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 - Consolidating liveability indices and transport futures

Subproject Leader: Terry Li, RMIT.

The introduction of more low-emission vehicles would make a significant contribution to Australia’s legislated target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to strategies to improve the fuel efficiency of existing vehicle fleet, increasing the uptake of electric vehicles (EV) can accelerate this change. The lack of a strong national policy framework in Australia has led to limited overall support and incentives and, in turn, a comparatively low EV uptake compared to other countries (ClimateWorks 2016). This project will explore current patterns of EV adaptation and infrastructure in Australian cities, and investigate possible policy interventions that can accelerate future EV uptake. To achieve this goal, the project will involve six inter-connected working stages.

This project has been developed in collaboration with the Department of Environment’s Future Fuels and Climate Change sections, coordinated by the NESP secretariat. The discussion has involved multiple rounds of email communication plus a series of teleconferences and in-person meetings in Canberra and Melbourne. The final project description was agreed with the Department.

The ongoing and extension project activities are:

Activity 4.1.6: Exploring overall costs and benefits of commuting. Transition in motor vehicle fuel and technology

Tasks: This project will explore and project scenarios of cost benefit of future social and spatial distribution regarding Vehicle Fleet Emission (VFE) and alternative energy in the private vehicle fleet. In particular the project will seek to estimate the likely uptake of electric vehicles and further calculate the implications for charging points and the energy grid. Following advice from the Indigenous Advisory Group, we will seek to understand how these scenarios may impact on Indigenous communities, with respect to the cost of commuting and the health impacts from diffuse air-pollution sources. 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:

  • The capacity of the households that are most reliant on motor vehicles for transport to buy vehicles with improved fuel technology.
  • The social differences in household exposure to transport-energy costs and the adaptability of households in the use of modes and vehicle types
  • The implications for productivity in cities of different transport mix scenarios

The new project activities are:

Activity 4.1.7: Future electric vehicle (EV) uptake and policy interventions

Stage 1: Understanding current social and spatial patterns of EV uptake in Australian cities

  • Establish relationships between EV uptake and social spatial factors.
  • Inter alia: Spatial analysis of motor vehicle registration data (AURIN) and the latest vehicle use survey (ABS) for each city; analyse the characteristics of areas (postcode or suburb) with high/low uptake of EVs

Stage 2: Tracking changes in EV uptake and identify enablers and barriers

The work will investigate the scale and speed of uptake of EVs within Australia’s urban vehicle fleets, through a longitudinal analysis of motor vehicle registration datasets over multiple years. This will require the compilation of new motor vehicle registration data for 2019 that will be joined to our existing dataset for 2014.

Stage 3: Spatial forecast of future EV uptake

Drawing on the outputs from stage 1 and stage 2, the future EV uptake on urban areas will be assessed using a Multi Criteria Analysis (MCA) model combined with a discrete choice model. The novel part of our model against previous works (e.g. CSIRO) is it incorporates a more explicit transport analysis and modelling that link the household vehicle type with vehicle trips, e.g. whether people driving on short distance and frequently at a low speed tend to own an EV. An agent-base simulation model (available at RMIT CUR lab) can be potentially used to offer further insight of that issue. Essentially, the new spatial forecast will rank the probability of EV uptake in each area using multiple social, spatial, and transport factors.

Stage 4: Testing policy scenarios

This stage will test the government policy scenarios and their effects on EV uptake spatially. Our approach can combine a range of policy scenarios with household travel data (VKT) to assess whether a stronger policy that offers more than current trend (e.g. market-led) in EV uptake in the existing vehicle fleets would generate greater benefits. The analysis will strengthen our understanding of the value of EV uptake, and economic benefits of implementing stronger EV strategies in Australian cities. It will consider a range of government initiatives from different agencies to promote the uptake of EVs and their adaptability for households, including:

  • Infrastructure planning and investments including improved public charging systems to support EV travel.Land use planning to offer areas for developments with car parks with charging points
  • A higher fuel tax program to help make EV more economically competitive
  • Improved financial incentives to increase household capacity to shift to EV – especially for those on low income but drive more.
  • Industrial policy to help produce more affordable EV models.
  • Strategies to better integrate EV infrastructure with existing energy infrastructure.

Stage 5: Planning charging infrastructure for future EV uptake

This stage will investigate how future EV uptake informs charging infrastructure development in
Australian cities.

  • Spatially overlay the future uptake of EV assessment with journey to work (JTW) routes and transport routes for other activities.
  • Identify popular road links have high volume of EVs (both directions) which are originated from the areas with high levels of EV uptake.
  • Identify the best possible locations for charging infrastructure deployment based on the density of activities, travel routes, vehicle volumes, and travel distance thresholds.

Stage 6: Implications of future EV uptake for national electricity infrastructure

This stage will link the estimated EV charging infrastructure (stage 5) with the existing national electricity infrastructure distribution in Australia to identify potential spatial mismatches and suggest locations for future electricity network investment to achieve better EV and energy infrastructure synergies. This will be done by a spatial analysis of estimated charging infrastructure hotspots with electricity infrastructure distribution in Australian cities.

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).

