We would like to develop an understanding of the cultural assets and economic needs of urban communities, as well as assess the usefulness and effectiveness of new models of cultural preservation in these regions.
The Tsinghua group studied the living conditions of residents in the Beijing old city area, in Dashilan. The Stanford group conducted research in the Mission Playground, in the Mission District of San Francisco.
Beijing - dashilan
Using our observations from the Dashilan area, we focused our analysis on two main groups of people: foreign tourists and local residents. Through interviews, we found that most tourists only skimmed the surface of Dashilan and knew little about its cultural value or historical significance. On the other hand, the elderly residents of the area have abundant stories of Dashilan. We studied how a third party, a service provider, could connect these two groups. The service provider could help the elderly residents share their stories, empowering them as experts of their community, and provide tourists access these stories, helping them appreciate the real meaning of the places they visit.
The prototype is an online platform. QR codes are placed on buildings and objects in the hutong. When tourists scan the QR code with their smart phone, they receive a message. The message may be a story told by a grandpa who's lived in a siheyuan since he was born, a puzzle game involving a local shop, or an interview welcoming you to watch a Peking opera in the next alley over. Our online service helps local residents and business owners upload this content.
In order to rapidly test our ideas, we used QR codes to create a prototype. We placed the codes in front of Mei Lanfang Memorial Museum, a memorial to a famous Peking opera actor. The codes linked to a website containing excerpts from his performances.
Several passersby were interested in the codes, including this tourist from Yunnan province. She inquired as to whether there are other related services available. Our surveys found that although most tourists did not know much about Dashilar, they were eager to learn more. On the other hand, elderly local residents were eager to share their stories with us.
sf- mission playground
We noticed many different groups of people using the spaces in the Mission playground, but for the most part, they remained segregated. One reason for this is language barriers. Some residents of the Mission are only fluent in English and others only in Spanish. This is particularly important because language ability is linked to the culture and generation of the resident: newcomers to the Mission are far more likely to be English-only speaking. Consequently, we looked at creative ways for people utilizing the playground to interact across language barriers.
There are two prototypes: a life-sized tic-tac-toe board featuring different phrases in Spanish and English, and Lotería, a bingo game with pictures and words in Spanish. Both of these prototypes were intended to foster play and interaction across language barriers among the children of the Mission. They are also attempts to bring out a linguistic character of the community that is otherwise ignored by the standard games and equipment of the playground.
The prototypes were low fidelity, made with cardboard, tape, paper, and beans. The kids worked it out far faster than we expected, and it was a learning experience for many, especially those for whom Spanish was not a native language. Kids helped each other and met new friends. As a bonus, it was also colorful and fun. Parents often encouraged kids to say the words out loud.
Our raw data (photos, fieldnotes) can be accessed through our Dropbox.
In the course of this project, we learned so much from working between the Stanford and Tsinghua groups. Not only have we increased our vocabulary for speaking about cultural continuity and sustainable development in English and Chinese, we've made friends and exchanged cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary ways of thinking about design solutions to international sustainability challenges. We faced first-hand the challenges of screen-only communication across an ocean, and asynchronous text messages in a language you need a dictionary to understand. The collaboration definitely wasn't easy, but working through it was a much-cherished learning opportunity for both Chinese and American sides of the team.
Read more in our memo on cross-cultural collaboration!
Alice Fang (Stanford), Calum You (Stanford), Naixuan Du (Tsinghua), Aiwa Mu (Tsinghua), Philip Luo (Tsinghua), Jing Hu (Tsinghua)