Play at Safe Spaces

Overview

Eyes on the Street is the notion that community is dependent on public visibility. This means that the lack of people in public spaces gives the perception that the area is not inviting or safe. For years, East Liberty was considered very unsafe but gentrification has slowly changed that perception. There are still areas in the neighborhood that are empty which result in the lack of community. However, communities are fundamentally related to the people that are in it, not the objects, so our team sought out to provide a way to get people to go to public settings and build on their sense of community.

In order to help bridge seemingly disconnected communities in recently gentrified neighborhoods, our project sets out to transform playgrounds into new spaces for families to connect with one another using a common theme: safety. Using a strategy that sets out to amplify an existing social network rather than replacing one, we hope to create shared safe space for people of all ages to enjoy public space in a more connected way. Through digitally connecting a public space with a private space, the project creates a shared commons, where each individual has a small claim of ownership in the space. By creating a tightly-knit community around a connected playground, the project sets out to help promote a deeper sense of community through an by connecting people who would otherwise have no awareness that there are others interested in supporting a safe environment.

Our initial idea was to create a lock and gate system that would limit access to the park. What motivated this idea was seeing how current parks such as Hippo Park in Central Park (NYC) had a large fence around it and it's illegal for an adult to be in the park without a child. Setups like Hippo Park demonstrated the importance of regulating who is in the park and encouraged us to find a better way to make parks safe. We realized however that in areas like East Liberty where parks are empty to begin with, it wouldn't be beneficial to restrict access. We, therefore, thought of an opt-in solution that would allow parents to feel connected with other guardians and begin to create a sense of community where there wasn't one before.

Class
Design for the Internet of Things
Role
Product Developer: Concept Generation, Arduino Programming, Prototype Building and Testing
Date
Spring, 2018
Team Members

Nickie Cheung, Varun Gadh, Graciela Garcia, Ashutosh Sharma, and Arnav Tayal

1st Iteration Mock Ups

We began the process by determining what the product opportunity gap in East Liberty was. From our ethnography, we realized that the notion of Eyes on the Street was very prevalent and we wanted to explore this further. We created a list of ideas that might be influencing the lack of people in parks, some of which could be: legacy of housing projects, displacement, and increase danger in parks. From here we thought of creating a lock and gate system that required people to use RFID tags to get access to the playground. In terms of safety, we also realized it was important to ensure chaperones were being aware, which is how we thought of the idea of having them press a button every 15 minutes to ensure their alertness.

Refining the Idea

After getting input from our professors and peers we realized that a lock and gate would still be restricting and make it harder to create a sense of community. We, therefore, chose to shift our focus and instead have it be an opt-in system where chaperones could get an RFID tag if they wanted to. To still answer the problem of security our team considered possibly running background checks on everyone that wants to be a part of the P.A.S.S. system but later realized that this might also be restricting to reformed ex-convicts for example. Thus our final idea was simply to have a parent scan their ID and indicate the number of children they had. A hurdle we faced was getting the RFID tag to work, which is why in our demo we used buttons instead to mimic the action of going in and out of the park, but it still got the point across of parents opting in or out.

Revised Product Concept

Product 1: Sign Up

A vending machine at the entrance of a park will dispense RFID tags after parents have scanned their state ID and input credentials. The parent will specify how many children they have and the vending machine will dispense that number of RFID shoe clips for the child. After all RFID tags are dispensed, the vending machine will communicate with the home device. Furthermore, additional clips can be obtained from the vending machine.

Product 2: Check In and Stay Focused

Once at the gate, the child and parent can scan their respective RFID tags at the station and proceed to enter. It's important to note that access to the park is still allowed even if you do not have an RFID tag to scan, you simply won't know who's a part of the P.A.S.S. system and won't be able to have any of its benefits. Upon leaving the park, the chaperones and children will check out via an RFID scanner found at the exit of the park.

Once inside, another community chaperone will be expected to watch over the children. Thus, there will be multiple timer-enabled posts throughout the playground to ensure their awareness. Every 15 minutes, a button at the top of each post will activate to test the alertness of the chaperone. The chaperone must then press a button on any of the posts to confirm his/her presence and alertness. The status of the chaperone can then be noticed by the parent via the home device.

Product 3: Keep in Touch

A parent will get a home device that s/he will activate with the fob they got from the park Sign Up station. This, therefore, means that only people in the system are aware of the system. The home device will activate with the fob, then it IFTTT’s the parent an email link to register the device.

This device will communicate ambiently via three colors: Green to indicate a chaperone present and alert, yellow for a chaperone at the playground but not alert and red for having no chaperone present.

Reflection

We took on the difficult task of focusing on a real community with a very controversial history. We learned a lot about East Liberty and the things that motivate them, which is why we were very passionate about the project and hoped it could be something the community might consider implementing in the future. We explored issues with restricting access and having a background check but in the end, decided it was best for users to decide to be in the P.A.S.S system or not. We definitely learned a lot and hope that East Liberty can eventually become a close-knit community, with or without P.A.S.S.