“I Wish This Was… Making Real What Happens On the Internet
DAVID THIER | NEXT AMERICAN CITY June 15, 2012
Candy Chang moved to New Orleans in 2010. A small, intense woman, her background was in architecture and design. She had been living in Finland, but like scores of idealistic twentysomethings, she found herself drawn to the Crescent City. She was lured by the notion of becoming part of the burgeoning recovery that was changing whole neighborhoods in ways nobody ever predicted before Hurricane Katrina turned reality on its head. As an artist, she saw a canvas.
New Orleans was changing fast in 2010. The city was still reeling from the storm — many citizens had either decided they were never going to return, or realized they would never be able to. Those that had made their way back, or coming for the first time, were carving away rot as quickly as they could. Others were settling comfortably into it. The Marigny and adjacent Bywater neighborhood — about two miles downriver from the already-restored French Quarter — radiated emptiness and energy in the span of a single block. It was a shell, and the future was up for grabs.
Chang wanted a way to explore what recovery held for the fast-changing area, long an understated destination for bohos fast turning into a kind of lusher and drunker incarnation of Williamsburg. She thought she could find a way to project the desires of a shifting population on to the environment around her. She printed up red and white stickers with room to write in the middle: “I Wish This Was _____.”
People started putting up stickers all over town. There were some grumblings about the declarative vs. the subjunctive, but the grammar of the stickers was more primal than that sort of discussion could understand. People wanted stores, people wanted homes, people wanted tacos, people wanted busses, people wanted safety. Slowly, the empty canvasses of vacant storefronts became a blueprint for a healthier environment.
It was when people started to talk to each other using the stickers that Chang realized there might be something going on here that could go past a simple art project. Looking at it from one angle, she had just turned a real wall into a Facebook wall. She didn’t know where to go next.
One person wrote “I Wish This Was a Farmer’s Market.” Somebody responded “Me too!”
One person wrote: “I Wish This Was a Bakery.” Someone responded: “If you get the financing, I’ll do the baking!” There had to be a way to get that to happen.
In 2011, “I Wish This Was” made the jump from the storefront to the Internet and became Neighborland. Like the storefronts, it’s a sounding board for a better community, except now it’s moving at broadband speeds. People are still asking for busses and groceries, but people are also asking for computer science degrees at Tulane, recycling programs and zoning ordinances And the right people are listening. The neighborhoods where it has been launched are changing at breakneck speeds, and Neighborland is hoping to give their residents a stronger voice in how that happens.
The tool is, from a nuts and bolts standpoint, not that much different from Twitter or Facebook. People talk, people second what others have said, people bounce ideas up and down. As far as Neighborland is concerned, an Internet discussion is a nice distraction but not the main product. The streets are where the real action is. The trouble is getting there.
The resemblance to social media like Twitter and Facebook turned out to be prophetic. Neighborland recently attracted big investment from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s Obvious as a way to take the social interactions pioneered by other programs and create civic engagement in a more intentional way. They’re cautiously making the transition from an art project in New Orleans to a tool that could change the ways communities interact with themselves and their cities everywhere.”
Via: Next American City
Photo: Candy Chang created the social media app Neighborland after making street art that asked people to participate in their surroundings. Credit: Candy Chang