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December 9, 2016

Digitally Locating Hidden Spaces

December 9, 2016 | By | No Comments

I’ve been predominantly considering digital maps as a means of telling stories of communities. It could be that I’m a newbie at most things digital, but perhaps there’s something comforting in reclaiming space for the less represented or participating in the production of space on something seemingly so authoritative as a map. Interested in the visible physical markers of place and its effect on the public sphere, I have been drawn to how digital maps can facilitate an easy and tangible location and image for such physical data, but what about the spatial representations that haunt cityscapes and memory? What about the of tracing of movement, or representation of the dynamic and elastic boundaries of contested space? Just as impactful as the accuracy of pinning place on a digital map, revealing the intimate relations of communities and their city across space and time highlights the fissures and gaps of a city’s formal representations—the work scholars are often trying to do in order to contest dominant claims of space and sustain public dialogue and activity within the city. Beyond my own project which relies on the physical visibility of space, these questions are important for discovering digital opportunities for overlaying the city with more public means of sharing engagement with space.
The urgency to represent hidden place knowledges was made most apparent this last summer when I studied the physical landscape of downtown Atlanta for lingering traces of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. Just ten years prior, the city celebrated the centennial commemoration of one of the city’s darkest passages in history, an internationally publicized four-day race riot wherein white mobs killed dozens of black citizens, injured many others, and destroyed downtown business properties. The riot had a national effect on race relations, and is still an important memory for many of Atlanta’s citizens. With outstanding public and government support, the centennial commemoration in 2006 brought back its history and lessons with wide impact. Goshal’s (2013) incredible study of 26 racial violence commemorations since 1979 placed the riot’s commemoration among the top 13 in impact, though interestedly it was the only one to be completely absent of physical markers. As I walked around downtown, I found sites alluding to the riot’s famous locales, such as Herndon’s barbershop which was destroyed by the mob, but tells a different story of entrepreneurship. Other riot spaces have been replaced with the city’s narratives of business and entrepreneurial spirit.
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Without the physical markers, only continuous public activity keep these stories alive. Additionally, with the recent passing of the beloved professor and tour guide Dr. Clifford Kuhn, the Atlanta Race Riot walking tour no longer resurrects the riot’s events in place. When physical markers are not possible and public activity is limited or cut off from various possibilities, I wonder what digital tools provide in restoring these intimate relations to the city, especially when the city’s places no longer mirror back what exists in publics’ minds.
Some locative media projects have allowed innovative means to fill this need outside basic uses of personalized digital maps. Previous projects have allowed users to record themselves on personal ‘walking tours’ of their neighborhoods and city, as well as access others’ recordings when visiting an area. Such collaborative new media and apps serve as a sort of participatory repository of place stories, interrupting ordered space with shared hidden knowledges of a locale (. Locative media has seemed to have dropped off since its early 2000’s enthusiasm, however. I was disappointed to find that Murmur, a web-based map with tag sites to store public stories and memories of places in Toronto and Montreal is no longer accessible. Nonetheless, I’m excited to continue researching new digital tools for facilitating public participation in public spaces and memory, especially as the face of physical cityscapes are increasingly unable to purvey these hidden knowledges.

References

Crang, M. & Graham, S. (2007). Sentient cities ambient intelligence of urban space. Information, Communication, & Society, 10(6): 789-817. doi: 10.1080/13691180701750991

Goshal, R.A. (2013). Transforming collective memory: mnemonic opportunity structures and the outcomes of racial violence memory movements. Theory and Sociology, 42, 329-350. doi: 10.1007/s11186-013-9197-9

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