Our game accepted into IndieCade!

IndieCade--SealSo exciting: our new game Sankofa Says will launch on October 9th at IndieCade — the international festival of independent games! We are honored to be an official selection in the big games category.

Join us — our game is free to play!  Oct 9 & 10 in Culver City.  For details, see our project page on Sankofa Says.

What other “big games” will be there?  Below is a poster, or check out the big games category:

Big Games Poster

A “People St Plaza” coming in Leimert Park

From the streets of Leimert Park, change is coming! Today the City of LA approved a project to transform a Leimert street segment, closing it to car traffic, and opening it up to pedestrians, art and games. That’s right – the Transportation Committee approved 43rd Place between Leimert Boulevard and Degnan Boulevard to become one of the first People St Plazas in Los Angeles!


This is the culmination of a community collaboration led by members of the Leimert Park Village 2020 Vision Initiative, KAOS Network, the Institute for Maximum Human Potential, USC Annenberg’s Innovation Lab, and the students from a “Tactical Media” class at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Beginning in 2013 we conducted community meetings and visioning workshops, built prototypes that re-imagined payphones, park benches, advertising displays, newspaper boxes, and planters. In March of 2014 we closed the street for a weekend, installed a “Pop-up Plaza” and invited the community to play. People came, liked what they saw, signed petitions, and gave us more ideas.

This People St Plaza will be one of three to be installed this year by the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation under its new People St program (the other two will be in Pacoima and North Hollywood). We are told things will move fast and the Plaza will be in place before the end of the year. Maybe in time for SouthLA’s CicLAvia on December 7? That would be great.

(Listen to the Transportation Committee meeting discussion of the “People St” projects on 06/25/14 – this item starts at 00:03:30)


What are People St Plazas? The vision according to the city is:

A People St Plaza creates accessible public open space by closing a portion of street to vehicular traffic. Paint or other treatments are applied to the street surface, while large planters and other elements define the Plaza perimeter. The Community Partner maintains and operates the Plaza, providing movable tables and chairs, public programs, and ongoing neighborhood outreach.

Providing expanded public spaces can increase safety for people who walk, bike, and take transit. It also encourages increased levels of walking and bicycling, while supporting economic vitality. New local gathering spaces can foster a greater sense of community and social cohesion. Plazas can also become centerpieces of neighborhoods, providing venues for events and celebrations. As more pedestrians come to spend time in neighborhoods, the increased activity may support the vibrancy of local businesses.


Adventures of a Travelling Payphone

The payphones are off to see the world! Last week a PiPhone took an epic West Coast road trip to ICA in Seattle. This week, we took an intact original on a cross country flight to Boston

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loading up in the PhD office. Payphone is in the backpack, in bubble wrap and with some newspaper stuffed inside.


Catching the expo line


..and the red line


..and the flyaway


Just under the 70lbs weight limit! The phone is 48; our camping gear is the rest. No problems at check-in, even though I tried to warn them about the large metal box. We put a sticker on it that said ‘I am a payphone’ just in case.


Arriving in Boston


..and, unpacked. The bag was opened and the bubble wrap unwrapped at the top, but that was it. The phone seems to have handled the journey with ease. We haven’t plugged it in yet because we lack one rather fundamental piece of technology – a phone line – but watch this space, with a raspberry pi inside, it might just give you a call!

History of the PiPhone Kit (Part I)

>> For the latest on our PiPhone, see the PiPhone project page.

The Leimert Phone Company began with a simple question: “how can we use payphones to act as portals for local culture?” An early prototype considered how people might come to a local payphone to download local music in digital formats. This encouraged people to come visit a neighborhood to understand its music.

The advent of digital media all too often paves over local culture because people see technology as a one-size-fits-all solution. By comparison, we wanted to do urban planning within technology design. We needed a way to work with technology that provided a high degree of flexibility for civic hackers and community groups. We wanted a platform for culture.

payphone kit3

One of the interesting outcomes of the last year is a small PC board kit that costs $10, an early version of which is shown above. We call a payphone with a Raspberry Pi in it a “PiPhone.” It looks the same from the outside, but a PiPhone can do anything that a small internet server can, such as hosting web pages, taking pictures of visitors, and even delivering digital music locally as the community envisioned.

