Urban Systems

Project 4: Urban Systems for Liveability

There is a need to identify the links and intersections between a number of problem areas to improve the liveability and sustainability of Australian urban environments, for both human and non-human inhabitants.

This project investigates the impacts on the lived experience of people in major Australian cities, focusing on the effects of land-use, diffuse air pollution, transport, urban heat and the interconnections between them. In dialogue with key stakeholders, the project will probe the feasibility of collecting data and using it for benchmarking the national performance of cities. In addition to providing evidence for City Deals and measuring the national performance of cities the project will contribute to a better understanding of how a number of factors influence liveability and how decision-making in city planning to improve outcomes for urban residents Our focus is on working to an agenda that improves and maintains the liveability of Australian urban areas while also developing better models for enabling Indigenous communities to define and direct research that is of importance and value to them.


Marco Amati, RMIT


4.1 - Transport futures
4.2 - Making greening happen in consolidating cities
4.3 - Liveability
4.5 - Green mapping tools and techniques: a guide
4.7 - Towards an Indigenous-led research agenda


Terry Li
Jago Dodson
Joe Hurley
Alex Saunders
Bryan Boruff
Chayn Sun
Elizabeth Taylor
Michael Buxton
Melanie Davern
Carl Higgs
Leila Farahani
Billie Giles-Corti
Jonathon Arundel
Cathy Oke


4.1 - Transport futures

Subproject Leader: Terry Li, RMIT.

This sub-project will address the problem of making transport futures in Australian cities. The main activities of this subproject: are reviewing and improving upon existing methods for transport emissions appraisal, identifying links to land-use planning, assessing distributional consequences of alternative scenarios to emissions reduction from private motor vehicles and assessing the policy pathways to achieve reduced emissions and mode-shift in urban transport.

This sub-project is ready to move from a data gathering stage to applications and links. We can move from the evidence of who commutes where and when to what is the impact on liveability, air quality and health. Thus, we can establish the overall costs and benefits of commuting. The work has been framed by the productivity agenda for cities but we can now broaden this. There is also a strong link with the provisional sub-project on improved vehicular emissions estimates (P7.2).

Activity 4.1.5: Exploring vehicle fleet composition

While research has shown that vehicle energy and technology innovations have accelerated in recent years, little research has investigated the socio-spatial dimensions of these technological changes in urban areas. Drawing on motor vehicle registration dataset combined with the Australian 'Green Vehicle' guide and 'Australasian New Car Assessment Program' (ANCAP) data, this project will explore and project scenarios of future social and spatial distribution regarding Vehicle Fleet Emission (VFE), alternative energy, and autonomous technologies in the private vehicle fleet. These potential scenarios will feed into other areas of CAUL. In the context of examining the links between urban social structure and energy patterns of the fleet, the following types of factors will be examined to understand potential future scenarios:

  • What the likely scenarios are going to be for the composition of different motor vehicle fleets in the future, considering the rates of individual and cooperative ownership and propensity to buy different vehicles
  • More precisely the team will analyse whether the households that are most reliant on motor vehicles for transport have the capacity to buy vehicles with improved fuel technology.
  • What the social differences are in household exposure to transport energy costs and the adaptability of households in the use of modes and vehicle types

4.2 - Making greening happen in consolidating cities

Subproject Leader: Joe Hurley, RMIT.

This subproject is undertaking a four-part program of research to investigate and propose pathways to operationalise urban greening in consolidating cities. The project comprises 2 current activities:

Activity 4.2.2: Embedding urban green space monitoring, analysis and communication in state and local government

For urban green space monitoring the focus will be on canopy cover, which has emerged as a useful benchmark against which a range of useful urban greening co-benefits can be tracked.

In earlier research plans under project 4.2 we developed a method of green space monitoring suitable for national rollout (4.2.2): Developing a method for analysing urban land-use and greening data). This work was piloted in Western Australia, and we have subsequently developed relationships in Victoria and New South Wales to extend this work. Overall, 4.2 represents a working model of how cities' greening performance can be benchmarked against one another as a contribution to City Deals.

Activity 4.2.5: Turn down the heat - understanding where green planting can go to reduce heat in Australia's metropolitan areas.

A key finding from project 3.1 has been the relationship between heat and the different land covers in Australian cities. A significant amount of feedback has been received to this work from CAUL's interaction with 202020 Vision. Consequently, the aim of this research is to build on that interaction and pilot work that tests transdisciplinary links between urban green mapping and climate resilience and future forest works (4.2 and 3.2). As interest in heat in cities remains politically salient, a key task will be to test the integration of hotspot data into a cities performance framework. In other words, a hot spot indicator and associated metrics will be developed, including exploring how cities can make decisions about heat. Overall, 4.2 represents a working model of how cities' greening performance can be benchmarked against one another as a contribution to City Deals. To further this project additional funds are being sought from the Federal Smart Cities Program and industry.

