A skate park is a beautiful place with so many positive facets and should be perceived as a generally healthy environment for stimulating creativity among other positive attributes. This is a place where individuals can come and interact among friends, familiar faces and strangers to progress and challenge themselves and others. Being that most skate parks are public spaces, each person has the potential to directly influence the real-time social atmosphere that is generated within the space. The social dynamics of these interesting places are very complex but often have simple roots. There are numerous factors to take into consideration that make a day at a skate park similar to or completely different from the last. Among differing age groups, life styles, and many other contributing influences within moral theory, a skate park can become one big pot of diversity. Which is good, but also constitutes different views of how a skate park should operate. Although, within these views are distinct unspoken codes that allow for fast pace communication to occur verbally or nonverbally. For some, it is easy to pick up on these signals and for others it can be quite difficult and result in animosity being shown toward them. For this reason individuals and groups of people are discriminated against and stereotypes are produced and perpetuated. In attempts to counter and potentially prevent these acts of ignorance from happening I have devised the app ‘RideBy’. It is an app that tries to utilize social justice principles and apply them user-based system of information generated by developers and the users themselves.
Skate parks are usually constructed by public and private partnerships. A local Philadelphia park, Franklin Paine’s Skate Park was required to raise $4 million from private sources before it could be built. Because of a liability factor, urban managers leave self-supervision up to the users and expect them to police themselves within these public spaces. In an article titled Skatepark as Neoliberal Playground by Ocean Howell of Berkeley, Howell quotes a young skateboarder as saying “It’s already unwritten code among skateboarders, ‘We know we could be hurt and are still willing to take that risk” (Howell, 2008, p. 483). The skate parks that will be relevant to this app are ones built with city or town’s permission and welcome anyone inside its public space. These types of skate parks are often referred to as skate plazas.
During my field research at Franklin Paine’s Skate Park I observed how people interacted with each other and their mobile devices. I concluded that on that particular day, mainly young males were occupying the space and a majority of them had smart phones. Some other things I noticed are repeating scenarios that I myself have encountered from years of biking at public skate parks. They are the more ugly side of skate parks that can cause a person to feel uncomfortable. Mean stares and often times scolding come from some individuals whose ideals and moral philosophy differ from others. I have noted over the years, and in my present field research, some factors that can wield the potential to subtly influence an individual’s perception of social interactions within public skate parks. Maturity and frequency of visits to a particular skate park will be briefly examined to help understand ways to promote equality in this unusual atmosphere. The purpose for choosing these two factors is their general interconnectedness and the importance their roles play in creating a social justice app.
To begin, an individual’s psychological maturity is not always subject to age but rather attributed to the person’s ability to respond to their environment in a suitable manner. (Alexander, 1970, p. 6). Most importantly, it is a trait that is learned and can be revised over time. Take driving for an example. When teaching someone how to drive, it is common to have the person practice in an isolated area and then ease them into real world scenarios. This method is not so easy for beginners who want to learn at a crowed skate park similar to Paine’s Park. Their frequency of visits will determine their progression as well as their ability to navigate the space. If he or she is seen moving though the space without disrupting anyone else in the chaotic atmosphere, it is safe to assume they are mature enough to pick up on and exercise something I call “park etiquette”. This term closely relates to the definition of normative ethics “which includes ‘the attempt to discover some acceptable and rationally defensible view concerning what kinds of things are good…and what kinds of acts are right, and why”(Smith, 1994, p. 27). Normalized to a skate park environment it involves an individual’s conscious effort to understand the flow of a skate park e.g., being aware of cutting people off (snaking), and allowing each person to take their turn. Two issues can arise in the development of park etiquette. The first is pace of learning and the second are the values and morals that are constructed pertaining to the space. Pace of learning can be difficult for individuals because of the harshness some receive for getting in the way. This can result in lowered self-esteem and self-confidence. Constructing values and morals can be a problem because when learning and creating these unwritten rules of park etiquette, some individuals incorporate their own or substitute others negative perspectives into their model of how a skate park should operate. “People communicate with on another, codes of morality emerging as they learn to live together” (p. 31). Aside from learning the original message of being conscious of others, stereotypes and false views of other groups have the ability to leak into its framework.
This is where RideBy comes into play. It is an app designed to promote equality by attempting to defuse a situation before it even happens. It is also aimed to create a better sense of communication among users so that there are multiple ways to benefit from it. The three tabs that combine to make RideBy are: Park Update tab, Profile tab, and RideBy Mobile tab. Each with specific features that influence the user to connect better with the public space they’re in.
The profile tab is designed to be both simple and complex. Thus, once the basic requirements are fulfilled, the user has the choice to disclose more personal information as they scroll through more advanced fields. When a user first creates their profile they are required to check a box/ (boxes) that best translate the nature of their activity within any of the supported skate parks. The heading of this field would read: “I am a”… Biker, Skater, Roller-blader, Scooterer, Parent with beginner child, and other. This feature is not limited to just one choice, and the available choices are expected to be the most effective way to classify common crowds that occur regularly within the public space. As the user continues to scroll down they encounter the ‘Optional Information’ section. This includes a field to fill out personal information like your name, age, hometown…etc. At the bottom of that field is a check box that asks you if you would like to share your information with RideBy Mobile, the app’s own social network feature. Right after that, and approaching the bottom of the page is another check box that asks for the user’s privacy permission to allow geotagging. To conclude the profile page are the options to connect the app to the users Facebook or Twitter.