The kit helps answer questions such as: how can we use the knowledge we’ve obtained to make it easier to do this type of community design in the future? How might a kit ease the route from prototyping to broader implementation?

pi plus phone

We used a Raspberry Pi computer because it was low-cost ($25-35) and had the full features of a Linux server. This presented a challenge because these devices don’t naturally talk with one another. One is old and has an analog 25-pin plug that looks like an old printer cable, the other a new devices with a set of digital inputs and outputs that connects through a 26-pin ribbon cable. Figuring out how to connect these very different devices took some teamwork. To start with, we downloaded a lot of old documents, and did a hackathon to tinker with the insides and reverse engineer the hardware.



payphone kit1

Eventually we used breadboard – a way to create easily changeable test circuits – to get the Raspberry Pi to detect keypad entry and coin drops on the payphone.


The breadboard version evolved into a proto-board version where all the traces have been soldered to different components. This connected the two different technologies together and was more durable. But breadboard circuits still took a long time to assemble and test… and the traces had a tendency to flex and break!

payphone kit3

For a little over $100 we had 22 PC boards made up from the same circuit. While we are still working out the kinks in the design, these were even better because anybody who knew how to solder could assemble and test them in around 15 minutes. The days of flying wires flexing and breaking were over!




The PC board versions can be easily installed in a plastic project box with a Raspberry Pi then installed in a payphone. Now making prototypes a reality involves writing a few lines of software. The kit solves serious problems for scaling up, and lets us do community-centered design events involving payphones in a more widespread way.

How would you use a PiPhone? Do you have a particular payphone you want to convert? Let us know by tweeting at us on Twitter



Renting phonebooths for movies and public space theater

IMG_9204Can the theater of public space learn from Hollywood rentals? Do we need props for neighborhood planning?

Two weeks ago, we discovered that for a mere $50 you can rent a phonebooth. Los Angeles is a great place for such things, and Burbank hosts a great set of rental shops for movies. We spotted the phone at right in a vintage shop that primarily supports film shoots. The proprietor told us that he would love to rent the phone to anyone who would like to pay. Prices are somewhat negotiable. He keeps the phone on wheels (like our Sankofa Red prototype!) in order to quickly move into position on set. For purchase, the booth might be all yours for perhaps $400, or so we were told. (Definitely more than we paid for ours from eBay.) Below is the rental company’s business card.

If public space requires physical negotiation, preferably face-to-face, then rentals like this allow for a kind of rapid prototyping.



Future of the World Stage (short video)

To design from the culture up, we must listen. How do the past and future meet? For open innovation, we make our interviews public to give everyone access to the issues we are working to address.

Here is a short video on the emerging debate about the neighborhood’s future — focusing on the historic World Stage.

Leimert Park: The Future of the World Stage from Karl Baumann on Vimeo.

Fall design teaser

Here is a quick preview of some art and construction of a design we are working on this fall:


(Click to zoom. Image courtesy of Rudy Rude.)

Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Phones…

Intrepid amateur payphone archeologist extraordinaire Lana Swartz took a meticulous inventory of the bounty we discovered in the payphones the Leimert Phone Company bought earlier this year. She recounts her findings in “Transactions: a payments archive”. Read her story to discover how many coins were harvested, what else we found, and why were all these things left inside these phones in the first place.

Video: Our Idea Travels to Detroit

We just released a video about our summer trip to Detroit. The idea was to start planting some seeds nationwide, in part through our workshop at the Allied Media Conference. Check it out:

Thanks to Leila and Karl for making the video!

Can other communities benefit from redesign payphones? The word seems to be yes — and we are eager to explore. More to come soon, as we plan some next steps for fall.

Join us for National Day of Civic Hacking in Leimert

civic-hacking-leimert-thumbIn celebration of President Obama’s National Day of Civic Hacking on June 2nd, here in Leimert Park we are hosting “We Can Fix It — an Urban Tech Block Party.”

For details, see our description from the national website:

In celebration of the National Day of Civic Hacking we will be highlighting the essence of Leimert Park’s creative fortitude and striving to enhance Leimert Park’s Digital Footprint as a catalytic Cultural Center for the preservation of the arts within our cultural Diaspora.

The goal for the weekend is to coalesce the urban community around the benefits and opportunities that the new Dot.com economy brings to our community. The Urban Tech Block Party will use free, publicly-released data, code and technology to solve challenges relevant to our neighborhood and city; to create awareness of the Leimert Vision Network, the Cultural Data Project, and other business development and social network sites in our community.

(Continues on main site…)