Can communities use digital technologies built around play to imagine the future and create deeper civic engagement? Eric Gordon, professor of civic media and the director of the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, is working toward that goal.
On November 19 at 7:00 p.m. Gordon will present in the Robbins Library on Beta Blocks, an experiment in putting communities at the center of decision-making about public realm technologies, including sensors, drones, scooters and more. The Beta Blocks project establishes “exploration zones” in Boston’s neighborhoods where technologies are temporarily installed so that people can explore their public value, see the data they’re collecting, and imagine how they might enhance quality of life. The process involves youth and adults and advances data literacy and enhances local influence.
Much of Gordon’s research focuses on using play to engage public participation and draw oftentimes excluded voices into public discussion. Beta Blocks was launched in Boston as a participatory imagination project about the future of the city that supports local communities to question and explore the role of new technologies in the places they live. Beta Blocks hopes to address topics from air quality sensors to security camera networks to autonomous delivery drones. Gordon notes that “too often, communities aren’t able to participate in the important discussions that happen before technologies are installed.” Gordon’s work creates a place for civic discussion and community input ahead of change.
Ethics and privacy concerns around the use of digital technology is a key component of Gordon’s work. He asks who benefits from new technologies in the public realm? What does it mean for a city to be smart? How might Artificial Intelligence benefit communities, and not just corporations?
This program is co-sponsored by the Arlington Department of Planning and Community Development. Department Director Jenny Raitt says, “The work of the Engagement Lab @ Emerson College together with the City of Boston demonstrates how vital it is for the public to engage in dialogues about new technologies. Through civic experimentation, Boston is creating a dynamic platform for the public to test everything from smarter streets to the power of technology in civic spaces. I am excited to explore how we might embrace these innovations in Arlington.”
Democracy After Dark Presents: Beta Blocks; Exploring new Approaches for Community-Led Innovation in Public Spaces, Nov 19, 7:00 p.m. Robbins Library Community Room.