Towards a national open space dataset for Australia
Photo by Gareth Harrison on Unsplash


Open spaces matter to Australian communities. Its benefits can be seen across various dimensions of society such as active spaces and mental health for well-being, the economy in areas like property uplift, and the environment with air quality and flora/fauna (Figure 1). Yet with high levels of population growth in urban areas, researchers and decision makers are in critical need of a high-quality national dataset that meets their needs. While several publicly available open and green space datasets exist, these differ in scale and granularity resulting in an unusable, piecemeal representation that cannot be suitably analysed.

To address this problem, we are working with our partners to develop a consistent data model for the capture and communication of open spaces, which can leverage new conceptual and linked data techniques to deliver meaningful, ongoing results. The National Open Space Working Group (NOSWG) consists of members from across research, practice and government who share the common goal of needing to investigate what’s required. The group was formed following discussions at the Health Geography workshop preceding the Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Meeting 2017, led by A/Prof Lukar Thornton and A/Prof Neil Coffee.

A list of current working group members is included below.




Australian researchers collaborating to bring our research community high quality, nationally consistent open space data

Figure 1: Dimensions of open spaces
Source: Rigby and Eagleson (2019) 
Images: (macrovector),, (various),


The value dimensions of open spaces can be linked to various international and national policies and reports. These include:


The working group sets out to achieve the following goals:

  1. Recognition of Open Space data as a national priority
  1. Improve the quality of the Open Space data currently available


The capture and definition of case studies describing the value of open space data in Australia has been a core focus of the working group.

1. Public open space data informing characteristics of surveyed households

The ABS is exploring the development of linking geospatial datasets to ABS statistical collections. The ABS has experimented with integrating public open space data into both the 2014-15 and 2017-18 National Health Survey (NHS). This has allowed the development of new statistical indicators that measure the level of access that survey respondents have to public open space across Australia. 
The ABS recognises the value of integration geospatial dataset such as public open space with ABS collections. However for ABS to repeat this sort of data integration it will be important that a consistent and high quality national public open space dataset is available.

2. Researcher and policy-maker needs and requirements for a national open space data layer

Each state and local government across Australia has an open space policy. Many of these include objectives for integrated planning of open space and targets for residents to have access to quality open space. 

To assess user requirements for the design of a national open space datasets, the working group surveyed Australian researchers and policy makers who are in need of quality open space data. Over 45 people participated in the survey that captured user requirements (attributes and their update frequency), together with the current barriers to using currently available dataset.

3. The liveability of Australian cities depends on quality open space

Access to open space is critical to the liveability and biodiversity of our cities. To help prepare us for the future, we require information on the location of our open spaces. This data is required to set the direction for the sustainable care and expansion of open spaces to meet the needs of our increasing populations at various levels. The 2018 Planning Liveable Cities report from Infrastructure Australia provides a definition for liveability in Australian cities this includes access to open space as critical. 

The provision of quality open space data will facilitate researchers to understand and quantify the health, social, environmental and economic value of open spaces. Using this research policy makers and decision makers at all levels of government can adequate plan and make informed decisions about the location, type and quality of open spaces and thus meet a range of needs.

Source: ABS,

4. Public open space dataset for ASGS mesh block category classification maintenance

Every five years the ABS revise and update the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS). Mesh Blocks are the smallest geographical unit of the ASGS and are used as the building block for the larger regions within the ASGS. At the Mesh Block level, we provide a description of category type, based on the predominant land use determined in 2005 State Planning and Land Use Zoning data.

The next version of Meshblock type is due to be released in mid-2021. Although the categories have been implemented as a general land use indicator, users of this data interpret and use the Mesh Block category as a definitive land use dataset. A definitive land use dataset is not appropriate for the Mesh Block scale (due to lack of good quality, small level data available and insufficient time and resources to maintain); however, the ABS recognises the need to maintain the Mesh Block category for a number of reasons.

5. Development of the Public Open Space (POS) Tool

For the general public – POS Tool offers a quick and simple way to find local parks in your local area and see what facilities are provided. You can find your closest park or locate a park with certain facilities. For planners and developers – POS Tool can help with planning decisions through the assessment and visualisation of the spatial distribution of POS (including parks, nature and bushland) by suburb or local government authority across the Perth and Peel Metropolitan Region and provides the capabilities to analyse summary data on POS provision, park amenity, park catchment and assess gaps in current provision. In the advanced features the user can analyse POS within an area of interest and “scenario test” future needs against population growth.

For researchers – POS Tool provides an opportunity to assess and export POS-related information for use in research projects requiring data on POS (including parks, nature and bushland, school grounds, and residual areas). POS variables can be exported and used in combination with other datasets such as census or your own dataset.

Source: POSTool,

Source: Esmaeilpoorarabi et al.(2020)

6. Characterising place in innovation districts

Open spaces contribute to concepts of place in regional and city areas can be characterised in terms of form (spatial and physical aspects), function (uses-services and socio-economic aspects), ambiance (socio-equipment and social-cultural aspects) and image (personal and perceptual aspects) (Esmaeilpoorarabi et al., 2020). The location and attributes of open spaces is key to determining their value.

Knowledge about open spaces is key to determining their value in social, cultural, environmental and economic dimensions to inform land use policy and place making. Accessing an authoritative, national open space dataset would greatly improve the veracity of analysis, particularly when comparing across space.


Delivery of a national open space dataset that is of value to researchers requires consideration of several technical aspects. These include:

  • Review of open space definitions
  • Consideration of data models
  • Investigation of spatial, temporal and attribute aspects
  • Mapping data flows
  • Understanding data availability, access and other social architecture challenges
  • Extensibility and future scenarios

Source: Rigby and Eagleson (2019)


Outputs of the working group have been presented at the following events:

  • Locate 2019 Conference, Melbourne Australia
  • Health Geography Study Group Workshop 2019, Melbourne Australia
  • State of Australian Cities Conference (SOAC) 2019, Perth Australia  
    [download presentation]

Discussing open space data models at SOAC 2019. Image: AURIN


The working group meets approximately every 3 months.

Please get in touch via the contact form below if you would like to engage with the group.


  • Bryan Boruff, University of Western Australia
  • Luke Caruana, PSMA
  • Neil Coffee, University of Canberra
  • Shaun Copley, Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Melanie Davern, RMIT University
  • Michael Dixon, PSMA
  • Serryn Eagleson, Data61  (Co-Chair)
  • Anthony Kimpton, University of Queensland
  • Greg Lavis, PSMA
  • Suzanne Mavoa, University of Melbourne
  • Verity Miles, VPA
  • Nova Reinfeld-Kirkman, Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Michael Rigby, AURIN / University of Melbourne  (Co-Chair)
  • Julianna Rozek, RMIT University
  • Lukar Thornton, Deakin University
  • Rachel Whitsed, Charles Sturt University


reCAPTCHA is required.