Some clever thinking and a lot of collaboration on a new development in Sydney’s western suburbs could be just the ticket for a model “science city” that is a great place to live and work.

It all started back in 2010 when property developer Celestino bought a large parcel of rural land on the edge of Sydney.

The city’s second airport was still a dream, and there was no talk of new railway lines in the area. At first glance, a giant logistics shed or warehouse seemed the obvious development for the 280 hectares of land at Luddenham.

But Celestino CEO John Vassallo wanted a development that would maximize the value of the land over the long term, and he knew logistics, warehousing and manufacturing no longer delivered many jobs. He knew too that young workers aspired to jobs in places they could easily commute to and that offered a range of services such as child minding, hairdressing, cafes and a vibrant night life.

Sydney’s NorWest and Macquarie were successful business parks but they lacked walkability and nightlife, says Vassallo. Over at Rouse Hill in the city’s north west, the town centre was a great example of an open-air design that had been embraced by the local community.

“I guess my initial vision was to combine a NorWest with a Rouse Hill Town Centre, somewhere people are happy to call home, and somewhere employers are happy to call work,” Vassallo tells The Fifth Estate.

Having run a law practice out of Blacktown in the early 90s before he joined Celestino, Vassallo had witnessed a change in the west’s demographics, from mostly blue-collar workers to middle-management executives and small business owners.

Dearth of jobs

“I could see, literally before my eyes, the change that was being driven by socio-economics in the area,” he says. “Being from Western Sydney, I know we have all the talent that any part of Sydney has, and you have people crying out – students, business owners, employees – for local employment opportunities.”

One idea led to another and, with the backing of Celestino’s owners (Australian-owned family poultry business Baiada), Vassallo started thinking about how to attract successful and innovative companies and the financial backers needed to commercialise great ideas. He studied business, research and science parks around the world for inspiration.

What eventually emerged was the Sydney Science Park. Celestino describes it as “a fully integrated community that will create more than 12,000 knowledge-based jobs, cater to over 10,000 students and be home to over 10,000 residents”. Rezoning is complete and work has begun on the first stage of the park, which includes a mix of commercial, residential and education developments.

Celestino wants the park to become a leader for education, innovation and sustainable communities. To that end, it has formed partnerships with organisations such as the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, which will build and operate a STEM school in the park. Working with the developer, the park is also the venue for the first CSIRO urban living lab.

At the labs, which CSIRO is rolling out across Australia, researchers are examining the interplay between urban greening, energy efficiency, water demand, community well-being and new technologies.

Vassallo says the park is the perfect platform for public-private cooperation to test new ways to address the pressures facing the urban environment.

“Whether it’s new approaches to transport, advancements in recycling and water conservation or new uses for waste heat or ways to reduce heat in our cities, Sydney Science Park is the chance for a real-life, ‘safe to fail’ testing ground,” he says.

Long-term data collection

Researchers will collect baseline data on a range of climate and environmental indicators such as air temperature and quality, storm water run-off, and the effectiveness of trees for shading, says principal research scientist at CSIRO Land and Water, Dr Tim Muster.

“Over the next 50 years there will be a lot of changes on that site,” Dr Muster tells The Fifth Estate.

 “I describe it as doing comparative measurements before and after the residents move in. We are making a conscious effort to understand what it means to move from a rural piece of land to something that is urbanised,” says Dr Muster.

“We are looking to support experimentation on the site that will enable not just CSIRO researchers but other collaborators, including government, industry and the community, to come together to co-design solutions with a focus on accelerating innovation and learning.”

Celestino knows that if it is to attract business, workers and residents, Sydney Science Park must be liveable. Its planners are looking at initiatives such as natural tree canopies and water features to help cool the area, as well as investigating which trees are best for shading and cooling, and how to make the most of predominate breezes on the site.

It is a combination of common sense – “the things we have forgotten about over the past 100 years” – and science, says Vassallo.

Planning for the park began before state and federal governments committed to the new airport and the north-south rail line that, in stage one, will connect St Marys to the new Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis and the Western Sydney Airport in time for its opening in 2026.

Those two commitments have “turbo charged” the development, says Vassallo.

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