UNSW Sydney on Wednesday launched a pioneering lab space and introduced a new postgraduate degree, each dedicated to improving collaboration in city planning and design.

Housed within the Faculty of Built Environment at UNSW, the City Analytics Lab will help government and industry understand technologies and new approaches in the planning of more liveable, productive, sustainable and resilient cities. The lab contains an interactive collaboration space with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology, giving users realistic and dynamic insights into the relationship between planning and factors such as transportation, education, health and justice.

Paul Fletcher, Minister for Infrastructure and Cities, joined UNSW Vice-President for External Relations, Fiona Docherty, and Built Environment faculty members to officially open the lab. Fletcher said the lab responded to several trends affecting Australian cities related to population growth and the explosion of data available through everyday items such as smart phones, sensing devices and magnetic strips.  

“There is so much data,” Fletcher said. “Turning the data into useful tools that can usefully assist decision-makers to make our cities better in the future - that is not an easy thing. And that is where [this lab] comes in.”

The new lab aligns with Fletcher’s announcement of the second round of funding for the Commonwealth government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs program. An additional $22 million in grant funding will support projects that apply innovative technology-based solutions to urban challenges.

Docherty said urban planners and city designers at federal and local levels around Australia could play a role in contributing to cutting-edge research in city planning.

“Their work and their decision making will be studied by the academic community of UNSW and will be adding to the global repository of knowledge around best practices and lessons learned by implementing policy into practice,” Docherty said.

In addition to launching the lab, Professor Chris Pettit, UNSW Chair of Urban Sciences, introduced a new Master of City Analytics program to augment the capabilities of the lab for future city designers and urban planners. The program is the first of its kind in Australia.

“It’s all good to do this research and we can play with our technology and sandboxes here in the basement, but we actually need people to use these tools,” Pettit said. “The Master program will help our students understand what dashboards are, what are big data, what is open data and how do we actually use it in the real world?”