These where the questions we aimed to answer in a project lead by Dr. Parvin at Georgia Institute of Technology. Our goal was to explore the interrelated issues of knowledge and power, data and judgement, understanding and representation, facts and values through a hands-on design research project.

 

Brainstorming session

As a initial step on the journey of mapping North Avenue, we had a brainstorming session to get going on the ideas of the group.

Two ideas that I contributed with was one of the commissioned art/murals in the city and their

geographical positions as a way of understanding the street/city and dialogues carried out on social media (hashtags, geo-tagging etc) that could unveil stories and voices of the city.

 

Patterns, lines and colors

My group consisted of myself and Human-Computer Interaction graduate student Alana Pendleton. On our first meeting after the brainstorm session, I pitched the idea of commissioned art/murals again which she too found interesting.

We divided the work which lead me going out on field to take photographs of the eastern parts of North Avenue while Alana researched the west parts as well as the commissioned art, artists etc.

We chose to put together a map for an interim presentation. We presented patterns found on each side of a line that appeared through our observations. This line had a history behind it; as a new Atlanta citizen I am made aware that there is a "untold rule" telling people to avoid walking far beyond the west parts of the line (where the railroad tracks are found).

I found this interesting as it meant that the colors schemes found on each side of the line where in sync witg other issues as well. There was a story there to be unfold. We decided to keep digging into this theme and story.

Important questions to answer

At this point, having had decided on the theme of our mapping, we had a set of questions that needed to be answered in order to make the project more clear. These where:

1) What, where, how and why mapping art?
We focused in the presence and non-presence of commissioned art. The data was gathered via Google Maps and a two hour long group exhibition, documenting colors, lack of colors, placements etc. We thought this mapping of the streets was important as they showed us stories that had a complexity to them. For instance, street art as a bought or "ordered" type of art is in itself an interesting phenomena. Add to that the geographical placement of these and the lack of them in other areas. This raises questions and shows our argument. The issue of gentrification in the city is one aspect that we saw as important to weigh in – as it is a large issue in Atlanta. This also brought with it the question of "what is the price you pay for having the commissioned art, really? If you see a piece of ordered art, does it mean you're being pushed out of your home soon, as in the case of Ahmad Cheers and bicycles? (Lartey, 2018)

Read about Ahmad Cheers experience
2) How have people characterized it and what are the assumptions held by those characterizations?
One aspect of the project that we would definitely need to add to if continued, is to contact the people of the streets. There are stories told about art and North Avenue, however, the voices we want to hear are not only those who are enjoying the experience of the commissioned art. There is need for more perspective that the ones we found in articles and social media. These voices tended to be positive toward the color and art, which of course is not strange. However, in the light of other issues and through a different experience, these colors and murals can surely symbolize something more than just art.
3) What kind of accounts are there?
The accounts found where geographical, historical (the line where the colors/art started to notice was matching the historical division of the city Atlanta where segregation and injustices has been seen).

Power is evident both in the color schemes of the street as well as in the way the commissioned art is praised in media. The fact that some artworks (not commissioned) where covered up and removed in the western side of the line also speaks a story of its own, where certain art and/or voices are being governed and controlled.

Technical and social accounts where found in the social media voices where not all voices where heard and the "social media tone" and imagery showed mostly positive accounts.

The accounts that where heard the loudest and found by us where partial. However, if you do know the history and issues of the city you can add one plus one and find more related voices that show variety in the stories.
4) For what purpose did we do the mapping, and for whom?
We chose to map North Avenue through colors, art and geographic positions in relation to a dividing line in order to show a narrative in the city. Our point is to show how the city areas are "treated" and how divisions connect to issues of power. We believed that it was a important way to portray the "voices of the city" even though some voices where being covered up, and others where part of a bigger system.

We do not mean to suggest that any of the murals or art are in any way bad for the city. We just want to discover and start a discussion about why they are positioned the way they are, and why some pieces are considered art and some not.

Form and Function

As we had the questions in focus and patterns unfolding stories, we started to think about ways in which we could present these.

In my ideation process, I came up with the idea of a flip book. This came to me as I saw the different contrasting sides of the line as almost in symphony with eachother – almost answering eachothers differences. Therefore I suggested we create a physical aswell as digital prototype for some sort of flip artifact, showing the differences of the two sides of the line no matter how many times you flip the "page".

I created a physical prototype (a flip book), and Alana a digital which we pitched to the class and Dr. Parvin.

Exploring the digital further

The critique and dialouge session on the flip idea was a success. We where suggested to continue the exploration which lead us to think how we could portray the data found in other ways than the previous. We decided to look further into digital possibilities and created a video showing information about where the data was gathered, quotes found on the subject of commissioned art, and placement of images according to the two sides of the line.

The third and final form of the project lead us to discovering that the flip book idea was in fact the more appriciated form. Although we could show more of the thoughts behind data gathering – it turned out that the audience preferred having the agency of flipping for themselves and discovering the irony of the patterns found. Also, the more information that was given the more confused the audience became on what they where given.

We found this insight very helpful in continuing to work on the form and functions what arguments and voices we wished to show. Overall the project gave us great understandings of the mapping possibilities of North Avenue and how to portray these.

References

Lartey, J. (2018, October 23). Nowhere for people to go: Who will survive the gentrification of Atlanta? Retrieved March 4, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/oct/23/nowhere-for-people-to-go-who-will-survive-the-gentrification-of-atlanta