Hub2: Using Virtual Worlds to Foster Civic Engagement in Boston

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As a means of enabling communities to express their own visions of public and civic space, we have launched a program that looks to an unlikely tool to aid in the production of vividly real places: online virtual worlds. The program is called Hub2, and our goal is to strengthen the ability of neighborhood residents to make places. Online virtual worlds provide a unique opportunity for groups to dramatize their everyday lives through the production of virtual places in Second Life. The Hub2 initiative in the City of Boston, our pilot city, initially takes the form of a class. This paper will explain the methodology of the course and the theory behind it. Groups of participants who share a common interest in a particular place will, through a 12 week guided process, acquire a richer understanding of those places and new ways to re-imagine them. They will first learn to do structured observations of their existing physical and social spaces; they will then identify problems or assets of that space. Next, they will collectively design a social space in Second Life that responds to, but does not exactly model, the physical space. At this point, they will inhabit the virtual space to test its social functionality. And finally, they will import what they learn back into their physical lives through reflection in the form of blog posts, videos, or podcasts. Second Life provides participants sufficient distance from physical space to enable critical reflection. The playful nature of Second Life also assists participants in imagining the possibilities of social spaces in ways that wouldn’t be possible through traditional modes of representation.

In designing Hub2 to strengthen civic life, we seek to support what Jürgen Habermas calls our lifeworld – our co-inhabited world mutually instantiated through communicative action. Specifically, Hub2 focuses on public spaces as an organizing force for lifeworlds: an intersection we dub the placeworld. Placeworlds can be persistent (vibrant neighborhoods), intermittent (sports arenas), or transient (spontaneous protests). We suspect that the communicative action necessary to sustain placeworlds involve rational deliberation using the vocabulary – both verbal and non-verbal – of place. Thus, Hub2 helps communities develop a vocabulary of place to articulate their shared values, interests, and vision by enabling them to actively build such a place virtually, even if they are unable to do so physically.

Keywords: Second_Life, Community, Location, Urban_Design, Virtual_Worlds
Stream: Technology in Community
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Eric Gordon

Department of Visual and Media Arts, Emerson College
Boston, MA, USA

Eric Gordon is a scholar of new media, with a special interest in place-based
digital communities, social networking, and virtual environments. He is
working on two book projects: The Urban Spectator: Emerging Media and the Consumption of the American City (Wayne State University Press) and The Place of
Social Media: How Networks Think Globally and Act Locally (Blackwell). He is an assistant professor in the Departmentof Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College in Boston.

Gene Koo

Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

Gene Koo, JD, is the CALI Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Gene has extensive educational technology, with a particular focus on developing skills and values through networked media.

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