Networking Urban Agriculture to Change Social Norms and Community Identities

Understanding the significance of mobility and social interaction for networking applications is key to the functionality and effectiveness of this design proposal.  The connecting and coordinating powers of location-based services, as well as their potential to create new representations of place, are inherent in an urban agriculture network app that would be used by producers, vendors, and consumers.  This service would strengthen the communities that use it by creating a centralized digital space for interested parties to share information about their local urban agriculture and, in turn, stimulating their participation in farm and garden markets.  Though this proposal offers the potential for economic independence and improved nutrition in underserved urban areas, the concerns for privacy and accessibility of a standard smartphone app should not be overlooked.  Academic literature provides a useful framework for analyzing the theoretical implications of this design proposal.

Refining Interactions and Reimagining Place

Humphreys (2012) offers a three-pronged approach to understanding how mobile communication shapes social interaction, and each facet reveals distinctive capabilities of an urban agriculture market network.  The first approach, connecting, addresses the ways which in-group ties among farm collectives and community garden organizations would be reinforced, in addition to solidarity from local patrons (Humphreys, 2012, p. 502).  The app would reduce social distance between these groups by creating an online space for collaborative dialogue and increasing visibility.

The second approach, coordinating, reflects the use of location-based services to congregate in the physical world through the discussions with connections online (Humphreys, 2012, p. 503).  Consumers seeking local agricultural products would depend on the network as a centralized source of information about availability, schedules, and to discover new ways to participate in this evolving market.  Producers and vendors would coordinate activities to make mutually beneficial plans, such as forming coalitions, avoiding timing conflicts, or expanding their selections.

The third approach, cataloguing, describes how users look back at aggregated reviews and requests (Humphreys, 2012, p. 505).  Vendors would rely on this information to improve their products and offer new locations or schedules, encouraging more consumers to support their local agricultural economy.  Humphreys’ framework lends insight into the diversity of ways that an online network can enhance interactions among its members.

Gazzard (2011) makes an argument for the political power of maps that informs the ideas of connecting, coordinating, and cataloguing.  Location-based services create local networks for communities to experience new places and activities nearby through user contributions (Gazzard, 2011, p. 416).  This design proposal allows users to add content related to their local urban agriculture markets, fostering a new understanding of how food can be produced and distributed (Gazzard, 2011, p. 406).

It is essential for this information to be sorted by proximity, so users would have the choice of entering an address or giving the app permission to access their devices’ GPS.  The custom address function also serves users who may wish to receive results for another location, whether because they are (or will be) away from home, finding information for someone else, or researching urban agriculture in other cities.  As a medium for mapping community activity, this network creates new representations and meanings for the places discussed by its users (Gazzard, 2011, p. 408).

New Networks, New Notions

To maximize the potential for this proposed design to change perceptions about local food economies, users will have the option of linking their social media profiles to share posts from the network.  This facilitates the spread of urban agriculture information to a wider community and encourages new people to participate.  Marwick (2012) describes social media as a form of lateral surveillance (p. 379), as individuals use it to observe the attitudes and activities of their networks and pick up new norms based on these observations (p. 384).  The purpose of linking the app to social media is to take advantage of the powerful effect it can have on behavior when users share that they attended a neighborhood farmers’ market, found an exciting new product, or made a delicious home-cooked meal with produce from a local garden.

One drawback that comes with prompting posts on social media through the app is the collection of data for marketing purposes.  The posts would contribute to the users’ online identities which are bought and sold in common practice, but the benefits of linking to social media far outweigh this by-product.  Over time, the online display of everyday activities that engage in the local urban agricultural economy could steer entire communities into new norms (Marwick, 2012, p. 384).  Mann (2013) also argues that social networks allow users to become producers of information, engaged in acquiring and disseminating knowledge in real time.  Rather than relying on conventional supermarkets to purchase produce from commercial farms in distant locations, communities can use this app to organize from the bottom up and become more self-sufficient in the production and distribution of agricultural products.

Designing for Inclusivity

If this design proposal is a sincere attempt to improve the lives of its users, it must be made accessible to even the most marginalized individuals. Deaf and hearing-impaired users would not lose any functionality in the app.  Blind and vision-impaired people are often neglected in design considerations for websites and mobile apps, but many services are available to aid in accessibility, such as screen readers (Soederquist, 2012).  The coding and features of this app would be designed in accordance with W3C Web standards to ensure the accommodation of those who require assistive technologies (Soederquist, 2012).  The app would also be available as a desktop site for those who do not own, or cannot use, a web-capable mobile device.  This community-based network aims to include people of all abilities in its design and service.

In Conclusion

There is great potential for social impact with a networking app for consumers and producers of urban agriculture.  The connecting, coordinating, and cataloguing aspects work in conjunction with location to strengthen communities and forge new identities by sharing experiences.  This app would serve the cause of food justice by opening dialogue, shaping norms, and increasing participation in urban agricultural markets.

Another interpretation of mobility and fresh produce in underserved urban communities, and part of the inspiration for this project: 

Sources

Gazzard, A. (2011). Location, location, location: Collecting space and place in mobile media. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 17(4), 405-417. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://con.sagepub.com/content/17/4/405

Humphreys, L. (2012). Connecting, Coordinating, Cataloguing: Communicative Practices on Mobile Social Networks. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(4), 494-510. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08838151.2012.732144

Mann, S. (2013, September 26). Chapter 1: MannGlass, SpeedGlass, “GOOGlass”, and “The Veillance Contract” Retrieved March 19, 2015, from http://wearcam.org/VeillanceContract/VeillanceContract.htm

Marwick, A. (2012). The Public Domain: Surveillance in Everyday Life. Surveillance & Society, 9(4), 384-385. Retrieved March 19, 2015, from https://mobmedsp15.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/marwick_the-public-domain.pdf

Scarfi, M. (2012, June 28). Social Media And The Big Data Explosion. [Hyperlink]. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2012/06/28/social-media-and-the-big-data-explosion

Soederquist. (2012, September 13). Why mobile Web accessibility matters – best practices to make your mobile site accessible. Retrieved March 20, 2015, from http://mobiforge.com/design-development/why-mobile-web-accessibility-matters-best-practices-make-your-mobile-site-accessi

Sustain Ontario. (2013). Toronto’s Mobile Good Food Market. [Embedded video file]. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from https://vimeo.com/62277257

W3C Standards for Web Applications on Mobile: Current state and roadmap. (2015, January 1). [Hyperlink]. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from http://www.w3.org/Mobile/mobile-web-app-state/

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