbourne, were involved in another study of the role of urban design in fostering good health and wellbeing. Features of disadvantaged neighbourhoods appear to discourage physical activity (PA) of residents, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Further studies for urban planning and policy to examine environmental attributes – the role of greenways and vegetative buffers to mitigate heat and air-quality issues in recreational, bike and pedestrian areas - to develop healthier neighbourhoods.

A Smart City ranking of more than 100 Australian cities and towns, based on their economy, environment, governance, mobility, liveability, and people, was undertaken by Maha Hussein, a Bachelor of Engineering student, under the co-supervision of Dr Muhammad Atiq Tariq and Dr Nitin Muttil. The paper can provide evidence as to why government migration programs to settle newcomers outside major cities are not as successful as they could be. Using Australian Bureau of Statistics and other government data sources, and a form of statistical analysis known as analytical hierarchy processing, the smart city scoring aims to identify links between a city’s smart score and people’s preference to live there. It shows most capital cities outrank regional centres, and they are also the locations that tend to attract new residents. The research suggests that it is important to develop the regional centres if the government wants to reduce the pressure of concentrated migration trends to mega cities. Dr Muhammad Atiq Tariq and Dr Nitin Muttil have undertaken of series of research projects with Bachelor of Engineering students, as part of their final year capstone which have produced published papers on important policy considerations for infrastructure design and investment.

Dr Jillian Marsh, Dr Clare Land and Dr Paola Balla in Centring Indigenous Peoples, Standpoints and Knowledges within Planetary Health, examined the needed support to achieve VU’s planetary health agenda and the Universities Australia strategy to Indigenise tertiary curricula. Related to this Professor Chris Sonn, Karen Jackson and Dr Paola Balla and Dr Clare Land looked at new opportunities and settings for VU students and non-Indigenous staff to engage with Critical Race Praxis Research & Teaching.

Karen Jackson, Dr Paola Balla, Professor Chris Sonn, Dr Amy Quayle and Rowena Price examined the context and issues for ‘Connecting Aboriginal women to Country through local healing practices’, leading to the further project Blak Women’s Healing which extends this work by collecting stories of incarcerated Aboriginal women, or those at risk, drawing on their cultural practices, to build resilience, connection and identity.

Elliott Flowers joined researchers from Australia and Belgium in Exploring Children’s Views on Important Park Features to understand how parks can be better designed to encourage children’s use and physical activity.

Professor Gary Foley and Dr Clare Land from Moondani Balluk Indigenous Unit were awarded an ARC Special Research Initiative (Linkage) grant for a project to investigate the connection between the origins of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Movement and two Melbourne-based Black Power educational programs. This project will further inform the Aboriginal History Archive recording the history of Indigenous activism for self-determination.

Professor Christopher Sonn, Rama Agung Igusti, Samuel Keast and Amy Quayle were invited to contribute an article to the InPsych journal on Unsettling psychology: Whiteness and the cost to black lives.

Dr Mengbi Li examines underlying concepts and expressions of cultural, social and political meaning in architectural design. From this perspective, Dr Li contributed to media and panel discussions of how COVID-19 is making people rethink building design. In Reviewing the Notion of Progress in the Quest for Sustainability: The Example of Chinese Architecture, Dr Li proposes that the modern Chinese concept of progress, developed in a period of national crisis, needs a critical rethink in the context of sustainability and low-carbon living.


Engagement with Indigenous and culturally diverse communities aims to reverse patterns of social injustice.

In a key event in Victorian history in the 1990s, students and teachers from the Northland Secondary College community united in a three-year fight against the Kennett Government to save the school from closure. At that time, it was one of the only schools in Victoria with a diverse and an innovative approach to learning that drew upon Aboriginal knowledge systems and cultures.  Victoria University and the Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit presented an exhibition and a ‘political cabaret’ to mark this landmark struggle to protect Indigenous ways of learning and knowing.

