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 investigates how urban systems interact to define how residents experience major Australian cities, and works to create policy environments that improve these outcomes.

Based on three years of work that has assessed the feasibility of data collection and uses for benchmarking the national performance of cities, the project team will now seek to consolidate these achievements by producing a synthetic set of findings and recommendations concerning the way that urban systems interact to produce liveability. We will take the opportunity to further impact the policy environments at the Federal, State and Local levels by transferring the knowledge generated in 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3 to stakeholders. This project will also work towards the long-term goal of integrating Indigenous knowledge into strategic planning in cities.


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.




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.

Increasing the prevalence of low-emission vehicles would make a significant contribution to reducing Australia’s 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). The Australian Government is developing a National Electric Vehicle Strategy to manage the transition to increased EV uptake. 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.

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.

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 Greener Spaces Better Places (formerly 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).

In 2020, the team will apply for ARC Linkage funding with support from environmental consultancies, City of Greater Bendigo and George’s River Council (Sydney) (among other possible local governments). The objective of this project will be to build on the co-production learnings of 4.2.5, extend these to other local governments, and workshop the results with State governments.

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 and/or ambient 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.

4.3 - Liveability

Project Leader: Melanie Davern, RMIT

This project will continue to build upon previous research investigating the liveability of cities across Australia into regional contexts through the development of a conceptual framework of liveability for the 21 largest cities in Australia, and additional regional towns and cities across Victoria. The framework will be tested across a number of regional towns and cities through the development of relevant 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 and application of liveability indicators 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.

Liveability indicators will be made available across Australia for the regional cities of Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat, Bendigo, Cairns, Geelong, Gold Coast/Tweed Heads, Launceston, Mackay, Newcastle-Maitland, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Townsville and Wollongong. Availability of indicators for these regional cities is of direct relevance to the National Cities Performance Framework. Additional liveability indicators will also be tested and developed for more regional towns across remote areas of Victoria to expand understanding and capability of liveability indicators to support integrated health and urban planning. Public open space measures created in the previous CAUL Research Plan will also be made available for these cities. Some of these indicators have also been included in the 2019 National Cities Performance Framework.

Activity 4.3.7: Launch of the RMIT Urban Observatory 

The RMIT Urban Observatory prototype was launched in February 2020 providing a dissemination pathway for liveability indicators constructed in Activity 4.3.5 and Activity 4.3.6. This digital portal enables users to view interactive indicator maps for each of the 21 cities in the National Cities Performance Framework which includes neighbourhood-level results for Australia’s capital cities and largest regional cities. This will enable policy-makers and practitioners to understand neighbourhood-level differences across cities as well as comparisons across capital cities of Australia. 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 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. 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 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 other groups such as Greener Places Better Spaces (formerly 202020Vision), Macquarie University and Victoria University. Finally, this activity seeks to involve the in-kind support of international researchers working in this area.

Currently Hurley and Amati are co-investigators on a project funded by Hort Innovation that is conducting a global review of measures that increase greening on private land (led by Steve Livesley at University of Melbourne). Amati and Hurley are also contributing to the Greening the West strategic planning (led by GHD and funded by City West Water). Their principal contribution has been to advocate for the inclusion and funding for Indigenous engagement in the strategic approach to be taken.

In the third quarter of 2019 the team will respond to a Request for Proposals from Hort Innovation to update the benchmarking study of where all the trees are. Part of this project involves a prediction of which LGAs are engaged in the process of greening through the planning process. Data will be newly collected for this as well as drawing on existing sources produced through subproject 4.2. The result will be a prediction of which LGAs are best equipped from a planning point of view to increase greening efforts.

Collectively, these projects provide the source material for subproject 4.5 and the advice given to LGAs. These will be delivered as operational deliverables as part of the funding but also during a CAUL presentation to be delivered in Canberra.

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