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Proposed cooperative research centre to tackle cities of the future

Professor Deo Prasad
Professor Deo Prasad

After six years at the forefront of research into lowering the carbon impact of the built environment, the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL) is coming to an end in less than a year.

But CRCLCL chief executive Professor Deo Prasad has no intention of stepping back, having already submitted, together with ASBEC’s Professor Ken Maher, a proposal for a brand new CRC that will tackle the challenging topic of “future cities”.

If approved the new Future Cities CRC would kick off the day after the CRCLCL finishes up on 30 June 2019, with Prasad proposing a 10-year program that could attract between $40-50 million in federal funding.

Professor Prasad told The Fifth Estate the CRC would look at how cities were evolving in terms of things like smart technology, artificial intelligence and data, next-gen decentralised infrastructure, and transport innovations such as autonomous and electric vehicles.

The goal is to progress cities that are smarter and more sustainable, resilient, liveable and just.

There will be four program areas: Smart Connected Places; Efficient Integrated Infrastructure; City Analytics and Foresighting; and Liveable Cities and Regions.

Already there’s about 90 partners onboard, including local governments (including City of Sydney), state land agencies, leading developers, top consulting firms (such as Arup and AECOM) and other industry bodies.

Prasad will take on the role of interim CEO.

He says urbanism is an immense global challenge, and the CRC will provide a holistic way to get better insights into the future.

On one hand the CRC will help to develop an Australian industry for the technologies of future cities, Prasad says, but on the other it will also help to make sure the evidence base and governance structures are right, and that communities benefit and are engaged.

“We want to better understand community appetite to better inform the planning process.”

On the people side, the CRC will look at “health, wellbeing, liveability, the big challenge of affordability, equity and inclusiveness”.

“We don’t want future cities with bigger disparities.”

He agrees it’s a big remit, but is confident the “holistic systems approach” being taken will lead to results.

Success of CRCLCL

Speaking of results, Prasad says the CRC for Low Carbon Living has already exceeded its targets: cutting residential and commercial carbon emissions by 10 megatonnes by 2020 (which will continue to rise over time), providing an economic benefit of over $684 million and graduating 88 PhD students.

“We have been reviewed by PwC and we have exceeded the requirements,” Prasad says.

There are a number of high-impact projects Prasad is proud of. For example, the CRC funded much of the technical work for ASBEC’s just released Built to Perform: An Industry Led Pathway to a Zero Carbon Ready Building Code.

It has also worked to review NSW’s BASIX home rating tool, looking at post-occupancy results versus modelled to inform revisions. Another is a low-carbon geopolymer concrete currently being trialled at Port Kembla as coastal protection.

If the Future Cities CRC is approved, Prasad is excited for 10 years of collaboration and breakthroughs that could ensure Australia is at the forefront of tackling our big urban challenges.

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