*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.
Neighborhood listservs and neighborhood social networking websites have been described as helping to create social capital, or relationships between people in a neighborhood who use the platforms. Social capital creation has therefore been a key focus of what social networking platforms have to offer at a local level. But what if we were to shift the conversation and design objective away from creating social capital/building social networks towards creating/framing social interaction? What might we see in terms of benefits for supporting community building? To ask this questions I turn to the concept of social infrastructure.
Websites like Airbnb, taskrabbit, and Neighborgoods are typically featured in conversations about the peer-to-peer economy, collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy. The platforms are hailed for their role in boosting local economic activity by empowering people to leverage what they have (goods or skills) to sell, barter, or share with people doing business in their locale. Such platforms have also found their way into academic research, with most attention being paid to their design features that infuse trust into transaction between strangers. Despite all this attention in both popular and academic circles, there is one area of research where these platforms, or what I call peer-to-peer living sites, have not been discussed and in my opinion, deserve an introduction.
After firing up my browser on the free wifi at a Starbucks coffee shop, I was brought to the Starbucks Digital Network Home page. I assumed that this was just Starbucks foray into digital content aggregation and advertising however my assumption that their intentions where narrowly set on corporate profiteering were quickly changed when I noticed the a link titled “My Neighborhood.”
In Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s recent book, “Commonwealth” the authors focus on the idea of the city as a location where the disenfranchised are able to organize and take what they have to contend their marginalized position. In other words, the authors look at the common resources available to people and how, when individuals come together,they can leverage their “common wealth” to overcome obstacles.