The importance of healthy liveable cities


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Federal and state governments have outlined visions of cities where 20- or 30-minute neighbourhoods are the norm, which could produce significant direct and indirect health benefits for the Australian population. However, a lack of evidence on where liveable neighbourhoods are currently being achieved hinders plans to achieve these visions. Building upon earlier research, this project aimed to change that.


Benchmarking, monitoring, modelling and valuing the healthy liveable city

Project title

What changes are needed to create liveable neighbourhoods?

Liveable communities have the potential to enhance public health, the economy, social inclusion and environmental and social sustainability. For this reason, federal and state governments have outlined visions of cities where 20- or 30-minute neighbourhoods are the norm, which could produce significant direct and indirect health benefits.

However, plans to realise these visions are hampered by a lack of evidence on where liveable neighbourhoods are currently being achieved, and the changes required to achieve them in the future.

This project provided that evidence for policy and practice, in the form of both data and research-validated tools.

How did this project address the issues around liveable communities?

Our primary aim was to improve our understanding of the relationship between built environments, people’s daily activities and their travel choices.

Building on our earlier national liveability indicator work, we expanded the coverage of our liveability indicators to include the 21 largest cities nationally – selected to align with the Federal Government’s National Cities Performance Framework and equating to just under 80% of the population. The resulting evidence-based indicators will be made available through a ‘virtual laboratory’ for use by researchers and policy makers.

We then used these indicators in conjunction with other data to construct complex agent-based models of individual-level walking, cycling, public transport and private vehicle daily use for the major Victorian cities. This allowed possible interventions to be tested and benefits quantified.

Finally, we assessed the economic merit of specific interventions designed to create healthy, liveable communities, including their effect on health and wellbeing outcomes and health care expenditure.

What is the relevance of this liveability research for policy and practice?

Even though there has been an increase in research on the built environment and health, much of it is never translated into policy.

This study used evidence-based indicators, large-scale individual-level activity models and an economic evaluation framework to provide researchers, policy-makers and practitioners with a ‘virtual laboratory’ to identify and test prevention strategies.

The indicators and model outputs are available through the partially Prevention Centre-funded Urban Observatory at RMIT.

How does this project help planners to make places more liveable?

Planning policies must be implemented that address inequities in the built environment and create liveable, healthy communities for all. Further advanced simulation modelling, using more detailed local data and virtual populations, can inform policy and provide more cost-effective solutions.

Given the potential for cycling to achieve the 30-minute city, recommended starting points are to prioritise separate cycle paths within 5 km of train stations, activity centres and high schools, and to create opportunities for safe cycling within 2 km of primary schools.

News and media

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Other resources


  • Giles-Corti, B and Gunn, L. Research Translation, RMIT University. September 2020.
  • Giles-Corti, B. What gets measured gets done: A natural experiment monitoring health-related urban planning policy interventions across Australia, to the Finnish Centre of Excellence on Participatory, Geospatial Approach to Urban Transformation in the Anthropocene. August 2020.
  • Davern, M. The Australian Urban Observatory, Victorian Department of Environment, Land and Water. August 2020.
  • Davern, M. The Australian Urban Observatory, Victorian Local Governance Association. July 2020.
  • Gunn, L. Can a liveable city be a healthy city, now and into the future, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. June 2020.
  • Davern, M. Living locally post-COVID, North-East Primary Care Partnership. June 2020.
  • Davern M. Blue sky thinking on planning impacts post covid-19. Online webinar hosted by the Planning Institute of Australia. 15 May 2020.
  • Gunn L. Early, healthy and equitable delivery of transport in growth areas. RMIT Centre of Urban Research. February 2020.
  • Giles-Corti G. State of Australian Cities conference. 2-5 December 2019.
  • Giles-Corti G. Healthy Places, Healthy People Initiative, cross-government workshop hosted by the Queensland Department of Health. 11 November 2019.
  • Giles-Corti G. Good Urban Design Boosts Wellbeing forum, hosted by Renewal SA. 31 October 2019.
  • Giles-Corti G. Keynote presentation. Australian Walking & Cycling Conference. 24-25 October 2019. Adelaide.
  • Giles-Corti G. Planning Connects Program for NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. 9 October 2019.
  • Giles-Corti G. Monash University’s Festival of Urbanism, focused on equity and accessibility: lessons from the housing, health and transport nexus panel. 4 September 2019. Melbourne.
  • Giles-Corti G. Health in All Policies Forum: Working Together for the Health and Wellbeing of Tasmanians, hosted by the Premier’s Health and Wellbeing Council (at which the Tasmania Statement was signed by the Premier committing the government to creating healthy liveable communities for all Tasmanians).14 August 2019. Hobart.
  • Gunn L. Health Impact Assessments presentation. Healthy, Liveable Cities short course on Integrating Health into Planning, and to delegates at the Transport and Health conference. Bendigo, Victoria.
  • Gunn L, Davern M. Presentation to the Mitsubishi and Nikkei industries of Japan and to government representatives from Ho Chi Minh City. 2019.
  • Gunn L. Delivery of transport to industry representatives from Infrastructure Victoria. 2019.
  • Higgs C. Presentation to the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority. 2019.
  • Both A. Spatial analysis of urban health at the Integrating Health. Planning course, RMIT University. 2019.
  • Both A. How green are our cities? Mapping street trees using Google Street View photos. Locate 2019 conference
  • Boulange C. Measuring accessibility using indices. Victorian Planning Authority
  • Gunn L.  Presentation on the work related to the health and economic benefits of greenfield and brownfield sites. Infrastructure Victoria/Monash University co-hosted workshop on The Economics of Cities.


Other publications


  • Giles-Corti B, Arundel J, and Gunn L. Designing Healthy, Livable Cities: Are We on Track? (2020) LA+ Penn University.


Project team


This project is funded by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, ACT Health, Cancer Council Australia, NSW Ministry of Health, Wellbeing SA, Tasmanian Department of Health, and VicHealth.