How do you build an active, engaged community of business owners in a developing area? Are there digital tools that can help bring a community together?
A team of Master of Digital Media students is exploring these very ideas in their project this semester. Working with the Vancouver Economic Commission, MDM students Gwen Schwartz, Robert Huang, Cindy Cao and Maria Khan, along with Simon Veilleux—a French engineering student visiting from France—were given the task of figuring out how to brand the False Creek Flats and build a vibrant community of business owners in the neighbourhood.
The False Creek Flats is just outside Downtown Vancouver between Main Street and Clark Drive and Prior Street and Great Northern Way. The Centre for Digital Media is located in the southern edge of the False Creek Flats.
Rob Huang, the project manager for the team, summarizes the project and the problem they were solving:
The Vancouver Economic Commission came to us wanting to brand the False Creek Flats. What we discovered through our research is that the community is fractured. We've decided to build the identity of the neighbourhood from the ground up with stories from the community.
The project is about two things: One, we want to start a conversation in the community. And two, we want to encourage other businesses to communicate with each other and share their unique stories.
The students’ solution is to build a website to use as a platform for telling and collecting these stories.
But why a website? Maria Khan, the user experience designer on the team, says,
Lots of people have asked us why we chose to do a website. We wanted a way to combine different storytelling mediums. Different types of information lend themselves to different forms, thus we used different mediums to highlight specific part of the False Creek Flats narrative. There was also a practical reason in that we wanted to capitalize on all of our different skill sets.
Gwen, the communications manager and web programmer on the team adds:
In terms of being part of a larger web campaign, the website is unique in that it doesn't just force our audience to digest generalized facts that they otherwise have no real connection to. We have managed to build a tool that educates the False Creek Flats community and offers individuals a multitude of concrete opportunities to get involved, essentially transforming information into action. The site serves as a catalyst for the kind of macro-level engagement and fostering of identity that the VEC is ultimately looking to achieve.
The content on the site embraces the past, present and future of the community and includes motion-graphic video, infographics and video interviews from local businesses.
Explaining the complexity of the content on the site, Cindy the art director on the team, says,
We wanted to give a complete picture of the area, not only what is presently here in the False Creek Flats but show how the past has influenced the present and how the community could move forward and create a better future. For example, the motion-graphic highlights a vision of the future for the area in order to gain more local engagement.
In the end, the students will leave the client with a website and a roadmap for how to continue forward and evolve the content.
When asked what lessons the students learned throughout the course of the project, Rob replied:
We learned that, as a team, we need to be all on the same page so that we can clearly express our ideas so that everyone on the client side understands us. The use of terminology is important as we often forget that we are digital media students and the terms we use require explanations to others. For example, wireframes, mockups, and drafts all mean the same thing but we learned that we need to use just one term so that there is no confusion.
Rob continues on to say, "After the whirlwind of the first semester, I learnt many different tools and methods on how to manage projects and collaborate effectively. However, I wasn’t able to properly apply the knowledge I learned until this term. Learning by doing is what makes the MDM program what it is."
Cindy also adds "I’ve learnt that discovering the best method to accurately present the client’s needs is a collaborative process that requires the full input of everyone involved. In addition, I’ve learned how to push my own boundaries to the next level in order to produce high quality work within a short period of time."
In terms of the students’ goals of the project, Rob said, "Our goal is to have the site continue forward, have people visit the site and contribute—actually from the False Creek Flats Community. There's lots of potential in the neighbourhood as I've never seen so many different business sectors in one community."
We're setting a precedent for the community and Vancouver as a whole. We're developing processes and demonstrating how digital media can be used for community engagement. If you look back to what happened with the development of the Canada Line- Cambie Station, there was lack of communication between the community and city planners, causing a huge backlash, ending in multiple lawsuits. This project will show how digital media can be used to better engage our communities during development process and grow vibrant neighbourhoods.
To find out more about the team's processes and solutions, check out their blog.
The Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) focuses on growing the Vancouver economy by means of investment, business development, and bettering business practices. VEC seeks to connect local and international businesses in the city of Vancouver. They also work closely with the city government in order to improve the overall business climate within the city and increase the attractiveness of Vancouver to businesses around the world.