Richmond needs more mechanisms to tell the complicated story of Monument Avenue.
Vandalism reflects a desire to change historical narrative the story in the public view.
A platform that uses AR to encourage participation in the dialog around Monument Avenue.
In 2017, confederate monuments became ground zero for a series of violent protests across the southeastern United States. These events, sparked by the threat of removing confederate statues, mark the beginning of a long journey. According the a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a whopping 1,503 symbols of the confederacy still dominate public spaces across the nation.
A grassy mall lined with bronze generals called Monument Avenue has became Richmond’s site of counter-protests held in solidarity with other southern cities. In the wake of the mid- August riots in Charlottesville, Richmond’s Mayor Levar Stoney formed a commission to steer a public discussion on ideas for the monuments. In early July 2018, the commission called for the removal of the Jefferson Davis monument, and the contextualization of the four others.
Even today, approaches to providing context on-site still result in small permanent plaques with vague language written by committees. At the same time, innovations in Civic Technology are on the rise, but remain heavily focused on issues around quantifiable aspects of cities. Meanwhile, spray paint is the primary way the narrative changes in the public view. Since 2011, the Jefferson Davis monument has been tagged on days following mass shootings, white supremacist rallies, and even after Trump was elected. As a user behavior, tagging reflects a desire to revise the inscriptions; spray paint acts as a form of analog augmented reality.
As interest groups explore options for removal, preservation, or contextualization, the monuments remain as they were originally built. Augment Richmond is a platform that uses augmented reality to bring people into the mindset to participate in discussions around Monument Avenue.
Upon opening the app, you can explore nearby Augment Richmond sites.
At each location, you can read or listen to the perspectives of a variety of expert guest contributors who offer context on the monuments.
After learning about a site, you can write your own revision, or generate on by responding to a prompt. These revisions appear as a digital layer in front of the monument's base.
Share your revision to social media or as a supplement to a letter automatically sent to important interest or municipal groups. Revisions will also be discoverable on-site.
Augment Richmond enables users to send their revision to the interest group of their choice. Their opinion on Monument Avenue is expressed through a letter generated by the app, accompanied by an image of their revision. Seeing users' revisions rendered on the monuments offers an impactful way to inform a tone for more permanent signage.
Not only could the strategy behind Augment Richmond extend to other locations or topics — it could also serve as a storytelling tool for other types of cultural heritage. Augment Richmond lives in a larger body of a research project that advocates for a new field of Cultural Tech. The project began by questioning how the advancements of Civic Tech might find a space for cultural heritage. The project developed strategies for incorporating technology as participatory and/or storytelling tool for historic districts, buildings, sites, and monuments. What does cultural interpretation look like in the city of the future?
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