Why the City of Melbourne is a big data partner

‘We’re sharing our urban intelligence, and you should too’

Research and evidence-based planning is the key to Melbourne’s current accolade of ‘world’s most liveable city’ and improving its liveability into the future while managing the pressures of population growth, changing business mixes and weather extremes.

In 2015, Melbourne was named the world’s most liveable city by the Economic Intelligence Unit for the fifth year in a row. Speaking to ABC following the fourth win, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said, “the focus we’ve had is around safety, around sustainability, and around smart growth, particularly infrastructure.”

Now the City wants to share its success with other cities and urban planners, and learn from their experiences, too. That’s why City of Melbourne is a data partner with The Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN), providing data on building stock, urban land use, thermal imaging, vegetation maps for use by researchers; and using the data from other sources to model its own planning and policy initiatives.

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“AURIN is the infrastructure that allows the information to flow from data sources to many potential users, just as roads and rail networks allows the distribution of goods and services,” says Austin Ley, Manager City Research at the City of Melbourne.

For the City of Melbourne, involvement with AURIN is about generating efficiencies: getting greater value out of existing information sources, rather than commissioning separate surveys. This has been done internally at the council to great success, but AURIN has the potential to do this broadly at a national level.

“Access to AURIN data enables us to have a much better evidence base to make decisions, to provide services in a more effective way, and ensure investments provide a better return to the community,” explains Austin.

AURIN also supports Council’s open data policy. It enables Council data to reach a much wider audience, in particular students, lecturers and researchers.

This helps train the next generation of urban planners, for example, at the University of Melbourne through the ‘hands-on’ Urban Informatics subject, which uses AURIN tools, City of Melbourne data and the Plan Melbourne strategy.

Austin says the study of urban informatics, combining geography and information technology and statistics, is important to provide a workforce equipped to make sound decisions for the future of our cities.

“We need to support education and training in these disciplines to help us understand how to improve the quality of life in our rapidly growing cities.”

AURIN coordinates the collection and filtering of information from a variety of archival and current data sources.  It provides the mechanisms and tools by which the data can be accessed, analysed and modelled. This supports research that addresses issues of national significance. It will encourage cross- and multi-disciplinary research, facilitate partnerships with industry and help translate research outcomes into national benefit.

The City of Melbourne is one of several big data partners collaborating with AURIN to share data and use it more efficiently and effectively. Other collaborators include the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Energy Market Operator, Geoscience Australia, and several state government authorities and local councils. AURIN encourages other government organisations and data custodians to follow their example, “unlock” and share their data and put AURIN resources to use to help ensure productive, healthy and liveable Australian cities into the future.