CivicsLab

Making dots move.

February 2, 2011
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When I used to go to technology conferences in New York City, I always stayed at a hostel named the L Hostel. It was located in a cool part of Harlem, a couple of blocks away from a great Jamaican vegan restaurant, was fun and had a lot of other people my age. I was recently supposed to go to New York City with a friend but when I went to L Hostel’s website, I found out that they had closed. Something had happened between the hostel and the New York City government. What had happened was not explained but from the brief but slightly cryptic message on their website, it was clear that they were upset with the New York City government. Government + small business + an area that is recovering from blight and economic depression = a similar situation to parts of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

So I gave this some more thought. I often liked Harlem because I viewed it as a parallel universe to the one I had just flown out of. I love seeing areas coming back to life and seeing and studying why they are changing. I have heard more conversations than I could possibly remember about what will bring my region back to life.

I thought about what I had done when I found out that my favorite hostel had closed. I looked around online for some more hostels, tried to use Google to find out why it had closed and then went on to something else. I still haven’t gone back to New York City. In fact, part of my favorite part of being there was the hostel. Does that sound ridiculous? Perhaps. But it’s true.

So now I haven’t been back to NYC and when I do go back, will I make time to visit Harlem again? What will push me to take that chunk out of my schedule? It might be the Jamaican vegan restaurant or maybe just to look around.

And I have to wonder if this is a modern day explanation of how Pittsburgh has suffered and how it will come back to what it used to be. Don’t hit that comment button yet, I’m not suggesting that we build a lot of hostels — although we really do need one.

I thought about this idea as if it were one of those density maps. My dot just moved out of Harlem and hasn’t moved back yet. But I hadn’t intended to move my dot, a disagreement between small business and government had resulted in my dot moving. Then I realized that that’s what our game pretty much comes down to. It’s about figuring out how to move a lot of dots to your location. In fact, even our logo has dots in it.

I wonder how Harlem’s doing without the hostel. How much money did the neighborhood just lose? Who owned the hostel? Did they lose money and if so, will they reinvest in Harlem in the future? Why were they shut down? Where are the other hostel guests now staying? How were other businesses in Harlem affected? Where are the majority of other hostels in the city? I wonder how many dots just moved out of an area that needed them.

-Laura-

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Focusing on the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, CivicsLab puts elementary and middle school students in virtual control of decision-making in their communities to encourage civic participation, critical thinking, and sense of place. In CivicsLab, players will assume positions of power in the community from an urban, suburban or rural perspective and explore how decisions-based on social need and demand, proper planning (as defined by our civic experts), political pressure, and most importantly, their imaginations-might impact the community. Through manipulation of real mapping information and current data sets, students navigate social and political pressures to explore the cause and effect of civic investment and public policy as they attempt to create a sustainable future for their region.

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