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Smart Design: Economy, Technology, and Space

We live in a smart age, largely driven by the rise of a globalised knowledge economy and the latest information technological advancement. The smart age is also an age of increasing change and uncertainty, encompassing economic, social, and environmental dimensions of human wellbeing, and living and working in cities. It is time to revisit our modernist and post-modernist urban design orthodoxies that have been in place, shaping the ways our cities are understood, created, and managed, since the early 20th century. COVID-19 renders this imperative an urgent matter. This project calls for debates to forge a smart design manifesto to shape a new paradigm of urban design thinking and practice that is not only grounded in the transformative urban contexts today, but also future ready. The proposed smart design manifesto has dual aims: to respond to and anticipate the spatial disruptions of contemporary economic and technological transformations, and crisis; and to explore a new design-led pathway to the contemporary wicked problem of sustainability.


This project is an exploratory study. It more aims to trigger debates and provoke thoughts than to provide ready answers. It aligns several contemporary discourses – globalisation at a crossroad, global crisis, global knowledge economy, new technology, space, and sustainability – into a design-centred nexus to establish an inter-disciplinary dialogue both to enhance scholarship and to inform practice. In doing so, it intends to build a bridge between the academia and the profession in exploring new smart design opportunities in a smart age, and to prepare and stimulate a future generation of smart designers.

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The ‘New Normal’

Chinese City

China is pursuing a new normal to characterise, define, and develop a new-type urbanisation. Emerging from the turn of the century, this new normal discourse has sped up and established in the 2010s. Now this discourse dominates Chinese planning and development. It seems to be on a track of shaping the way Chinese cities are built and managed in the 2020s until the mid of the 21st century. Much has been known about how China has changed from a rural society to an urban society through rapid urbanisation in only four decades since Deng Xiaoping launched the ‘reform and opening-up’ agenda in 1978. This urbanisation is shifting in new directions of thinking, approach, and practice, creating a new normal. New normal is a buzzword of policy debates, including urban policy, in China today. However, this new normal of urbanisation remains uncertain in terms of conceptualisation, operationalisation, and outcomes.


This project addresses the new normal in an urban planning and development context, and approach it through three perspectives as follows. It aims to lead the debates on China’s urbanisation in a new direction to focus on its transformation underway. By doing so, it provides a timely examination of the megatrends in Chinese cities in the 2010s to inform an understanding of their future development in the 2020s and even further. Further, it decouples the urban imaginary and the urban reality of Chinese cities to critically address the new normal discourse: under a strong political drive in a ‘new era’, the ‘new normal’ Chinese city has largely followed the path dependence on a neoliberal urbanism with Chinese characteristics.  

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Global Cities, Migration, and Mobility: Insights from Sydney and Melbourne

This project integrates several urban phenomena in contemporary globalisation—global cities, migration, and mobility—to forge an analytical nexus linking them together to underpin an alternative research and policy agenda, and to apply it to Australian global cities Sydney and Melbourne. It has derived from a need to address several deficiencies in the current research and policy debates on global cities and migration. First, global cities and migration need to be organically integrated into a meaningful analytical framework to inform both research and policy in contemporary discourses of globalisation and urbanisation. Second, migration, as traditionally perceived and classified according to ethnicity, needs to be redefined as mobility to capture the new modes of people movement and articulate with global cities. Third, the local transformations in global cities, either as a contributory factor or as a resultant impact of the new migration in contemporary globalisation, need to be systematically examined towards an enhanced understanding and effective policy approach. For these purposes, this project aims:


  • To inject migration into the understanding of global cities to bridge the two theses under contemporary globalisation

  • To redefine migration as mobility to capture the increasing intensity and complexity of people movement into and between global cities

  • To dissect the local transformations in association with the interactive globality-mobility in global cities.


Reinventing the Knowledge City: An Australian Urban Analysis

This project is set against several macro-forces that are reshaping our cities as well as our policy making for them: the rise of the knowledge economy, the exponential advancement of the new technology, and the increasing importance of innovation in driving economic transition. Globalisation and the technological revolution are disrupting the patterns of work and the modes of production and consumption across the world. The traditional ways of working are changing, largely thanks to technological impacts on how the professions and trades function. New technologies are reshuffling the skills required from workers, as well as the place and time of undertaking work. This changing backdrop has made effective and timely policy responses an imperative as we are responding to these disruptions. The changing nature of work has been associated with an increasingly important role of knowledge in our economic system. This nexus between the knowledge economy, new technology, and innovation demands greater attention from scholars and policy makers. This project responds to this demand, reconceptualising ‘the knowledge city’ to capture the quintessential core of the concept, and applying it to investigating knowledge cities in Australia, which have been evolving under the interactions of these macro-forces. Out of these considerations, this project aims to:


  • reinvent a conceptual and methodological approach to ‘the knowledge city’, through refocusing on the ‘knowledge’ core in defining the concept, and through drawing upon the latest development of the knowledge economy, technological innovation and disruption, changing work, and global change and crisis  

  • provide the most comprehensive and updated understanding of the state of knowledge cities in Australia within multiple—global, national, and local—contexts

  • inform innovation-led reforms in policy making and planning for developing the knowledge city in Australia and elsewhere, in a global environment of unprecedented challenge and uncertainty.