MKW – Hack the Streets

The second Melbourne Knowledge Week event I attended was “Hack the Streets” hosted at HASSELL.

Before you start to accuse me of watching too much Mr Robot, the “Hack” part refers to “hackathon”, which is usually an event where people get together and try and brainstorm / create something in a short amount of time. It doesn’t have to be 100% working, but the idea is to give something a try and see if it works or not without having to worry so much about whether it’s profitable, or things like that.

This hackathon was only a few hours, and so it didn’t have the creating aspect, just the brainstorming part. There were three themes to the night:

Body and the Building – How can we use technology to better understand the use of buildings for  healthier, happier outcomes.

Body and the Built Landscape – How can we design the urban landscape (e.g. parks, walking paths, bike paths) to support a healthy community?

Body and Movement – How can we design cities (e.g. public transport) to promote healthier options?

I wasn’t entire sure what the divide between the second and third options were.

The night started with a few talks.

Mark Bray, from HASSELL, spoke about using technology to improve our cities.

Steve Bennett, from the City of Melbourne talked about a lot of the data sets that they have available to the public. You can find this info at: Some of this info includes finding out which nights are bin nights for various areas, an almost-real time look at how many bikes are available at all the bike share stations (it gets updated every 15 minutes):

number of pedestrians in a given area of the CBD, where every tree is, what type it is, and how old it is (though I assume it doesn’t count trees in private areas, though I’m not sure).

I feel like I should also spruik a competition he mentioned, the Melbourne Citymart Challenge, to try and solve the problem of transport congestion in Melbourne and / or make the experience of travel more socially fulfilling: I feel like my experience playing Cities: Skylines should make me eligible.

Naomi Gilbert, from the Heart Foundation, talked about how we need to encourage people to move more. She showed a chart saying that most people spend half of their day sitting down.

I can definitely see that in myself, which is why I try to walk around a bit at work. I have a mug that I fill with water during the morning, and whenever I feel thirsty and it’s empty, it forces me to get up and walk to the kitchen. It’s not as good as a reminder to constantly drink water, as it depends on how thirsty I am on a given day, but I think I probably get at least 5 or 6 mugs of water a day while in the office.

She also mentioned that hospitals that had more natural light in the rooms had a shorter stay durations than rooms that didn’t.

Next we had Evodia Alaterou, of HASSELL, tlak about how we can design the urban landscape to support a healthier community. I don’t remember too much of her talk except the part where she said technology is causing us to get lazier, which is definitely true.

Next was Professor Billie Giles-Corti, of RMIT, who spoke about how we can design transport to support a healthier community. One of the things I found interesting was her slide on walkability.



Inner city suburbs have a high walkability index, as there are usually a lot of facilities within walkable distance of most dwellings. As you get further out, you find that people really rely on cars, because it becomes too inconvenient to walk. She didn’t really detail what the limit was for determining what is walkable. I know a lot of people consider me crazy, as I’m perfectly content walking 40 minutes to the supermarket, so I feel like I’m a bit of an outlier. I can see that we need to improve the facilities in the outer suburbs though. I think it’ll be a bit of an education thing as well. I have a friend who drives everywhere, even when something is only 15 minutes away. There’s also the concern of safety, as a lot of people in the outer suburbs don’t feel safe walking out at night, so they drive instead.

Lastly, there was Zoe Wilks, of ARUP, who spoke about designing healthier transport options. She spoke about collaborative maps that are out there that allow you to crowdsource things from people, such as which traffic lights tend to be the most dangerous, or just comments in general from people.

After that, we split up into groups and discussed various ideas.

To be honest, I think the engineer side of me was a bit frustrated by this part of the night. I heard a lot of ideas that I wanted to continue discussing, but I feel like the whole night was dominated by a few people who kept talking about wanting to create something to help people find the “perfect house”.

This is going to be my rant now, so I apologise in advance, and it’s probably going to be the remainder of my post, so you can leave now if you like.

They kept tossing around the idea of creating an app that will use different data sets (like the ones from the City of Melbourne that we were shown, or ones that are crowdsourced, or magically obtained in some way – a lot of the night was spent discussing how we could get this information) and help people find their ideal home. E.g. one that doesn’t have noisy neighbours, is in a convenient location, with nice parks and other amenities nearby, and also low levels of pollution, and has easy access to public transport, and costs a reasonable amount of money, and…. do you see where I’m going with this? I’m pretty sure almost everyone would like a home with those things.

Rather than talking about how we could work with what we have, they kept getting held up on dreaming about some ideal world where everyone has their perfect home. I know it was a brainstorming night, and there were some good talks in between the daydreaming, but I was getting really restless. There were a few architecture students there, and they were talking about some pretty cool things. I learned about thermal comfort, and how most of the new apartments being built are designed so that you pretty much have to have aircon / heating on all the time to feel comfortable. Unfortunately, they were drowned out. I also learned about how much of a problem it is that the people who design / build the new apartments going up are never residents there, so they don’t care, and the people who buy them are usually foreign investors, so they don’t care either. So you end up with these sub-standard living spaces.

One of the coolest ideas I heard was the idea of having an app that lets you plan a route based on interesting sites in the area (apparently there is a dataset that will be released soon that has things like which buildings have been used in films and other things that you can combine. Rather than telling you the optimum route in terms of speed, it can help you plan out a walking route that lets you see new things, so you change up your routine and don’t grow bored.

I found out that in some buildings in Singapore, you have a mid-level floor that’s a common area. It’s good for helping people mingle. They said it’s often a requirement in buildings to have mixed races living within a building to help promote integration.

Someone brought up gated communities, and I’ve always thought they were a bad thing, but they spoke about some of the positive benefits, like people helping each other out, and people being more likely to actually get to know their neighbours.

The event ran overtime, and I actually ended up sneaking out before it was over, but I think the rest of the night was just the groups talking about the idea they thought was the best (I think our group spent too much time fantasising to actually pick an idea).

I feel like I learned a lot from the night. City builders are probably my favourite genre of games (surprising, I know, given how many hours I’ve sunk into strategy games – I kinda wish there were more games like Banished), and so things like this fascinate me. I just wish the urban planners and architects had more of a chance to talk.

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