Urban Systems

Project 4: Urban Systems for Liveability

There is a need to study the links and intersections between factors that influence the liveability and sustainability of urban environments such as land-use, air pollution, transport and urban heat. This project investigated how urban systems interact to define how residents experience major Australian cities, and worked to create policy environments that improve these outcomes.

Electric vehicle charging station in Adelaide’s CBD



Marco Amati, RMIT


4.1 - Transport futures ✅
4.2 - Making greening happen in consolidating cities ✅
4.3 - Liveability ✅
4.5 - A publication for local government on the tools and techniques to increase greening ✅

Note: Subproject 4.4 was moved to subproject 7.3 from Research Plan 4.


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


4.1 - Consolidating liveability indices and transport futures

Subproject Leader: Terry Li, RMIT.

Additional uptake of low-emission vehicles in Australia could significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. CAUL research explored current patterns of electric-vehicle use and infrastructure, forecasting up to 85,000 battery-powered vehicles in Melbourne by 2030. The findings can be used to inform policy and regulatory opportunities to accelerate the move to low-emission vehicles, such as legislated vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, industry support and financial incentives. The research can also help planners evaluate their transport investment strategies, in particular locations where they should focus future charging infrastructure.

Key outputs:

4.2 - Making greening happen in consolidating cities

Subproject Leader: Joe Hurley, RMIT.

How do we ensure we have thriving and extensive urban vegetation as our cities develop, consolidate and grow? Benchmarking and monitoring changes in the urban forest across multiple land-uses can help us understand the drivers of change and options for mitigation. This subproject contributed to this work through a number of state-of-the-art mapping exercises.

Investigating land-use and tree cover

Researchers examined changes in urban vegetation using several cutting-edge approaches. The research showed that 55 of 139 urban local government areas (LGAs) across Australia experienced significant reductions in tree-canopy cover between 2008 and 2016.

To better understand the distribution of urban vegetation across land-uses, researchers analysed vegetation structure of the greater metropolitan areas of Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. They found that residential land accounts for almost half the urban tree canopy in these cities. Further to this, changing landholder preferences have contributed to significant urban tree loss. Land-owners remove trees for a variety of reasons, including landscaping, unlocking views, safety fears and maintenance.

Key output:

More trees equal less heat

Understanding how the configuration of urban vegetation influences surface temperatures can help urban planners to effectively increase green spaces and vegetation to reduce the urban heat-island effect (increased temperatures resulting from the absorption and re-emission of heat by urban building materials). Using advanced statistical modelling, detailed mapping of urban vegetation and satellite-derived land surface temperature information, researchers examined the cooling returns of different configurations of urban vegetation. Researchers found a mix of trees and shrubs has a much greater cooling effect than grass. The models developed through this project illustrate the potential to develop locally detailed tools to guide planning of vegetation configuration to optimise cooling at local- and city-scales.

Key output:


Current navigation apps such as Google Maps provide instructions that account for distance, but what about shade? The Shadeways app was designed for the City of Bendigo, Victoria, to show the coolest routes for walking or cycling. It integrates freely available satellite heat imagery and Google street view images. The outcome has been a better informed and more active public, with the platform used thousands of times since its launch in December 2019.

Key outputs:

4.3 - Liveability

Project Leader: Melanie Davern, RMIT

Better information about liveability now can guide decisions in policy and planning to support equitable, healthy and more liveable places in the future. Researchers from RMIT University’s Healthy Liveable Cities Group created 35 liveability indicators relating to nine core measures of liveability. A digital planning platform called the Australian Urban Observatory maps these liveability indicators across the country’s 21 largest cities and measures liveability across council areas, suburbs and neighbourhoods. The indicators will be updated annually to monitor and measure changes in liveability over time.

Researchers also worked in partnership with local governments across Victoria, NSW and Tasmania to gain a better understanding of liveability in smaller towns. This work has increased our understanding of what the key components and priorities of liveability look like in regional towns, developing indicators to measure these and ensuring that this new evidence is used to inform future policy and planning in these areas.

Key outputs:

4.5 - A publication for local government on the tools and techniques to increase greening

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. In collaboration with Hort Innovation Australia and Greener Spaces Better Places, researchers investigated the resource needs of local government to help improve urban greening. Researchers surveyed local government professionals; conducted focus groups with leading national and international urban forest practitioners; and assessed current international best practice for private land greening management. Researchers have produced a publication for local government, focusing on the challenge of maintaining and increasing greening on private land, and produced results to inform the development of targeted industry material via the Better Places Greener Spaces website.

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