The Future Cities Program realises that informed and visionary leadership is needed to decide how, when, and where new approaches and technologies can be used to make a real difference in improving not only the livability but also the sustainability and productivity of our cities. Strategic planning and sustainable urban development are being brought to the fore the world over and the Future Cities Program, in collaboration with the University of Sydney Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, and the NSW Government, is supporting our leaders by using evidence-based solution modeling, first-hand examples and education, and collaborative approaches to shared problems to make meaningful differences to Australian cities.


The Future Cities Program focuses on supporting both regional and metropolitan city leaders from New South Wales and providing them with the skills, knowledge, and resources to build sustainable and liveable communities. The Future Cities Program realises that informed and visionary leadership is needed to decide how, when, and where new approaches and technologies can be used to make a real difference in improving not only the livability but also the sustainability and productivity of cities. Strategic planning and sustainable urban development are being brought to the fore the world over and the Future Cities Program supports city leaders by using evidence-based solution modelling, first-hand examples, education, and collaborative approaches to shared problems in order to make meaningful differences to Australian cities.

The program is based on the Mayors’ Institute on City Design conducted in the United States, where like-minded leaders work with experts to develop innovative solutions for re-designing precincts so they are great places to live and work, and are also adaptive to the changes in energy and water demands — from renewing town centres or high streets, to re-designing community precincts and parks, or alternative transport possibilities. In the United States, the Mayors’ Institute has helped transform communities through design by preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities, and it is towards this aim of capacity-building that the Future Cities Program works in NSW.

The 2014 Future Cities Program also coincided with the review of the NSW Planning system. Submissions from across the full spectrum of the community, local government, and industry called for the emphasis to be more on ‘strategic’ planning rather than on development assessment – in essence, getting planning right up front rather than arguing over the details when the big mistakes may have been made or the greatest opportunities lost. In this environment, there was a strong appetite for capacity-building amongst elected leaders to make strategic planning decisions for their community. This was reflected in the level of enquiry the program received.

As the outcomes of the Future Cities Program demonstrate, the Program has successfully been able to build the skill and knowledge base of elected city leaders in sustainable urban development and data driven strategic urban design. The program described below took the city leaders through four stages of learning and discovery.


Download Future Cities Program Mayors' Forum Workbook (PDF)



The program is comprised of four stages:

Program Stages
Stage 1: Project Development and City Selection
The Future Cities Program sought to attract both regional and metropolitan councils who were challenged by how to resolve specific problems within the Local Government Area (LGA). The projects could range from specific urban design frameworks to precinct wide urban renewal strategies. The overall aim of the program was to show how urban design and spatial planning, and economic and social development strategies can be linked to quantitative analysis to provide a robust and evidence-based foundation for planning and decision making to create sustainable, productive and liveable precincts.

The participating cities included:
City of Canada Bay Council
Gosford City Council
Hornsby Shire Council
Marrickville Council
Pittwater Council
Wollongong City Council

Participation in the program required the commitment of the Mayor/Deputy Mayor or other highly placed elected official to attend and lead the delegation, the General Manager/CEO or Director of Planning or equivalent, along with a member of the business community from the effected precinct or a member of a major business organisation such as the local Chamber of Commerce. In addition, each city needed to commit one member of the delegation, preferably the Mayor or elected official, to participate in Stage Three of the Program, the US Study Tour.

Prior to the Mayors’ Forum, each council worked with experts from the Core Resource Team to scope the project and prepare a summary of sustainability metrics (including economic, energy and carbon impacts) as well as the existing urban design framework in preparation for the workshop. A Future City Primer, which outlaid this collected data, was provided to each city delegation to be used as provocations for innovation and is now able to be used as a benchmark for analysis of the outcomes of the strategic scenarios following completion of the Future Cities Program. Supporting the cities were post graduate students from the Masters in Urban Design program at the University of Sydney, under the supervision of Associate Professor Rod Simpson, Director of the Urban Design program.

Stage 2: Mayors’ Forum
Stage Two of the Future Cities Program was a three-day Mayors’ Forum. This intensive forum brought all participating cities and their delegations of Mayors/Deputy Mayors, CEOs/Directors of Planning, and business/community representatives together for a series of educational seminars, charette-style workshops, design forums, and networking sessions at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney in June. The three-day Mayors’ Forum was led by Australian and international experts in urban design and sustainable development including American urban design and planning experts Peter J. Park and Colin Cathcart.

In addition to Peter J. Park and Colin Cathcart, the Future Cities Program was led by a Core Resource Team and the Future Cities Collaborative team (refer Appendix 4) formed of both Australian and American experts, dedicated to helping all participating cities connect their strategic goals to preeminent urban design and planning practices so to transform their target precincts into leading sites for sustainable urban policy best practice.

