As Australian cities and communities reach the seven-month milestone of living under COVID-19 restrictions, exclusive new data comparing Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney has revealed a stark contrast in how citizens have adapted their social and economic behaviour, signalling to leaders that a localised response should be a priority.

Urban data analytics company, Neighbourlytics, has been tracking the hyper-local impacts of restrictions on neighbourhoods throughout the pandemic, down to a 1km radius, and has now released a report on the differences between Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney during February and May 2020 – The New Local: Data Report.

Through their world-first digital analytics technology for places, the urban tech venture backed by property industry leader Carol Schwartz, has generated unique intelligence that quantifies the nuanced changes to neighbourhood lifestyle and behaviour, based on its digital footprint. The report highlights what this means for decision-makers seeking to boost local economic resilience and manage social wellbeing in the months and years ahead.

The New Local for Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane

Neighbourlytics captured rich digital data about the behaviour and lifestyle of three major Australian cities in February 2020, and again in May 2020: Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney.

Analysis of more than 30,0000 geo-tagged social chatter data points during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the at-risk industries and in-demand assets that are most vulnerable to the impacts of change and crisis.

Five such assets and industries are highlighted in the data report on these cities. These are:

  • Public spaces including parks, buildings, cityscapes, and natural environments
  • Hospitality including food and drink, alcohol, private businesses and take-away
  • Creative industries including art and design, concerts, performances, music and craft
  • Attractions including sports, events, markets, destinations, and activities
  • Wellness and beauty including informal and formal health and beauty businesses and activities

The unique data set captures life before the divergence of restrictions – including Melbourne’s more stringent approach of recent months – came to be, and highlights how the values and behaviours of citizens differ across the three state capitals.

The results show a fascinating picture of just how different The New Local can be, both in terms of type of change and amount of change.

For instance:

  • Nature is the new destination, with up to 112 per cent increase in engagement with natural spaces in Melbourne
  • Attractions have turned inside – people are engaging up to 100 per cent less with destinations such as shopping centres, and are turning to hobbies instead
  • Creativity has got personal – there is no significant drop in overall creative activity, with an increase in engagement with art and design across most cities, but rather than events and programs, people are taking part in home based activities

More connected locally, more engaged digitally

Neighbourlytics data has shown how COVID-19 restrictions have forced a rapid shift in the values people place on their local communities across the country.

We have quickly moved from centralised cities (where residents rated their lifestyle on proximity to destinations such as CBDs, major venues, shopping malls and other places they like to visit) to networked neighbourhoods (where residents rate their lifestyle on proximity to local shops, public spaces and health services). Where and how this significant shift in lifestyle and behaviour is playing out in different locations provides vital insights for government, property and business leaders alike.

“In this time of crisis, we are simultaneously becoming more local, and more digital. This is not a return to localism, it is the New Local,” said Neighbourlytics co-founder Lucinda Hartley She believes this new research has serious implications for investment priorities aimed at post-COVID recovery.

“But more than that, we are now getting visibility on how this is playing out differently city-by-city, and even street-by-street. At a time when government leaders and the private sector are developing recovery plans for our cities that impact local people and businesses, it is vital that they consider these differences to create a targeted response and have the opportunity to build back with resilience,” said Ms Hartley.

Understanding vulnerable industries and in-demand assets

The report presents a detailed analysis of factors influencing neighbourhood vulnerability, helping leaders to answer questions such as:

  • What is at risk of being lost for local character and vitality?
  • What local assets are most in-demand to support daily needs of citizens?
  • Which local industries are strongest or most vulnerable to change?

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Neighbourlytics co-founders Jessica Christiansen-Franks and Lucinda Hartley decided to engineer a new evidence-based framework that could take an abundance of locally geo-tagged data in specified locations, and analyse it for the COVID-19 impact to equip leaders for place-based response and recovery.

The result was a new purpose-built digital analytics tool – the Neighbourhood Barometer –which provides a pressure check on neighbourhood vulnerability as a result of pandemic impacts, including wide-scale mandated changes to resident behaviour.

This unique tool can provide decision-makers with critical insights into vulnerable industries (such as hospitality, wellness and beauty, and creative industries) as well as in-demand assets (such as public spaces, parks, and natural environments). The Neighbourhood Barometer reveals a new perspective on the risks and opportunities lying hidden below the surface of local places, using data generated by locals, to help understand the immediate and ongoing impacts in local communities and inform clearer decision-making for both emergency response packages and longer-term recovery measures.

“COVID-19 has shown us that local, micro-actions will often deliver far more robust social and economic outcomes for cities and the communities within them, than big-ticket investments which rely on constant social and economic stability,” said Neighbourlytics CEO and co-founder, Jessica Christiansen-Franks.

“By quantifying the local differences across Australia’s unique local neighbourhoods, it’s possible to create a picture of local character, dynamic rhythm, and opportunities for social connection to inform and target action during these times.

“These insights provide a critical guide for governments, planners and citymakers on how to focus future investments to build true resilience in local communities for an ever-changing world,” says Christiansen-Franks.

The New Local: Data Report also includes reflections from city experts and industry thinkers including:

  • Dr Caroline Butler-Bowden, Executive Director, Public Spaces, NSW Department of Planning and Environment
  • Cr Jess Miller, Councillor, City of Sydney
  • Adam Beck, Executive Director, Smart Cities Council Australia and New Zealand
  • Mike Lydon, Principal, Street Plans Collaborative, New York City
  • Ethan Kent, Executive Director, PlacemakingX, and former Senior Fellow, Project for Public Spaces, New York City

You can read the The New Local: Data Report here.

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