Developing the tools to map and measure urban liveability across Australia – Phase 1

Project title: Measuring and mapping urban liveability across Australia – developing tools for use by policy makers, practitioners and researchers to identify inequities and plan better cities

The first phase of this project has now finished.

Click here to read the Findings Brief.

What is the issue?

In 2013, the Prevention Centre funded the National Liveability Study to develop and validate a set of national, urban, policy-relevant, liveability indicators associated with chronic disease and health outcomes.

This was successfully achieved in 2015 with the delivery of a set of indicators (measures) covering five liveability domains: alcohol, food, public open space, transport and walkability and five different cities.

The final report from the first stage of the study recommended extending the coverage of the indicators to include all Australian capital cities and linking these to national health survey data. This will ensure the measures are disseminated and used in planning urban environments to achieve healthier, more liveable communities. This next stage is underway with the project team developing tools, including a national indicators database and online portal, for users to:

  • Access the indicators across each of the liveability domains
  • Visualise the indicators within a specific area such as where people live
  • Compare the liveability of an area for each of the liveability domains.

How did the project address the issue?

In consultation with external stakeholders, the project team developed a national database of indicators for the liveability domains of walkability, transport, public open space, food environment, alcohol environment, housing affordability and employment.

The project team consulted with external stakeholders, making the national database available to them through an online portal. Stakeholders will be able to upload individual addresses into the portal, and download the matching liveability indicators for each address. Continual user feedback on the portal will help the project team plan the future direction of this key tool for analysing and visualising indicators spatially, before the tool is made available for wider use.

The team will also link national population health data to the liveability indicators in the database. This will allow new insights into the relationship between liveability measures and health outcomes, such as between walkability levels and body mass index. National health data was drawn from the national AusDiab and Ten to Men surveys, with data also linked to the 45 And Up Study.

What are the outcomes?

  • Liveability indicators produced across multiple domains at a national level
  • Further evidence that shows why health outcomes might vary in different locations
  • Tools to ensure the current indicators are used and useful, including a national database and online portal.

Relevance for practice

The national liveability indicator platform will be made available for use by our stakeholders, such as state and local government, and policy and planning practitioners. It will help policy makers, planners and researchers to make comparisons both within cities and between cities, which will help determine inequities in liveability. Findings will be communicated to stakeholders through policy briefs, and through state, regional (e.g. Regional Management Forums) and national (e.g. State of Australian Cities, Planning Institute of Australia) planning and policy meetings, conferences and workshops.


Start date: 1 July 2016

End date: 30 June 2018

Project lead:

Project collaborators:

  • Associate Professor Thomas Astell-Burt, University of Wollongong
  • Associate Professor Hannah Badland, RMIT University, Melbourne
  • Dr Paula Hooper, University of WA
  • Dr Jerome Rachele, Australian Catholic University
  • Dr Suzanne Mavoa, University of Melbourne
  • Mr Vincent Learnihan, University of Canberra
  • Dr Xiaoqi Feng, University of Wollongong

Project team:

  • Dr Jonathan Arundel, RMIT University, Melbourne
  • Dr Claire Boulange, RMIT University, Melbourne
  • Mr Stefan Cvetkovski, RMIT University, Melbourne

Project advisors:

  • Professor Adrian Bauman, University of Sydney
  • Assistant Professor Bryan Boruff, University of Western Australia
  • Professor Rachel Davey, University of Canberra
  • Dr Serryn Eagleson, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Chris Pettit, University of New South Wales
  • Professor Sally Redman, Sax Institute
  • Professor Gavin Turrell, Australian Catholic University

Systems investigators:

  • Kate Lynch, Cities Program Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Matthew Richter, ACT Department of Health
  • Associate Professor Sarah Thackway, NSW Ministry of Health
  • Ms Louise Sylvan, University of Sydney
  • Mr Mike Day, RobertsDay

NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Healthy Liveable Communities national advisors:

  • Mr David Williams, Planning Institute of Australia
  • Trevor Shilton, Heart Foundation of Australia

This project was funded by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Ministry of Health, ACT Health and the HCF Research Foundation.


NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Government Health, HCF Research Foundation, ACT Government Health, hosted by Sax Institute

  • The prototype national liveability indicator platform; the Urban Observatory, has been launched
  • With collaborators from other universities and with support from the Prevention Centre, we submitted a grant application to develop digital infrastructure to curate and disseminate policy-focused social, economic and environmental spatial indicators measuring the critical issues needed for liveable neighbourhoods across Australia
  • We completed our summer project with RMIT University’s Computer Science and Software Engineering Department and Kai Nagel from TU Berlin to construct a demonstrator agent-based model of daily activity and travel patterns in Melbourne. The demonstrator uses open data from the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity 2009, and the final model for a 1% sample of Melbourne’s population has been published openly at
  • Structural equation models for the alcohol environment using Ten to Men data have largely been completed and a paper is almost ready for submission. Analyses of the association between neighbourhood walkability and cardiometabolic risk factors and an analysis of liveability using AusDiab data will commence in the coming quarter, along with linking of the national liveability indicators to the AusDiab survey.



Arundel, J, Lowe M, Hooper P, Roberts R, Rozek J, Higgs C and Giles-Corti B. Are Australian cities delivering liveability? A presentation to the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute/Institute of Surveyors Victoria on the Creating Liveable Cities in Australia report. Melbourne, 2018






  • The Age, 7 March 2018: The west has Melbourne’s worst commutes – four hours a day across town
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 2018: Sydney on top for liveability, but falling behind on public transport
  • Prevention Centre News, 9 August 2018: Online tool maps liveability across Australia’s cities
  • Radio interviews, ABC 774 and 3AW, 11 September 2018: Melbourne Scorecard
  • Herald Sun, 11 September 2018: Big homes in outer suburbs affect Melbourne’s liveability: report
  • RMIT News, 11 September 2018: How liveable is Melbourne really: New report settles the score