Neighborhood Labs: Open-Sourced Community Problem-Solving Neighborhood Labs: Open-Sourced Community Problem-Solving

Neighborhood Labs: Open-Sourced Community Problem-Solving

by Florian Sametinger

April 8, 2013
We had to ask ourselves how we, as designers researchers, could help enable these inhabitants to discuss and tackle their shared problems, to make them public and create possibilities for collective action—which, in our hypothesis, ultimately may lead to a strengthened social structure in the neighborhood.
Considering the demographic structure of the area, we also have to ask ourselves the question of how to provide access to a communication infrastructure not only for digital natives, but also for citizens who have never touched a laptop or mobile phone before: our contribution would have to be an open-source system and allow digital but also analog access, incorporate existing means of communication, but also use new technologies to adapt old ones, and it should make adaption and experimentation by citizens possible.
In order to get some basic elements of the system going, we are working on designing several access points for this system: a web-platform where all the threads of information will converge and a mobile app which can provide contextual information about local problems, small interventions that bridge the gap between analog and digital (digital postbox, sensor-equipped poster board or a mobile polling booth), as well as locals that act as agents in this socio-material infrastructure.
The solutions are being built to help inhabitants to connect and interact through making problems visible, discussable and thus public. As an example, an individual who feels a strong discontent about the rundown state of the public playgrounds in the neighborhood can post this viewpoint on the website, from which gets spread to other media, e.g. a “hybrid” posterboard that is equipped with RFID technology. This then would display this opinion and provide participating inhabitants with the opportunity to communicate interest and to be both contributing as well as updated on its progress.  
Followers of the idea can thus gather virtually and personally around the “playground issue” and enrich it with information (Who owns them?) and discursive viewpoints (Who needs them?). As the support and publicity for the issue grows, so does the ability for inhabitants to act on it. Some of these elements and parts of the process are already working, some are in a phase of early prototyping and others are still purely conceptual. Along with the residents of Fisher Island we will iteratively adapt the system’s elements, design new ones and slowly work towards a communal, collaborative solution which helps to change the neighborhood for the better.

First photo courtesy of Neighborhood Labs; second photo via Flickr (cc) user Mark B. Tomlinson
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Neighborhood Labs: Open-Sourced Community Problem-Solving