Demonstrator 2: Employment

Impacts of planned activity centres on local employment and accessibility: evidence of progress toward a polycentric city

Led by Dr Jennifer Day and Dr Sophie Sturup, Faculty of Architecture, Building, and Planning, University of Melbourne.


This project responds to a strong consensus among policy makers, that Melbourne needs to adopt a multi-nodal metropolitan planning strategy in order to foster local economic development, reduce commute burdens on households, and make jobs more accessible to where people live – particularly lower-income and disadvantaged workers. For decades, metropolitan planning strategies have sought to promote non-CBD activity centres in metropolitan Melbourne. Since the 1980s and before, Victoria’s metropolitan urban planners and state governments have been trying to develop activity centres – local job, shopping, and recreational centres that serve the local population. The idea is that activity centres reduce the need for commuters to travel to the city centre, and supply firms with incentives to locale in a jobs cluster, rather than choosing dispersed locations. In theory, there is an overall benefit to commuters and taxpayers, through reduced commutes and more local jobs.

The core focus of this demonstration is to identify spatial patterns in employment locations, commuting behaviour, worker job accessibility, and their relationships to each other, in the Northwest Corridor of metropolitan Melbourne. More specifically, we wish to understand whether spatial policies aimed at cluster development have resulted in employment clusters, reduced commuting burdens, or a better set of accessible job choices for workers in the Northwest. Since 2000, strategic plans and statutory policies have included six planned Central Activity Districts (CADs) – later renamed Central Activity Areas (CAAs) – and 131 Activities Areas (AAs). The CAAs were meant to be major centres in Box Hill, Ringwood, Footscray, Frankston, Dandenong, and Broadmeadows, and one regional centre, Geelong. Two of these centres, Footscray and Broadmeadows, are in the Northwest Corridor study area. The cyclical pattern of development, implementation, and revision of metropolitan planning policies provides a convenient analytical backdrop for analysis of the outcomes of the programs. This demonstrator project will provide a metropolitan-wide analysis of clustering policies and their impacts from 1981 to the present, but will emphasise findings for the Northwest region. It is necessary to complete a metropolitan study in order to understand how the Northwest compares to the rest of the metro area. The work will provide descriptive analysis on the relationships between where people live, where they work, and spatial trends in employment and accessibility in Metropolitan Melbourne.

Policy-relevant questions

The core contribution of this demonstrator project to the broader policy arena, will be to demonstrate that researcher access to industry-specific, spatially-representative (at suburb level) runs of ABS Census data on journey to work (origin-destination matrices disaggregated by demographic groups and industry classification), and also to traffic volume data, can result in meaningful findings that inform the debates over public policy.

This project aims to understand the factors that have contributed to successful clusters – in particular their ability to attract employers, reduce commute times for workers, and bring more jobs closer to the dispersed locations where people live – and also the factors that limit the effectiveness of metropolitan policies that are designed to promote clustering. The key policy relevant questions are:

  1. What industry clusters exist in the Northwest Corridor? Are they located inside or outside the planned cluster areas? Have sector-specific clusters emerged, either in the activity centres or outside of them (eg, education clusters, justice service clusters, biomedical and biotechnology clusters, high-technology clusters)?
  2. Where do the metropolitan area’s workers live, how far do they travel to work, and how accessible are job opportunities? How are their travel choices and trends related to local transport provision? Have clusters made jobs more accessible to workers in the Northwest Corridor?
  3. What spatial effects can be identified in workforce travel behaviour and accessibility in Activity Centres in the Northwest Corridor – specifically for Footscray, Broadmeadows and Melton? Do travel patterns in these areas differ from other non-CAA places?
  4. How do travel patterns, accessibility of jobs, and job location differ between those for key service workers (nurses, teachers, etc., who are more likely to be disadvantaged) and the mainstream population? Have CAAs addressed the needs of these groups?
  5. What is a typical commute and accessibility profile of a cluster-based employee, versus an employee that travels to a dispersed workplace? Which types of clusters attract the most workers and jobs? How far is the reach of the clusters – ie, how far does the commute sheds (areas from which clusters draw commuters), extend for the clusters in the Northwest Corridor?

Contact details

Dr Jennifer Eve Day
Lecturer in Urban Planning

Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning
University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010 Australia