The University of Western Australia

UWA Staff Profile

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Stephen Gibson

Dr Stephen Gibson

Design, UWA School of

Contact details
UWA School of Design
The University of Western Australia (M433)
35 Stirling Highway
+61 8 6488 1566
After a 25 year-career as a licensed practicing landscape architect and urban planner in both Australia and the United States, Stephen's attention is now focused on the research pursuit of understanding more about the connection of people to the landscape, how people really use the landscape, and more importantly, focusing on teaching students this knowledge so they can be the best landscape architects possible in their careers in practice.

Stephen's focus in practice during his career has been community development, residential housing, commercial and industrial development, ecological restoration, and parks and open space. It is particularly his exposure to the cultural aspects of open space use while working in Western Australia that prompted Stephen to venture into the academic world to pursue his PhD and conduct research on the connection between culture and public open space design and use. Stephen’s past experiences have firmly impressed upon him that an understanding of the true way in which people use space must be first comprehended prior to being able to plan and design for them appropriately. It is through extensive field research on the subject that Stephen hopes to unlock the keys to successful public space provision and design that is inclusive and accessible to all.

Stephen further believes that the place to start this learning for many is in the classroom and sees a role as Professor and mentor to be critical to the successful application of his initiatives in both academic and practitioner circles. Stephen’s current research is investigating older adult use of open space as an entrée to developing policies of equitable access and inclusion in planning and design processes. Future research will investigate accessibility to open space for other social and cultural groups to forge a more complete understanding of open space use, planning, design, and management in society.
Key research
Stephen's research develops and tests theory on the interactions of a variety of social groups within the built environment. More specifically, his research focuses on how membership in gender, age, national, and socio-economic groups affects open space access and use. Stephen's current work strives to comprehend the nuances experienced by these groups across various dimensions, for example safety, appropriateness of amenities, or accessibility, and to utilize this knowledge to inform the practice of planning, design, policy, and management.
As we are moving toward more diverse communities and a more diverse urban existence, with more than 50% of the population living in cities and other urban environments, it is even more imperative that we understand the various social groups occupying this space. Many of the nuances of open space use are overlooked during the process of planning and design, resulting in open space design solutions that fail to cater appropriately to all users. Ultimately, this translates into less access and use. Stephen's research bridges the gap between theory and practice to develop new theories and techniques toward equitable planning, design, policy development, and management.
This research represents three streams (1) Historical and future access and use trajectories, (2) Mechanisms underlying access and use inequalities, and (3) Community engagement to address access and use inequalities.

DiPetrillo, S., Lubin, A., Loukaitou-Sideris, A., Salehian, C., Gibson, S.C., William, K.,
& Green, T.T. (2016). Improving pathways to transit for persons with disabilities. MTI Report 12-59. San Jose, CA: Mineta Transportation Institute.

Gibson, S.C., Loukaitou-Sideris, A. & Mukhija, V. Ensuring Park Equity: How to
Make Parks More Usable for Underserved Communities.
Conditional Acceptance - Landscape Journal.


Gibson, S.C. Fluidity: The Functions and Future of Great Urban Public Spaces. Current status: 3rd round review – Journal of Urban Design.

Gibson, S.C. “Can I Come To The Park?” Access to Urban Open Space: An investigation of older adults in Australia, their perceived and real access to open space, and implications for practice. Current status: Submittal to Landscape and Urban Planning Journal, May, 2017.

Gibson, S.C. Motivation to access: A study of older adults and their motivations and preferences in accessing parks and open space. Current status: Submittal to Environment and Planning - “D” Society and Space, July, 2017.

Gibson, S.C. “I can’t use the park!” Design interventions for improving practice outcomes for the benefit of older adults. Current status: Submittal to Environment and Planning - “B” Planning and Design, August, 2017.

Gibson, S.C. Strawberry Fields Forever? The importance of community consultation in successful open space provision. Current Status: Submittal to the Journal of the American Planning Association, September, 2017.

Gibson, S.C. Older Adults and Open Space Use: A survey scale for determining the motivation of older adults to visit open space. Current Status: Submittal to Landscape and Urban Planning Journal, October, 2017.

Gibson, S.C., Loukaitou-Sideris, A. & Mukhija, V. Equity in the Use of Parks: An Interpretive Framework from the Literature. Current status: Submittal to Landscape Journal, November, 2017.

Gibson, S.C. & Grabasch, G. Community Engagement: A catalyst for change in community development and sustainability.
Current Status: Submittal to the Journal of the American Planning Association, December, 2017.

