What if immersive mapping technology fostered exploration and health?

Walking in L.A.

An Urban Trail Guide

Walking in L.A. is an 360° immersive experience of the sights and sounds of the under-appreciated staircases of Los Angeles. The goal of the project is to introduce the historical relics of the human-center transportation system that once dominated the City of Los Angeles and encourage exploration within the urban landscape.

Role: Self-guided Project
Timeline: 12 weeks
Advisor: Kurt Issacson
Tools: GoPro Fusion, Google Cardboard, Zoom H6 and Premiere Pro

Challenge

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After my initial interest in the staircases around Silver Lake and Echo Park, I found that I was unable to navigate them via Google Maps.
The Google Street View user experience is car-centric and oriented towards serving the economic needs of its users. In doing so, the socio-cultural and personal needs of the user are disregarded, thus reinforcing the pollution-and traffic-creating effects while seeing the user from a single-perspective. Therefore, I sought out to investigate how Google Street View could highlight the human-scaled transportation network and provide socio-cultural information to the users within the experience.

Process

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When I lived in the neighborhood of Echo Park, I frequented a particular staircase located on Kent Street. One day, I decided to explore the neighborhood to see if more staircases existed nearby, and surprisingly, I came across many within a short distance. That day sparked my curiosity to investigate the history and purpose of L.A.’s staircases. During my research, I encountered a book titled, Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles by Charles Fleming. Instead of text and simple illustrations, I envisioned a Google Street View experience of the staircases for people to click through and “walk”. Over the course of a couple of months, I captured 360° video of the staircases that I found most interesting and uploaded the videos to Google Street View. However, when I viewed the results within Google Maps, I was disappointed by how difficult it was to move between each frame. During my research phase, I learned about Google’s Creative Lab Five, and recalled one project in particular, called “Virtual Pilgrimage.” In this project, users interact with the projected video using a webpage on their mobile phone.

Initial prototype was created from a Swiffer handle, Duck Tape and my iPhone in which I used to capture a panoramic image of my apartment complex's staircase.
I consistently encountered these signs as I walked around the neighborhood staircases and their presence signals the disregard for the staircases in the community.
Google Street View is not available on the historic Mattachine Steps nor nearby staircases.
Avalon St. stairs in Echo Park.
View on top of the 231-step Baxter St. stairs.
View of DTLA from the Loma Vista Pl Stairs.
Houses do not have street access.

Documentation

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The experience is designed to be viewed on a Google Cardboard.

Consideration

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User experience inspired by Google's Virtual Pilgrimage project.
BroomX VR Projector to display the immersive experience inside the scale of a room.

For the future of this project, I would like to add immersive audio that would be captured using binaural microphones. This would allow the viewer to employ another sense that would make them feel even more a part of the environment as they“walk” the staircases. As for the project’s interactivity, I’d like to include additional features, like the ability for a viewer to listen to a virtual “resident” talk about their perspective of the staircases. These virtual “residents” would reflect the multi-cultural identity of the locale and illustrate the changes that the neighborhood has endured over time. Interactions with the “residents” would be similar to that of a role-playing game in which events, characters, and a narrative structure are passively available to the viewer. Additionally, I would like to project the 360° video content onto a large wall via a VR projector and allow viewers to use their smartphones as a way to move within the experience and interact with different features. For example, the viewer could open up a Wikipedia-like results page about a particular attraction, such as the house at the top-right of the Mattachine Steps in Silver Lake where Harry Hay, the founder of The Mattachine Society, once lived.

Reflection

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Los Angeles is world famous for its car culture, and the construction of the first modern freeway, Arroyo Seco Parkway. As a result, few can fathom that Los Angeles was once dominated by trolleys and light-rail systems. Because of this expansive public transportation system, city planners and developers of L.A.’s original neighborhoods constructed staircases as direct routes for residents to get down and around the steep hillsides. The staircase-to-trolley system was so much a part of the neighborhood that in some areas developers built houses without direct street access, only staircases that ran across the front of the house. Unfortunately, the vast public transportation system slowly declined in usage and viability as the use of personal vehicles increased and the freeways were built. Now, with the trolleys gone, the staircases remain, and many of them are forgotten and unused paths. Therefore, it is my deepest wish that participants can begin to pay attention to the historical artifact of the pedestrian-scaled transportation network that surround them as they traverse the traffic-clogged byways of present-day Los Angeles. It is my hope that Los Angeles may someday break free of its car-centric mentality and return to its roots as a walking city.

Previous Project

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