An urban design solution that imagines interactive community spaces, urban farming, and greater walkability along cool green corridors around the Box Hill Metropolitan Activity Centre has won an exciting urban design student challenge.

‘Root Connection—a sustainable community harvesting culture’ was selected from more than 20 submissions in the Our Future Cities 2020 Interdisciplinary Student Design Competition, which ran in July and August this year.

Carolina Wong from RMIT University, and Aeri Lee, Juan Planells and Shiqi Chen from the University of Melbourne designed the winning concept and won a $3,000 cash prize.

Event organiser Simon Roberts said ‘Root Connection’ is an emotive concept and its creators are master storytellers.

‘This team’s emotive submission focuses on the lives of six characters, and describes their current challenges and future aspirations for Box Hill.

‘The team embraced multicultural engagement to develop sustainable lifestyles for the future residents of Box Hill.’

The 2020 Our Future Cities competition was a ‘transformative challenge’ in which 170 contestants competed in 30 small interdisciplinary teams to explore the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and apply them to urban design challenges at the Box Hill Metropolitan Activity Centre.

The online event was run as a three-week design sprint of workshops, mentoring and design, focusing on embracing water sensitive city design solutions to tackle urban heat and create green and liveable city solutions, and downscaling the UN SDGs to deal with local challenges.

The competition produced some outstanding, innovative and interdisciplinary design concepts for the Box Hill site, including: blue and green infrastructure to mitigate urban heat and provide amenity and recreation; wildlife corridors to provide habitat and support local biodiversity; restorative spaces for human health, connection and wellbeing; place based economic revitalisation models to support local businesses; and infrastructure and streetscape design that embraces and celebrates local culture and supports community needs.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) and Yarra Valley Water were major supporters. The contestants used the CRCWSC’s  Scenario Tool to assess the effectiveness of their designs in reducing vulnerability to extreme heat and flooding events, improving urban amenity and liveability, enhancing stormwater quality and reuse, and improving environmental health.

A diverse and dedicated group of over 60 voluntary industry mentors provided 3000-plus hours of mentoring support to the participants during the competition.

Our Future Cities 2020 was open to individuals and teams from different disciplinary backgrounds. Participants could be university students from any level of university (including Masters), recent graduates (up to one year post graduation), or Year 12 VCE students.

The annual student competition aims to get more people engaged in conversations about how we can create better cities of the future. The goal is to give participants real world skills and experience working with leading industry thinkers. Yarra Valley Water, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Yes Everyone Matters and E2Designlab also supported the 2020 event.

A team of local and international industry representatives judged the entries.

Feedback was extremely positive. ESD Consultant Architect, Bhavana Malagi said, ‘The limited timeframe was nothing short of challenging to pull together an idea for the future of Box Hill through sustainable development and water sensitive design. [COVID] lockdown certainly felt productive and engaging being part of this online community’.

Bethany Donker, graduate student at the University of Melbourne, said, ‘Ours is a diverse team and that’s just what #sustainablefutures and our future cities need: diverse perspectives and unbounded enthusiasm to listen, learn, and share’.

The Our Future Cities organisation is run by its two founders, Simon Roberts and Paul Satur, and an interdisciplinary volunteer committee.


For more information, contact Paul Satur ( or Simon Roberts (

Last updated: 15th Sep 2020