Through relationships developed with the WA, Victorian and NSW State governments, this project is well placed to enter a phase of consolidation and synthetic recommendations. Overall, 4.2 represents a working model of how cities’ greening performance can be benchmarked against one another as a contribution to City Deals. It presents the methods to interrogate greening against land-use development; and results of interrogation to understand the impact of urban development on greening and to inform strategic urban planning and policy reform to better balance urban consolidation and urban greening objectives.

The next phase of this work involves in-depth analysis of the relationships between vegetation, urban heat and urban development across multiple case study cities; building on the methodological development of earlier research within project 4.

Indigenous Masters by Research student: An important part of the process of embedding urban green-space knowledge at different levels of government is to identify some of the areas in which local government can work more effectively with Indigenous communities. A particular challenge is to position small, localised stories within a large national benchmarking framework. The alternative – benchmarking performance nationally – runs the risk of homogenising our understanding of Indigenous Australians. This project will explore ways to adopt a protocol approach instead of a benchmarking approach.

Recognising the potential cultural burden for the student involved, we will ensure there are strong links between this team and the research team for Project 3.13 (Noongar perspectives on city planning and urban nature) which will include an Indigenous Research Fellow or Knowledge Broker.

Consequently, the Masters student will sit at UWA but will be supervised by a joint RMIT-UWA team. This will involve considerable brokering and engagement. This work will deliver results and reflections for Activity 4.2, 4.3 and 4.5.

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

Interest in heat in cities remains politically salient yet understanding the lived reality of movement, heat and its costs is an under-explored area. This part of the project will build on the capacity gained in the team around heat through RPv3-4. In collaboration with the City of Greater Bendigo (CoGB), funded by the Federal Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs scheme, the team have developed an index of accessibility according to heat. The team will develop an App that records as a diary sensation of heat while moving around the city. While this will be developed and tested for the CoGB in the first instance, the opportunity exists to extend out to other areas and cities where the team already have well-established networks and data assets (Perth, Melbourne, Sydney). The adoption of a digital ethnographic approach to ground-truth remotely sensed information allows the project to interact more sincerely with the lived reality of Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members.

A key finding from project 3.1 and work already underway for project 4.2.6 has been the relationship between heat and the different land covers in Australian cities. A significant amount of feedback has been received on 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, climate resilience and the shaping of the future forest (4.2 and 3.2).

Activity 4.2.6: Turn down the heat II – predicting the impact of vegetation loss on urban temperatures

This part of the project will build on the capacity gained by the team around understanding the policy drivers and built environment predictors of vegetation cover on private and public land in residential neighbourhoods. Using Perth as a case study, predictors of residential vegetation cover have been established as well as the relationship between vegetation structure and land surface temperatures (LST) using high resolution vegetation information (Urban Monitor). Moving forward, the sub-project will identify the relationship between densification and vegetation loss patterns as a function of R-code changes in Perth. Once identified, vegetation-loss estimates will be coupled with LST temperature estimates to illustrate how vegetation loss will manifest as increases in LSTs at the neighbourhood level.

This sub-project will result in the following outputs:

  • Publication 1 – relationship between densification (R-code change) and vegetation loss
  • Publication 2 – prediction of increases in LSTs as a response to vegetation loss through

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

This activity builds 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 Government and the Australian Government and key stakeholders will inform modification of existing indicators, data sourcing and the development of new indicators as required.

Indicators will be developed for Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Wodonga, Shepparton, Benalla and

Activity 4.3.6: Develop new national indicators combining access to public open space and green space

Building on the work being undertaken in sub-project 4.2, this activity will involve the construction of indicators that assess the extent to which the residents of capital and regional cities have access to green space, either as private green space (e.g. backyards) or public open space (parks, recreational areas, natures reserves). Public open space measures will be constructed from open data sources, including OpenStreetMap. Greenness measures will be derived from vegetation data obtained through the processing of high resolution areal and satellite imagery. These measures will be combined at individual household level, to identify areas where people lack access to either public open space or private green space. An update of the National Cities Performance Framework is due in early 2019, and the indicators generated in this activity will replace the current access to green space measure.

Activity 4.3.7: Disseminate regional liveability and green-space indicators through the Urban

Indicators constructed in Activity 4.3.5 and Activity 4.3.6 will be made available through RMIT University’s new Urban Observatory prototype, whereby users can view interactive indicator maps for each of the 21 cities in the National Cities Performance Framework. This will enable policy-makers and practitioners to understand not just how cities compare, but how areas within a single city compare. Better insights will lead to better policies and better targeted interventions, improving the health and liveability for the residents of our capital and regional cities which together comprise 80% of our national population.

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

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 or other publication.

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 other groups such as 202020Vision, Macquarie University and Victoria University. (Note that a section of this work, specifically about preserving urban trees on private
land, is dependent on funding.) Finally, this activity seeks to involve the in-kind support of international researchers working in this area.

During 2018, many of the milestones due for this project have been delayed. They will be shifted to 2019 and included more broadly under communications and outreach, including a publication and associated activities. The team have applied for funding from Hort Innovation for support to identify tools that enable local government to protect trees on private land internationally.

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