The ‘Park Update’ tab is designed to work as a two way street. It is a place where the user can help generate information or as a means to retrieve information from other users. The information provided would be an up-to-date reflection of the data collected within a 15-minute time frame. The feature ‘Check In’ is how the data is collected. When a user arrives at a skate park they can check to see if it is in RideBy’s list. RideBy only participate with public skate parks because of its social justice nature. If the skate park the user arrives at is participating, the user is encouraged to check in, unless they have geotagging enabled, in which case the app auto-checks-in when it detects they have been at a given park for more than 10 minutes. The purpose is so that the information the user provided in their profile page can be turned into population data or to be sent to any social network platform they linked their profile to. The population grouping is in no way representative of gender, race, class or ethnicity, but instead characterizes the individuals according to how they intend to use the space. The groups range from skateboarders to parents with beginner children.
At first glance this feature may seem like it is adding to the stigma of discrimination between groups, but indeed it is not. This feature attempts to take the surprise out of showing up to a scene that might turn the user away. To argue the discrimination factor of categorizing groups as a means to an end, I will incorporate Smith’s ideas of moral relativism. While discussing transcendence for universal moral values, Smith points to Robert Louden’s argument on the defects of moral theory. Deducing that within moral theory, there are no universals, disagreement, or conflict. Thus “recognizing a plurality of values rather than deriving them from a single standard; recognize that not all conflicts in morality can be resolved; and be a guide to people’s practical deliberations” (p. 33). In this way the design of the ‘Park Update’ tab takes into consideration that stubborn people often do not change their ways. Furthermore, if a user is likely to discriminate and get ticked off by another group, the data displayed may deter them from going at that specific time. In this example, negativity in the space is avoided and both parties benefit even if one isn’t so respectful of the other.
On the flipside of avoidance is RideBy’s other useful feature ‘RideBy Mobile’. In its own tab is a social network platform designed to work specifically for the app. Users who either do not have a Facebook or Twitter to connect, or just do not feel like connecting them, can use it. RideBy mobile functions in the same way any other social network platform would. It allows users to connect with friends who also have the app, post media, and statuses. What stands out the most about this feature are its blog forum aspect and its use of geotagging. The blogging feature allows individuals to access a forum run by RideBy and post blogs to it. This is worth mentioning because for each skate park, there will be a list of blogs full of things like tips on how to better utilize the space and practicing park etiquette. The forum will be monitored in order to promote a healthy and positive place for discussion. This is similar how learners use technology-enhanced learning (TEL) in Ann Light and Rosemary Lukin’s Designing for social justice: people, technology, learning. The article talks about different ways in which technology can help promote social justice and different design techniques. Through the user-centered design method, a company called “Democratizing Technology created methods to make the design of technology less opaque so that everyone might participate in the decision-making process about the development of future digital networks” (Light & Lukin, 2008, p. 28). They stressed the importance of networks can change the way individuals interact with one another.
The other notable feature comes from the option to turn on or off geotagging in the profile tab. Even if the user has geotagging enabled, they still have some privacy. The only time the users information/location will be shared is when they are inside a participating skate parks boundaries for more than 10 minutes. At this time the user is checked in and their friends and only their friends can know where they are. This works a bit differently than mutual location-aware interfaces (MLA) and location-based social networking (LBSN) talked about by Daniel Sutko and Adriana Silva in their article “Location-aware mobile media and urban sociability”. In the article they “assume such applications will (1) increase communication and ease coordination in public spaces, (2) facilitate aleatory (chance) encounters and mobility in the city, and (3) increase user awareness and experience of urban space” (Silva & Sutko, 2011, p. 808). Many LBSN apps exist like Foursquare, Brightkite, and CitySense. Like Brightkite, RideBy Mobile only allows the users’ friends to know their location if they’re at a specific skate park. “Mobile phones connect us directly to individuals rather than spaces…;however, location-aware technologies also connect us to places” (p. 809). The design protects the users privacy will still maintaining increased communication with friends as a way of inviting them to come ride with you at a given skate park. Also this design helps bring a parochial sense of space to a skate park. “Mobile social networks can help to turn public realms into parochial realms through …creating, sharing and exchanging information, social and locational” (Humphreys, 2010, p. 768).
RideBy could truly be a great way for people to learn how to us public space more effectively. It has the power to do a number of things, and each in a special way. It can prevent a negative situation from happening by someone using the check in feature to his or her advantage. It can bring people together and in the loop with the RideBy Mobile. In a sense it works on three different levels of trying to promote peace within this a public space. “The term social justice is taken to embrace both fairness and equity in the distribution of a wide range of attributes, which need not be confined to material things. Although the primary focus is on attributes which have an immediate bearing on people’s well-being or the quality of their lives, our conception of social justice goes beyond patterns of distribution, general and spatial, to incorporate attributes relevant to how these come about” (Smith, 1994, p. 26). Whether used by parents to find discover suitable times to bring their kids, or a friend finding out all of his buddies are at a spot, RideBy can make peoples lives a little bit easier.
Alexander, F. (1970). Emotional maturity. Austin: Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, University of Texas at Austin.
Howell, O. (2008). Skatepark As Neoliberal Playground: Urban Governance, Recreation Space, And The Cultivation Of Personal Responsibility. Space and Culture, 475-496.
Humphreys, L. (2010). Mobile social networks and urban public space. New Media & Society, 763-778.
Light, Ann and Rosemary Luckin. (2008). “Designing for Social Justice: People, Technology and Learning.” Report for Futurelab.
Silva, A. D. Sutko, D. M. (2011) Location-aware mobile media and urban sociability. New Media & Society, 807-823.
Smith, D. M. (1994). Geography and social justice. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.a