As an urban planner and social entrepreneur, Lucinda Hartley has pioneered innovative methods to improve the social sustainability of cities. She co-founded Neighbourlytics, a company that uses big data to inform urban development decisions. Here, she sha
Lucinda Hartley’s Neighbourlytics uses big data to inform urban development decisions.
Icome from a long line of technically minded female leaders. My great-grandmother was the first woman to drive a car from Sydney to Melbourne, my grandmother was one of Australia’s few female doctors back in the 1940s, and my mum is a botanist and climate scientist.
Science was part of growing up. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to go on a beach holiday with canisters of liquid nitrogen in the back of the car, or suddenly pull over at roadside cuttings to take rock samples driving on a highway. They weren’t just family holidays – they were field trips.
I always felt strongly encouraged to pursue science and technology, something I now know is rare. It was then positively rebellious that I chose not to. I had an argument with my dad because I wanted to study art and he felt very strongly that I should do physics. Needless to say, I chose art; it was one of my best subjects and I haven’t looked back.
I’m an urban designer turned entrepreneur. My passion is making cities socially inclusive and connected. My love of cities stems from growing up in cities across four continents. Our ‘field trips’ weren’t just limited to Australia but involved secondments to Zimbabwe, England, Switzerland, South Africa and a host of other places. I saw that cities – in all their different shapes, colours and sizes – had the capacity to connect people and culture. But I also got a very tangible understanding of inequality. I saw, even early on, that the way we plan and design cities can either hurt or heal. I knew I wanted to be part of the story of making things better.
Over the past decade, I’ve been involved in kick-starting a range of social-change initiatives that help make cities more socially inclusive, particularly for vulnerable and hard-toreach groups. This includes working on slum resettlement projects with the United Nations, and delivering more than 100 neighbourhood improvement projects in Australia through my consultancy firm CoDesign Studio.
While initially deviating from my science and technology roots, I’ve now come full circle. Last year, together with my co-founder Jessica Christiansen-Franks, we launched our latest venture, Neighbourlytics – a social data analytics platform, which enables decision-makers to understand how cities work by tapping into social data.
Jessica and I are both urban designers, with no previous software experience. All we knew is that there had to be a better way to understand how cities worked, rather than relying on surveys. We sought out technical partners and built a bespoke product that solves an industry problem.
Gender equality is something I feel passionate about. I was shocked to enter the workforce as a young urban designer and find that I was the only woman on the floor. Experiencing that kind of isolation and exclusion in the workplace was tough. Seeking professional networks and female leaders in my industry was an encouraging step.
While I never questioned my capacity to enter technical professions, it took me a long time to give myself permission to lead. I had lots of big ideas but I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. Much of this is to do with the fact that we can’t be what we can’t see.
I’m passionate about seeing more women in leadership roles in my profession, principally because it has the capability to fundamentally change the way we live. Almost all of the places you experience every day – from public transport to local parks – have been shaped by men. It’s no wonder then that, even in Melbourne, where I’m based, a third of women feel unsafe in public spaces at night.
Neighbourlytics plays a part in this. Not just as a female-led start-up but also in the important role we play in making the invisible parts of cities – the people, culture, social connection – visible through data analysis and visualisation.
The next decade for me is in technology, which must be in my DNA. I’m fortunate this year to be selected as a 2018 Westpac Social Change Fellow. This has come at a pivotal time when I’m stepping away from more traditional urban design and community development and into data analytics. This opportunity will enable me to connect internationally with mentors and partners to accelerate learning in this new field. Lucinda Hartley is speaking at the Vogue Codes Summit in Sydney on June 22. For details, go to codes.vogue.com.au.