This Printable Map is Community-Created, Emphasizes the Watts Towers
and Neighborhood Change through the Eyes of Local Riders
April 13, 2012 — Los Angeles, California — After a series of exploratory bicycle rides in South Los Angeles, a new map was released today that guides cyclists to the iconic Watts Towers. Published by a coalition of researchers and community organizers, a printed version of the map will be distributed and first celebrated at 10:15am on Sunday April 15 during CicLAvia, the 100,000-person event which invites people to walk, skate, play and ride a bike on the streets of Los Angeles, inspiring them to reimagine the city. This Sunday launch will be at the South Hub of the CicLAvia route, in front of the African American Firefighter Museum (1401 S. Central Ave). The map is freely available online at RideSouthLA.com.
“Our goal is to reveal some of the South L.A. features that local residents enjoy all the time, but are hidden to potential visitors,” declared Tafarai Bayne, a community organizer with T.R.U.S.T. South LA. “Many people are surprised to learn that you can bike from the Watts Towers to the beautifully restored wetlands at Augustus Hawkins Park, all in South L.A.”
The map’s route was tested this past January with 60 cyclists, including a stop with the East Side Riders (ESR). One rider had a boombox installed on the back of his bike which augmented the group’s ride with music. “Bicycle diplomacy is emerging as a way for communities to connect,“ said John Jones, who co-directs ESR in South LA. Cyclists came from all over the city, from Silver Lake to Long Beach and West Los Angeles. According to John, “what starts as a fun ride can also be a source of pride, a chance to meet new people, and a way to learn community activism.”
Data for the map was gathered live during the January test ride through the ParTour mobile platform (partour.net). High-tech features included iPads mounted to roving bikes to monitor incoming pictures. Low-tech was equally important. “We support basic cell phones — anything that can take pictures,” said Professor François Bar of the University of Southern California, which advised the project on technology. “Our final map builds on the dozens of geo-coded photos cyclists sent during the ride, and their comments about what makes the neighborhood special.”
For the print version, a professional designer turned the stream of pictures into a custom map. “Alongside map making, we feature pictures taken by residents, to create a narrative of the ride,” insisted the map’s designer, Colleen Corcoran, who also designs the CicLAvia graphics. “To be authentic, we developed the map content in workshops with community organizers, researchers and neighborhood residents.”
The partners behind the map point to a broad social agenda — from city planning to bicycle and social change advocacy. Central partners include T.R.U.S.T. South LA, C.I.C.L.E., Bikerowave, the East Side Riders Bike Club and CicLAvia. “Social change with maps only happens if they are integrated into the community’s storytelling network,” warned project researcher George Villanueva of USC’s Metamorphosis Project. He insisted that storytelling must go “beyond media organizations, and include residents and community-based organizations.”
Taking pictures has civic importance. “The future of LA depends on seeing the present differently,” said Benjamin Stokes of USC. “Riders with a camera see things differently – from store signs, to corner shops – even things they’ve passed many times before. Community mapping is about looking for the future.”
The map encourages riders to “get involved,” and provides instructions for requesting bike racks from the city, mobilizing your network, and joining campaigns for change. The companion website, RideSouthLA.com, allows cyclists and residents to submit additional pictures, and gives more detail on how to take action. The website and print map are designed to interrelate, with each form supporting the other. “Online distribution may be cheap, but paper distribution is often necessary to engage at the street level,” notes team member Otto Khera.
The mapping approach and technology comes from the ParTour project at USC Annenberg, which is a joint effort of the school’s Mobile Lab — led by communication professor François Bar — and the Metamorphosis Project, which has studied changing urban communities in Los Angeles for more than 10 years under professor Sandra Ball-Rokeach.
The underlying technology builds on tools previously deployed through Mobile Voices, which allow anyone with a camera phone to send photos via text message to a computer that places the photos on a map, based on either GPS data or location information entered by hand. For the initial mapping, organizers asked cyclists to take photos of anything they found interesting, which ranged from mosaics in Metro stations and dolphin statues in front yards, to neighborhood stores and scenes of the parade of bikes.
Moving forward, the RideSouthLA team hopes to create additional maps, distribute the maps widely, and continue to engage the South LA community to deepen its storytelling networks. The maps will be available in print and online, following the Mobile Voices model. In that project, after stories were published online, the team printed them in a newspaper that could be distributed in labor centers and on street corners for those who don’t have Internet access.
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Ride South LA ( http://RideSouthLA.com ) is a coalition of organizations bringing bicycling, mobile mapping and social justice to South LA. Many of our partner organizations are listed below.
T.R.U.S.T. South LA ( http://trustsouthla.org ), was established in 2005 as a permanent and democratic steward of land in South Los Angeles that works toward community- focused development. Recently they have partnered with CicLAvia and a number of community stakeholders to bring CicLAvia to South LA and work toward the expansion of the route into the heart of South LA. Read more about their CicLAvia effort.
The Mobile Urban Mapping Project within the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a joint effort of two research groups, and is responsible for our ParTour methodology (http://ParTour.net) for crowd-sourced mapping and engagement. Our parent research groups include the Metamorphosis Project led by Prof. Sandra Ball-Rokeach, and the Mobile Lab led by Prof. François Bar. The ParTour project is supported in part by the Annenberg Innovation Lab. For more on the theory behind this work, see our description of situated engagement, or the recently-launched MetaConnects.org, which is a translation of Metamorphosis methods into everyday use for community organizations.
The East Side Riders Bike Club is a Watts-based group that uses cycling as a vehicle to teach kids healthy living and service to the community. They are housed at the Watts Labor Community Action Center.