local communities | MIT Center for Civic Media

People in local geographic areas may need help communicating with each other in order to collaborate in building and sustaining healthy communities. Grassroots action at any level - neighborhoods, towns, or cities - can help improve local services, welcome newcomers, and develop cultural, economic and political capital.

Where does civic crowdfunding fit on a city's roadmap?

Bogardus Triangle Plaza map - from http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/plaza-bogardus-map.jpg

Several city officials I've spoken to about civic crowdfunding in the past few months raised the following problem: "Isn't resource allocation the primary function of government? You can't remove that and replace it with the will of the crowd. How could we possibly design a policy framework to accommodate this?"

Robin Chase and Nick Grossman’s hopes for the sharing economy

Photo by @brianquinn

Robin Chase (@rmchase), founder of ZipCar and BuzzCar, started the first company WAY back in 2000. It made renting a car as convenient as owning car, and "right-sized the asset", meaning you only pay for what you use. In addition to huge savings and new freedoms for consumers, this meant fewer cars sitting around unused in cities.

But less obviously, Zipcar stretched the definitions of "consumers" and "producers" in an economy. Robin prefers 'collaborators' as a more modern term. The company's success hinged on the assumption that most people are good. That trust, and bond with their customers, was key to creating the company.

Skype, Facebook, eBay, YouTube, Wikipedia, et al do the same thing: take excess capacity (sharing) and combine it with a platform for participation. Robin's slept in all kinds of beds, from hotels to a teenager's bedroom.

Postmarked - Negotiating [dis]empowerment in civic art

This is part 2 in a series on a public art project to create a space for dialogue between a concerned community and the owners of a dilapidated Cambridge property. Bigger picture in part 1.

I was enamored with the weight of postcards:  How does the sender's selection of a design suggest something personal? A postcard has more weight than a petition signature and gives flexibility to write a lot or a little, to illustrate concepts and/or capture them in words. It is a dynamic physical artifact.

I had read Karen Klinger's Cambridge Eyesore series, and it was clear that Cantabrigians noticed these rundown lots. Conversation continues to swirl within the community, but how does the conversation flow back out—beyond the city councilors to the decision-making owners?

Postmarked - A public art approach to neighborhood civics (pt 1)

The first day of Antoni Muntadas' class, I couldn't resist sharing my notes in tweets.

"Dialogues in Public Space" was an intriguing title for an art course. There was a similar project called Civic Studio when I lived in Grand Rapids, where university students spent a semester doing what I thought of social process art—the output isn't visual but a public service, inquiry or resource (i.e.: Viget, On the River temporary studio, etc.). It was the first time I had ever come across art as something that could live outside of a sculpture or canvas.

My Friend Martin

Please donate to the Richard Family Fund.

Martin Richard died Monday, killed by bombs hidden at the Boston Marathon. He was 8. He was my friend.



Many people have come to know Martin through this picture, shared by a teacher of his at Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester where he was a student. They’ve come to know his poignant poster which pleads for peace. They’ve come to know his toothy, goofy grin. He was too young for braces. He was too young to die.

I first met Martin when he was a toddler. We'd not been there five minutes before his older brother bonked him on the head with a basketball. Not maliciously, but curiously, as if to see what would happen. As the eldest of three brothers, I understood, since I also saw younger siblings as interesting experiments. Behold, science in action! Martin blinked, screwed up his face as if to cry, hesitated, and laughed instead. Hypothesis validated: Martin was awesome.


trigger warning for intense imagery

Here's what we know:

At 2:50 PM two explosions occurred along on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Police later detonated a third device further down the street.

Beyond the presence of As of 6 PM, two people are dead, and nearly 90 injured, according to the Boston Globe. At Civic, we have been following along through both broadcast and social media, including the Globe's liveblog and Completure's News Scanner.

Building peace with technology in Sudan and Cyprus

Civic Media Lunch Liveblog: Helena Puig LarrauriApril 11, 2012 

Blue Nile State, Sudan

Helena Puig Larrauri is a freelance peacebuilding consultant whose clients include the Open Society Foundation, Mercy Corps and UNDP. She visited the Center for Civic Media to talk about two projects she is working on that explore the use of technology in peacebuilding, in Cyprus and Sudan. 

How to make phone services fast and easy to design

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 12.34.52 PM

We've reached the alpha stage of the design interface of Call to Action, a platform that will allow community groups to design and host phone-based services. I wrote last year about why enabling community groups and individuals to design these services is important, and about the New Day New Standard project that inspired us to build Call to Action.

Right now Call to Action is a front-end design tool that allows you to visualize a voice tree via a drag and drop interface. I'd love you all to play around with it and tell us how we can improve it.

81 Ways Humanitarian Aid has Become Participatory

Update: I've since posted my full thesis and a short summary of it.

My Media Lab Master's thesis argues that information and communication technologies, and particularly the web, have expanded the range of ways the public can help in times of crisis, even (or especially) if we're nowhere near said crisis. Or, to be more formal about it, participatory aid is mutual, peer-to-peer aid mediated or powered by information and communication technology. We're building a platform to help coordinate participatory aid projects, but first, I wanted to share some examples.