One hundred cyclists were expected to attend a group ride on June 18 to celebrate and test the Watts Ride Map Project, a South Los Angeles bicycling map developed in partnership by François Bar’s Mobile Lab at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and several community-based organizations.
The group ride started at 10 a.m. at Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park (5790 Compton Ave.), continued to the iconic Watts Towers, ran along the Metro Blue Line and included a visit of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, before looping back to the Nature Park.
Members of RideSouthLA.com, a coalition of groups that promotes bicycling in South LA along a recommended bike route and the organizers of the event, was on hand to distribute free copies of the map.
Designed with input from residents and organizers, the Watts Ride Map Project — the first of its kind — encourages biking in South LA while highlighting social justice. Data and pictures for the map were gathered live in January, using a custom tool from the Annenberg Innovation Lab called ParTour.
During the weekend ride, cyclists were challenged to find what the print map is missing and to supplement it with their own live stream of pictures highlighting neighborhood assets that they feel should be added. While high-tech features included iPads mounted to roving bikes to monitor incoming pictures, low-tech features were equally important.
“We support basic cell phones — anything that can take pictures,” said Bar of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, which advised the project on technology. “The mobile ParTour platform builds on the dozens of geo-coded photos cyclists sent during the ride, and their comments about what makes the neighborhood special.”
Tafarai Bayne, community affairs manager with T.R.U.S.T. South LA, said: “Our goal with each map project is to bring awareness to a different aspect of South LA culture that is easy to bike to and enjoy for both residents and visitors. … We are hoping to raise awareness about our project so we can get more maps funded and produced as soon as possible. The maps and rides aim to give people ideas on how the land in South LA is being used and to help spark conversations on the ways land use can be improved in the community.”
Sunday’s route was co-led by the East Side Riders (ESR), one of the bicycle clubs and education groups that calls Watts and Firestone home.
“We see the map and the rides as a way to advocate for safe biking but also for community service and engagement,” said John Jones, who co-directs ESR.
Other South LA bicycle clubs also were represented, including the Real Rydaz, the Compton Schwinn Masters and the newly formed Los Ryderz.
Joining the residents were cyclists from all over the city, from Eagle Rock to Long Beach to Santa Monica. According to Jones, “what starts as a bike ride is also a chance to connect across neighborhoods.”
The partners behind this effort pointed to a broad social agenda — from city planning to bicycle and social change advocacy. Central partners include T.R.U.S.T. South LA, Bikerowave, the ESR Bike Club and C.I.C.L.E.
“The reimagination of urban space only happens if the ride is integrated into the community’s storytelling network,” said project researcher George Villanueva of USC Annenberg’s Metamorphosis project.
Villanueva said that the reversal of the negative depiction and disinvestment in South LA must go “beyond mainstream media organizations and government institutions, and must include residents and community-based organizations.”
Situating community engagement through live picture-taking with mobile phones has civic importance.
“A different LA depends on group experiences that engage participants in accessible and meaningful activities,” said doctoral student Benjamin Stokes. “Riders as a group of community mappers engage with the city by opening their eyes and ears to what’s unique to that place. Real-time community mapping is about experiencing LA differently.”
The map encourages riders to “get involved” and provides instructions for requesting bike racks from the city, mobilizing your network and joining campaigns for change. The RideSouthLA.com website allows cyclists and residents to submit additional pictures and gives more details on how to take action. The website and print map are designed to interrelate, with each form supporting the other.
“Online distribution may be cheap, but paper distribution is often necessary to engage at the street level,” noted team member and USC staff member Otto Khera, who lives in South LA with his wife and two children.
The mapping approach and technology comes from the ParTour project at USC Annenberg, which is a joint effort of the Annenberg Innovation Lab and the Metamorphosis Project, which has studied and engaged changing urban communities in Los Angeles for more than 10 years under Professor Sandra Ball-Rokeach.
The underlying technology builds on tools previously deployed through Mobile Voices, which allow anyone with a camera phone to send photos via text message to a computer that places the photos on a map. To build the map, organizers in January simply asked cyclists to take photos of anything they found interesting, which ranged from mosaics in Metro stations and dolphin statues in front yards, to neighborhood stores and scenes of the parade of bikes.
Moving forward, the RideSouthLA team hopes to create additional maps, distribute the maps widely, coordinate and advertise future rides in South LA, and continue to engage the South LA community to deepen its storytelling networks.
The maps will be available in print and online, following the Mobile Voices model. For that project, after stories were published online, the team printed newspaper versions that were distributed in labor centers and on street corners for those without Internet access.
For the latest details, visit the event’s Facebook page.
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