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: 2020 (ongoing)

 RMIT University in collaboration with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute are working toward developing neighbourhood built environment indicators for optimising early childhood development and reducing inequities. Neighbourhoods provide important exposures and resources that can provide parents with the capacity to raise their children and promote healthy child outcomes. Yet there is limited evidence-based guidance and metrics 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. 

Funding from the Australian Federal Government Department of Social Services and the Bernard van Leer Foundation (Netherlands) enabled us to assemble a dataset of spatial built environment measures linked to the 2015 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), a population progress measure of early childhood development (AEDC-BE dataset). In 2019, further funding from the Australian Federal Government Department of Education and Training will allow us to continue pilot testing the AEDC-BE to identify appropriate street network distances to neighbourhood features and high-level associations related to ECD. 

The AEDC-BE is a world-first national ECD dataset linking numerous conceptually-informed neighbourhood built environment indicators (e.g. traffic measures, walkability, family-friendly locations and services) calculated for unique neighbourhoods for every child living in Australia’s largest 21 urban and regional cities. This approach allows ‘pockets’ of inequitable distribution of physical access to services or destinations within neighbourhoods, and exploring differences by geographic location. The aim is to develop robust indicators as tools for identifying and monitoring built environments that optimise ECD and reduce related inequities. 


  • Pilot report: The importance of the neighbourhood built environment for Australian children’s development. A report on a data linkage pilot project 
  • Final report of draft built environment indicators for ECD 
  • Peer reviewed publications and presentations 

Key People

Lead researchers

Dr Karen Villanueva

Dr Karen Villanueva

Research Fellow

Amanda Alderton

Amanda Alderton

PhD Student & Research Assistant

Data to Decisions: Using big data for designing neighbourhood built environment indicators for early childhood development

Prof Sharon Goldfeld

Lead Investigator of KiCS; University of Melbourne and Centre for Community Child Health, Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital

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Associate Professor Hannah Badland

Associate Professor Hannah Badland

Deputy Director of the Centre for Urban Research

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