Stage 3: Study Tour
Stage Three of the Future Cities Program was the seven-day Study Tour to the United States. The Study Tour is an integral component of the Future Cities Program, with the learnings gained and contacts formed creating a lasting partnership between the participating cities and their American partners.

The seven-day Study Tour to San Francisco and the Bay Area in California, and Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York allowed all participating city leaders to examine outstanding examples of sustainability and livability transformations in American cities. The focus for the 2014 Study Tour was on revitalisation of districts and neighbourhoods within cities, and also sustainable and workable precinct management. The United States was selected as the venue for the Study Tour because of the similarities in city/town structures and similar municipal challenges, and with the United States Studies Centre as host, program participants gained access to a range local government leaders across the United States.

Each city participating in the Future Cities Program Study Tour was partnered with a specific city in the United States which has faced similar challenges. In addition to touring the city precincts, a formal engagement process was established, where the US Mayor and Australian city leader engaged in a dialogue to discuss the challenges and opportunities that exist for both in addressing their communities issues. The aim of the exchange was to inspire innovation and also forge bi-lateral relationships on common themes that can later be used to accelerate the transformation of both the Australian and American city.

Stage 4: Evaluation and Implementation
Stage Four of the Future Cities Program involved a Graduation Luncheon held at Customs House in Sydney on November 14, 2014. This luncheon gave the participating cities the platform from which to share their insights regarding the program, and detail the next steps for their cities, including the implementation strategies for their urban renewal projects.

Attending the luncheon were members of each cities delegation, representatives from industry and peak bodies, local and state government representatives, and our supporting partners. 

At the conclusion of the Future Cities Program, the Core Resource Team documented the outputs of the strategic scenario modelling undertaken during the Mayors’ Forum and presented this data in a Future Cities Report for each city. These data-rich reports modelled a range of different scenarios and their sustainability metrics and urban design frameworks, from which the cities can build upon in their post-Future Cities Program phase.



Professor Edward Blakely 

One of the world's leading scholars and practitioners of urban policy, Professor Edward Blakely has been Dean of the School of Urban Planning and Development at the University of Southern California and Dean of the Robert J. Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy, New School University in New York City. He currently serves as an Honorary Professor in Urban Policy at The United States Studies Centre at The University of Sydney. He is also the Founder and Chair of the United States Studies Centre urban policy initiative, the Future Cities Collaborative. In addition to Professor Blakely's background in academia, the Professor has an extensive record of public service that includes advising the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, New York City after Super Storm Sandy, the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, state and federal governments in Australia and the United States, as well as governments in Korea, Japan, Sweden, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam. Leading the Future Cities Program allows Professor Blakely to combine his passion for sustainable urban design with his expertise in teaching and fostering capacity building in all levels of government.  

Associate Professor Rod Simpson

Rod SimpsonWith over thirty years experience in architecture, master planning and urban design, Associate Professor Rod Simpson is an Associate Professor and Director of the Urban Design program in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning and the University of Sydney. Additionally, Rod is the principal of simpson+wilson, a small consultancy firm whose work ranges across architecture, urban design and strategic planning. In 2007 and 2008 he led the urban design and spatial planning for the Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan which focused on how the City of Sydney could significantly improve its environmental performance and contribute to improving the metropolitan area as a whole. He has worked for the federal, and state and territory governments on metropolitan and regional planning, as Manager of Urban Design for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, and has won a number of urban design and planning competitions both national and international. For twenty years he has been an active advocate of ecologically sustainable design principles. He was instrumental in the formulation of BASIX, the NSW Building Sustainability Index and more recently worked with Kinesis on the development of a precinct wide sustainability assessment tool for Landcom: PRECINX which has received both state and national planning awards. He also has an interest in cultural planning and is a board member of the Historic Houses Trust, is a director of Emergency Architects Australia and is a member of the Landcom (UrbanGrowth NSW) project review panel. 

Bruce Taper

With over 20 years experience in sustainability and planning, Bruce Taper is the Director of Kinesis. Through his work, Bruce brings an innovative and unconventional approach to overcoming the challenges of strategic urban design. Former Director of Sustainability and Metropolitan Planning for the NSW Department of Planning, Bruce’s expertise lies in his capacity to utilise emerging technologies to deliver smart, equitable and enabling solutions. Since founding Kinesis in 2007 Bruce has stewarded the delivery of game-changing work for clients, including the groundbreaking PRECINX rating tool for Landcom (UrbanGrowth NSW), and the Decentralised Energy Master Plan for the City of Sydney.

