Professor Robert Freestone

My Expertise

Urban Planning History and Theory, Metropolitan planning, Urban design, heritage, planning education

Fields of Research (FoR)

Urban and regional planning, History of the Built Environment

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I have diverse research interests in urban studies and planning education, being highly regarded internationally for expertise in the development of urban planning. I joined UNSW in 1991 after six years with a Sydney planning, research and heritage consultant firm as well as working for the NSW State Government. Over the course of my career, I have authored over 400 publications. My research has been credited with making “an unparalleled...view more

I have diverse research interests in urban studies and planning education, being highly regarded internationally for expertise in the development of urban planning. I joined UNSW in 1991 after six years with a Sydney planning, research and heritage consultant firm as well as working for the NSW State Government. Over the course of my career, I have authored over 400 publications. My research has been credited with making “an unparalleled contribution to urban planning and planning history research” by leading academics in the field. I have been awarded several Planning Institute of Australia Prizes for Planning Excellence for his published work. I am a Fellow of the Institute (in recognition of “conspicuous service rendered the profession”) and also the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Academy of Humanities, and the Institute of Australian Geographers. My teaching encompasses research design and urban history, and I have supervised postgraduate research students continually since the mid-1990s. I have played a key strategic role in School, Faculty and University Governance, notably through terms as Head of the City Planning program and Associate Dean Research for Built Environment. Amongst a range of external engagement duties I sit on the editorial boards of leading journals such as Cities, Town Planning Review, Progress in Planning and Australian Planner. I also chair the international editorial board for Planning Perspectives.

My Grants

In addition to industry funding, I have been a co-CI on seven ARC grants since 2006:


  • Australia’s new cities; past present and future (DP190101093) commenced 2019
  • Campus: Building Modern Australian Universities (DP160100364) commenced 2016
  • Designing Global Sydney: The negotiation of public and private interests (DP150104054, lead CI) completed
  • Exhibitionism: Codifying and communicating planning culture in Australia 1913-1951 (DP120101732, lead CI) completed
  • The airport metropolis: managing the interfaces (LP0775225) completed
  • The drivers and outcomes of re-Investment in low density suburban housing markets (DP0986122) completed
  • Cultural heritage in the sustainability of remote communities (LP0667822) completed

My Qualifications

PhD(Macq), MA(Minn) BSc(UNSW), FASSA FAHA FIAG RPIA (Fellow)

My Awards

Since 1995 I have won singly or with colleagues a series of state, national and international awards for excellence in planning, historical and heritage scholarship, including:


Planning Institute of Australia

  • (WA Division) Award for Planning Excellence (Planning Research), 2022 for 'Plan My Australia'
  • (WA Division) Award for Planning Excellence (Planning Research), 2021 for  'Continental Suitability Analysis'
  • (National) Commendation for Planning Excellence (Planning Scholarship), 2020 for Designing the Global City 
  • (SA Division) Award for Planning Excellence (Planning Scholarship), 2018, for Planning Metropolitan Australia
  • (NSW Division) Commendation for Planning Excellence (Planning Scholarship, 2016, for Place and Placelessness Revisited
  • (National) Award for Planning Excellence (Planning Scholarship), 2011, for Urban Nation                          

National Trust of Australia (NSW)

  • Heritage Awards. Category: Interpretation and Presentation – Individuals, 2011, for Urban Nation
  • Heritage Awards. Category:  Interpretation and Presentation (Individual), 2008, for Designing Australia's Cities

International Planning History Society

  • Special Prize in Best Book category, 2012, for Urban Nation
  • Best Edited Book  category, 2020, for Iconic Planned Communities and the Challenge of Change 

My Research Activities

My research interests lie in the development of modern planning theory and practice in Australia, metropolitan restructuring, heritage conservation and planning education. My current work includes studies of the new town movement, the utility and potential of small urban greenspaces, post-war university campus design, integration of airport and land use development, and biography in planning and design history.


I have been involved in various externally funded research enterprises including completed collaborative ARC projects on urban and architectural design in central Sydney, exhibitions in the development of modern urban planning culture, the role of cultural heritage in the sustainability of remote communities, the contribution of early town planning associations in development of Australian planning theory and practice, processes of suburban renewal and the evolution and policy implications of major airport activity centres, internationally and within Australia.

My Research Supervision

Areas of supervision

Urban planning and development, heritage, history and design

Currently supervising


A Crimeen, The aerotropolis and community health (Scientia Scholar, with Prof E de Leeuw and B Randolph) 

S Deane, Power mechanics of Foreshore Dispossession (with Dr P Favaro)

C Evans, Sydney’s postwar park legacy (with Prof S Pinnegar) 

C Smith, Property guardianship in Newcastle and London (with Prof S Pinnegar)  

J Tighe, The Incomplete City (with Dr A Murray)

R Hunter, A Cultural Topography of Entertainment in Sydney (with Dr J Bollen)

My Engagement

I have been involved with a wide variety of engagement activities outside and within UNSW including research assessment, senior administration, peer review and professional accreditation panels. Selected details below.


