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In profile: Veljko Prodanovic, Research Associate

Veljko Prodanovic strongly believes that people feel and function the best when they are close to nature. As a Research Associate at the UNSW Water Research Centre and School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Veljko is passionate about implementing ‘nature-based solutions’—or using nature to tackle socio-environmental challenges—and he has harnessed this passion to make positive change throughout his career.

Veljko says that our physical and mental health is closely linked with the health of our natural environment, and that we need to act now to minimise the negative impacts of urbanisation.

“Air, soil and water pollution can have severe consequences on our lives, resulting in food and water shortages, rises in airborne illnesses and temperature increases which bring a whole host of issues,” says Veljko.

“If we continue with the current level of rapid urbanisation, we will pave over and increase contamination of the natural resources that are helping us now. While we cannot stop cities from developing, we can build them smarter, using nature-based technologies to mitigate our environmental pollution issues.”

During his PhD, Veljko worked on integrated multi-functional urban water systems, exploring the interdisciplinary challenges of delivering nature-based sustainable urban water infrastructures such as biofilters, living walls and green walls—tools that can treat various sources of wastewater by promoting air cooling and cleaning, water reuse, pollution and flood protection, all while offering high-amenity value to urban communities. While biofilters and wetlands are established technologies world-wide, the water-treating green walls that Veljko has developed are just starting to emerge, and the first prototype has been recently built in Melbourne. A completely vertical nature-based system, consisting of planter boxes containing soils and plants, green walls are suspended on a building wall. If well-designed and maintained, they are aesthetically pleasing systems integrate well within urban fabric and can be implemented even in the densest urban landscapes, as they have no horizontal footprint. Some traditional examples of these systems—which do not treat water—are  scattered all over Sydney, with the best known one being on One Central Park building.

While we cannot stop cities from developing, we can build them smarter, using nature-based technologies to mitigate our environmental pollution issues.

Veljko Prodanovic, Research Associate, Water Research Centre and School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Veljko is also working on modelling and validating the effectiveness of urban stormwater mitigation options, including infrastructure and policies, on pollution levels. He says that while technology development is important, the biggest barrier for the implementation of technology is the lack of planning support for local and state governments. He is currently developing a modelling tool, called UrbanBEATS, which can help governments and utilities better plan the placement of nature-based infrastructure, based on different sets of requirements. The ARC Linkage project is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Victoria, Melbourne Water and Knox City Council.

Veljko’s research has been shared throughout multiple international conferences and Q1 journals.He says that the most rewarding parts of his career have been seeing the impact of his research through its many citations and harnessing the collaborative opportunities it has enabled. Recently, he was able to develop successful projects in Saudi Arabia and Qatar—where sustainable water reuse technologies are sorely needed—and his dream is for his research to make an impact across the whole world.

“Since nature varies in different parts of the world, I know that I can’t design a perfect system for widespread use—but I do hope to inspire others to adopt smart and sustainable design principles so that we may start “greenifying” our cities again,” says Veljko.

“Ultimately, I wish to see well-designed nature-based systems, with lush plants, healthy soils and clean waterways, wherever I travel across the world.”

Veljko has always been inspired by nature and fascinated with the well-balanced nature of natural processes. He says that his qualifications in Civil and Environmental Engineering equipped him to take action, and he encourages others tostrive for a meaningful career.

“In the pursuit of innovation and scientific achievement, researchers—and especially engineers—should never forget that their work is meant to be purposeful and for betterment of humanity. If we are not contributing, then who will?” he asks.

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