Monash University announces The Melbourne Experiment to study effects of the COVID-19 shutdown on cities

Monash University today announces The Melbourne Experiment, a landmark interdisciplinary research collaboration to study the effects of the COVID-19 restrictions on the functions of the city.

Bringing together senior researchers across the University, The Melbourne Experiment examines key activities and elements of the urban environment before, during and after the COVID-19 shutdown.

Given the significant immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic on Melbourne, the project will investigate a diverse set of activities including traffic flow, electricity use, urban and household behaviour, use of parks and public spaces and air quality.

Monash University Provost and Senior Vice-President, Professor Marc Parlange, said The Melbourne Experiment would reveal information about the essential functions and challenges of a city.

“The global shutdown to control COVID-19 is an historic disruption to urban life. In these circumstances, we can observe activities that are fundamental to the idea of a city being brought to a stop, the positive and negative impacts on different groups, and then monitor how or whether they return as restrictions are gradually lifted,” Professor Parlange said.

The Melbourne Experiment will use its findings to develop new approaches for sustainable urban growth, emphasising social cohesion and environmental conservation alongside economic prosperity. A core aim is to explore the question: ‘What will Melbourne look like in 2050?’ if there is insufficient action to grow sustainably and inclusively.

“This pandemic will have very significant impacts, both immediate and long-term, on the shape of Australian society. It is essential that government and other decision makers have access to the best information during the recovery. This research will contribute significantly to achieving that outcome,” Professor Parlange said.

“For six decades Monash has earned an international reputation for engaging successfully with communities and industry to address the great challenges of the age. The Melbourne Experiment is an opportunity to leverage this capability and use evidence gained from this experience at the city scale to deliver global lessons.”

As the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Regional Centre of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Monash is uniquely placed and motivated to mobilise communities to create a better and more sustainable future, as articulated by the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Research Programs

Professor Liz Campbell

What aspect or activity of Melbourne is the focus of your research?

I am interested in how face recognition technology (FRT) is being used in Melbourne during and beyond the COVID-19 situation. The introduction of social distancing, increased wearing of face masks and changing use of city spaces all put a new complexion on this biometric tool.

What outcome and impact are you hoping your research will deliver?

Legal concerns about FRT centre on privacy issues and the disproportionate impact on already marginalised groups, as well as its reliability. My research will provide insights on how and against whom face recognition technology is used in Melbourne, as well as how COVID-19 is affecting the choice and use of policing surveillance tools more broadly.

Professor Steven Chown

What aspect or activity of Melbourne is the focus of your research?

We are looking at Melburnians’ use of open and green space, and interaction with the natural environment during the shutdown, and whether this has changed because of the closure of pubs, cafes and other entertainment venues.

What outcome and impact are you hoping your research will deliver?

We are hoping to define circumstances under which the “extinction of experience” – the diminution of human-nature interaction and alienation from natural environments and their wildlife – may be reversible. This will have profound implications for how we should design cities for liveability and wellbeing of inhabitants over coming decades.

Professor Graham Currie

What aspect or activity of Melbourne is the focus of your research?

Our research focuses on travel and activity patterns of Melbourne residents due to the COVID-19 shutdown to understand how this might influence long-term travel behaviour in Melbourne. A key concern is Melbourne's $32 billion ‘big build’ infrastructure program; is this still going to be needed?

What outcome and impact are you hoping your research will deliver?

Our research is guiding decision-making on the ‘big build’ transport investment program, but will also contribute to our understanding of travel behaviour change associated with significant social and economic disruptions.

Professor Carl Grodach

What aspect or activity of Melbourne is the focus of your research?

We are developing a digital model of Melbourne that maps the evolving impacts of COVID-19 on different places and communities of the city. Combining urban form with environment, demographic, health and economic data, the city model will be a platform to advance wider discussion on post-coronavirus recovery scenarios with city councils, state government and the community.

What outcome and impact are you hoping your research will deliver?

By enhancing knowledge of the relationship between virus transmission, recovery, and various characteristics of urban form, our work will assist in targeting resources and preparing communities vulnerable to COVID-19 and future societal disruptions. Explaining where and under what conditions future outbreaks will most likely occur – and understanding development alternatives – is essential to assist health and urban policymakers to track and plan for future epidemics.

Professor Bryan Horrigan, Associate Professor Genevieve Grant, Associate Professor Jacqui Horan

What aspect or activity of Melbourne is the focus of your research?

We are exploring the transition to remote online dispute resolution, court proceedings and other justice system innovations, with particular focus on the public infrastructure invested in the Melbourne CBD legal and judicial precincts during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, supported by Monash Law’s CBD presence and its technologically enabled Moot Court.

What outcome and impact are you hoping your research will deliver?

Our research will contribute to improvements in cost-efficient, publicly effective governance and regulation of access to justice for all participants and users in Victoria’s judicial system.

Associate Professor Guillaume Roger

What aspect or activity of Melbourne is the focus of your research?

We are examining how electricity is consumed in Melbourne (including who and where), the impact of COVID-19 on household and business electricity use, and what can be learned from the variation.

What outcome and impact are you hoping your research will deliver?

By learning how different demographics and areas consume electricity during various times of day, and mapping these results against wholesale electricity prices, we hope to gain insight on which demographic groups benefit the most from transitioning to dynamic pricing - that is, from more closely aligning electricity prices and actual consumption.

Professor Jacqui True, Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Dr Naomi Pfitzner

What aspect or activity of Melbourne is the focus of your research?

We are measuring the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on violence against women in the home and the family, in public spaces (including transport) and on the frontline of healthcare.

What outcome and impact are you hoping your research will deliver?

Our research aims to shed light on the “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence within and across diverse communities in Melbourne during the COVID-19 crisis, and what works best to prevent or respond to the violence at this time.

We hope that our project will generate more attention, knowledge and action to make Melbourne city a safer place for everyone.