A new project brings together Australian and UK urban experts to virtually model and test the benefits of transport planning in creating healthier and sustainable cities across both countries.
Growing evidence suggests how we plan our cities can affect preventable health risks such as physical inactivity, obesity, noise and air pollution, and road trauma.
Yet in both Australia and the United Kingdom, urban and transport planning sectors have not fully integrated the evidence on population health and environmental implications into future planning.
The new project, led by the RMIT Healthy Liveable Cities Group and Cambridge University, will examine the links between the built environment, transport and other health-behaviour to develop computer models that can better inform urban and transport planning policy and practice in Australia and the UK.
The project has today been awarded over $800,000 in funding from the UK Medical Research Council and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Director for the Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform, Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti, has been leading the development of liveability measures in major cities across Australia.
She and RMIT Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Belen Zapata Diomedi will lead the project Joining Impact models of transport with spatial measures of the Built Environment (JIBE).
The combination and exchange of Australian and British expertise has major benefits for both countries, says Giles.
“Currently in the UK, there are no consistent measurements of many important liveability factors, like how easy it is to get to the shops or public transport in different neighbourhoods,” Giles-Corti said.
“This means we have not been able to predict what might happen to people’s health if these factors changed.
“This makes it hard for planners to make changes in land use and transport policies, because they don’t have the evidence to show which design changes will benefit the health of communities the most.
“On the other hand, although our team at RMIT have developed detailed measures of liveability, comprehensive studies linking possible changes in liveability to health outcomes are still missing in Australia.
“In this project, we will combine Australian built environment and liveability measures with the UK’s MEthods and Tools for Assessing the Health Impacts of Transport (METAHIT) model to overcome cross-country gaps.”
The JIBE project will develop new liveability measures for select city regions in the UK.
The team will then use these regions to characterise and compare different neighbourhoods in terms of how healthy they are for residents.
Zapata Diomedi, who has an ongoing collaboration with Cambridge after spending six months there as an Endeavour Fellow, said the team will also identify built environment standards and scenarios designed to support active travel.
“Through METAHIT, we will create a virtual population of individuals with varying travel patterns and levels of exposure to air pollution, noise pollution, greenspace, and physical activity for every postcode in these England city regions and across Melbourne.
“For both countries, we will develop computer models that link changes in liveability to the best available evidence on how these factors affect health.”
The JIBE project will significantly advance the rigour of tools available to quantify the health-related equity impacts of the built environment in Australia and the UK, Giles-Corti said.
“Working with stakeholders in both countries, we will model the results of a range of policy options that planners are considering giving much needed evidence for well-informed urban and transport planning policy and practice reforms,” she said.
“Our goal is to support making healthier cities through a more scientific understanding of which policies do most to benefit health and reduce inequities in our communities.”
JIBE is a joint three-year collaboration led by RMIT and the University of Cambridge, together with Imperial College London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Monash University, The University of Queensland and University of Leicester.
Story: Chanel Koeleman