Professor Robert Freestone

City Planning

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

Through an association with UNSW spanning more than three decades, my internationally-recognised urban research and teaching has influenced understandings of the built environment worldwide. My work has also prompted national research and policy interest in urban planning challenges and legacies, helping to integrate Australian perspectives into world debates.
My expertise in urban policy has focused on the development of planning, theory and practice, in particular regional and metropolitan visions; heritage and conservation; infrastructure provision; and urban design. These threads feed into the overall mission of the Faculty to create sustainable, liveable and productive cities.
I help create community and professional understandings of the evolution of the built environment through a distinctive focus on the historiography of urban planning and design. One of my key capabilities is a grounding of research in the longitudinal view, engendering a deep appreciation of contemporary and future challenges within a historical framework.
Research Activities: 

Dr Freestone’s research interests lie in the development of modern planning theory and practice in Australia, metropolitan restructuring, heritage conservation and planning education. His 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.


He has 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.


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

Since 1995 Dr Freestone has won 15 state, national and international awards for excellence in planning, historical and heritage scholarship for his books, including:


Planning Institute of Australia

  • (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
Teaching & Supervision: 

In 2018-2019 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 some 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. I currently have six PhD students. Since 1996 I have also examined more than 20 postgraduate dissertations from other Australia, NZ and South African universities.


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)

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
  • Routledge/Alexandrine Press, ‘Studies in History, Planning and Environment’ series, International Editorial Board, from 2002
  • 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), Emeritus Board Member from 2016

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
  • 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)
  • 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); Best Planning Perspectives paper (2016, 2018)
  • 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 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)
  • 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)