*The following post is based off notes from a talk I gave at a panel on civic art and design at the 2nd Annual Boston Civic Media Consortium conference on Design, Technology, and Social Impact on June 10th, 2016 at Microsoft Research New England.
CampusNeighbor was designed to reimagine the relationships between between students and residents living around the campus of Syracuse University. The motivation to do this came about In 2010 when I read a Gallup poll showing that peoples love and passion for their community may be a strong predictor of local economic activity. This got me thinking about a university town like Syracuse, where I was living at the time, where the classic divide between students and long term residents was evident. As I learned from my conversations, residents felt a disconnect from a large portion of the population in their community and students felt no connection to spaces and people off campus. With the economic urgency outlined by the Gallup poll in mind, I wondered how we might reimagine the relationship between two groups of people in such a way that there could be more opportunities for positive and productive intersections of daily life.
Two concepts and practices that were on my radar as possible approaches to reimagining the intersection of students and residents were asset based community development and bartering. ABCD is a model of community organizing where the goal is to increase the visibility of local resources and skills through an ongoing practice of taking inventory of capacities and material resources of local organizations and people. By highlighting assets of a community and leveraging them in times of needs, this model promotes a sense of pride in the community. Bartering is an exchange that, instead of relying on currency, relies on the cultivation of trust and expectations to mediate the transaction. Because of the reliance on interpersonal communication and trust, bartering is a great way to build social capital at a local level. These two concepts lead to the creation of CampusNeighbor a physical and digital installation that I piloted in Syracuse from January to April of 2014.
The digital manifestation of CampusNeighbor was as a social media platform where people created profiles, input skills and needs, and the platform then matched skills and needs across students and resident accounts and helped guide users through determining the terms of their barter. A set of predefined categories for skills and needs focused on barters around the themes of arts, culture, crafts, education, technology and food. The physical manifestation was a tactile and aural installation, designed as a collaboration with Anda French of French2Design. The installation lived at the 601 Tully center for engaged art and research and was part of an art exhibit titled “Getting to know you: artists explore authentic connections in the digital age.”
The installation allowed people to record their voices, indicating their skills and need, and their voices would then play back through the installation skills input into the digital platform where spoken and recorded into the system, uploaded to the physical installations for playback.
The life of the physical and digital installation culminated in barter day, where people who had been matched through the platform would conduct the actual barter at the community center. Drawing on the data from the platform, a twitter and Facebook campaign celebrated the skills and needs that students and residents selected in their accounts.
Some takeaways from the pilot were that the installation and online platform showed potential as a social object, acting as catalyst for placemaking and as a reflection of place. The location of the installation at the community arts center helped contribute to the production of place, creating the conditions that encouraged encounters from across separate groups in the community. The final event also served as a way to create initial encounters for barters that would take place in the future.Reflection of an emergent place for new intersections of students and residents was performed by the way in which the physical installation played back the voices of residents and students, representing traces of actual and possible intersections across the physical and digital space. Reflections of place were also performed by the twitter and Facebook campaign celebrating the different skills and needs that people had chosen in their accounts. These messages were met with retweets and shares through local individual and organizational accounts, extending a positive reflection of latent social and economic activity throughout the community. Finally, the installation offered a novel approach to ABCD inventorying, where the creation of accounts on the digital platform produced a crowdsourced ABCD inventory, inverting the traditional top down approach, while also provided conditions that support the activation of community assets.