How to bring dead city areas to life

Dead city areas, Building smarter cities, City and property development processes, Mental Health and the City, Dr Jon Drane, City and property development processes, dead city areas, property developer culture,

How to bring dead city areas to life. The City Whisperer was originally created by Dr Jon Drane to understand how dead city areas occur and how they can be brought to life again.

He studied dead city areas in major cities and regional cities and how they were brought to life over long periods of time. Dr Jon did not view these city areas as dead but merely ‘dormant’ and in a slow process of transformation due to the dynamics of city growth, city development processes and change. 

Dead City Areas & City Whispering

Dr Jon created the City Whisperer from his doctoral research into dead city areas and how they can be re-activated.

The film called The Horse Whisperer which starred Robert Redford and Kristin Scott-Thomas inspired The City Whisperer.

Dr Jon’s doctoral research (2011-2015) focussed on dead city areas and he watched how they re-morphed into vibrant city areas (and some did not).

Dormant City Areas and the Wellbeing of Cities

However the meaning of City Whisperer has grown since it was introduced soon after Dr Jon’s doctorate in 2015.

As with the movie The Horse Whisperer, which centred around the rehabilitation of a greatly loved but injured horse, the city has become similar.

In the case of cities as time goes by, they are greatly loved but are suffering from a malaise also. The wellbeing of cities, their people’s health and even mental health and the city is now in question.

Mental Health and the City

The City Whisperer explores Mental Health and the City and looks at cities as if they had their own City Persona and The Mental Health of Cities.

And if it was a person, ‘what is its mental health score’. In fact how mental is your city?

“In 2022, Australia’s cities and regions experienced substantial disparities across several wellbeing indicators, including affordable housing, equality and stable employment. While certain regions thrive, many regional and inner city areas are being left behind.”

SGS Cities and Regions Wellbeing Index , 12 April 2023, Julian Szafraniec, Marcia Keegan

Building Better Cities of the Future

The City Whisperer explores city and property development processes. It focuses on dead city areas, dormant city areas, city growth,and the city and how we can build better cities of the future.

Dr Jonathan Drane’s research started in 1993 with his creation of Optimum Search (consultancy) and then Optimum City Research. The research spans 30 years and has observed the growth of cities and their mechanisms and malaise.

Dr Jonathan Drane

Dead city areas, Building smarter cities, Dr Jonathan Drane The City Whisperer, Smarter healthy cities, Property development theory, Night economy, city and property development processes, precinct activation, dead city areas, chronology of building defects, dangerous building defects history check, the defects dilemma, a decade of dangeorus defects, invisible property developer, pilot station history , literature map, building defects expert witness, building defects legal solutions
Dr Jonathan Drane, the city whisperer

We acknowledge the first nations people of Australia as the traditional owners of the land and pay respect to their ancestors and people past and present.

We also acknowledge the work of Charles Landry who was nick named The City Whisperer refer ABC documentary by the same title.

The City Whisperer was born also from the amazing ‘catalyst research’ undertaken by Dr Drane through his Optimum City Research established in 1993 see

The Mental Health of Cities

Books and Publications

Jonathan is also a recognised award winning author in the non-fiction and historical genre winning an award for his first book on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of a Thousand Arrows) in 2007 with the NSW Writers Centre.

Book Gallery- Dr Jon Drane

Get your blog article published on The City Whisperer

We love good articles and Dr Drane welcomes early to mid career researchers and students to write a small article about their fascination with cities.

We vet the article and co-author it if it is explorative and exciting.

See our blog post:

Write an Article on city growth and publish it on the City Whisperer

Here are some of the activities we are engaged in:

The Defects Dilemma

Research into dangerous defects in multi apartment towers. Independent catalyst  research advocating for systemic change in the property development interface and structures of industry.

Research Centre Tracks Building Defects Chronology

Expert Triage: Forensic Analysis of Defective Buildings: Expert Witness, Research, Advisory

Jonathan undertakes forensic analysis of the systems of development and construction that often lead to building defects that are witnessed in the Australian commercial high rise building sector.

Expert Triage: Expert witness assessment complex legal cases

Join Our Linked In Group: The Property Development Doctor

The group was started in the wake of tragedies across the Globe in multi-apartment fires.  The focus is on defects in the Australian Commercial Property Development Industry in the High Rise Multi-Apartment Sector which is an area that is not protected well by legislative processes and licensing.

