Does neighbourhood design make a difference to early childhood development (ECD)? This project connects urban design and planning disciplines with ECD to explore the impacts of where we live on young children and families.

  • Project dates: 2017 (ongoing)

RMIT University through an ARC Linkage Partnership with The University of Melbourne (lead institution), the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and other universities, government and non-government organisations in Australia and Canada, aims to explore community-level factors influencing early childhood development (ECD).

The Kids in Communities Study (KiCS) collaboration is working to understand how different factors in our communities—physical, social, socio-economic factors, service, and governance factors – influence the way that children develop.  The early years are a time when one’s environment can influence how the brain develops. Children with stimulating and positive environments early in life have optimal foundations for their ongoing physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.

Neighbourhoods provide important exposures and resources that can provide parents with the capacity to raise their children and promote healthy child outcomes. Yet relationships between neighbourhood design (i.e. built environment), one important aspect of the neighbourhood, and child development needs to be identified. Current Australian and global policy agendas advocate for ‘child-friendly’ and ‘liveable’ cities, which seek to promote and protect child wellbeing through neighbourhood design. Yet there is limited guidance for how best to design neighbourhoods that promote ‘child-friendliness’ for young children, due to the lack of studies investigating neighbourhood design relationships with ECD.

KiCS’ is currently in 25 communities (suburbs) in areas of advantage and disadvantage across five Australian states and territories (VIC, QLD, NSW, SA, and the ACT). The research uses an interdisciplinary mixed methods approach, including the use of qualitative data and spatial methods to establish ‘if and how’ ECD is influenced by various neighbourhood design factors. In an environment of competing social and policy interests, it is important to understand where and how best to intervene to guide investments that promote ECD, with neighbourhood design offering untapped potential as a modifiable platform for impact.


  • Set of draft community-level indicators for ECD
  • Draft manual of methodologies
  • Peer reviewed publications and presentations

Key People

Lead researchers

Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti

Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti

Director of Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform & Convener of the Healthy Liveable Cities Group

Creating liveable and healthy neighbourhoods for young children and families

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

Lead Investigator of KiCS

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Dr Karen Villanueva

Dr Karen Villanueva

Research Fellow

Associate Professor Hannah Badland

Associate Professor Hannah Badland

Deputy Director of the Centre for Urban Research

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Healthy Liveable Cities Group

Learning more about the relationship between health and the places people live, work, learn and play can better prepare us for the challenges of tomorrow.

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