The Urban Living Lab, a new collaboration with Celestino, will use the rigours of science to make the future of Australia's cities more liveable, resilient, and sustainable.

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 – our first operational Urban Living Lab.

A new kind of laboratory

A joint initiative of us 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 our Land and Water division. “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 us and other research partners.

Celestino CEO John Vassallo is thrilled to be partnering with us 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 us and our 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.

This blog was initially written for Ecos. Read the original here.


  1. Hi, I look at what has been said in this ‘blog’ and feel we are just up for the ‘same-old, same-old’; the blog talks about sustainability, but what is sustainable about this Sydney Science Park? All I can see by the artists impressions and read the words written is; more and more concrete, hectares and hectares of it, just use more and more resources until they become scarce and then put a hefty price on them, then stick a few trees and a bit of grass on it all so you can say you are working with the environment, then tell the general public this is innovation and they should be happy. This is really sad stuff, I thought the CSIRO was above being complicit in this subterfuge. The only way to have real innovation is live under existing conditions and find ways to refurbish, recycle, reinvent, up-cycle and live totally within the earths systems and cycles. For everyone’s sake, lets start being grown up and responsible.

    1. Hi Noretta,

      We forwarded your question on to Simon Toze, a researcher on the Urban Living Lab. This is his reply:

      The project is at the bare paddock stage giving the artist little to go on. In fact, Celestino (the developer) and CSIRO are very keen to work on reducing the heat island effect which will involve examining the maximum number of trees and bushes including the optimal type of vegetation and their location. Also, increasing surface water will help cool the suburb so we plan to do research on enhancing natural standing water along with more traditional water features. To achieve this we plan to examine increasing water and waste recycling and storage as mechanisms. If we do things right I hope we can even achieve a zero discharge environment (a personal research aim of mine). Among other plans, we hope that innovators and people with clever ideas will come to us for their ideas to be tested and proved. One of the initial criteria for these ideas to be accepted for testing is that they have no impact or are beneficial for the local environment, energy/water consumption, etc. Our ultimate plan is to end up with a development which is unlike anything that currently exists in Australia.

      We hope this helps to answer your question.

      CSIRO Social Media

  2. Growth and sustainability are mutually exclusive.

  3. Any plans for investigating optimal urban density, and how to achieve it?

    1. Hi Tony,

      Urban density is something we are interested in investigating. Research has already shown that greater urban density is better for cities relating to improving sustainability and resilience. The challenges are that the Australian community has grown up with the ideal of the suburb and the “1/4 acre block”. We also want to avoid the mistakes of the 60’s and 70’s that occurred in Australia and Europe, particularly relating to high density, low income housing. We suspect there needs to be a range of housing options, ranging from apartments to larger houses, all available within close proximity, and with the ability to more easily move between housing sizes depending on your needs at different times of life.


      CSIRO Social Media

  4. This Urban Living Lab sounds like a big “F… you, rural population. We don’t need you.” The very people that put food on your table, and whose numbers are dwindling. Nice one, CSIRO.

    1. Why does it have to be a big “F… you, rural population. We don’t need you.”? Why can’t the people who put food on our tables, who we obviously need, be involved? Don’t they need to be involved? Perhaps this sort of approach could also help with rural issues and make better land more available?

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