When young professional, Prasanna Sivasubramaniam Shanmuganathan, takes to the stage of the Plaza Auditorium with three of his peers at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre this morning (Wednesday), it will be the culmination of an extraordinary futuristic experience set in motion on Monday morning by Olympic legend Lord Sebastian Coe.

Prasanna (below, right), who is set to graduate with an MBA (Advanced) degree later this month, threw himself into the opportunity that was the Young Professionals’ Forum, a vibrant and innovative component of this week’s 2015 Asia Pacific Cities Summit in Brisbane.

Sml.PrasannaNealHe has been part of a mix of Griffith University students whose active and enthusiastic participation made the ‘Urban Challenges for Digital Cities’ theme a prominent and focused part of the major three-day international event that brought mayors from across the Asia-Pacific region to Southeast Queensland.

With Acting Director of Griffith’s Urban Research Program, Paul Burton (below, right), at the helm more than 100 young professionals from Griffith, UQ, QUT, industry and overseas applied the brightest of young minds to some of the biggest questions facing city leaders around the world today.

Sml.PaulBurtonTheir determination, passion, knowledge and considered focus shone through each session, as genuine challenges were identified and solutions sought and explored thoughtfully.

The Young Professionals’ Forum, sponsored by Griffith University, considered local identity in a global world, imagined future cities, and asked how digital possibilities might be harnessed in the future while an effective voice for all urban citizens was maintained and ensured.

For two days, the group also rubbed shoulders and exchanged business cards with influential industry and local government leaders from around the world.


Lord Sebastian Coe presented a unique and inspiring insight into his own London city vision to open the Asia Pacific Cities Summit and Mayors’ Forum on Monday.

Cultivating talent, technology and trade; the globalisation of trade; and the expansion of a global consumer class were discussed during plenary sessions by thought leaders from Singapore, China, Hong Kong, the UK and the United States.

The science and technology behind cities, and how smarter and better-connected cities of the future will fully utilise technologies to enhance environmental, social and economic performances were among the high-level topics discussed by representatives of organisations like Microsoft, CSIRO and Accenture.

Sml.GraceMullinsIn the dedicated Young Professionals’ Forum, the future city discussions bounced from robotics to transportation, from urban splintering to big data, from local identity to global identity, from how to future proof a city to how to protect individual privacy.

The Young Professionals group was challenged and provoked by some of Griffith University’s leading academics, all with the aim of producing an informed, far-reaching communique for the mayors’ forum.

Associate Professor Matthew Burke (below, centre), Principle Research Fellow at Griffith’s Urban Research Program, asked the group to consider where the line is drawn for communication infrastructure in cities where urban splintering signals a possible era for gated communities. “If you were to future-proof cities what should local authorities be doing right now?” he challenged.Sml.AmberBurke

Professor Andrew O’Neil, Head of Griffith’s School of Government and International Relations, asked if the right balance between local and global identities has been struck in Asia-Pacific cities.“Despite the world becoming more integrated (as a result of globalisation), local identity – if anything – has been strengthened,” he said.

The focus on digital cities was progressed on day two, through Associate Professor Bela Stantic, Deputy Head, School of Information and Communication Technology; Professor Vladimir Estivill-Castro, Deputy Director, Institute for Integrated and Intelligent System; and Dr David Tuffley, School of Information and Communication Technology.

Associate Professor Stantic described imminent digital solutions to issues in transportation, crime control, evacuation, health and security, before taking delegates on a journey into the future of big data. “The big issue is how we manage the data and extract info from big data,” he said. “Today we are all data generators.”

Sml.GlindemannProfessor Estivill-Castro analysed the power of data analysis in cities of the future, highlighting its immense potential for social good before questioning where the line is crossed when it comes to individual privacy. “By the time you’re my age who knows what technology will be doing?” he told the Young Professionals in a presentation that forecast driverless taxis in a not-so-distant future.

Dr David Tuffley also eased the thoughts of delegates towards the future. “There are people being born today for whom the means of human expression have not been invented yet,” he said. His presentation examined closely the role of robots in cities of the future. “Technology at its best helps people live to a full expression of their best so smart technology in cities will improve lives and help people connect with others with shared interests, for example.”

The group also heard from the Managing Director of Springfield Land Commission, Raynuha Sinnathamby, on the challenges faced and negotiated in generating a new city to Brisbane’s west, from former Brisbane Lord Mayor Sallyanne Atkinson AO on the evolving role of local government, and from current Lord Mayor, Cllr Graham Quirk (below), who joined the Young Professionals’ Forum at the end of day one. “This is an opportunity to create growth in specific areas in a planned, programmed way,” he said.


The broad spectrum of themes engaged students from all walks of university life. From Griffith University alone, engineering, science, urban and environmental planning, law, public health, business, government and international relations, education, biomedical science, health service management, commerce and fine art were all represented.

Undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate students were present in the room, including Prasanna Nathan who has the honour of being part of a four-person presentation group that will outline its future city proposals to a group of Asia-Pacific mayors today.