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COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT THROUGH AUGMENTED REALITY
Created by second-year students Evie Cheung, Antya Waegemann, Qixuan Wang, Eugenia Ramos Alonso, and Kevin Cook, Voices of Red Hook is a community feedback mechanism that polls and aggregates neighborhood-specific community concerns through physical murals and an augmented reality (AR) experience. This particular iteration is designed for residents of Red Hook, Brooklyn.

With a smartphone, a user scans one of the many faces on a physical Voices of Red Hook mural, and watches the face and story of that resident come to life through augmented reality, then prompting them to react to the story through a poll in the app.

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DIGITIZATION OF CIVIC ACTION AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Voices of Red Hook aims to digitize civic action and community engagement. The physical murals and AR experience allow residents to showcase and draw attention to issues that are pertinent in their lives, but not necessarily addressed in legislation or policy.

“Typically, to voice their concerns, residents would have to attend a town hall or council meeting,” argues the designers. “But Voices of Red Hook amplifies local community members’ voices through the AR app platform and experience. Voices of Red Hook works closely with the local government to organize a liaison with a specific representative, who can best bring community issues to meetings. That representative would speak on behalf of the collected data results and responses from community members.”

HOW DOES IT WORK?
Voices of Red Hook consists of four components: 1) the physical mural, 2) the augmented reality experience, 3) the question, poll or feedback mechanism, and 4) the aggregated data. The physical mural displays a variety of faces that represent the stories and voices of people in the Red Hook community.

The stories from locals are collected through a partnership with a community organization, such as Red Hook Initiative. Each story focuses on a specific community concern that may not be currently addressed effectively through policy and legislation.

Between Voices of Red Hook and Red Hook Initiative, one resident’s story would be chosen as a “spotlight” each week, allowing a new and different face and story to appear on the mural as time goes on. The second component—the augmented reality experience—would be accessed via  a Voices of Red Hook app. After the user downloads the app as indicated on the mural, each face creates a “trigger,” so that when the phone is properly aligned, the app brings the face on the mural to life and prompts the person’s story. The viewer will see the face speaking their story alongside audio and text of the story.

The first mural will be rolled out at a specific location on Sullivan Street between Richards Street and Van Brunt Street, a unique intersection of worlds between the Red Hook Houses, a public school, and new condo developments.

The augmented reality experience mimics 360 video and is interactive, so the viewer can turn around and move the phone 360 degrees to see different elements of the person’s story. Then, the viewer is prompted with a question pertaining to the story where they can contribute their thoughts or similar concerns that they may have. After, the responses from the poll are aggregated into different infographics and charts so that community can see the most common or most urgent issues. They can then bring these concerns to their local representative to act on.

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WHY AUGMENTED REALITY?
Augmented reality has the robust capability of transforming invisible elements into visible ones,” offers the group. “AR was specifically chosen for this project as a vehicle for storytelling—ensuring that stories that remain unsaid are brought to life in a visual way. The site-specific nature of this augmented reality experience means that these stories can only be accessed at the designated murals around Red Hook, integrating it concretely into the neighborhood.”

PROJECT PROCESS + FEEDBACK
Through the initial historical research into the neighborhood, the team learned that Red Hook is extremely vulnerable to effects of climate change, and was one of the worst hit neighborhoods by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The team then further delved into research with a site visit to the neighborhood. The visit included a site survey to gain a better understanding of the local geography and current infrastructure.

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During that visit, the team also conducted intercept interviews with residents. According to Red Hook community members, climate change was a real issue, but it was not the most pressing or urgent threat to their everyday life. Instead, there were other concerns such as violence and racial profiling.

The team took these conversations into account when creating their final concept: the AR mural as a community feedback mechanism. Voices of Red Hook was deliberately informed by the feedback from members of the Red Hook community. This feedback mechanism would address not just climate change, but community issues overall.