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    Mirvac's Paul Edwards talks smart precincts and the human experience

    Branko Miletic

    In a new discussion paper from Mirvac called The Future of the Smart Precinct, author of the paper, Paul Edwards, GM of Workplace Experiences at Mirvac notes that architects, developers and city planners will need to strike a balance between the human experience and the rise of technology in workplace design to create vibrant, collaborative and inclusive cities for the future.

    The rise of theses smart precincts in Australia and around the world, says Edwards, has been triggered by the changing demographics of the population and advances in technology such as AI and robotics.

    Does the government play an important role in a smart precinct?

     Early involvement and work with the government will be crucial to the success of these new urban environments. The government will play an important role in defining key precincts in cities, setting governance structure and policy to encourage mixed use and multiple stakeholders to deliver smart outcomes, all which stich back into the wider city. Therefore, all levels of government will continue to be important stakeholders in the development of smart precincts now and into the future. 

    "Striking a balance between the human experience and the rise of technology is at the heart of future development" How do you imagine this balance will be 'struck'?

    In all areas of development, a new bargain will ensure the human and digital elements of the smart precinct can be harmonised.

    There are a number of ways in which this balance will unfold including:
     
    Reskilling the human workforce

    A growth in creative and high-performing jobs, and in entrepreneurship, will occur and the need to reskill the human workforce in the face of automation will be crucial.
     
    Human-centric urbanism
    A new deal or contract is beginning to emerge between technology companies, citizens and city planners in new digital districts, along the lines of 'we're giving you our data - what are you going to give back to our city?' This takes the form of 'a new bargain' in which technology adds value to the human needs of urban living, and does not simply extract data from the smart precinct to create value elsewhere.
     
    A key part of this 'new bargain' is that smart precincts are giant testbeds for urban innovation, working out which new ideas and technologies work and which don't. Those that work well are then exported to the rest of the city, providing broader benefits beyond one district or neighbourhood as part of the bargain. The thinking is that cities can learn from and emulate smart practice in the most newly developed parts of town.
     
    Collectives of Intimacy
    A more imaginative mix of different space functions amid the fluid boundaries of the smart precinct could be matched by a more radical approach to how people organise living and working in these innovation districts. 'New space logics' - a term coined by Tarsha Finney, who leads City Design at the Royal College of Art, London - are set to emerge. These will enable new precincts to address such issues as eldercare or childcare through tech-enabled 'collectives of intimacy' in which people take on reciprocal roles in a community - retired people doing some child-minding for example.
     
    Online platforms
    The rise of the smart precinct owes much to a consumer-driven approach in which technology is responsive to user preference - whether in the workplace, home or public realm - and convenience and ease of use are key drivers. However an alternative perspective is emerging which positions the users of the innovation precinct as 'creative citizens', not just passive consumers of smart services.
     
    If the smart precinct is to be a thriving testbed for new knowledge and ideas, it must depend on having active participants, not compliant observers. The precinct must evolve in response to the needs and aspirations of the mix of people who work and live there, and who together make up the identity of that community. New technologies will enable creative citizens to engage and participate in new ways, providing new forms of expression and increased agency. 

    Creative citizens will use online collaborative platforms to co-design their public spaces, social networks to organise street parties, arrange tech surgeries or guerrilla gardening, and online forums and hyperlocal news. Technology will therefore facilitate a shift to more democratic participation in decision-making within the precinct and aid resistance to a top-down political approach.

    You say that "Mirvac's Australian Technology Park (ATP) in Eveleigh Sydney is a leading example of a smart precinct, incorporating many of the concepts explored in the discussion paper." What features make it a 'leading example?

    In our first Intermix report, we identified and described several ingredients to activate a smart precinct. Mirvac has applied these principles at ATP, a development that aims to create an advanced, workspace-led innovation district for the tech economy by 2020.
     
    Mirvac undertook research into tech ecosystems, to increase our understanding of what is needed to make them successful. At the time of purchasing ATP, Mirvac committed to a number of things with an aim to develop a technology ecosystem that positions Sydney - and Australia - as a global leader, with the right balance of occupants, good human-to-human interaction, fluid international connectivity, diverse and flexible spaces, easy access to customers and a strong identity so the community can feel a sense of pride and belonging.

    So what are the exact features that make ATP a leading example of a smart precinct?

    One connected community: We have concentrated on creating a network that will allow people to stay connected and transition seamlessly through the precinct. It is also our intention to develop a living lab approach, opening up data for the community to use to test new ideas and build new businesses.

    Shaping the sharing economy: At ATP, several spaces have been created enabling the sharing economy to develop - from Uber collection and drop off points to a focus on making spaces where people can come together to create food or 3D models. As an innovation precinct we are creating a test bed to enable shared learning to take place. A services marketplace will provide those key business services required by start-ups and small businesses on a share basis to ensure that businesses can grow. A rooftop farm is being created to educate people on health food, permaculture and how to grow it locally.

    Fluid boundaries and flow: An intermingling of functions and forms will help to activate the community at ATP. Using a mix of physical and digital experience at the precinct will include a heritage trail with on-site blacksmith and farm to bring the historical context of the place to life. A retail boulevard and marketplace focused on manufacturing retail will be explored, very much staying true to the theme of a makerspace.

    The curated precinct: An activation program has been developed for the precinct during construction.

    The final design provides space and infrastructure for ongoing events ranging from food trucks and market stalls to local arts and crafts.
    ·      Flexible space matters: Mirvac has created a new flexible space venture called Hoist, which provides curated space where customers and entrepreneurs can come together to solve customer problems. Flexible space at ATP will include essential services such as mentoring and access to finance, which will increase the chance of success and also help to retain entrepreneurial new companies within Australia. 
    ·      Wellbeing dividend: At ATP, a wellness precinct has been planned with flora and fauna, outdoor gym and skate park accessible to the broader community. The precinct will also include massage and yoga studios alongside medical health suites to provide the full wellbeing dividend, all accessed through a digital booking system.
    ·      Destination, not dead zone:
    The place-making manifesto set the vision, including the need to create different elements and activities to ensure people have a variety of reasons to visit ATP and encourage visitors to keep coming back. A new retail marketplace will provide a new level of amenity at ATP, one that will draw people in from outside the local community, whilst providing access to a variety of food and beverage priced for all users of the precinct.

    What is the economic case for smart precincts or are we still working this out?

    Smart precincts bridge the divide between diverse communities, including start-ups, scale-ups, corporates and academia, to drive the commercialisation of new business models and disruptive technologies. A smart precinct will help a city to run efficiently and effectively, enabling the technology industry to flourish and grow, which in turn will create jobs. The key is to ensure we do not end up with several disconnected smart precincts but rather a collection of interconnected clusters that build off of each other.

    What would be a global example you could use as an example to be emulated?

    There are none, which is the reason this research is required. While this discussion paper is not the solution, we are asking for feedback to help us create a new world leading example. Within the report we do reference some good examples that have ticked some of the boxes, such as Port Covington in South Baltimore, where a new smart precinct is being developed on a 266-acre waterfront site. The catalyst for this ambitious US $5.5 billion development is the need for sportswear giant Under Armour to expand with a new campus.

    For the city, the requirement to keep a big employer in town and safeguard jobs is part of the bargain, alongside the offer of new shops, homes and waterfront tourist facilities in the precinct. The Under Armour campus could eventually house 10,000 employees.

    New York-based Intersection is advising on the fusion of digital and physical elements to attract cutting-edge tech firms to the precinct. Facilities already include a design and manufacturing centre with the latest 3D printing technology.

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