Sharing child pickup duties, getting people to the bus stop and consolidating deliveries are some of the ideas emerging in the Resilient Melbourne Citymart Challenge
Traffic congestion and social isolation are two concepts that don’t immediately appear to be connected.
But in 2012, the Grattan Institute’s Social Cities report drew a direct line between inefficient urban transport and less time spent with friends and family. One estimate suggested every 10 minutes of commuting equates to 10% fewer social connections, while other research has found that more than 10% of working parents spend more time commuting to work than they spend with their children. It’s an issue that the city of Melbourne wants to get to grips with.
“Given congestion seems to be getting to be a greater scourge, more people are spending time in their vehicles, but by themselves, maybe listening to the radio. They’re not connecting to their communities and their families,” says Melbourne councillor Cathy Oke, chair of the environment portfolio.
“The city has two clear goals, not only around our transport strategy and around reduction of congestion, but we also have a social connection goal.”
And so the Resilient Melbourne Citymart Challenge was created. The brief: creative, feasible and impactful ideas to help to reduce transport congestion, and ideally also make the experience of travel more socially fulfilling.
There have been some interesting ideas so far. One of the entrants is taking advantage of social networks to combat the problem of congestion around schools and children’s events. Parachuute is a smartphone app developed by Maggie Scott and Mel Higgins to solve the problem that they as parents faced trying to be in two places at once – taking children to different schools, sports matches and parties – while also trying to fit in the demands of work and their own lives.
“The vision was about using technology to do probably what was done in the past; things like babysitting clubs, which were old-style models of communities helping each other,” says Scott.
Her previous role in strategy consulting for a health insurer got Scott thinking about parents struggling to shuttle multiple children to multiple events, and how this impacted their health and wellbeing.
The solution she and Higgins came up with was simple: leverage people’s existing social networks to enable the exchange of transportation favours via an app.
People either join Parachuute themselves and invite others, or get invited to join by another app user. Then they set up their trusted network of other parents within the app who they can send requests for or offers of transportation to specific events, like school or weekend sport.
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14 June 2017