CampusNeighbor Pilot Wraps-Up!

10155665_781876565155825_1987878168_nAfter nearly four years of trying to turn this idea into a reality, the pilot of CampusNeighbor finally came to a close on April 4th at 601 Tully: Center for Engaged Art and Practice (see press here and here). CampusNeighbor.org is a website designed to facilitate barters between students and residents in college communities. The goal is to bridge the traditional town and gown divide by encouraging bartering, a form of economic activity that can have a long term impact of creating social capital.

The website acts as a match maker between students and residents by matching skills with needs. The pilot ran from January 2014 to April, with the final event at 601 Tully acting as an opportunity for people who had been matched up on the site or were looking to be matched up to barter with each other.

In the four years that it took to get this project off the ground, CampusNeighbor went through a number of iterations, but it was the push back and input from a number of amazing people that helped take this project from an idea to a reality.

Born out of an idea to address the reality that cities that harbor a negative self esteem tend to have a low level of GDP, I decided to address one condition that often upsets residents: The town and gown divide. Using bartering as a model for building social capital was well received by many people, but the idea of putting students in touch with residents did not sit well with the risk averse. Despite the growing trend of the sharing economy which is built on connecting strangers, no matter of convincing could persuade the gatekeepers to my target constituency that this could be pulled off without a major insurance policy. Running on a tight budget, I could not afford the insurance quote which was double what I had paid to develop the website. With an obstacle that seemed as though it would crush any chance of CampusNeighbor being a reality, I went back to the drawing board. How could I pull this off without a million dollar liability policy?

After thinking over the concerns that had been presented to me, I began to pare down what CampusNeighbor was attempting to offer. First, I had to cut out opportunities for barters where any physical labor might be performed on private property. For example, shoveling snow or mowing the lawn. Second, I had to eliminate any opportunity for people to meet in a private setting. In other words, I had to ensure that people could conduct barters that could take place in public places. With these two conditions in mind, I changed CampusNeighbor to support arts themed barters that could all be conducted at sanctioned locations.

With these changes in place, CampusNeighbor came to life. I approached 601 Tully about having a barter day where people matched up through the website could perform their barters at the center. 601 Tully, inspired by the idea, curated an exhibition with other artists focused on the idea of producing authentic social exchanges. Artist and architect Anda French of French2D created an installation for the exhibit that invited people to sign up for CampusNeighbor and record their voice, indicating what skills they have or what skills they wanted to learn. The installation would then play back all the recordings of skills and needs, representing a trace of the interactions with the installations as well as a reflection of the skills and needs of the surrounding community.

Barter Day at 601 Tully

Image Credit: Steve Sartori

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As you can see in the above pictures, the installation got a lot of attention while it was up during the exhibit and the skills and needs of the Syracuse community where put in the spotlight through a twitter campaign that featured the data captured through people’s interaction with the installation.

With the conclusion of the pilot, the groundwork has been laid for a model of community interaction and that has a future here in Syracuse and in other locations.

Barter Day at 601 Tully

Gabriel Mugar and Anda French Image Credit: Steve Sartori

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