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Lucinda Hartley: Can our Tweets help us build better cities?

Lucinda Hartley, Photo credit: Flashpoint Labs, for Westpac Scholars
Lucinda Hartley, Photo credit: Flashpoint Labs, for Westpac Scholars

Lucinda Hartley and co-founder Jessica Christiansen-Franks decided to set up Neighbourlytics last year after realising that the property industry lacked a mechanism for measuring the social value of place.

Since releasing the first product to market in October last year, Ms Hartley said the company has been “pretty overwhelmed with the response” and is currently growing by two or three staff per month. There are currently eight people working for the company.

The start up has already been working with major developers, such as Stockland and Lendlease, as well as government agencies and councils. The company has also been backed by BlueChilli Venture Fund as part of their SheStarts program in 2017.

Why people gravitate towards certain places and neighbourhoods – or avoid them like the plague – is not always clear, Ms Hartley told The Fifth Estate.

But thanks to our insatiable appetites for social media, with more people on Facebook than registered to vote, the PropTech start-up is able to better map the ephemeral qualities of “place”.

By pooling publicly-available data from social media and other unconventional information sources – such as reviews and ratings sites, travel wikis, mapping sites, and event promotion pages – the company is able to depict in real-time the unique social fabric of a neighbourhood.

“We have memories and thoughts about spaces, and it’s that intangible stuff that makes somewhere sticky,” Ms Hartley, who is also the company’s chief innovation officer, told The Fifth Estate.

“It’s traditionally been hard to put data behind this and hard to put a value to it. Determining social value has also been hard because neighbourhoods are in a constant state of change,” she said

Ms Hartley said the high-level objective of any built environment planning and design is to cater to the needs and wants of its future inhabitants.

However, planning is frequently based on assumptions rather than evidence, and as a result, the buildings and spaces constructed are rarely are used in the way that was intended.

Ms Hartley hopes that when armed with a clearer idea of how people interact with their neighbourhoods, city-makers are more likely to build urban environments that locals will embrace.

For example, the analytics products have been used by Victoria’s Capire Consulting to understand the role of Melbourne’s fresh food markets in the local community, including which stalls and vendors are popular.

“When dealing with big data you can see patterns and trends that weren’t possible with conventional datasets,” she said.

Conventional data won’t help planners identify weekly playdates held by a group of mothers in a park, which can be helpful to inform decisions, she said.

Ms Hartley was quick to point out that all information gathered by the start up is in the public domain and that all data analysis is “place-based, not person-based”. The intention is to build a social profile of a location, not a person, she said.

Ms Hartley remains a board member at Co-Design, the Melbourne-based placemaking social enterprise that she co-founded in 2010.

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