Human-centred approaches to city making and planning

Here at Meld we are passionate about improving the everyday lives of people as they interact with the world around them. To do this we employ various methods related to human-centred design to better understand the impacts that environments and systems have on people, then work with them to turn existing (and often poor) experiences into preferred ones (thanks Herbert Simon).

We work across multiple scales and within multiple environments to achieve our mission. One such environment is the one that’s all around us – the city.

Through our work with organisations involved with transport, education, infrastructure, city making, and culture, we are helping to make cities better for people. It’s wonderful work that I am super proud to be a part of.

There are many people working in this area so it is always good to hear about the projects impacting people’s use of the city. Last night Emma and I attended a couple of events at the University of Sydney’s Festival of Urbanism to hear about such initiatives.

First was a book launch from Martin Tomitsch on designing interactive urban applications from the perspective of people. The book is titled ‘Making Cities Smarter‘ but looks beyond the usual technology-led aspects of the smart cities movements to a more human-centred perspective. In the book he talks about various projects that he and his students have done over the years, including one of my favourites which he spoke about at UX Australia a few years ago. This ‘Neighbourhood Scoreboards’ project experimented with what impact would be achieved through the public exposure of domestic energy use. The team installed chalkboards as feedback displays on terrace houses in a Sydney neighbourhood and manually updated the displays each day. Read more about that here.

After the launch was a powerful talk from Dr Nicole Kalms from Monash about the connections between the proliferation of pornography and the crisis of sexual violence perpetrated against women in public spaces. She has written a book exploring these topics (‘Hypersexual City‘) and lead a project you may have heard of titled ‘Free to Be‘ with the XYX Lab at Monash. In this project, women and girls have been invited to indicate on a map the places they have felt unsafe or have suffered gendered harassment or violence. It’s a pretty sobering but important project which highlights just how differently women navigate public space.

Following the talk there was a bit of discussion about how urban design professionals are often lacking the awareness and tools to view the city through the lens of others. This results in environments which preference certain groups over others. The work that Dr Kalm, the XYX Lab, and Dr Tomitsch are doing is helping to draw more links between the experience of a wider set of people and their experience of the city. We hope we can continue to contribute to this area so that cities can become places where everyone feels safe and welcome. If this is something you are interested in, please get in touch.

front over of book - Making Cities Smarter - with Sydney city in the background