Notes from Let's hack bangalore hackathon

Bharat Kalluri / 2023-09-10

Let's hack bangalore is a two day hackathon conducted by the folks over at Obvious focusing on fixing bangalore's most pressing problems using design and technology. Ran into a tweet posted by Obvious recently where they mentioned they are bringing together policy makers, designers, entrepreneurs and developers for solving public issues and I was immediately interested.

Series of events

A quick gist of what happened during the hackathon

Day one

Landed at 9AM in the office, had introductions with the participants and the organizers. The teams were pre-decided. Soon after we arrived, teams had to pick a chit to select a topic. We were a team of five and we got: "lack of public spaces".

We had a around half an hour with an expert of the field, she was the founder of Pacta and was into research and policy making around public spaces. She explained about the nature of the problem and the context, this session was what drove me personally to be invested in the problem. Any public policy matter is complex where a lot of incentives need to be aligned for it to succeed. She pointed us to a lot of research and resources we can refer including an interesting book called "Where have all our Gunda Thopes gone" which explores how the public spaces are a memory of heritage and how over time these are being destroyed.

The problem statement was of course massive. So we decided to focus on parks and the communities built around them. The first day was almost gone into discussions and figuring out details and scoping the problem statement down. After looking at data, we found that its not really the "lack" which is the problem. But more of the "lack of quality" in parks. It all came down to asking "cubbon has a lot of communities (like cubbon reads, cubbon comics, skating clubs etc.. ) which helps it be vibrant and popular, but why don't we have more of this in parks around us?"

Day two

The solution proposed was around

  1. getting a database up or enriching the already existing databases of parks with data around the park including regulations, timings etc..
  2. incentivize-ize and kick starting events which can be held by organizers (for example: running clubs, silent reading clubs, picnics etc..)
  3. explore monetization strategies with the administrators of the park either with revenue sharing or donations to maintain the parks

Day two mostly went into prototyping and designing the solution. The two designers of our team did the hard work of making prototypes while myself and one other teammate worked on the presentation, data and story telling. Finally at 4 we gave the presentation. All the presentations given towards the end of the event were top notch.

We were runner-ups! All in all it was a great experience and got to interact with a lot of really cool folks.

Research & exploration of public spaces of Bangalore

When I was in Kolad at a Zostel, a friend who works at an NGO and I were talking about cities we have been in and she summarized bangalore as "A place for rich people who drink". She felt it had no place for her and it lacks good and engaging public spaces. That really struck a chord with me and I've been thinking about that ever since, it was a beautiful co-incidence that I stumbled upon the same problem at the hackathon too.

Zooming back a bit, is there really a lack of public spaces? or is it a lack of awareness of public spaces. Do people think of public spaces & visit them or do people attend activities which happen to be at public spaces & visit them?

here are some notes from the hackathon

  • apparently parks were built around "Raja kaluve" which unfortunately have now converted as drainages, which is one of the main causes behind the stink in parks. The expert also elaborated on the sensitive politics or mis-alignment of incentives around public space management.
  • the urban development plan usually has a space pre-decided for public spaces according to policy. so technically speaking, the public spaces do exist.
  • there happen to be a lot of weird regulations around parks. some parks allow pets where as some parks don't. The timings of the parks sometimes do not add up or make sense. the timings are also not strictly followed etc..
  • it would be interesting to track green cover in the park and the trends over time
  • it would be interesting to scrape reviews of all the parks in bangalore and tag them into sanitation, tree maintenance etc.. and see which problem is the most re-occurring
  • some data points which are needed for every single park in the city I think area
    • area?
    • is there a jogging track?
    • is there parking?
    • is there biking track?
    • is there exercise equipment?
    • is it pet friendly?
    • are cameras allowed?
    • wheel chair accessibility?
    • entry fee?
    • parking scene?
    • what is a good public space? (quantify & rate)
    • maintenance data, schedule, accountability
    • what are all the points of heritage or history related to the public space?
    • studies around tree cover
    • what can I do in a park? What are the regulations (both implicit and explicit) around the public space?
    • who runs the park?
    • what is the accessibility of parks (in terms of public transit etc..)
  • one idea we can borrow from goa is around pamphlets of things to do around an area, imagine a third wave at HSR having pamphlets stating what are the public spaces which can be explored in HSR. Although this sounds great, who finances this is an open question. I think goa tourism sponsors the pamphlets in goa, I'll need to verify that.
  • data around parks in bangalore is what really blew my mind, bangalore has > 1200 parks (original data source, same data in google sheets)
  • 21% inaccessible, only 56% have adequate lightning. one ten essential parameters, 470 out of 1115 scored less than five (source). clearly maintenance was a problem to be solved.

Next steps would be to talk to both organizers of events at parks like cubbon and the security / administration of parks to understand both sides. And then see how we can enable to make effective use of parks for what they are, culture hubs.

All in all, one of the best hackathon's I've ever been a part of, thanks a lot to Obvious for hosting it and getting the right set of people together!

Hand crafted by Bharat Kalluri