Community mapping: when an app boosts urban regeneration

URBACT

By URBACT, on June 5th, 2018

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The city of Longford (IE) has developed an application -  Longford Nua  – which seeks to engage all citizens in the town in gathering and sharing memories and stories of the city, what citizens value about their town for the present days and ideas for the place in the future.
Longford Nua is a community mapping project. It aims at stimulating interactions on the past, present and future of the city and at informing policy making. The app has been developed by a Dublin based social enterprise Space Engagers, in partnership with the URBACT Local Group.

How can an app help regenerate a city?

Longford is a small town located in the heart of Ireland. Together with its European Partners in the MAPs project, the City was looking for ways to regenerate the city, notably the former military assets: Longford Nua app was an answer to this challenge.

Citizens’ ideas to inspire new uses to vacant buildings

‘Nua’ means “new” in Irish. Longford Nua is the name chosen for the digital app, with the idea that the app will help design the future of the town.
The purpose of the project is to give locals a platform to share stories about places, make suggestions about how vacant buildings can be reused, and inspire the community to engage with the process of regenerating the town.

A call from the Barracks

Connolly BarracksThe app was launched in July 2017 in the Connolly Barracks, a symbolic place for the City. The former military Barracks are named after Sean Connolly, officer commander of the Longford brigade, fatally wounded during the Irish war of Independence in 1921. It is one of those vacant spaces, in the centre of the city, to be reused and revitalised.

Re-constructing memories to connect with citizens

Former military staff and soldiers were also involved in the event, recalling their past working experience in the Connolly Barracks, which closed in 2009. Sean ConnollyFormer Corporals Noel Lee and Hugh Farrell have an extensive military memorabilia and photograph collection, which they generously shared during the App Launch. Noel also travelled to the Curragh Military Camp in Kildare to retrieve many of the military flags and plaques that were once housed in the Barracks. Linking memories of an independence war hero with the new digital app, was a meaningful way to tell people that this project concerns everyone and is deeply rooted in the town’s traditions, culture and history.

Community Involvement as the key

For the two founders of Space Engagers, Aoife Corcoran,  its Director, and her colleague Philip Crowe: “the key to the success of the app is community involvement. It is an opportunity for people in Longford to bring together their knowledge of the past and present of the town and to re-imagine what possibilities may lay ahead for igniting creative use of existing space’.”
Space Engagers is an award winning social enterprise. In 2016, it won the inaugural ThinkTech Award, a Social Innovation Fund in partnership with the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government and Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google of for its use of technology to create positive social impact in Ireland.

Local version of Pokemon Go to tell stories of the city and hopes

Anvil BarPatricia Shaughnessy, from the Regeneration and Planning Unit of Longford County Council, gives us an example:

“Someone might take a photo of the Anvil Bar and then explain that this was where Longford people bought their tickets for emigrating to America. The photo and information will then appear on the shared map.

Jane_Austen_coloured_versionOr someone might take a snap of the grave of Thomas Lefroy, a Irish Huguenot politician and judge, and reveal that he was the man on whom Jane Austen based her character of Mr Darcy in her famous novel Pride and Prejudice”.

The app allows sharing the entries on social media and start conversations with other people about those places and the facts or ideas they evoke.

Just like a local version of PokemonGo, it is designed to be fun to use and suitable for all ages, as only truly enjoyable things can be! Whoever posts on the shared map the image of a place in town, is required to tell a story about it coming from the past, or simply explain what they love about Longford… and, last but not least in the three possibilities that users have, express their ideas or visions about the future.

The app is also conceived as a tool to boost intergenerational exchanges. There will be workshops in town too, encouraging elderly people who have a deep knowledge of their town to ask for the help of a young person in mastering technology: a great opportunity to enhance social interaction between different generations.

A story to be followed….

The Space Engagers app can be downloaded both on PlayStore and AppStore, whilst a Longford Nua Facebook page has been activated too.
For more information on the app, which is being used for the first time in Ireland, you can contact pshaughnessy@longfordcoco.ie or visit spaceengagers.org

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