National Research Assessments

  • ARC, Humanities and Creative Arts (HCA) Research Evaluation Committee (REC) for ERA, 2010, 2015
  • Australian Research Council, Peer Reviewer for ERA (FOR 1205), 2009 Trial, 2012, 2018
  • New Zealand PBRF (Performance Based Research Funding), ETA (Engineering, Technology and Architecture) Panel Member, 2010-12, 2016-18

School and Research Reviews

  • Curtin University, Review of School of Built Environment, Chair, 2016
  • Latrobe University, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, Planning, Panel member, 2016
  • University of Auckland, School of Architecture & Planning, Research Development Review, Chair, 2014
  • Massey University, School of Engineering & Advanced Technology, Research Development Review, Panel member, Panel member, 2014
  • Griffith University, School of the Environment, Review Committee, Panel member, 2012

Accreditation panels for tertiary planning programs

Planning Institute of Australia, PIA (Chair)

  • Latrobe University (2006)
  • Tasmania (2009)
  • Sunshine Coast (2008, 2010)
  • QUT (2019)

New Zealand Planning Institute, NZPI (Chair)

  • Waikato (2002, 2012)
  • Lincoln (2003, 2013)
  • Auckland (2003, 2012, 2015)
  • Massey (2005, 2014)
  • Otago (2006, 2017)

Editorial Boards

I am actively involved on 10 international editorial advisory boards:

  • Journal of Urban Design (Taylor & Francis), from 2019
  • Cities (Elsevier), from 2018
  • Australian Planner (Taylor & Francis), from 2015
  • Progress in Planning (Elsevier), from 2003
  • Town Planning Review (Liverpool University Press), from 2002
  • Planning Perspectives (Taylor and Francis), from 1998, and Chair of the Editorial Board, from 2015
  • International Journal of Heritage Studies (Carfax, then Taylor and Francis), foundation member from 1994
  • Journal of Planning History (Sage), foundation member from 2002
  • Landscape and Urban Planning (Elsevier), including Emeritus Board Member (2016-2021)
  • Routledge/Alexandrine Press, ‘Studies in History, Planning and Environment’ series, International Editorial Board, from 2002

Major Grant Reviewer

I have been invited annually starting 1996 by the ARC to referee Large/Discovery Project applications (also DECRAs, Laureate and Linkage) with status of ‘Assessor of International Standing’ in 2006-07 and 2011-14. Since 1996 I have also been invited to assess grant or scholarship applications for other funding bodies including:


  • Guggenheim Foundation, New York
  • Hong Kong Research Grants Council 
  • National Science Foundation, Switzerland
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
  • Marsden Fund (Social Sciences), New Zealand
  • ARC Consolidator projects, Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Cooperative Research Centres (CRC), Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, 2010

Award adjudications

I have been invited to be an adjudicator for various discipline and professional prizes and awards since 1996, including:


  • Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH): Catherine Bauer Wurster prize for best article in American city and regional planning history, committee chair (2009); Gerckens award for educational leadership (2019, 2021)
  • International Planning History Society: Book Prize committee member (2000-02, Chair 2015-16); Sutcliffe Dissertation Prize committee (inaugural Chair, 2013-14); Peter Hall Award (inaugural Chair, 2017-18, 2020, 2022); Best Planning Perspectives paper (2016, 2018, 2020, 2022)
  • Planning Institute of Australia (NSW Division), Sidney Luker Medal and Lecture Committee (2015); Awards for Excellence jury, (2009, 2011); Outdoor Advertising of Australia prize (2007, 2009)
  • AILA (Australian Institute of Landscape Architects), NSW, Awards, Planning (2008)

Conference organising and advisory/academic  committees

  • State of Australian Cities (SOAC) Conference, Sydney (2013)
  • Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ) (2015)
  • World Heritage and Sustainable Development’ Conference, Porto (2008)
  • Australasian Urban History/Planning History Conference (Convenor 1993, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2014, 2016, 2022)
  • International Planning History Society Conference (Convenor 1998, 2002, 2016), 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2016)
  • Society for American City & Regional Planning History Conference (1999, 2009)


Service roles have included:

  • Academic Board (pro tem, 2018)
  • Research Committee, Member (2007; 2013-2017)
  • Review of IT Services for Research Practice (2015)
  • Selection Committee, Dean of Built Environment (2015)
  • Review of Evolution and Ecology Research Centre (2015)
  • UNSW Press, Member (2000-13)
  • Built Environment Executive (2013-2017)
  • Associate Dean, Research (2013-2017)
  • Research Management Committee (1996-97, 1999-2004, 2006-09, 2011-16; chair 2015-16)Higher Degree Committee (2000-2004, 2006-2017)
  • Faculty Board (2013-2017)

My Teaching

Since 2018 my teaching has concentrated on research design for postgraduate students and thesis supervision for both undergraduate and postgraduate city planning students.


  • BENV7020 Research Seminar (T2, T3) - overview of research design for all faculty HDR students (PhD, MPhil, MRes) and coursework masters students undertaking dissertations, and tutor for all HDR and MCP students
  • PLAN7149 Planning Thesis (T1, T3) – coordination of city planning masters theses, including supervision
  • PLAN4003 Planning Thesis (T3) – supervision of city planning undergraduate theses

I am also involved in HDR (Higher Degree Research) thesis supervision and starting 1999 have supervised over 20 to completion on diverse topics concerned mainly with urban development and history, heritage, design and landscape. Since 1996 I have also examined more than 20 postgraduate dissertations from other Australia, NZ and South African universities.

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Red Centre West Wing, Room 2002