Article Published on “Neighborhood Planning of Technology”

JoCI-logo-bLast week our first journal article was published! The article was peer-reviewed as part of a special issue on urban planning in the Journal of Community Informatics.

payphone-in-action2Our subject was the “Neighborhood Planning of Technology: Physical Meets Digital City from the Bottom-Up with Aging Payphones.”

In the paper, we describe the Leimert Phone Company as a case study of how the embedding of technology is a long-term effort that requires social scaffolding, beyond short-term hackathons and planning meetings.

For a taste of the paper, here is our abstract:

What does it mean to “plan” a technology? Designs with a footprint in public space are important hybrids, including wired bus stops and rebuilt payphones. Our goal is to shift from designing technology for a neighborhood by planning technology as part of the neighborhood. Aging phone booths were purchased in LA’s historic Leimert Park. For six months, residents joined with technologists to tackle a planning issue (gentrification). We developed a method of “deep engagement” to sustain grassroots planning in socio-technical systems, especially around the digital divide. The method resists “solving” the payphone problem, and instead theorizes engagement as four social scaffolds to bring technology literacy into the planning process.

Our findings point to the value of social scaffolding that does the following:

  1. Sustain a Participatory Culture. Support a process that is playful and insistently open, feeding off the neighborhood’s cultural practices. Specifically, we echo the criteria outlined for participatory culture by Jenkins et al. (2007), including low barriers to participation and ensuring that all contributions are appropriately valued.
  2. Deepen a Neighborhood Story. The neighborhood identity has implications for economic development and civic engagement. Rather than presume to invent the grand narrative or avoid it, find a way to retell it. Begin by identifying the cultural assets that make the neighborhood distinct. Especially for historically marginalized neighborhoods, telling the story of “who we are” gives power and roles for local voices that lack elite technology skills.
  3. Mix Technologies of Old and New. Frame the desired product as larger than any single technology, yet cheaper and more obvious than we might expect. For example, consider the role of “paper as mobile media.” Low-tech and low-cost shifts the conversation to planning the social side of socio-technical systems, and helps to build technology skills and confidence in design participants.
  4. Rotate Institutions. A central practice of planning is to look beyond the most immediate users to consider all stakeholder groups, including non-users. Power relations between groups are at the heart of sustainability and equity concerns. To resist calcifying at one power hub, deliberately rotate the physical site of design, and recruit a rotating cast of institutional figures.

Make sure to scroll through the full article to catch our pictures of the team in action! Unlike many journals, this one is proudly free and open-access.

Co-authors were Benjamin Stokes, François Bar, Karl Baumann, and Ben Caldwell — but the article mentions the amazing work of many people in our team.

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