How Safe is your Apartment Tower?

Book a History Check on your Multi-Apartment tower


Night Owl Night Economy Field Research

Our night owl research allows local govt areas to understand their night economy and the drivers and anchors.

How well do you know your night economy?

Webinars on Research Skills

Webinars on research skills including social research methods; literature mapping, case study, interviewing, project management of field research.



Executive Training Workshops

Jonathan provides executive education on the property development process to industry executives in the government, business and academic sector on property development and city growth dynamics with a focus on city precinct activation.

UDIA Development Essentials Workshop includes Project Management Principles by Dr Drane

New Game Learning Platform

Game Learning by Dr Drane- Online Training in City and Property Development

Dr Drane’s Master Class platform has a new offering in the exciting Game Learning platform on which is an exciting game and quizz learning platform.

New! Game Learning Platform on

City Precinct Activation: Advisory & Research

Jonathan is a recognised expert in city precinct development with an emphasis on activation of dormant cityscapes. Jonathan’s doctoral research project (2011 to 2014) studied dormant cityscapes in several Australian regional cities  and how they were bought to life.

Going beyond just a research emphasis he was involved in the revitalisation of the Palmer Street Precinct, Townsville (2003 to 2008) as a catalyst developer. In this way he has both researched and been involved as a practitioner in this specific field of urban activation.

His advisory profile ranges from planning urban development of dormant cityscapes, to forensic analysis of complex construction and property development problems in legal and industry situations.


Research Publications: City Growth Dynamics

Jonathan was awarded a doctorate at UNSW Faculty of Built Environment in March 2015 for his dissertation ‘The Seed in the Cityscape- The property development mechanism and its influence on the growth of cities’. The research was conducted under an Australian Post Graduate Award. The research gathered together two decades of prior research.

How do you bring dead city areas to life again?

Thanks for visiting The City Whisperer. Please feel free to contact with any query or feedback. See the form below.

Dr Jonathan Drane The City Whisperer, Dead city areas, Building smarter cities, Smarter healthy cities, Property development theory, Night economy, city and property development processes, precinct activation, dead city areas, chronology of building defects, building defects history check, the defects dilemma, a decade of dangeorus defects
Dr Jonathan Drane
General contact form

Relevant Links:

Link to UNSW Library for Published Doctorate

Research Sites – Jonathan Drane

Jonathan’s Linked In Profile

The State of Contemporary Property Development Theory- City Development Processes 2013

Summary: Dr Jon Drane discovers that research into City Development Processes from the point of view of the Property Developer is sadly lacking. He picks up on research done in the 1990s and modernises the theory base from the point of view of a practitioner.

State of Contemporary Property Development Theory ResearchGate Dr Jon Drane

State of Contemporary Property Development Theory ResearchGate Dr Jon Drane, Sity and property development processes, chronology of building defects, dead city areas
State of Contemporary PD Theory ResearchGate Dr Jon Drane

Building Defects: How they can be avoided- City Development Processes

Summary: Dr Jon Drane creates a research initiative that investigates dangerous building defects in the apartment tower industry. The industry is suffering from corrupt property developer practices. Dr Drane provides models on how to rectify defects from the top down through better delivery systems and city development processes.

Defects a Builders View, Dr Jon Drane, building defects, city development processes

Defects a Builders View, Dr Jon Drane, building defects, city development processes, chronology of building defects, history of building defects, a decade of dangeorous defects. Dead city areas.
Defects a Builders View, Dr Jon Drane, building defects, city development processes’s_perspective

A Teaching Framework for City Development Processes

Dr Jon Drane provided a framework for understanding City Development Processes and more recently updated this to include the concept of Place Economy and Property Development Dynamics. See youtube video below and his Faster Class offering for professional development in Property Development.

Advocating for Professionalisation of Property Development

The property development industry is experiencing the continued entry of untrained, non professional players. There are very low barriers to entry to the world of property development. The result has been the rise of poor quality buidings and the horrors of the past decade of dangerous defects.

Dr Drane is advocating for the creation of a doctorate in ‘city and property development processes’ that supports the improvement of professional recognition and credentialing of property developers. See our youtube video on A Decade of Dangerous Defects which includes the tragedies of the decade.