We are proud to announce that the Australia Urban Observatory’s Director, Associate Professor Melanie Davern, was a part of the winning team of researchers to recieve the Excellence in Planning Research Award from the Planning Institute of Australia for the Transport Health Assessment Tool for Melbourne included in the Australian Urban Observatory @ RMIT University. Thanks to a wonderful team of colleagues led by Lucy GunnBelen Zapata Diomedi, Alan Both, Chris De GruyterAnnette Kroen and colleagues Hugh Batrouney, Morteza Chalak and Anh Nguyen and team at the Department of Transport.

Click here to view the Transport Health Assessment Tool for Melbourne.

The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre
RMIT Centre for Urban Research
RMIT University

A suite of new free online courses is set to equip urban professionals with the skills needed to tackle the unprecedented challenges facing cities across the world for the healthy liveable cities we need.

RMIT Europe and the European Institute of Technology (EIT) Urban Mobility have joined forces to launch a suite of online courses on making cities more healthier, more attractive and sustainable, in partnership with EIT Climate-KIC and EIT Food. 

RMIT Europe Executive Director Marta Fernandez said the online courses – which are freely accessible on FutureLearn – are a vital step forward in delivering training for urban professionals to shape the cities of tomorrow. 

“The world is undergoing a surge of urban population growth, with more than half of all people now living in towns and cities,” she said. 

“With few exceptions, cities are expected to become bigger and more numerous, and as urbanisation accelerates, cities around the world are facing unprecedented challenges to maintain basic liveability.

“Urban professionals working in government, industry and community organisations face complex and urgent problems posed by climate change, unsustainable development and the global pandemic,” Fernandez said. 

“How we collaborate and learn from each other in meeting these challenges will determine how sustainable and fair our future cities will be.”

The online courses are free to join and run from two to five weeks, enabling learners to understand the urban interventions that can make an immediate impact in their own cities. View Full Details Here.

Both, A.; Gunn, L.; Higgs, C.; Davern, M.; Jafari, A.; Boulange, C.; Giles-Corti, B. Achieving ‘Active’ 30 Minute Cities: How Feasible Is It to Reach Work within 30 Minutes Using Active Transport Modes? ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf.202211, 58. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijgi11010058

Confronted with rapid urbanization, population growth, traffic congestion, and climate change, there is growing interest in creating cities that support active transport modes including walking, cycling, or public transport. The ‘30 minute city’, where employment is accessible within 30 min by active transport, is being pursued in some cities to reduce congestion and foster local living. This paper examines the spatial relationship between employment, the skills of residents, and transport opportunities, to answer three questions about Australia’s 21 largest cities: (1) What percentage of workers currently commute to their workplace within 30 min? (2) If workers were to shift to an active transport mode, what percent could reach their current workplace within 30 min? and (3) If it were possible to relocate workers closer to their employment or relocate employment closer to their home, what percentage could reach work within 30 min by each mode? Active transport usage in Australia is low, with public transport, walking, and cycling making up 16.8%, 2.8%, and 1.1% respectively of workers’ commutes. Cycling was found to have the most potential for achieving the 30 min city, with an estimated 29.5% of workers able to reach their current workplace were they to shift to cycling. This increased to 69.1% if workers were also willing and able to find a similar job closer to home, potentially reducing commuting by private motor vehicle from 79.3% to 30.9%. View Full-Text Here

Want to understand how we can better support walkability, physical activity and community health in rural and regional Australia?

Communities for Walkability is a citizen science project that will identify environmental characteristics that influence walkability and physical activity in rural Tasmania.

Keen to learn more? Our newly launched website – walkrural.com.au – has loads of information about the project and our partner towns including pilot study reports in Dover (pop 850), Smithton (3,300) and Ouse (300).

Communities for Walkability is funded by the Medical Research Future Fund, Australian Department of Health, the Department of Health, Tasmania and Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT). And is a collaboration between the University of Tasmania, Deakin University, RMIT University, and the University of Sydney.