4.3 - Liveability

Project Leader: Melanie Davern, RMIT

This project will continue to build upon previous research investigating the liveability of capital cities across Australia into rural and regional contexts through the development of a conceptual framework of liveability in rural and regional areas of Victoria. The framework will be tested through the development of relevant rural and regional indicators of liveability that can be used for future monitoring and reporting purposes.

Activity 4.3.5: Assess the liveability of regional cities in Victoria, using a liveability performance framework

Build on the foundational work to develop a liveability performance framework that can be used to benchmark and monitor progress towards the development of healthy, liveable cities. The consultation process with regional cities, local governments, the Victorian Governments and key stakeholders will inform modification of existing indicators, data sourcing and the development of new indicators as required. In addition, this project could help to inform the development of baseline indicators for the Federal Government's City Deals which is currently under discussion. To enable the baseline indicators to be developed, we will need to source up-to-date spatial data from a range of data sources (e.g. Public Sector Mapping Agencies - or PSMA Australia Ltd). The indicators will be developed according to the most appropriate spatial scale (e.g., Statistical Area 1, Statistical Area 2) informed through the conceptual framework development process.

Activity 4.3.6: Commuting and urban productivity in Australian cities

Improving urban productivity is central to the Australian Government's Smart Cities agenda. Yet Australia lacks systematic analysis of the way that urban housing, employment and transport relationships support or detract from improved productivity and liveability. This subproject will use the spatial models that have been developed in Sub-Project 4.1 to understand the relationships between jobs, housing costs and commuting costs and their impact on urban liveability in Australian cities. The project will build a spatial model of commuting patterns in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane that can assist to appraise:

  • the productivity of urban labour markets relative to commuting burdens
  • the trade-offs made by households in terms of housing cost versus job access
  • how commuting patterns impact on liveability, in terms of social and health costs
  • how commuting patterns impact on environmental sustainability, including energy use and emissions
  • testing of alternative planning and investment scenarios to improve urban productivity including City Deals

4.5 - Green mapping tools and techniques: a guide

Project Leader: Marco Amati, RMIT

As local governments worldwide attempt to green their urban environments to redress local temperature increases, stormwater surges and increase liveability they require a guide to successful examples of green infrastructure deployment. The range and scope of the literature on this topic is bewildering in its diversity, depth, scope and longevity. This means that both practitioners and scholars rarely obtain a helicopter view of the field, which can help in identifying and furthering innovation. The outputs for this project will cater to the needs of local government and will include a report as well as a book for a scholarly audience. This pathway to impact is detailed in the Pathways to Impact Table.

This project traces how local governments develop green infrastructure strategies and points to the pathways that urban decision-makers such as planners, arborists and environmental professionals can use in developing green infrastructure.

It draws on past work in CAUL, specifically 3.1, 3.8, 3.9, 4.2 and 3.10 but also seeks to integrate the work that is being done in this area by large groups that are similar to CAUL, for example, 202020Vision, Macquarie University and Victoria University. Finally, it seeks to involve the in-kind support of international researchers working in this area.

4.7 - Towards an Indigenous-led research agenda

Project Leaders: Libby Porter, RMIT
Lauren Arabena, RMIT

The project Toward an Indigenous-Led research agenda is about working out better models for enabling Indigenous communities to define and direct research that is of importance and value to them. Overall, 4.2 represents a working model of how cities' greening performance can be benchmarked against one another as a contribution to City Deals.

We are focused on the cities of Melbourne and Sydney. The purpose is to create a model for urban environmental researchers in Universities to work in more collaborative ways with Indigenous communities. The outcome of the research will be to better inform University-based urban researchers about designing their research so that Indigenous communities are co-designing and co-governing the projects. This is important because too often Indigenous communities are only 'consulted' about the project once all the important decisions have already been made. Another outcome will be to support Indigenous communities to develop better models and practices when they work with University-based researchers. This project traces how local governments develop green infrastructure strategies and points to the pathways that urban decision-makers such as planners, arborists and environmental professionals can use in developing green infrastructure.


  • Shaping Indigenous research engagement for urban research (4.7)
  • Increase the spending on green infrastructure by outlining the benefits, current state of art and the potential opportunities that exist. (4.2)
  • Enable decision-making to dictate funding at different levels of government. (4.1, 4.2)
  • Increased extent and depth of understandings about liveability in Australian cities (4.3, 4.7)
  • Improving decision making and understanding of the barriers and opportunities for improving the ecosystem services that can be delivered through urban greening (whole of 4)
  • A deeper understanding of the changes in air pollution that are likely to occur through changes in the vehicle fleet (4.1)

Banner image: Sydney street. Credit: Ugur Ozden via flickr