Roles, responsibilities and expertise
IN addition to research and teaching, Stephen is the UWA liaison to the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) State Chapter and also the AILA Fresh Student Group. He is currently seeking to initiate a closer working relationship between UWA, AILA, and Western Australian-based practitioners to aid in student learning and employment opportunities. He is also investigating ways in which foreign students at UWA may be supported further to ensure their success in a their new home.
Future research
Stephen proposes to extend his research to consider other social groups in a similar way that he is currently researching older adults. Those groups will include women, men, children, physically disabled, cognitively disabled, and members of various national cultures, among others. This research stream will remain the primary focus of Stephen's work over the coming 5 to 10 years and beyond.
Funding received

• California Department of Parks and Recreation, 2014 (ongoing). Funding for project: “Ensuring Equitable Access to California’s State Parks: Evaluation of Community Outreach and Engagement Efforts of the California Department of Parks and Recreation and Strategies for Improvements.”

• Ralph and Sally Shapiro Fellowship, 2013 - 2015. Competitive fellowship providing 3 years of support for research undertaken within the Urban Planning Department at UCLA under the direction of Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (Professor of Urban Planning, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs).

• Mineta Transit Research Consortium, 2013-2014. San Jose State University Research Foundation. Competitive funding for completion of Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) Transit Study.

• Registered Landscape Architect – Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) Registration #8802.

• Current Member – Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA).

• Licensed Landscape Architect – American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) State of California, License #4841.

• Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED-AP).

• American Planning Association (APA).

Honours and awards
• UWA Student’s Choice Award – Teaching.
Perth, Western Australia, 2016.
Previous positions
• Lecturer – University of Western Australia
Perth, Western Australia, 1/16 - Present (Landscape architecture discipline, UWA School of Design, Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Education).

• Research Associate – University of California, Los Angeles (U.S.A), Los Angeles, California, 9/13 – 8/15.

• Director of Landscape Architecture – Urbis (Australia), Perth, Western Australia, 11/12 – 7/13.

• Director of Landscape Architecture – UDLA (Australia), Fremantle, Western Australia, 02/10 – 11/12.

• Senior Landscape Architect – HASSELL (Australia)
Perth, Western Australia, 10/09 – 01/10.

• President - Environment, Science, and Art, Inc. (U.S.A.), Irvine, California, 10/04 – 10/09 (Landscape architecture, urban planning and design, environmental design, habitat restoration).

• Urban Planner - EDAW, Inc. (U.S.A.), Irvine, California, 10/03 – 7/04.

• Senior Landscape Architect - EDAW, Inc. (U.S.A.)
Irvine, California, 7/01 – 10/03.

• Project Manager (Landscape) - The Collaborative West (U.S.A.), San Clemente, California, 6/99 - 6/01.

•Landscape Designer - Marshall Erdman and Associates (U.S.A.), Madison, Wisconsin, 5/96 - 6/99

Stephen has always been passionate about opportunities to learn and also to teach. He believes the defining difference between a good teacher and an excellent teacher is this passion of duality. In addition, the teacher’s commitment to the student is critical to success, not only during class times, not only outside of class, but throughout the student’s career, serving as a mentor “for life” which Stephen wholeheartedly undertakes with all his students.

This approach to the relationship provides grounding for the student and benefits the student during and after their degree program. The opportunity to engage a student across various modes of learning and interaction with course material (e.g. media-based, visual, tactile, experiential), generates numerous ways in which to learn the content, to apply the content, and to grow intellectually and experientially.

Active learning is a priority, not only for maintaining energy and engagement during class sessions, but also in catering to as many different learning styles among students as possible. Each student learns in a different way, specific to their experiences, intellect, and personal style. Teaching in ways that engage these various styles is critical to achieving a solid outcome for all students in the class.

This style of teaching requires a “safe” environment within which students feel they can contribute and must be established early on during the class or mentorship relationship.

Stephen believes that everyone, students and teachers alike, have the opportunity to teach through sharing their personal experiences and knowledge, ultimately developing a confidence within the student in their ability to contribute that benefits the class, their peers, and their future career. This approach encourages classroom interaction between students, and actively engages the student with the material in both theoretical and practical ways.

In addition to active learning, Stephen includes professional experience and real-world occurrences alongside cutting edge theory and research. Across his 20 plus years as a practitioner and consultant in landscape architecture and urban planning, Stephen has many more practice experiences to relate in the classroom than most, all of which provide an opportunity for a student to learn in ways unable to be offered through traditional academic routes. This practice experience is also incorporated into his research which is used for content within the classroom where appropriate.

In addition to the academic/industry contribution Stephen offers, he also calls frequently on his extended network of practitioners and past-colleagues to contribute to student learning experience. In many circumstances, this safe and congenial interaction between student and practitioner in a classroom leads to internships, work experience opportunities, and also full-time permanent work in landscape architecture offices around Perth and the broader domestic and international network of Built Environment professionals.

This teaching philosophy has resulted in the award of a UWA Student Guild Teacher’s Choice Award for his first semester of teaching in 2016. In addition, Stephen has also received student evaluation scores for teaching in the 3.8 to 3.9 range on a 4.0 scale.
Research profile
Research profile and publications

The University of Western Australia

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Last updated:
Tuesday, 3 November, 2015 2:39 PM