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By Anne Lynch 1 February 2017 3 min read

artist impression of new development, people on sidewalk next to canal
The Urban Living Lab will operate at the Sydney Science Park, a new development set over 280 hectares in Sydney’s west. Artist impression: Celestino

Apart from the national capital, Australia’s cities have rarely been planned in advance. For the most part, they grow organically, in response to relatively short-term social, economic, political and institutional pressures.

However, with more than 75 per cent of Australians now living in cities, and Australia’s population projected to double to 46 million by 2075, we need to get smarter about the planning and development of urban spaces.

Cities of the future will need to be sustainable and resilient to accommodate growing population pressures and to cope with extreme events and sudden changes. To achieve this, there needs to be a place where researchers, industry, community and government can work together to address the environmental, social, economic and technological challenges facing the urban sector. Happily, we now have this place – CSIRO’s first operational Urban Living Lab.

A new kind of laboratory

A joint initiative of CSIRO and Celestino, the Urban Living Lab provides the space to not only foster collaboration and innovation, but to apply scientific rigor to test new ideas that have the potential to enable advances in the liveability, sustainability and resilience of urban areas.

“There are major issues facing cities in the 21st century,” explains Paul Bertsch, Acting Director of CSIRO Land and Water. “Issues such as population pressure, climate change and resource scarcity are big problems that researchers, industry and government need to work together to address. The Urban Living Lab provides the perfect environment for the collaboration and innovation that are necessary to build vibrant and sustainable cities.”

The Urban Living Lab will operate at the Sydney Science Park, a new development set over 280 hectares in Sydney’s west.

The Sydney Science Park will be a fully-integrated community that will encourage innovators from a wide range of urban research backgrounds to come together to create, test and refine innovative products and services in a real-life setting with the support of CSIRO and other research partners.

Celestino CEO John Vassallo is thrilled to be partnering with CSIRO on this important initiative.

“We could see people creating new ways to harness solar energy in the workplace and developing novel ideas to store heat and keep homes cool. New sustainable transport solutions will also be encouraged as well as inventions that conserve water and energy and drive down utility bills. The possibilities are endless.

“Once developed, all of these technologies will be tested on the homes, businesses, shops, roads and parks of Sydney Science Park.

“Just like you test new medical technologies in a lab, you need to test new urban-living technologies in a real urban environment. Sydney Science Park is the perfect testing ground for these inventions of tomorrow.”

Mr Vassallo said that The Urban Living Lab will connect inventors to mentors, scientific expertise and importantly, venture capital.

“We don’t just want inventions, we want new prototypes commercialized and rolled out to the market.”

Ideas for sustainable cities

From the reuse of treated wastewater for urban green spaces, to automated driver-less garbage collection, the Urban Living Lab will have the resources to test the long term performance of cutting-edge innovations that will improve the quality of our urban spaces. These ideas can then be developed, commercialised and implemented, all under the supervision and support of CSIRO and partners.

Research already under consideration includes:

• Examining the impact of increased urban greening on local temperatures and ecology, changes in energy and water demand and consumption, and the influence on community wellbeing and health;

• Developing smart water systems that can efficiently provide different classes of water for different uses on demand; and

• Determining the influence of digital disruptions and information technology advances on urban structure, industry and community connections.

Some innovations will prove themselves quickly, while others may take 5–10 years to come to fruition.

With a new kind of laboratory, a new approach and a new spirit of collaborative innovation, the Urban Living Lab will play a major role in shaping the cities of the future.

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