UHPH 2024, University of Sydney, July 11-13, 2024

Plan for Sydney (1948), by Reg Thornton. Source: State Library of NSW

In the cities of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, real estate seems to be almost a second nature. It is a pervasive fact in daily life, structuring the economy and the environment. Wealth is tied up in it, our planning systems serve it, and our culture obsesses over how to obtain and improve it. But real estate has no independent history or power in itself. Its role in the history of our cities and settlements depends on a whole range of human and non-human agents: individuals who buy, sell and invest in real estate; states that enable and regulate it; corporations that finance its purchase and provide its insurance. Understanding the history of our cities through the lens of real estate depends, therefore, on grasping the ways in which these agents have organised our environment to privilege and serve the interest of real estate.

Key books on Australian cities such as Cannon’s The Land Boomers (1966), Sandercock’s Cities for Sale (1975), Davison’s The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne (1978), and Daly’s Sydney Boom and Sydney Bust (1982) put real estate at the centre of the story of urban development. More recently, scholars across a range of fields including architectural history, human geography, planning and law have reanimated the discussion around land, planning and real estate by asking probing questions about what taking possession of property really means, especially for First Nations people for whom it often means dispossession. This conference provides an opportunity to build on that work and carefully consider the range of implications that real estate has for research in, and perspectives on, urban and planning history.

The 17th meeting of the Urban History/Planning History Group invites papers on all aspects of urban and planning history in Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and the wider Pacific region. As always, this forum welcomes contributions that explore among other things –

i) the history of planning, design and regulation of public spaces, infrastructure, and private development;

ii) papers on planners, urban designers and architects involved in the city-making process in any period;

iii) work on the historiography of cities as well as new work on the history of social groups and how they adapted to and reshaped urban environments

iv) research on the historical evolution of urban policy focused on heritage, the natural environment, and industry. 

The 2024 conference differs somewhat to most previous UHPH meetings in that it is built around three streams: 1) Possession and Dispossession; 2) Housing Histories; and 3) FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate). We especially welcome submissions that connect with one of these specified conference streams. Please see stream descriptions below.

Conference Streams

1. Possession and Dispossession

Stream Convenors: Andrew Leach (USyd) Amelia Thorpe (UNSW) and Dallas Rogers (USyd)

This stream invites papers that explore how techniques of land alienation, property transfer, and the systems through which property-as-capital is maintained, can inform a longer history of real estate in the towns, cities and territories of the Tasman world and corresponding settings. How have ideas of property ownership—from the Crown to the citizen—shaped the histories of urbanism and planning in these territories? What adaptations were necessary to make English property ‘work’ in the colonies, and what impacts did those adaptations have for property more broadly? How did its specific form of imposed sovereignty disrupt that which it sought to displace? And how has the recognition and activation of First Nations sovereignty challenged ideas and practices around property? This stream explores origins and effects, as well as practices of reclamation and resistance. It invites contributions from scholars and students exploring the ways in which property regimes have been established, moderated, and extended in the urban and planning histories of the Oceanic colonies and across the Australian continent; and it welcomes papers that offer a lens on this setting from further afield.

2. Housing Histories

Stream Convenors: Stephen Pascoe (UNSW), Fiona Gatt (Deakin) and Rachel Goldlust (Latrobe)

Capitalist discourses and practices of housing production have been central to the dynamics of settlement within Australasian colonialism. While homeownership has been celebrated and studied as foundational to settler culture, histories of renting, public housing, landlordism and homelessness have received comparatively less attention. Interrogating the boundaries of ‘home’ in conversation with the commoditisation of land can further illuminate how we understand the nature of work, leisure, planning, communality and design. This stream, facilitated by the New Housing History Network, seeks to encourage scholarship that is conceptually expansive and critically reflective of where the field has been, and where it can go. We are calling for new kinds of housing histories that embrace the moral, political, and environmental implications of where and how we dwell.

3. FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate)

Stream Convenors: Maren Koehler (USyd) and Jasper Ludewig (Newcastle)

The stream invites papers that explore the intersections between real estate as it manifests spatially and physically in urban environments and the seemingly immaterial workings of finance and actuarial calculation. FIRE industries have a long history of actively shaping architecture and urban development. Banks and insurance companies initiate and enable real estate developments at various scales and their financial logics have limited and defined the form and planning of buildings. The industry has been a key driver in the establishment of Central Business Districts (CBDs) of cities, with their head offices and prestige developments initiating new directions and intensities in urban development. While finance has frequently been considered neutral, the technologies of finance capital that facilitate real estate have been—and still are—actively involved in processes of colonisation and settlement. The stream welcomes contributions that highlight the agency of actors and organisations in the FIRE sector and their impact on cities and the environment more broadly.   


Deadline for Abstracts: February 14, 2024

Successful Applicants Notified: March 31, 2024

Written Paper Submitted to Session Chairs: June 30, 2024

Conference Dates: July 11–13, 2024

Abstract Guidelines:

Abstracts should be no more than 300 words and should be submitted as a word or pdf document via email to: UHPH2024@antipodes.city

Please ensure your email includes a version of the abstract with author details and one anonymised for blind peer review.


School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney

Conference Convenor

Cameron Logan

Academic Committee

Robert Freestone

Julia Gatley

Fiona Gatt

Rachel Goldlust

Maren Koehler

Andrew Leach

Jasper Ludewig

James Lesh

Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

Stephen Pascoe

Dallas Rogers

Anna Temby

Amelia Thorpe