520.4 Digital media and community planning in US cities

Friday, August 3, 2012: 11:21 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Katherine FOO , Graduate School of Geography, Clark University, Worcester, MA
In 2006 the MacArthur Foundation launched a $50 million digital media and learning initiative, which has produced funds for a variety of research, practice, and capacity-building projects in the US. These projects have predominantly focused on education and learning efforts, although they have spread to community planning projects in the past few years. From Boston to Los Angeles, researchers and practitioners have begun to employ a range of digital media in expanding the scope of public engagement in planning efforts.

The emergence of digital media as a community planning strategy reflects a broader shift in the way urban spaces are conceived. The image of the centralized, modernist city run by bureaucrats has given way to a decentered, networked space populated by public, private, and civil society agents. Knowledge is increasingly understood as cooperatively produced by experts and lay people, as the value of historical contingency, place, and context becomes increasingly recognized. Various forms of digital media reflect and enable this cultural transition, as new technologies broaden the scope and methods for public engagement in urban planning projects. The putative existence of new methodologies does not, however, guarantee a qualitative difference in the performance of urban planning projects. Therefore the question remains: to what extent may digital media deliver emancipatory potential for twenty-first century community planning?

This paper reviews cases in a number of U.S. cities to examine the potential and the potential pitfalls of using digital media in community planning projects. Digital media considered here include immersive 3D models, social network media, participatory mapping, smartphone, and cheap cellphone-based engagement. Cities include Boston, Raleigh, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Themes discussed relate to media access and meaningful engagement; the use of digital media in understanding and designing place; and control and ownership over data production, consolidation of findings, and the research agenda.