Pilot projects in vertical villages

Dr Janette Corcoran

Vertical villages need improvements tailored to our way of living – but how will pilot projects help?

As the name suggests, pilot projects are about testing.

And currently, there are several interesting pilot projects aimed at vertical villages. Included here is the City of Melbourne’s Food Organics High-Rise Pilot, which focuses on diverting food from landfill.
To date, the City of Melbourne has looked at residents living in dwellings of up to five storeys. It’s now expanding its focus to include residents living in high-rise properties of six storeys and above. The aim is to identify “the unique issues and challenges in food organics collection” that these properties might encounter when using new technologies, such as onsite organics processing. 

Also under way, albeit on a more limited scale, is a pilot project looking at the energy efficiency of common areas in vertical villages. The stated aim is to gather data to create energy-use-profiles of the common property of high-rise residential apartment buildings.

However, while both pilot projects are potentially useful to vertical villages, it must be noted that “pilots ain’t pilots” – meaning that the purpose of these two pilot projects are quite different - and not simply in terms of their subject matter.

City of Melbourne’s Food Organics project is a “pilot program”, meaning it is seeking to test the implementation and operation of an initiative in-context. As such, it is more akin to an experimental trial. In a nutshell, it is a small-scale, short-term tryout aimed at helping an organisation learn how a large-scale project might work in practice.

In contrast, the energy efficiency pilot is a “proof-of-concept” project which aims to determine whether selected approaches can, in fact, capture the type and calibre of required data (e.g., accurate, complete, etc). A proof-of-concept pilot, then, is an exercise which focuses on determining whether an idea can be turned into reality.

While both are pilot projects, a proof-of-concept pilot differs from a trial pilot principally in terms of focus – testing the tools versus testing the complete solution.

And to add to the terminology mix, there are also “pilot studies”. These pilots are different again, as their purpose is to assist the design of a research project and, in particular, test its validity. It provides feedback to the researcher regarding design weaknesses and is used to improve the quality of the subsequent study.

Why is this difference between pilot projects noteworthy?

It has, unfortunately, been the case that vertical villages have agreed to participate in a particular pilot project, based upon promises of shared benefits – but, in reality, the type of benefit returned was of little value to the owners’ corporation.

For this reason, and before agreeing to participate, it is important for vertical villages to understand the type of pilot they are to be involved with, and what, specifically, they can expect in return. In particular, there must be clarity about our role, communication (frequency and type) and deliverables.

In terms of deliverables, beware the offer that “a final report will be shared” as these documents are typically tailored to a specific audience (not us!), meaning that the subject matter may only be of marginal relevance to owners’ corporations. Indeed, it may be the case that access to the data is of more value to us.

Also view with caution initial promises of “regular communication” as this can quickly drop off once access has been granted.

Some may say that these issues can be sorted through greater attention during the negotiation phase. And largely this is true. However, unfamiliarity with the subject matter, unclear terminology and reference to “accepted approaches” makes difficult determining what is realistic for us to request.

So, what are the take-homes for vertical villages?

We need to walk an informed, fine line between encouraging pilots focused on our mode of living, and ensuring we are not reduced to the status of rubber-stampers. Most critically, we must demand the approaches taken are always “with us” and not “on us” •

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