UCLA’s Virtual Pioneers: Remapping Los Angeles
A bold new experiment in
community-based computing is currently underway in downtown
purpose of Remapping LA is to understand what is going on socially and
culturally in this location," said Jeff Burke, executive director of REMAP. "We
want to provide a resource for local communities and other citizens so that
they can explore first the history of the [
LA is partially funded by a
In the current, initial phase of Remapping LA, students enrolled in UCLA's Engaged Media Workshop fan out from a 19th-century ice factory near Chinatown, armed with advanced mobile phones, GPS devices, digital cameras and geographic information systems, to compile a database of photos, maps, videos and audio recordings that, when combined with historical material, will provide a comprehensive profile of the legendary Los Angeles State Historic Park, an incongruous tract of open land near the city's first center.
In the project's second phase, the new technologies developed by the students will be used to create something akin to a virtual guidebook for visitors to the park site. Later, the same tools will be turned over to residents in various parts of the city to facilitate the exploration and mapping of their own neighborhoods.
"The Remapping LA project is an ideal example of our
center's research mission," said UCLA engineering professor William Kaiser,
co-director of REMAP. "We have always focused on combining the creative and
technology development talents of students and faculty with a goal of major
cultural contribution. The
Digital artist Fabian Wagmister, a UCLA associate professor of film, television and digital media who spearheaded the effort and serves as co-director of Remapping LA, compares the way the system will evolve to the user-created treasure trove of information on the Web site Wikipedia.
"Because anyone who uses the site can post there, you might expect it to get clogged up with misinformation," he said. "But what happens is that wrong or one-sided stuff gets corrected or deleted, and the good stuff gets tagged and rises to the top.
"One of the great advantages of our approach from the point of view of the Department of Parks," he said, "is that it is all done with virtual overlays. It can be implemented without any physical impact on the site whatsoever, therefore allowing constant renovation and participatory evolution."
The works that
are created will be exhibited both in the park and in the adjacent
One clear difference between this enterprise and Wikipedia is that Remapping LA will draw people away from their computers and into the neighborhood, since the overlay interface is site-specific and will only work if one is at the location. The "mapping" that results as community members fan out and explore can be used as the basis for indoor and outdoor multimedia installations, including, perhaps, animated billboards celebrating the cultural history of the area.
order to visualize how this might work, imagine that you are walking east along
But the use of the technology to create interactive guidebooks is only the tip of the iceberg. "Think of it this way," Engaged Media Workshop project coordinator Chase Knowles said. "Every day, our society forces us to sift through mountains of media just to survive and understand our surroundings. Being able to design and use media to self-define your own environment can be a really exciting and empowering thing for many people."
The land just east of
Chinatown on which the 32-acre Los
Angeles State Historic Park sits was the site of the city's first
railroad yard and is nicknamed the "cornfield" because of the corn seeds that
spilled from railroad hopper cars around 1879 and eventually produced
cornstalks. Ardent community preservationists and state park officials, who
paid $36 million in 2001 to acquire the site, consider it a microcosm of
The Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance, or REMAP, (http://bigriver.remap.ucla.edu/remap) is a joint effort of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. REMAP brings together world-class faculty and students from both campus units to explore and create new, enriching cultural forms and empowering social situations through the thoughtful interweaving of engineering, the arts and community development.
Established in 1945, the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science offers 28 academic and professional degree programs, including an interdepartmental graduate degree program in biomedical engineering. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to seven multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in space exploration, wireless sensor systems, nanomanufacturing and defense technologies, which are funded by top national and professional agencies. For more information, visit www.engineer.ucla.edu.
The UCLA Center
for Community Partnerships is the driving force behind the university's
commitment to civic engagement with communities throughout