Two projects out of the Centre for Urban Research were recognised at last week’s 2021 PIA Victoria Awards for Planning Excellence.

Winning the prize for Excellence in Planning Research was the project “Measuring the health impacts of transport modelling” and the Transport Health Assessment Tool for Melbourne (THAT-Melbourne), led by Dr Lucy Gunn.

Launched in April 2021, and developed as part of a partnership project between the Centre for Urban Research and the Victorian Department of Transport, the project was funded by RMIT University’s Enabling Capability Fund. THAT-Melbourne builds on work initially funded through the Australian Partnership Prevention Centre, which developed maps and indicators of liveability across 21 Australian cities that are now being disseminated through the Australian Urban Observatory, led by A/Prof Melanie Davern. The researchers are from the RMIT Centre of Urban Research and include members from the Healthy Liveable Cities Lab, and the Health, Place and Society teams.

The project team included Dr Belen Zapata-Diomedi, a RMIT Vice Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow whose modelling work forms the basis for the tool, Dr Alan Both, A/Prof Melanie Davern, Dr Chris De Gruyter, Dr Annette Kroen and Ms Mahsa Abdollahyar.

The tool is a freely accessible web-based simulation model and tool that presents data on the health benefits from walking and cycling when undertaken in place of driving. With more than 2000 visits to the THAT-Melbourne site since April this year, it is hoped the tool will support planning and policy practitioners justify active transport infrastructure investment.

Receiving a commendation in the same field of Planning Research was the “Urban Liveability Index indicators framework” project from Mr Carl Higgs, Dr Koen Simons, Professor Hannah Badland, and Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti. The ULI project uses liveability domains, including transport, social infrastructure, employment, walkability, housing and green infrastructure, to map address-level liveability, which in turn can be used to assess how “liveable” cities might enhance health and wellbeing and reduce spatial inequities. The ULI, similarly to THAT-Melbourne, will help planners and policy-makers support the case for more healthy and liveable cities.

THAT-Melbourne will progress to the PIA National Awards, to be announced in 2022.

RMIT researchers and the Victorian Department of Transport launch a new digital tool to measure the health impacts of replacing car trips with walking and cycling trips for Melburnians.

The new Transport Health Assessment Tool for Melbourne (THAT-Melbourne) calculates the health benefits that come from swapping car trips to walking, cycling or a combination of both.

It is a tool designed for government, policymakers and urban dwellers to better understand the health implications of transport decision-making.

Sitting within the ground-breaking RMIT developed digital platform, the Australian Urban Observatory, THAT-Melbourne is freely available to the public.

Project lead, Dr Lucy Gunn from the RMIT Centre for Urban Research, said the tool addressed a large gap in knowledge that could hopefully lead to better transport planning and investment. 

“We know physical inactivity increases the risk of early death and chronic disease, yet less than half the Australian adult population meet recommended levels of physical activity,” she said.

“One way of increasing physical activity is to walk and cycle and to do this for short trips, which are often undertaken by car.

“The health benefits of doing this are often overlooked in strategic transport planning because they are challenging to estimate, and our tool fills this gap.

“THAT-Melbourne calculates the estimated health benefits that come from swapping short car trips with walking, cycling or a combination of both.

“Having a way to estimate the health benefits from walking and cycling and to show what the impact is in terms of the reduction to chronic disease incidence and mortality provides vital evidence for business cases and for advocating for active transport infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

There are also implications for planning, infrastructure and health more broadly, said RMIT Vice-Chancellors Fellow Dr Belen Zapata-Diomedi, who led the modelling work.

“The health impacts are assessed through 20 different scenarios where short car trips for a range of purposes – work, school, shopping, leisure – are replaced with walking, cycling or a combination of both,” she said.

“Once a scenario is selected, the results show the impact on seven chronic diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, diabetes type 2, colon and lung cancer and also for females, breast and uterine cancer.

