Future Directions of ACRN

The Australasian Cities Research Network (ACRN) is committed to advancing research that actively shapes the critical discourses, policies, and practices that can support more equitable and sustainable Australasian cities and regions.

It has long been the role of urban scholars and practitioners to provide evidence and act as a positive force to serve civil society. Yet, we have also routinely seen academic research fail to influence policy and policymakers. Furthermore, our research has largely failed to acknowledge and address the systemic lack of equity, diversity and inclusion within our own institutions, many of which exist on unceded Indigenous lands.

The current crises of the climate emergency, systemic racism, and now COVID-19, are fundamentally changing the nature, role and functioning of Australasian cities and regions.

From the home to the city and planetary scales, the uneven and multi-layered experiences of urban/regional crises continue to shift our sense of ‘normality’, emphasising the need for scholarly research to be more active and agile in supporting equitable and sustainable futures. 

The devastating impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic have created fears of a global economic recession. This has led to fast-track plans for major infrastructure projects, but such scale of government stimulus also represents a once-in-a-generation chance to redirect policy to directly tackle issues of social, economic and environmental equity.

Research ‘impact’ within this context must shift towards a critical and collaborative agenda focused on enabling progressive and transformative change. This includes the urgent need to:

  • transition to a zero-carbon economy;
  • better address the systemic racism and inequality of settler colonialism that the Black Lives Matter movement has powerfully highlighted; and,
  • challenge the socio-demographic inequities bred by structural housing, financial, and employment insecurities that have become even more visible during to COVID-19.

The convergence of these agendas and crises has prompted a fundamental reflection of the role and remit of the ACRN. To this end, the ACRN will work to further support and enable researchers to play a more active role in the dialogues and policy directions urgently needed to shape the future of Australasian cities and regions. It is critical that these processes are inclusive and reflective of the diverse communities impacted.

The first steps in this ‘new’ direction for ACRN include the following four initiatives:

  1. Develop a new web-based/virtual platform to amplify the voices of urban researchers from across Australasia;
  2. Diversify the committee structure to be more inclusive and representative;
  3. Establish a new ACRN webinar series to help raise critical and challenging issues more quickly than a biennial conference allows; and
  4. Re-structure the 2021 State of Australasian Cities (SOAC) Conference to increase the equity of attendance in recognition of conditions of growing economic precarity, as well as encourage the participation of scholars, policymakers, and policy analysts/researchers who are unable to take part in the conference in person.

ACRN has traditionally provided a supportive forum for urban researchers, policymakers and practitioners to come together to share and discuss research related to Australasian cities and regions as part of the biennial State of Australian Cities (SOAC) conference. This has included mentoring support for PhD candidates and early career researchers through a three-day symposium, as well as financial support for merit based around the provision of bursaries, prizes and travel scholarships to foster the development of the urban research community.

Successful initiatives that have emerged from the collaborative networks cultivated at SOAC, such as the Australasian Early Career Urban Research Network (AECURN), the Public City Lecture, the Pat Troy Memorial Lecture and the Women in Urban Research Panel session, have sought to foster and extend progressive urban research practices focused around issues of social and environmental equity. Further critical work is now needed to address the issues around decolonisation in cities and regions, and also within the Academy and knowledge production and dissemination processes, of which our research is a core part.

ACRN commits to supporting deep, reflective and transformational dialogue as well as advocating for critically reflexive and transformative research and policy engagement within the Australasian urban and regional context.