Philly’s Chinatown has struggled in recent years to maintain its geographic integrity with development encroaching its boundaries. There are internal challenges as well with frequent brak-ins and trash littering the streets. There is an imperative to coordinate residents, businesses and organizations to unite to address problems and prevent further encroachment. Yet, coordination and cooperation have been difficult to attain. For these reasons we wanted to design a communication system accessible via mobile phone specifically for Philadelphia’s Chinatown, to help its citizens and organizations address themselves, each other, and the greater Philadelphia community.
The range of dialects and cultural backgrounds in Chinatown make face-to-face communication rare for many residents. We wanted to create a social media system for our project that could potentially help forge social ties and build the essential element of trust in a new way. The system we envisioned would have features that address what we have identified as needs in the neighborhood:
- Residents who don’t know whom to contact to report neighborhood issues can submit reports to the system easily;
- Residents with different languages or backgrounds can see the comments of others on the website, and understand how much they have in common with neighbors that they might not be able to converse with; Residents or community organizers can subscribe to alerts about certain categories of reports such as crime, trash, or, more positively cultural events happening in the neighborhood;
- Young people willing to help out can be recruited as translators, giving them a chance to use their language abilities in a context with less pressure than conversation.
Through the creation of this system and several other design interventions in the neighborhood, we aim to increase awareness about the communication barriers and start a dialogue about how to overcome them to unite the community.
To explain our system and help leaders in the neighborhood start working together, we held a workshop to encourage participants to envision a great future for the neighborhood and how to achieve it.
The vision included having a safe, clean, economically vibrant environment, rich cultural interactions, and the construction of a community recreation center. The workshop helped us form the categories that leaders wanted to hear about, which included obvious things like crime, trash, and noise, but we learned that they also wanted to publicize cultural events and encourage residents to say what they loved about the neighborhood, so we added those categories as well.
This was a useful way to get some leaders in the neighborhood to think about how to work together, as well how little cooperation is currently happening.
In addition to this workshop we performed a test of the system on Philly’s Clean Up Day, a day when lots of high school students lend a hand to help clean up the neighborhood, and community organizations had planned a way for teams to tackle certain blocks. We distributed instructions for participants to send reports about how many bags of trash they picked up with the locations, and it worked pretty well at showing where the most bags were, and in counting the total effort, which was that over 187 bags of trash were picked up during those few hours.
What We Learned
A major lesson for us and others taking on similar projects is to devote time and effort to explain your project in terms that stakeholders understand. Though we researched numerous examples of other communities using similar systems, and showed them the results of our clean up day test, it was difficult for some people to see how a system like Fu Chi could save time, build trust, and make the community a better place. Many residents only saw the immense effort needed in our system to do the tasks of translation and publicity.
We documented our process in this design overview that may be helpful to read to understand what we did and what we learned in Philadelphia’s China Town here.