“For each scenario, the tool shows incidence, mortality and health benefits in terms of life years and health-adjusted life years – which are broad measures of health that include quality of life.

“The tool shows that if Melburnians undertook more short trips by walking or cycling there would be less chronic diseases and better quality of life in the longer term.

“But that’s also why it’s important to be measuring it now, as understanding and quantifying these benefits will hopefully help policy-makers and practitioners as well as individuals understand the health benefits that come from being more physically active.

“Hopefully the results of our tool can be used to advocate for more investment in active travel infrastructure to help make our cities and neighbourhoods healthier and more liveable.”

THAT-Melbourne was developed as part of a larger research partnership project with the Victorian Department of Transport and was funded by an RMIT University Enabling Capability Platform Opportunity Fund on Research Translation and Impact and with in-kind support from the Victorian Department of Transport.

Story: Chanel Koeleman

“One of the most important messages from government during the pandemic has been to work from home if you can. Though what happens if your work isn’t suited to this?”

In our article, AUO Director Melanie Davern, alongside UNSW’s Marylouise McLaws and Dr Ori Gudes, discuss why COVID-19 demonstrates that now more than ever that health is an equity issue and what mapping the data can reveal about work, health and place.

“The related patterns of occupations and COVID-19 incidence remind us of the importance of the well-known relationships between health and place.

“Our mapping provides evidence that can help authorities decide where and how to focus preventive measures when planning public health interventions.”

RMIT University has launched a new public-facing research website and (of course!) two of our Healthy Liveable Cities Group researchers, Dr Lucy Gunn and Dr Leila Farahani, as well as RMIT Centre for Urban Research colleagues Dr Annette Kroen and Professor Libby Porter, are featured in the lead article. 

The RMIT Centre for Urban Research is home to some of Melbourne’s leading planning and sustainability academics driving the discussion on urban affairs.

In this article, meet four urban experts contributing to the research and conversation that is changing how we plan and build healthy, equitable and liveable cities

These new indicators are designed to support communities as they respond to COVID-19, enabling a more granular analysis of community access to Public Open Space, Social Infrastructure and Walkability, as well as a deeper understanding of the pressures on Housing affordability.

The new indicators are:

Social Infrastructure

  • Average distance to closest playground 


  • Average street connectivity per square kilometre
  • Average number of daily living destinations present (0-3) within 1600m 

Public Open Space

  • Average distance to closest public open space 
  • % of dwellings within 400 m or less of a local park (> 0.4 to. <= 1 ha)
  • % of dwellings within 800 m of less of a neighbourhood park (>1 ha to <= 5 ha)
  • % of dwellings within 400 m of less of a neighbourhood park (> 0.5 ha)
  • Average distance to closest public open space with a nearby public toilet (within 100 m)


  • % of dwellings that are government owned or community housing
  • % of rental households in the bottom 40% of incomes spending more than 30% of income on housing costs
  • % of mortgaged households in the bottom 40% of incomes spending more than 30% of income on housing costs
  • % of rental or mortgaged households in the bottom 40% of incomes spending more than 30% of income on housing costs
  • % of households spending more than 30% of household income on housing costs 

Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest news from RMIT University’s Healthy Liveable Cities Group and the Australian Urban Observatory.

UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) and the World Health Organization has released a new sourcebook ‘Integrating health in urban and territorial planning‘.

The Australian Urban Observatory’s Dr Melanie Davern contributed a regional liveability case study to the associated Compendium of Inspired Practices.

The two publications promote and support health and wellbeing in the practice of urban planning. They are designed as tools to assist national governments, local authorities, planning professionals, civil society organisations, and health professionals, helping to improve planning frameworks through the incorporation of health considerations, at all levels of governance and spatial planning.

It is a powerful document. Based, as we are, in the social determinants of health, it is contains an extensive list of resources for practitioners to explore.