RMIT University
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Scaling Residential Analysis of Urban Liveability and Sustainability Indicators From Local to Global

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posted on 2024-06-03, 02:06 authored by Carl Higgs
City planning contributes to complex, interrelated crises that threaten population, ecosystem and planetary health and sustainability. Calls to actions for urban indicators to inform planning for healthy and sustainable cities have been advocated for with increasing urgency. Yet, their delivery within and between-cities remains inequitable and faltering. Advances in computational power and data availability mean that the technical capacity to identify where policies and planning goals are not being met and inform interventions to improve urban equity for diverse contexts globally is unprecedented. However, the effective realisation of urban indicators to support planning for healthy and sustainable cities—indicators that are comparable, contextualised, meaningful and reproducible—is hindered by a concurrent crisis in reproducibility and trust in science. Through this thesis I have developed methods for scaling up analysis and reporting of indicators for healthy and sustainable neighbourhoods and cities in formats to meet the needs of diverse stakeholders. In the first part of this thesis, I addressed the question: How can urban liveability be measured both locally, and at scale in a meaningful and useful way to support the needs of diverse stakeholders? I reviewed gaps in existing approaches for measuring urban liveability identifying a need for policy relevant urban indicators to be produced at different scales, in different mediums, for different audiences, and for different places. I proposed and demonstrated a flexible method of residential analysis for entire cities that could be extended for new indicators in diverse urban settings, as well as repeated longitudinally or in new cities for meaningful comparisons across time, between cities as well as within cities. However, to create local impact, you need local involvement, which occurs through collaboration and contextualisation. Therefore, in the second part of my thesis, I addressed a deeper question: What do diverse stakeholders need to monitor, plan and advocate for healthy and sustainable cities? A synthesis of action research and software engineering methodologies was used to build knowledge of how to scale from code that could be used, to software designed for and with a specific group of users to be useful, usable, and used in diverse global settings. Engaging with an international network of researchers, students, practitioners and advocates, I elucidated and iteratively implemented their requirements for calculating and communicating urban indicators. An open science toolkit was co-designed, and is now being used to support local teams around the world to participate in a 1000 City Challenge to map, monitor and build contextual understanding of indicators of healthy and sustainable cities.


Degree Type

Doctorate by Research


© Carl Higgs 2023

School name

Global, Urban & Social Studies