150+ neighbourhoods, 12 months, 1 Gala: how a mathematician took a heart-felt dive into urban development

I’ve been at Neighbourlytics just over a year now so I wanted to share a little bit of my story and some of the things I’ve learned so far.

How did I get here?

On a sunny Sunday at the end of July 2017 I took the tram from Carlton down to Federation Square to see a movie at ACMI. This is not a very uncommon activity for me to do but this time it was special.

As someone who became an immigrant at 18, my experience of civil engagement is very different than most. In particular, until very recently, I never felt welcome in the conversation of how this city will be built - for many reasons, but mainly two:

  • I don’t vote, and

  • until I am a citizen, my mind always has a little reminder that if the government decided I wasn’t worthy of being here, they could just kick me out.

That Sunday, I watched "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City" , a documentary about Jane Jacobs’ activism. A story about a strong independent woman fighting against a man who was destroying key parts of what gave NYC life and personality and who was getting rich doing it. You can imagine my excitement at learning about someone like her. It was inspirational. The documentary also left me feeling intrigued: how can I get involved in my neighbourhood, how can I help shape my city?
Not long after, I found myself in a meeting with Jess in a busy cafe in the city, who had co-founded a company, Neighbourlytics, and was after a 'tech' person.  I am not sure what Jess asked, but all I remember is rambling to her about Jane Jacobs and my newly found love for making cities more liveable and inclusive. I was speaking her language.

 Why did I join?

As a result of that conversation, I started working at Neighbourlytics in December 2017, heading up their analytics capability, excited and humbled about the opportunity to work for a company who was committed to making neighbourhoods better places for people. There were a few things that Jess and Lucinda conveyed in the meetings we had before and just after I joined that have stayed with me, at Neighbourlytics we are:

  • reinventing urban planning by enriching traditional approaches with modern data science

  • bring people-centred data into the city-making process, and

  • endlessly exploring how social data can be used to understand how people engage with the assets in their community.

What have I learnt?

We’ve been working together now for just over one year! It’s been inspiring and interesting for me; in particular I’m inspired by Jess and Lucinda’s vision for how communities and neighbourhoods can be improved and developed by analytics. As a mathematician and programmer, or as Jess likes to call me - data wizard, not only do I share their vision, but I am ecstatic to be the one who gets to turn these ideas into insights. Here are some things I have learnt:

  • It is not just government who builds our cities, property developers have a strong hand in the game, so do retailers, if we hold them accountable to make great neighbourhoods, everyone wins (including them)!

  • Those quirky bits you love about your neighbourhood are important not just because they are nice, they also can help you stay healthy, affect your mental health and they are worth defending.

  • Social media data can and is being used for the greater good: it helps us discover how you engage with places, which places are accessible (or not) and what you do while you are there. This information is valuable for those trying to make your neighbourhood better, those trying to build thriving neighbourhoods, and those monitoring disruptions, like infrastructure projects, in your neighbourhood.

  • Taking the time to talk, explain and discuss <interesting> technical concepts with non-technical subject-matter experts reaps a lot of benefits: helps you make better assumptions, gives you creative analytical ideas, helps with the empathy when you have to push deadlines, and every now and again, it makes them realise "math really is everywhere!" [said by Lucinda in our end of year party :)]

  • Working alongside strong intelligent women makes you stronger and better. Finding women who challenge me, who work hard to support my needs, and who understand my frustration with the patriarchy is rare, empowering and it is life-changing.  

This 2nd year at Neighbourlytics is already proving to be full of excitement, analytical challenges and growth. In particular, I’m excited to be working on the Social Cities Benchmarking Project and looking forward to all the events (and hires!) to follow our investment round (which is currently open) ... Stay tuned!