Counter-Mapping the Neighborhood on Bicycles: Mobilizing Youth to Reimagine the City

Abstract

Personal mobility is a mundane characteristic of daily life. However, mobility is rarely considered an opportunity for learning in the learning sciences, and is almost never leveraged as relevant, experiential material for teaching. This article describes a social design experiment for spatial justice that focused on changes in the personal mobility of six non-driving, African-American teenagers, who participated in an afterschool bicycle building and riding workshop located in a mid-south city. Our study was designed to teach spatial literacy practices essential for counter-mapping—a discursive practice in which youth used tools similar to those of professional planners to “take place” in the future of their neighborhoods. Using conversation and multimodal discourse analyses with video records, GPS track data, and interactive maps authored by youth, we show how participants in our study had new experiences of mobility in the city, developed technically-articulate criticisms of the built environment in their neighborhoods, and imagined new forms of mobility and activity for the future.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Woodbridge is a pseudonym for neighborhoods near the center of the city where our study took place. We use pseudonyms for participants, organizations, and named places in transcripts and map images in this article.

  2. 2.

    Study participants used “My Places” and “Collaborate” functions in Google Maps™ to author and compose together “desire layers.” They titled the composite map, “SupaaQuery Park,” in a symbolic renaming that reclaimed a neighborhood park for youth activity.Query

  3. 3.

    Our figures are simplified versions of interactive maps used by study participants. We simplified maps in use to make images readable in print.

  4. 4.

    Turns at talk are numbered for identified speakers. Continuous speech at turn boundaries is shown with = equal signs, while onset of [overlapping talk is shown with left brackets. EMPHATIC talk is shown in caps, and elong:::ated enunciation is shown with repeated colons. ((Activity descriptions)) appear within double parentheses and in italics, and > comparatively quick speech < appears in angle brackets.

  5. 5.

    One meaning of “ground truthing” arises from remote sensing, where data gathered remotely (e.g., reflected light captured by satellite) are compared with independent sources of information about features known to exist on the ground. A more critical meaning of the term (Kwan 2004; Pickle 1995) questions whether maps or GIS technologies ever represent more (or less) than the interests of their makers. Our use draws on both meanings—we assume youth have legitimate experience “on the ground” in their neighborhoods, but in counter- mapping activities, we encourage them to question what is (or could be) depicted in conventional, map-like representations.

  6. 6.

    Our study protocol, signed by all participants and their parents or guardians, clearly ruled out this possibility.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0816406). We thank members of the Spatial Learning and Mobility group at Vanderbilt University for help with design and analysis—Tyler Hollett, Jennifer Kahn, Kevin Leander, Jasmine Ma, Jillian Oury, Nathan Phillips, and Karen Wieckert. We also thank David Uttal, who provided reactions to the study and our arguments as an advisor to the grant. City planners generously allowed us to study their work, and we thank them both for their time and intellectual support during the design study. We are deeply indebted to the director and adult volunteers of the Workshop, and most importantly to the teens, their parents, and other adult relatives who participated in this study. Finally, we thank Victor Lee and two anonymous reviewers for critical but very helpful advice on our analysis and arguments.

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Correspondence to Katie Headrick Taylor.

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Taylor, K.H., Hall, R. Counter-Mapping the Neighborhood on Bicycles: Mobilizing Youth to Reimagine the City. Tech Know Learn 18, 65–93 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-013-9201-5

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Keywords

  • Mobility
  • Youth
  • Urban neighborhoods
  • Spatial literacy
  • Counter-mapping
  • Bicycles
  • Geospatial technology
  • Social design experiment for spatial justice
  • Thirdspace
  • Ground truth
  • Analysis of personal time geography
  • Desire layers