Assoc Prof Debra Cushing

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Areas of interest: Landscape Architecture, Salutogenic Environments, Intergenerational Design

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Design and Planning (University of Colorado), Master of Science (MS) in Landscape Architecture (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Dr. Cushing’s research and teaching combines her interest in health-promoting environments for all ages, with her understanding of using design theory and research evidence to create sustainable and vibrant landscapes and urban spaces that enable all ages to thrive. She uses environmental psychology theory and placemaking principles to inform the design of places of different scales, including parks, trails, and urban plazas. Her current research areas include:

  • Intergenerational park design for physical activity and social engagement;
  • Urban design solutions that are sustainable, salutogenic (health promoting), playable, and inclusive;
  • Green infrastructure for human health and ecosystem services; and
  • Design nudges to encourage physical activity within public spaces.

Deb is an Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture and the Discipline Lead - Architecture (Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Interior Architecture study areas) for the School of Architecture and Built Environment. She has also served as the Discipline Leader for Spatial Design and the Research Training Coordinator in the School of Design. She is a researcher with the QUT Design Lab and the Human Building Interaction (HBI) Research Group.

She was the lead investigator on an ARC Linkage Project titled "Intergenerational Park Design for Active and Engaged Communities", which involved numerous industry partners with the aim to develop a better understanding of how parks and open space impact physical activity levels for intergenerational populations. The project led to the creation of the "Intergenerational Parks: Design Guide for Physical Activity and Social Engagement Across Generations" to provide evidence-based recommendations to create better parks for all ages.

Deb's first book, "Creating Great Places: Evidence-based Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing", co-authored with Professor Evonne Miller, draws on international research, illustrated case studies, personal experiences, and pop culture to introduce the theory-storming approach for creating inclusive, sustainable and salutogenic (health promoting) urban places. Her second book, titled, "Redesigning the Unremarkable," again co-authored with Miller, (forthcoming) presents a timely reminder that the often neglected elements and spaces of our built environment must be thoughtfully redesigned to enhance human and planetary health through a sustainable, salutogenic, and playable lens.

Deb also worked for several years as a landscape architect practitioner for engineering and planning firms in Colorado, USA. During her time in practice, she served on interdisciplinary teams with planners, engineers, and community administrators to find sustainable solutions to community issues. Her projects included neighbourhood and community parks, interconnected regional trail systems, outdoor classrooms, gravel mining reclamation sites, and subdivision master plans. Deb facilitated participatory methods during public workshops and community meetings to gain input and understand the community needs and considerations.  She received a PhD in Design and Planning from the University of Colorado Denver, where she researched youth master plans in the United States. She also served as one of the founding coordinators for Growing Up Boulder, an ongoing child- and youth-friendly city initiative created to facilitate youth participation in community decision-making.


Additional information

Debra has served on the following committees:

  • Co-Lead Resilient Communities Theme for the QUT Design Lab, 2020 to 2022
  • National Education Committee for Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), 2020 to 2021
  • Equity Committee (Creative Industries Faculty and Faculty of Engineering), 2016 to 2021
  • Steering Committee for the Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement at the University of Colorado Boulder, 2009 to 2011
Intergenerational park design for active and engaged communities
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
Start year
Assessment frameworks and teaching modules that promote student learning in immersive short-term international study experiences
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
Start year
Assessment; Immersive Learning; International Study; Short-Term; Work-Integrated Learning