A crisis that could shape our future cities

COVID-19 is a health and economic crisis that’s taken the world by surprise, but could also be an opportunity for Australia to shape a smarter, greener, safer, and healthier future for our cities

Will COVID-19 change the shape of our cities, and how we live in them?

Experts and community leaders have been calling for a rethink of everything, from urban density, public housing and greenspace, to public transport, remote working, and decentralisation.

Yet COVID-19 joins a long list of threats and challenges already facing Australia’s big cities – population growth, climate change, rising temperatures, water security, waste management, congestion, and an ageing population, to name a few.

Reshaping cities in the light of the pandemic and these pre-existing challenges may seem like a complicated task.

But, by taking a systems-based approach and a long-term perspective, researchers can help those responsible to lay the foundations of more adaptive, resilient cities – cities that will better support our response, as a nation, to pandemics and other future shocks.

Urban Living Labs

CSIRO has been working with government, business, industry and community groups to find innovative ways of integrating science with urban planning and design through its Future Cities initiative. The initiative has established two Urban Living Labs – one in Western Sydney and the other in Darwin – with a third proposed for Ginninderra in Canberra.

CSIRO researcher Guy Barnett says the labs are places where scientists can push boundaries and trial new ways of doing things in a real-world setting.

He feels that the COVID-19 ‘pause’ presents another opportunity for urban planners to ‘reset’ and take a fresh look at what does and doesn’t work in modern cities – for example, the ageing public housing high-rises in Melbourne, where factors such as high residential densities, shared community facilities including laundries, and tight corridor and lift spaces accelerated the spread of COVID-19.

“We really live in yesterday’s cities, in that they reflect planning decisions made 50 to 100 years ago, like those public-housing high-rises built back in the 1960s.

“The thinking to date has been that compact cities are the best way to deliver the most sustainable outcomes, in terms of energy, water use, land conservation, and so on. But COVID raises the question, ‘Is high-density the right way to go’?

“The Future Cities initiative brings a systems perspective to these questions, allowing us to integrate the different dimensions and consider the long-term implications.

“So, as we recover from COVID, we can also be thinking about opportunities to transition our energy systems. Should we be thinking about a hydrogen economy, for example?

“Where do we want Australia to be in 2050? What are the stepping stones and building blocks we need to put in place to realise that vision?

“Health has always had a strong influence on the way cities are planned and designed. We seem to have lost that over the last century.

“COVID is a reminder that the way that we build our cities can shape the health outcomes of the people who live in them.”

* This week’s blog is an extract of the CSIRO Ecos article by Mary-Lou Considine.

A lake with a footpath on the righthand side with someone walking a dog.

A street with buildings with a particularly large building at the end of the street.

COVD-19 is a chance to rethink the ageing public housing high-rises (Image: Nick Carson)

CSIRO science and tech at the heart of new city innovation

CSIRO has entered discussions with NSW to place science and technology at the centre of the new smart and liveable city being developed to the west of Sydney.

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, is negotiating with the NSW Government to relocate up to 450 of its employees and researchers into a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of the new Western Sydney Aerotropolis, from 2026.

Under the proposed move, a bespoke carbon-neutral CSIRO facility of up to 18,000 m2 would be built, featuring collaborative workshops and modern, flexible laboratories to support the delivery of cutting-edge science and technology.

The CSIRO facility would be central to the Aerotropolis Advanced Manufacturing and Research Precinct, which will bring together research institutes and commercial organisations across advanced manufacturing, quantum technologies, aerospace, defence and agribusiness.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Aerotropolis will be a new focal point for Australian innovation, research and productivity, making it the perfect home for Australia’s national science agency.

“CSIRO is a national icon and would set the tone for the Aerotropolis as an innovation hub which will drive the creation of more than 200,000 jobs across the Western Parkland City.”

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the agency’s presence at Aerotropolis would support collaboration and put science and technology right at the heart of this new smart and liveable city.

“The more we can put science in the hands of real people to solve real problems, the better our future will be, so the collaboration and connectedness of the Western Sydney Aerotropolis is an immense opportunity for CSIRO and the future we are shaping for Australia.”

“Aerotropolis reflects the new generation of CSIRO, agile and diverse, while building on a great 100-year legacy of innovation through collaboration. Sydney is where CSIRO invented fast WiFi and where we will invent the next innovations for our future prosperity and sustainability.”

The move to Aerotropolis would progress CSIRO’s long-standing plans to consolidate activities and refresh its research facilities, while supporting the agency’s growing commitment to Western Sydney, including:

Expected to be completed by 2026, the Aerotropolis aims to be one of Australia’s most connected cities supporting current and future residents, businesses and researchers.

Under the plans, the CSIRO facility would benefit from the $11 billion Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport rail which will service the greater Western Sydney region, and the opening of Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport in 2026.

A building with many people walking in front of it. An artist’s impression of a future CSIRO site at Sydney’s Aerotropolis.
A building at night time with people walking in front of it. An artist’s impression of a future CSIRO site at Sydney’s Aerotropolis.


Project update – July 2020

The challenging year that is 2020 has continued since our last Ginninderra Project update. Amid the backdrop of bushfires, storms and global pandemic in the first half of the year, we’re pleased to report that our project and research teams haven’t stopped working on breakthroughs and solutions to the real world challenges we’re facing.

We’ve covered some of the work our scientists are doing in bushfire resilience leadership and the fight for a COVID-19 vaccine. However there are a host of other examples where we’re working side by side with industry to deliver innovative science and technology to create new value, jobs and growth for Australian businesses and for Australia.

Some of those technologies including solar cell windows, temperature resistant cladding, and 3D-printed stents are covered in this month’s newsletter.

On the Ginninderra front, our Project Team has been working through all the preliminary planning, environmental and technical studies that will help to inform the proposed future sustainable development.

Restrictions under COVID-19 have limited the opportunity for face-to-face gatherings in recent months, however primarily through videoconferencing, we’ve continued to meet with the relevant Commonwealth and ACT agencies to work through matters of traffic, infrastructure, environment and heritage.

As we are sharing through this website, CSIRO has a wealth of innovative science and technology that it brings to the built and natural environment. We’ve been looking further into how such technology and new approaches creates value in our cities and urban settings and how the sustainable urban development at Ginninderra could benefit from this.

Over coming months we aim to share more about progress in these areas and the opportunities that will arise at Ginninderra. Stay tuned.

Close up of a machine with cogs and handles.

New technologies to tackle real world challenges. CSIRO has improved the process for making perovskite solar cells.