With the urban environment facing a variety of environmental, social, economic and technological challenges, Urban Living Lab offers a new way for researchers, industry, community and government to co-innovate, moving our cities into a more liveable, sustainable and resilient future.

The challenge

Cities need greater resilience to challenge and change

Our cities may be dynamic, exciting places to live, but they are also becoming increasingly unaffordable and unsustainable, and less resilient to sudden change or extreme events.

Cities like Melbourne are exciting and dynamic places

Cities are rarely planned out in advance – Canberra perhaps being one of the few exceptions. For the most part, they grow in an organic but chaotic fashion; shaped by fragmented policies, institutions and knowledge domains.

Long-established rules of the game and risk aversion constrain innovation, and political and business short-termism can make it difficult for innovators to bring about changes that may require a more long-term perspective.

Something as complex as a city – facing challenges such as population pressure, resource scarcity, climate change, environmental decline, economic volatility and disruptive technology – needs an integrated, innovative, collaborative and evidence-based approach to planning and development.

Our response

Living laboratories in urban spaces

The idea of urban laboratories came from several years of informed discussions with industry and government agencies about the future of urban research.

The Urban Living Lab offers a way to foster new collaborative, trans-disciplinary ways of thinking in urban planning and development, and provides a real-world testing ground.

This CSIRO-wide initiative aims to provide safe spaces for this to happen; special purpose 'urban innovation zones' that can serve as living laboratories, in which trans-disciplinary collaborators can work together to develop information, tools, technologies and processes for building a more resilient urban environment. Whether it be the reuse of treated wastewater for urban green spaces, or automated driver-less garbage collection, the Urban Living Lab is the space in which to test these innovations.

The results

Modelling resilient cities of the future

The first challenge of the Urban Living Lab is to develop the tools and resources to model what resilient cities of the future could look like.

This requires a multi-disciplinary approach. As one of the most diversified research agencies in the world, CSIRO is well-placed to foster collaborative, trans-disciplinary research not only within the organisation, but with external stakeholders and partners. This will bring together stakeholders with expertise in a broad range of disciplines, including buildings and infrastructure engineering, transport, stationary energy, water and waste management, urban governance, digital technologies, health and wellbeing, and green infrastructure.

The ideas and theories that flow from this collaboration and innovation can then be put to the test in new or redeveloped urban areas, as well as existing CSIRO sites that will serve as living laboratories.

Some innovations will prove themselves quickly, while others may take 5-10 years to come to fruition. The diverse nature of these living laboratories will enable researchers to explore the impact of their ideas across a range of different time frames, settings, population densities, land uses, socio-economic profiles and even climate zones.

The Urban Living Laboratory is looking well beyond the traditional 'triple bottom line' view of sustainability to ensure that the outcomes of any innovation are not just about dollar value, but about the long term economic, social and environmental sustainability of our cities. The lessons learned from these living laboratories can help guide future planning and development to build the resilient cities that will be needed for an uncertain future.

The trans-disciplinary nature of the Urban Living Laboratory project will bring together urban-focused researchers within CSIRO and world class innovators across many sectors, including the local community.  With much of the world's future population growth and urbanisation likely to occur in the South East Asia region, the Lab can also aid in fostering international collaborations.

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