David Holden 

With 10 years experience working across Australian and American cities in both the public and private sectors, David focuses on transforming the way city planning can be integrated with development and urban sustainability. David is currently an Associate Director of Kinesis, which allows him to specialise in the analysis of data for planning policy, land use, transport, energy efficiency, renewable energy, water and stormwater to create sustainable urban forms that both mitigate, and are adaptable to, the climate problem.



Peter J Park 

Peter Park

Harvard University, Graduate school of Design
University of Colorado at Denver, College of Architecture and Planning

Peter Park has served as Director of Planning in Milwaukee, WI, and Denver, CO. His integrated approach to comprehensive planning, urban design, and development review resulted in clear visions for sustainable urban development, places of high quality design, and streamlined development permitting systems in both cities. He led the preparation of downtown plans, numerous neighbourhood plans, and comprehensive zoning code updates in both cities. In Milwaukee, significant projects include the replacement of the elevated Park East freeway with an at-grade boulevard that catalyses new downtown development and the Beerline B, a new mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhood along the Milwaukee River. Significant work in Denver includes redevelopment of Denver Union Station as the hub of Fastracks (the largest public transit project in the nation), several transit-oriented development station area plans, and adoption of a new context and form-based zoning code applied citywide. In addition to his public planning experience, Peter also teaches urban design at the University of Colorado at Denver and has been awarded a fellowship at Harvard University. 

Colin Cathcart

Fordham University
Kiss + Cathcart Architects

To compliment Peter Park’s expertise in strategic and holistic urban design and planning for cities, the Future Cities Program was also joined by Colin Cathcart, an architect who emphases economic and environmental best-practice. Colin Cathcart formed Kiss + Cathcart Architects based on high standards of design, economy, ecology in 1983. Colin Cathcart has worked on many successful green projects in the Tri-State Area, included undertaking feasibility and urban planning studies for the Regional Plan Association. Colin is an Associate Professor at Fordham University, where he has served on the executive committee of the Urban Studies program, as Associate Director of the Environmental Studies Program, and developed cross-disciplinary Pre-Architecture program.



The program has resulted in specific outcomes for each city that participated in the Future Cities Program. Overall, the Future Cities Program has led to increases in the diversity of housing stock, economic development, and revitalisation of key employment and commercial districts, with overarching considerations to the sustainability, resiliency, and efficiency of the precinct.

Specifically, precinct development and areas of focus for each Local Government Area included:

  • City of Canada Bay: approaching the development of Rhodes East in a holistic, pedestrian-centric manner to increase affordable and diverse housing-stock, provide employment opportunities, and create a vibrant community with high-amenity civic facilities and open space.
  • Gosford City Council: stimulating the revitalisation of Gosford City Centre by improving the public domain, fostering economic development, providing affordable and student housing, and approach development in a holistic manner with a consideration of the fine-grain urban design of the precinct.
  • Hornsby Shire Council: revitalise the declining commercial precinct of Hornsby West Side by stimulating economic development and a nighttime economy, reassessing the impact and amenity of the transport connections, exploring housing and height restrictions, and improving the public domain.
  • Marrickville Council: stimulate a diversification of industry away from manufacturing towards arts, culture, and creative industries in order to create a nighttime economy, local economic development, and a vibrant precinct for people with good public transport and walking/cycling linkages.
  • Pittwater Council: transform Mona Vale into a vibrant urban centre by stimulating economic development, provide affordable housing and a diversity of housing stock, implement a range of Placemaking initiatives, and engage with the community to seek their input in all stages.
  • Wollongong City Council: devise a strategy for improving the function and appearance of West Crown Street, which has lagged behind the rest of the Wollongong City Centre in terms of development and usage, by improving the public domain, using strategic zoning interventions to stimulate development, and proving affordable housing. 


Collectively, the major findings of the Future Cities Program can be summarised as seven key issues faced by all cities:

  1. Strategic Precinct Planning: a long term strategic approach across local boundaries is needed to deliver for communities
  2. Urban Renewal: increased access to broader range of finance mechanisms are required to fund urban renewal initiatives
  3. Activation: Enhanced service delivery through formation of alliances between local government and private business communities
  4. Urban Living: Focus on urban living to deliver economic, social and environmental outcomes for growing diverse communities
  5. Housing Affordability: addressing housing affordability will enable the creation of more socially and economically sustainable communities
  6. Partnerships: greater focus on local government leading through facilitation and partnership
  7. Placemaking: enhanced cooperation across local and state government focusing on people, places and the public realm

These seven issues have been expanded upon in the 2014 Future Cities Program Alumni Communique and will form the basis for further policy research going forward into 2015/2016.

Download 2014 Future Cities Program Alumni Communique (PDF)






Interested councils are encouraged to contact the Future Cities Collaborative should they require further information, or wish to discuss the Program.  


T: +61 2 9036 7100

E: [email protected]


The Future Cities Program 2013 was supported by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.