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

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

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

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