Co-creator, Experience Designer
World Wildlife Fund Australia
The Future Walk Sydney
How do you get 100 Hackathon participants skilled up in global mega trends, whilst inspiring them to be creative? An audio tour of the future of course.
"Welcome to the Sydney 2040 walking tour. My name is Nia and I am a state of the art artificial assistant and I will be your guide".
In September 2017, Reece Proudfoot, the Innovation Strategist for WWF Australia, was organizing a future cities focused hackathon. The WWF Hackathon the previous year had been pretty successful with the winners, Energy Panda, going on to receive seed funding from Energy Lab for their startup which used gamification to help less privileged households reduce their energy consumption. This year the hackathon focused on Future Cities and how emerging technologies could help acheive the UN Sustainable Development Goals (check out this fantastic paper WWF put together discussing how disruptive technologies can be used to help the environment).
Reece came to me wanting to create a visioning experience that would both educate and inspire the hackathon participants. There was a lot of whiteboard scribbling and a lot of crazy ideas thrown into the air before we landed on the idea of creating an audio tour of the future.
But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Who knows what Sydney would look and feel like in 2040? And as the answer to that is no one, who would be willing to take a guess? It turns out twelve amazing experts Frank Zeichner, Andrew Tovey, Esther Bailey, Jacqueline Melvold, Pippa Bailey, Jess Miller, Andrea Beattie, Angie Abdilla, Mel Edwards, Ben Cirulis, Monica Richter and Nigel Reading who formed our Brains Trust. In a workshop held at the Energy Lab in Chippendale I ran our Brainstrust through a series of exercises to get them thinking about what a future utopia and dystopia would look like focusing on specific areas. At the end of the workshop we held a story jam – where each person told part of a story about a future dystopia, here are some excerpts:
In 2040, when I wake up, what I do is I don't move from my bed. I can download all of my experiences from the moment that I awake and move into work mode before even moving my body. But because I'm not moving at all, I'm also 100 kilos and I have some pretty unhealthy relationships with everybody around me.
So the pills I reached for before, that's my issued nutrition for the day. That's it. There's no real eating at all, food, or anything anymore, and this is just all my nutrients and everything I need to survive provided in one pill, which takes all the enjoyment out of it.
The other employer besides Amazon is the People's Republic of China because it's now fully broken cover and it's now China Incorporated as a sovereign conglomerate that's basically assimilated to the United Nations. In my fetal womb, like a sensory deprivation flotation tank that I'm sitting in, and through that chip that’s been implanted, I'm currently surfing the Interweb across the whole solar system and talking to my kids on Mars and getting the latest update of terraforming there, which is just about what keeps us going here because there's not too much left unfortunately back home on Gaia.
These were pretty interesting ideas, and combined with the more serious insights gave me anchor points for the narrative
The next step was to find locations for our walking tour. The award winning Central Building in Chippendale seemed to be a perfect starting point. Not only was it walking distance from the Hackathon’s location at UTS (University of Technology Sydney), but it is a visually arresting site with the green wall designed by botanist Patrick Blanc cascading down 117 m to the street. From here I chose 2 routes one that would be a utopian vision for Sydney and one that would be a Dystopia. Using the anchor provided by the Brainstrust I found locations that I could weave the story into. In the end a total of 14 unique stops for both the utopia and the dystopia and two combined stops that began and ended the tour. Once the stops and the basic narrative was established I set upon researching the elements of the narrative, trying to find examples of this utopian or dystopian vision happening somewhere in the world. This process was time consuming but fascinating and I had a lot of help from Reece and from the Brainstrust who sent me information and links to articles. Finally we had a script that was both engaging seemed fantastical yet was completely grounded in reality.
For the production of the walk I used Tour Buddy, an app that allows you to create audio tours quickly and easily using their online platform. I went to each of the locations to gather the correct GPS co-ordinates and at the same time took photos of each of the location to send to designer Andrew Suzuki who worked his magic on them turning them into images that reflected the world from 2040.
I ended up doing the voice over for the walk and the sound design Rami Fischler digitally altered it to sound like a virtual assistant, the sound mixer Mark Tanner then mixed in this altered voice and the music to create the track for each stop.
The Future Walk was launched on the evening of Nov 17 a few days before the Hackathon commenced. We invited the participants to either do the tour in their own time or to come to two separate organised walks. While the Tour Buddy app was a little bit buggy the tour was well received.
“Thanks for putting together such a thoughtful audio tour to get us inspired about sustainability!”
Eli Strategic Designer for Novum Industries (joint Hackathon winner)
“Really enjoyed the Tour Buddy guide on the future cities walk.”
Sandy Tsui Hackathon participant
"The Future Walk Sydney encouraged me to imagine the possibilities of the future of all the spaces that were explored. The short journey made me feel like I could very well be part of building Sydney’s sustainable future. Overall, it’s definitely worth your time, I highly recommend it!"
If you would like to explore the Future Cities Walk head to www.futurewalksydney.com