25 Nov

Urban Communication Foundation Award

Last week I was in Chicago at the National Communication Association conference. I never used to go to this conference, but over the past several years I’ve been attending a pre-conference seminar with this group called the Urban Communication Foundation. It’s an interdisciplinary group of folks who are concerned with the various aspects of communication that are created by or create the urban form. Because of this group, I’ve kind of adopted the NCA as an annual tradition. This year, I was privileged to receive an award for the Hub2 project. I got the “Research Incentive Award,” which carried a $1000 cash prize. It was given to me in recognition of the article Placeworlds (co-written by Gene Koo), and as starter funds for the next phase of the work. This is very encouraging news as we find ourselves in an interesting transition period with the project. The alpha phase is coming to an end. The workshop at Emerson College will culminate in a presentation to city officials on December 13th. We hope to use this event as a launching platform for the next phase – a couple of things are in the works, but nothing is definite at this point.

In any case, I want to extend my gratitude to the UCF folks and thank them for giving us a much needed charge as we seek to build momentum for this project.

02 Nov

CCTV MediaMap

cctvCCTV is a community media center in Cambridge, MA that is doing some fascinating work in the integration of web media to the mission of community television. My grad student, Colin Rhinesmith, is doing his master’s thesis on this topic and has done some exemplary research thus far on the implications of this integration. While Colin is exploring this topic in extensive detail through analyzing the culture of access centers, I want to take a moment to reflect on just one aspect of CCTV’s efforts – what they call the mediamap. This is basically a Google Map that is placemarked with local video, including everything from a cyclist’s perspective to a promotional video for a new coffee shop. The result of this mediamap is a collection of local video annotated with GPS coordinates. In this context, the video works in service to the map. So what you end up with is really a map that is annotated with video. The primary object of engagement is the map – the video, like place names or boundaries, becomes the data that enhances the map. Why does this matter? Well, it would seem that this particular model of community television uses ‘television’ to qualify community, as opposed to using community to qualify television. This is a rather distinct shift from previous models of ‘community television’, where localism was premised on the practice of production primarily.

Is Mediamap a push or a pull technology? In other words, does it push the notion of localism out to the globe, or does it pull the globe into the local. Based on what I said above, it is a pull technology. It pulls the map into the video, it pulls television into the community. Localism, I would argue, has long been premised on push technologies. Self-identification happened within defined boundaries and then, if blessed with a media infrastructure, communities could push that identity outward. Networked media has introduced opportunities to reverse that paradigm. Localism can now be a result of external influences, re-contextualized and reformatted to fit local needs. This is both an exciting prospect and a threat to local cohesiveness. If the ability to pull is that strong, then there is little incentive to produce meaning from the directly proximate. Meaning can be pulled in from elsewhere to define local life. Consider, Facebook’s neighborhood widget as an example.

So, what is the perfect balance between push and pull technologies for localism? I don’t know the answer, but I’m advocating here that we should start asking the question.