A smart look at a city’s moving parts

City skyline by Still Vision
City skyline. Photo by Still Vision

Investigating how autonomous cars could reduce the number of vehicles on the road is just one of the many innovative ideas being studied at Swinburne’s brand new Smart Cities Research Institute.

Tackling the challenges of congestion, pollution and energy use, the Smart Cities Research Institute will investigate not just new technologies, but how citizens can be involved.

Professor Mark Burry, who recently joined Swinburne to be the Institute’s Director, came with an impressive list of credentials, including having been a senior architect on the Sagrada Família Basilica in Barcelona and a former Australian Federation Fellow.

“Smart cities typically focus on new technologies but we are interested in understanding how new technologies can help citizens to engage,” said Professor Burry. “Rather than cities designed for citizens, let’s have the cities designed with them. It’s a major opportunity, but we haven’t really exploited it. We could use the internet more effectively to give people more choices.”

One approach is to use games to find out what people are thinking, as an alternative to questionnaires. This might be as an app which citizens play while waiting for the bus. Through the game the app learns more about the needs of the citizen, which can then be used in city planning (see page 15). The next big technological revolution will be the autonomous car and the Institute will use simulation studies to find out if these will reduce congestion. It will also consider strategies for increasing housing density around transport hubs and demonstrate to residents that higher densities can create benefits such as a greater variety of shops and restaurants within walking distance.

“Instead of nimbyism we want to encourage ‘imbyism’ – in my backyard,” said Professor Burry.

Investigating housing to suit new household arrangements will be another priority, according to Burry. Millennials, for example, have a greater sense of sharing and seem to have fewer possessions than their parents, so they may need less storage space, while recently divorced singles in their 40s and 50s who can no longer afford a family home may prefer house-sharing.

The Smart Cities Research Institute will address four key areas: urban mobility, smart spaces at home and work, infrastructure and delivery systems, and new urban governance structures. Operating as a virtual Institute, it aims to foster collaboration between disciplines and with outside partners such as government, industry and CSIRO.

“Everything we do is project based rather than pure research based and at least two disciplines will be engaged in each project. We will always involve an outside party,” said Professor Burry.

Published in Swinburne Research Impact, March 2018,  Nature Custom Publishing.

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