People, Places, Memories and Mobile Apps: Understanding the Potential of Augmented Reality in Public Participation and Community Development

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Abstract Summary
Samuel Mockbee once argued that the practice of community planning and design not only requires individual participation in the profession, but also requires active civic engagement. He stressed the importance of a deeper democratic purpose of inclusion in energizing one’s community. Many methods for public participation have been introduced in urban planning and its allied fields such as architecture and urban design. This type of community-based practices has its root in the field of participatory design, which is a response to the demand to have voices heard and ideas taken from those who are involved in the design process. It sees community members as citizen designers who play an active role in shaping the formulation of both the design process and its ultimate results. One of the issues facing this type of participatory design has to do with the challenge of making the process comprehensible, relevant, and interesting to the potential participants in order for them to willingly participate in the process. Augmented Reality apps on personal mobile devices, such as smart phones or tablets, may offer some clues. Immersive visualization technologies, such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (AR), are powerful tools to facilitate participatory approaches in community design. As a visualization apparatus, AR goes beyond the dichotomy of passive methods of engagement and their one-way communications with the public. AR offers an interactive method to expand both non-computerized and computerized visualization techniques in community design. Moreover, AR increases public engagement by providing comprehensible information to citizens and assisting them to express their preferences in an intuitive way. One important aspect of AR is this fun factor in the form of mobile games. No other AR game has drawn more players and created this world-wide phenomenon than Niantic’s Pokémon-Go has in the past years. One unique fact about this Pokémon-Go fever is its ability to bring people together into public spaces. Many organizations have used Pokémon-Go in community events. In collaboration with Knight Foundation and Niantic in May 2017, OpenStreets704, a non-profit organization in Charlotte, organized one event temporarily closing streets to automobile traffic to allow residents to use them for walking, bicycling and meeting their neighbors. Niantic arranged special in-game elements for Pokémon-Go and helped draw people to interesting places along the route of the event. Similar events have taken places in other cities around the world. This paper discusses three projects conducted by a partnership among four organizations in Charlotte to design three AR mobile apps. These apps along with Pokémon-Go support a series of community events developed and organized by this partnership. These projects are as the following: Neighborhood History Walk App utilizes AR to guide users to visit selected locations in Charlotte’s streets. Users see historical photographs of street scenes through this AR app at these locations. Neighborhood Pop-up Story-telling Exhibit, imagined as an urban autobiography, uses AR to peel back the layers of time to show the city in new ways through different perspectives. The collection of stories as images serves as the cornerstone of this exhibit. Neighborhood Quality of Life Dash Board App provides an easy access for people to look for data related to social, economic, environmental and safety conditions in Charlotte. Users can go in streets to explore the data for the immediate area surrounding the exact location where the app is activated. The underlying principle behind these apps and community events is that innovative digital tools for information-sharing and broad-based pubic engagement can help build inclusive, healthy, and livable communities.
Abstract ID :
ISO257
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Associate Professor
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University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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