Social media and neighborhood voice on the web

I had a pretty great (and very, very educational) time at Drupal Camp Chicago this past weekend.  I was particularly interested to attend Bec White’s BoF on using Drupal’s Geo data capabilities to implement the MoveSmart website.    MoveSmart provides a neighborhood finder that attempts to help people discover neighborhoods that would otherwise be part of “racial blind spots“.  It’s pretty remarkable that they were able to import, geocode, and weigh more than six different data sets about Chicago neighborhoods to help people discover neighborhoods in Chicago.

One future idea for the site that was mentioned is to include social information showing neighborhood assets as part of the finder results.  Bec noted that this is problematic because social content on the web is so segregated.  She said (I’m paraphrasing), “I live in Humbolt Park and on Everyblock there is a clear line where the restaurant reviews stop and the crime reports start”.

There is a huge disparity between how (or if) different neighborhood residents use their neighborhood voice on the web.  For those who live in well resourced neighborhoods, we take a positive representation of our neighborhood for granted.  Even if interacting on sites like Yelp or posting and geotagging photos of our ‘hood in Flickr seems like a waste of time, we can be sure that someone is creating this content.  For less resourced neighborhoods, creating social media about the neighborhood might also seem like a low priority, but it means that there are far fewer positive or first-person representations of the neighborhood.  Not only does this seem to increase the likelyhood of negative outside perception of the neighborhood, but it also makes discovery of the neighborhood and its assets harder.

Do neighborhood assets (schools, churches, community groups, family) have content that they could put on the web through social media sites?  I’m guessing that they do.  I’m going to assume that taking snapshots is a fairly universal practice.  If this assumption is correct, what barriers exist to these things being shared through social media?  Is it because of lack of time, technological familiarity, computer, broadband, or mobile access?  Or, is it that they are shared, but not through social network platforms that offers easy (or broadly implemented) programatic retrieval of geographically associated data (e.g. MySpace)?

View OurMap of Environmental Justice in a larger map

One possible model for creating more geographically associated neighborhood social media would be to work with community groups to build maps such as Little Village Environmental Justice Organization’s Our Map of Environmental Justice.  While this map, developed by youth in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood largely shows environmental and social hazards (coal burning power plants, gang territory divisions), it also shows some community assets (schools, parks).    Using a platform like Google MyMaps seems like an easy and fun way for people to represent their neighborhood on the web.  Linking to an image in a map seems like it is more conceptually intuitive than geotagging an image uploaded to Flickr.  It looks like you can get GeoRSS out of Google MyMaps and this could be parsed into a database and made available to others through an API.

I think that youth in a neighborhood are probably quicker to adopt using social media than older adults. However, I think that youth media efforts often try to get youth to participate under a centralized project. It’s possible that, posting media on accessible platforms, a free-form, decentralized approach could offer a greater benefit. The project could focus on aggregating the social media rather than trying to guide youth to post certain media, in a certain place, in a certain way.

While those looking to discover neighborhoods across racial blind spots would certainly benefit from a broader set of geographically discoverable neighborhood social media, it is ultimately up to individual neighborhoods to decide if they benefit from voicing neighborhood identity and experience on the web.

push: Psychogeography

I heard an interview with the author on Living on Earth on NPR and it sounded interesting, and linking reading the Power of Maps and other things I’ve been thinking about when traveling.

From the interview:

GELLERMAN: It’s interesting on airplanes now, on the backs of the seat in front of you, you can see, you know, a map and you see yourself traveling virtually over this place. But, for all intents and purposes, you’re just in this hermetically sealed airplane.

SELF: Yes, and I think it’s a virtuality. I mean, everything about modern flight, which I’ve expatiated on elsewhere in that book, is in fact designed to make the experience boring and dull, it’s designed to virtualize it within a corporate environment. You know, there’s no reason why they couldn’t put much bigger windows in planes. There’s no reason why the stewards and stewardesses shouldn’t wear, you know Ride of the Valkyrie helmets and the captain shouldn’t shout over the P.A., ‘wheee!’ as you take off. You know, they don’t want you to be excited. They don’t want you to know where you are. And in a sense, nobody really wants to know where you are or wants you to know where you are. You know, people who travel for business especially, may go to many different cities in a year, and apart from a tiny little grid of streets around their hotel, they’ll have no real sense of orientation.

GELLERMAN: This line jumped at me, actually. I was surprised to read it. You write that ‘the place chooses you. It’s not so much that you choose a place.’

SELF: I’m not sure whether I mean that literally. But what I think I do mean is that – again, we live in a culture where place is sold to you. We’re kind of accessorized by place. People say ‘oh, I went to x,’ or ‘I went to y,’ or ‘the beaches are fabulous at z,’ or ‘they’ve got fantastic ethnic jewelry in p,’ and ‘why don’t you go to m?’ You know, they’re products. Places are products and travel magazines and travel journalism is by and large a catalog of these products that’s sold to us. And people acquire place as they might acquire any other object in that way, you know, their memory, their digital cameras, you know, they’re loaded up with these vignettes of place just as any collector might show you their Sevre pottery or their beer labels or whatever it is they collect. And I think that, you know, in order to have a profound relationship with place, again coming back to this idea of kind of knowing where you are, you have to look for those places that choose you in that way and say, ‘you know, you’re not going to be here for a day or so or a couple of days, you’re going to have an evolving, perhaps a lifetime relationship with me. I’m a place that you want to know about.’ And I think, you know, for all of us who, who think about, about the world, and who think about our place in it, that that’s true. That has a resonance. And when I look back over my own life, I mean – you know, a couple of the places that I’ve come to think of as kind of ‘my places’ over the years, I didn’t even like them when I went there. It wasn’t about liking. It wasn’t necessarily about having a good time. There was something more profound going on there.

Link to LOE interview.


  On tour, I got to catch up with some reading and finished The Power of Maps, which Chiara gave me for my birthday.  One of the things that was most compelling about the book was a brief overview of movements trying to redefine the role of geography and cartography in society, aknowledging the knowledge of any person and their ability to express that knowledge through maps.  One project was the Society for Human Exploration, founded by a geographer named William Bunge  and their mapping of Detroit, The Detroit Geographic Expedition I.  I was able to find a little more about this in an article titled The Academy in Activism and Activism in the Academy: Collaborative Research Methodologies and Radical Geography.

From that article:

Bunge in his description of the early years of this experiment reclaims the use of the words ‘expedition’ and ‘exploration’ so tied to the geographical tradition but redefines their use (Bunge in Peet 1979; p. 31-35). While mentioning the usefulness of the expedition/exploration tradition for those that undertook them he goes on to establish the ideas behind a new exploration. Bunge defines this ‘new’ type of expedition as a “human” one: it is “a democratic, as opposed to an elitist expedition.” “[H]uman explorations are ‘contributive,’ (resource contributing instead of resource taking)…Priorities are totally reversed,” (Bunge in Peet 1979; p. 35). The traditional idea of the ‘field’ and the geographer’s relationship to those who lived there also changes dramatically and here one can also see some more of the organizational philosophy behind the D.G.E.I. experiment:
“Local people are to be incorporated as students and as professors. They are not to be further exploited. Their point of view is given first place. It is democratic also in that if planning work results, and that is one of the main purposes of the Expedition, then the planners, the geographers, are expected to live in the mess that they create. (Bunge in Peet 1979; p. 35)