The Fight for Survival  exhibition of the fight to save Northland Secondary College Is based on research conducted with an Australian Research Council grant. The exhibition features photographs, artworks and text from former students and community members gathered by Professor Gary FoleyDr Clare Land, and the Northland Collective Mob during a multi-year collaboration.  The Aboriginal History Archive is a key source of original documents that enabled the research team to tell this story from a community perspective. The Exhibition also includes artwork by former Northland Secondary College students and Yorta Yorta artist and activist Lin Onus, and historical material that reflects on why the College meant so much to so many people. Victoria University is proud to support the Northlands Collective Mob to mark a landmark moment in Australian history: a fight to save a secondary college known for embracing Indigenous ways of learning and knowing.

Professor Foley and Dr Clare Land worked with the Northlands Collective Mob, including Lyn Thorpe and Jill Morgan, to bring the history to the stage for the A Fight for Survival cabaret, as a special commission of the 2021 Yirramboi First Nations Festival. The cabaret tells the story of community, justice and resistance, and spotlights community members such as Professor Foley’s son, Bruce, and Muthama Sinnappan, who lodged a racial discrimination complaint with the Equal Opportunity Board against the Victorian Government’s decision to shut down the school.

Blak Cook Book, by Dr Clare Land and Dr Paola Balla of the Moondani Balluk Academic Unit, together with photographer and artist Kate Golding, challenges the one-sided view of explorer Captain James Cook and looks at the man, his journeys and all that he symbolises in Australia and the Pacific from a First Nations’ perspective. The book was shortlisted for a Victorian Community History Award. In witty text and historic and contemporary artworks, with a striking design by RMIT design academic Dr Stephen Banham, the book explores Cook’s brief from the British Admiralty, his interactions with Indigenous people, his often violent navigation of Indigenous laws and culture, his legacy and how the “Captain Cook discovered Australia” teaching alienates and confuses children. Cook’s three voyages gave the British government an overview of the entire Oceania region and a good understanding of their prospects for exploiting its lands and resources.

Target Zero is an ambitious 10 year program to end youth criminalisation in Brimbank, Melton and Wyndham by targeting and addressing its systemic causes. TARGET ZER0, aims to drive towards zero the number of children and youth in the three areas involved in the justice system, especially those from Indigenous and culturally diverse backgrounds, and those who live in residential care. These children are all disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. TARGET ZER0 has more than a dozen signatories, including Victoria University, the Centre for Multicultural Youth, WEstjustice, Jesuit Social Services, Anglicare, and Western Metropolitan Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee. Targeted programs co-designed with community will empower young people and their families to break the cycle of arrests, charges, convictions and incarcerations.

Research by members of the Community Identify Displacement Research Group, led by Professor Chris Sonn, has informed policy and practice in the City of Brimbank’s Neighbourhood Houses and Community Centres, Brimbank’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy and delivery of Brimbank’s People Strategy and the Neighbourhood House Strategy and Action Plan.

Footscray University Town is a ground-breaking partnership between Victoria University and Maribyrnong City Council to advance liveability and prosperity for the area. Under this banner is a series of projects to enliven Footscray as a hub of knowledge, learning, creativity and opportunity. In 2020 this included the completion of the Footscray Smart City project and the Footscray Art Prize awards.

The efforts over the past 6 years were rewarded, in 2020 by the Victorian State Government announcement that Footscray would become a Priority Precinct for development as a key cultural, commercial and education hub in the region.

Professor Tony Birch was awarded the New South Wales Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing for The White Girl and was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Prize.


As well as providing support and assistance to our diverse student population, Victoria University offers several teaching programs focused on community health and wellbeing.

The Master of Applied Psychology (Community Psychology) provides for interventions to promote collective mental health wellbeing, with an understanding of intercultural approaches for practice. The course uses a scientist–practitioner model of professional training. Two key elements of the model are:

  • combined knowledge and skills acquisition with reality-based psychological understandings
  • facilitation of a clear stance of inquiry in relation to all aspects of theory, research and practice.
 Karen Jackson

Research & learning addressing Goal 11