The challenges of urbanisation affect all city residents. In 2016, 35% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lived in the capital cities of Australia. Renewal processes associated with managing city growth and economic performance are impacting urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Addressing the challenges of urbanisation in the face of growing uncertainty and increasing complexity requires the genuine involvement of all city residents, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, in ‘community led’ renewal. 

‘Community led’ renewal has a positive impact on the urban system, strengthening communities, as well as the infrastructure, institutional and knowledge networks which support them. It is held up as a theoretical ideal. Few large-scale renewal programs in Australia deliver on the ambition of a community led process.

Achieving a true community led urban renewal process requires a change from the current approach to the genuine engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples under conditions of shared control.

Solving complex city problems requires us to acknowledge the possibility of shared control in the renewal process. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, shared control is linked to self-determination2 . Research3  suggests that meaningful engagement under conditions of shared control requires a set of agreed principles, which form a shared control framework, informed by the preferences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples themselves.

Sydney downtown pedestriansSydney downtown pedestrians
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led research into shared control suggests that five principles are key to achieving genuine engagement in urban renewal processes and the pursuit of self-determination. These five principles are:

Respect means the building of trust through listening; through acknowledging and accommodating different values in relation to urban renewal processes and their outputs; through acknowledging the existence and rightful ownership of knowledge; through the creation of opportunities for meaningful participation; as well as by allowing time and providing resources to support involvement.

Access means the making available to the rightful owners any knowledge elicited during urban renewal process; by enabling the rightful owners to retrieve knowledge at any time; and by making available project outputs that have been based on or informed by this knowledge.

Possession means the connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to their lands; the importance of this connection to the identities and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and the need to obtain consent for planned changes to these lands.

Control means the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the design of engagement processes; and their right to control the use and dissemination of knowledge elicited through these engagement processes for the purposes of informing urban renewal.

Ownership means the collective ownership by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of their knowledge; and the need to obtain community and individual consent for use of this knowledge to inform urban renewal. 

These principles suggest a renewal process with people and place-led thinking rather than built form-led thinking. Adoption of such principles is part of a shift from renewal through built environment controls to renewal through contemporary social and economic development approaches. New competencies are needed in the public and private sectors to make the change from current to this future practice.

The opportunity to employ such principles exists with the emerging and prominent renewal processes brought about by Australia’s large infrastructure investments– for example Sydney’s Central Station. 

These processes will bring land use and economic ecosystem change. It is crucial to include in these processes genuine efforts to transition to a shared control model for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including the associated community-controlled organisations and businesses that are local and place-based. 

1ABS 2016, Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia.
2The ability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural development.
3By organisations such as the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub, RMIT University, and the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute.

Note: this is taken from an article in New Planner by Tina Wang, Graduate Planner Arup Australasia; Hugh Gardner Cities Advisory, Arup Netherlands; and Kirsten McDonald Associate Principal, Arup Australasia. 

Postscript: The authors (Tina Wang, Hugh Gardner, and Kirsten McDonald, all of Arup) would like to acknowledge Professor Libby Porter and Lauren Arabena, of RMIT University, and Nicoletta Andreou, of Arup, whose thinking has informed this article. They would also like to acknowledge the work of the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub and RMIT University Enabling Capabilities Platform on ‘Flipping the Table – Toward an Indigenous-led urban research agenda’ (2018).