Towards a Tropical Urbanism for Cairns, Australia




Tropical Urbanism, Urban Design, Urban Planning, New Urbanism, Regionalism, Critical Regionalism, Cairns


This paper engages with debates about tropical cities and climate responsive design to consider the emergence of two local government master plans and one planning scheme provision explicitly addressing the tropical climate in Cairns, Australia. The undergirding concept of these initiatives is a terminology of Tropical Urbanism, a simultaneously environmental and social/cultural term that captures issues such as climate, lifestyle and identity in the constitution of the urban fabric. Through a detailed reading of the documents, combined with interviews with local architects and planners, this paper positions Tropical Urbanism as an environmentally aware version of New Urbanism and as a distinctive language of urban design emerging in the regional context of tropical Australia. Place-based initiatives such as these are important to improving the design outcomes and sustainability of regional cities, and we suggest Tropical Urbanism could be further reinforced by the social/cultural and political nuances of a more progressive Critical Regionalist approach.

Author Biographies

Lisa Law, James Cook University, Australia

Lisa Law is a geographer with interests in the politics of urban spaces in Southeast Asia and tropical Australia. Her research crosses a broad spectrum of social and urban issues, including: the changing meanings of public space, embodied experiences of migration and the politics of the tropical built environment. Lisa is currently developing two research projects in the field of tropical urban design. The first traces the history and current governance of tropical architecture/urban design in Northern Australia (projects include Tropical Sustainable Design Case Studies, Ingham CBD Master-planning). The second traces how this knowledge might be put to use in the disaster field in Southeast Asia (see Resilience in Monsoon Asia). Lisa is Editor of Asia Pacific Viewpoint a Wiley journal publishing articles in geography and allied disciplines about the region. Prior to commencing her appointment at James Cook University, she was employed at the Australian National University, the University of Western Sydney, the National University of Singapore and the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Urbi Musso, Independent Scholar, Cairns, Australia

Urbi Musso is a Senior Planner at wildPLAN, with over 12 years’ experience in the property and development sector, spanning real estate, property/planning law, property valuation and urban planning.  Her expertise includes master planning, land use planning in remote and Indigenous communities and community engagement services. Urbi is a member of the Planning Institute of Australia, receiving recognition for Planning Excellence as Young Planner of the Year (Tropical North Queensland Branch), going on to receive the Judge’s commendation for the State award in 2018.  She has a Bachelor of Planning (Honours) degree from James Cook University in Cairns.  Her Honours thesis was an early exploration of Tropical Urbanism in Cairns.


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How to Cite

Law, L., & Musso, U. (2020). Towards a Tropical Urbanism for Cairns, Australia. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 19(2), 52–71.