Taking Liberties with street design

11 Aug 2005

If you could redesign the streets in your neighbourhood, what would you change? Children in Dublin’s inner city got to answer that very question last month as part of a summer project with a difference.

Around 50 children from nine community groups based in the Liberties area of Dublin outlined their ideas for what they think their streets should look like. The eStreet Project is the latest in a series of similar summer schemes run by the Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative (DLLI) over the last few years, which involved kids using computers and digital editing technology to create rap tracks and music videos.

The DLLI is a part of the overall Digital Hub project with a remit to cover community and education, so eStreet offered a chance to take the urban regeneration part of its mandate and put it to practical use. This year, with much of the focus around the Digital Hub on computer games, this technology was brought into play for this year’s efforts. John Hurley, director with the DLLI, told siliconrepublic.com: “We’re using the summer project as a test bed for something different.”

The ideas that made their way into the finished streets reflected a diverse set of interests on the part of the children: three churches adorned one street; another boasted a wrestling shop; a monkey water fountain made its way on to one virtual street. However, if there was a single strong connection linking the various efforts it was the need for new facilities in Dublin’s inner city. Other scenes included a bowling arena and an aqua park but most noticeable of all was that many children included playgrounds in their idealised streets.

“We had a motive — we wanted the kids to become conscious of their environment and how they can change it,” explained John Lynch, one of the tutors for the summer project. The emphasis was on creativity rather than technology, he added. “Their technical ability improved but a lot of them understood that this was their chance to make a point — there were a lot of trees, parks and litterbins where the kids obviously recognised that these things would be nice — which comes back to the original motive.”

The project was divided into three week-long phases. The first involved compiling the ‘assets’ that would be included in the street, from lamp posts to buildings. Then the groups of children drew their street designs in pencil, with these drawings then traced over in ink. The designs were then scanned into computers and the children added colour digitally using Adobe Photoshop software.

Week two brought the children to grips with technology that is commonly used to create computer games: they captured their movements on camera, standing in front of a green screen, where the background would be replaced with the street scene. Rather than record these clips as full-motion video, they were filmed using a process called stop-go animation. Each child chose what action he or she wanted to perform and did so in a series of small steps which were recorded one at a time. When run together these created the illusion of movement. The kids then recorded voiceovers to go with the live action footage.

The third and final week involved fixing any bugs in the system and making changes based on the children’s feedback. The end result for their efforts is a game called eStreet that players can use to create their own digital neighbourhood based on the templates created during the project. All of the children participating in the project received a copy of the game on CD-Rom at a presentation day in the Digital Hub buildings, which showcased their work by projecting scenes on to walls, giving the illusion of a virtual street.

By Gordon Smith

Pictured: Leah O’Keefe, Vanessa Lynham and Lorna O’Keefe from Oliver Bond House were part of nine inner-city community groups taking part in the eStreet project, part of the Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative run by the Digital Hub