New research from Monash University highlights evolving public attitudes in suburbs across Melbourne during the two COVID-19 lockdown periods, with St Kilda consistently rating as one of the city’s most satisfied suburbs.
Cross-faculty researchers developed a tool called the Neighbourhood Sentiment Dashboard, to analyse Twitter posts and compare satisfaction and wellbeing across Melbourne’s 309 suburbs.
As Melbourne residents have been restricted to the 5 km zone, neighbourhoods with ready access to amenities such as parks and other facilities reported higher sentiment than areas with limited access to amenities.
St Kilda regularly had a positive sentiment, while other suburbs, such as Sandringham, had a lower satisfaction level.
The researchers collected Twitter posts over the two lockdown periods starting in March and July and analysed sentiment within each suburb. They then mapped this against the characteristics, amenity levels, and urban form present in each suburb.
The posts revealed a unique perspective into resident’s satisfaction with their neighbourhoods and how this evolved through Melbourne’s lockdown periods.
The research analysed sentiment in local areas in relation to the built environment. Comparing this to other areas, the dashboard is able to offer insight into the needs of residents from their neighbourhoods and how these needs change in a crisis.
The project was conducted by Alexa Gower, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Professor Carl Grodach and Associate Professor Liton Kamruzzaman from the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture and Dr Dickson Lukose from the Faculty of Information Technology.
“At the start of the first lockdown period in March 2020, St Kilda, as a suburb with rich amenity, had 93 per cent positive sentiment, compared to 58 per cent across greater Melbourne overall and Sandringham 25 per cent at the same time,” Ms Gower said.
“Social media, such as Twitter, can provide a window into how people are emotionally managing during the lockdown. Our research highlights the relationship between sentiment and neighbourhood amenity and how local access to parks and public facilities supported people’s wellbeing during lockdown.
“In high amenity areas, people posted on Twitter their gratitude for these destinations during social isolation and the benefits it brought them at this time.
Graphic comparing neighbourhood sentiment in St Kilda, Sandringham and Greater Melbourne in 2020. Image credit: Alexa Gower.
“Our research brought to light the challenges that some people face in working from home, particularly in neighbourhoods with poor walkability, access to parks and essential services. Commuting into the CBD previously enabled access to amenities that are unavailable in their neighbourhoods.
“The COVID-19 lockdown experience highlights that if Melbourne is serious about achieving a city of 20-minute neighbourhoods and encouraging remote work, we need to improve access to everyday, local amenities in these neighbourhoods”.
Graphic comparing neighbourhood sentiment in high and low amenity areas in 2020. Image credit: Alexa Gower.
“Negative attitudes towards one’s neighbourhood on Twitter increased dramatically under lockdown. If remote working is here to stay, we will need to urgently turn our attention from the CBD to making the middle and outer-suburban neighbourhoods more accessible and liveable,” Professor Grodach said.
“While Melbourne’s restrictions may help reduce virus transmission, our research shows that some people do not have easy access to the essential services and amenities that help support healthy and liveable places during the lockdown. This can exacerbate pre-existing mental health and economic challenges for households.”
The project is part of The Melbourne Experiment, Monash University’s landmark interdisciplinary research collaboration studying the effects of COVID-19 on the functions of a city and an international model for post-COVID-19 urban recovery and renewal.