Urban studies scholar, Dr Shanaka Herath, says he is thrilled to be awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in his field.

The SMART researcher, together with Associate Professor Rebecca Bentley from the University of Melbourne, learned this week that he had won the Peter Harrison Memorial prize at the biennial State of Australian Cities Conference.

The prize recognises outstanding research and scholarship in Australian urban studies, and specifically for work that advances knowledge and capacity for the ecologically sustainable development of Australian cities and regions. It is administered by The Fenner School of Environment and Society and Australian National University Endowment for Excellence, in collaboration with the Australian Cities Research Network (ACRN).

“This is the premier conference in this field, so I feel really honoured to win this prize,” Dr Herath said.

“This encourages me to look further into the problems facing our cities, and trying to find solutions to those problems.”

Dr Herath won the prize for a paper that looks at how we measure crowding in housing in our cities, and where in our cities are the most crowded.

The paper looks at the different standards used in a number of different countries, and comes to the conclusion that the Canadian standard is most appropriate for Australian conditions.

Unlike the American standard, this takes in cultural and other differences in addition to a simple calculation of people divided by the number of rooms.

Marital status, gender and age are also taken into account. So, for example, a married couple sharing a room may not denote overcrowding, where two friends or strangers forced to sleep in the same room is a different matter.

The Canadian standard is preferred because of the way ‘age of persons’ seems to favour the Australian context, and it also conforms reasonably to norms in Australia.

“There are a number of health and well-being consequences to over-crowding, because when people live in close quarters, they are likely to be more affected by communicable diseases, such as the flu and colds,” Dr Herath said.

“It may also effect personal hygiene and personal interactions, so children will become sick and underperform at school, which will cause stress for parents.”

The paper found that in all five Australian capital cities except Adelaide, highest levels of over-crowding are mainly found in the middle-city areas, denoting housing affordability issues and proving a strong connection between socio-economic disadvantage and over-crowding.