"Community groups to use virtual reality to improve Troy's North Central/Uptown neighborhood during Sunday workshop"

Date published: 11/06/2010
Publication: Troy Record

By Cecelia Martinez

TROY — A number of community organizations are coming together to use virtual reality to imagine a better future for their neighborhood at a workshop this Sunday at the Sanctuary for Independent Media. Using photos of buildings in a section of North Central/Uptown, participants in the four-hour free workshop will work as a team to create 3D prototypes as an urban planning tool for the community.

Entitled “Second Life for Community Development: Re-imagining Your Neighborhood Through Virtual Worlds,” the  workshop is co-sponsored by iEAR Presents! and the Arts Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Troy Architectural Project, the Missing Link Street Ministry, the Uptown Initiative and the Troy Alley Action Project. Stephanie Rothenberg, an artist and educator that uses networked media, will lead the workshop using building tools in Second Life, a 3D virtual world.

Branda Miller, a media arts professor at RPI and the arts and education coordinator at the Sanctuary, said the event demonstrates the collaborative effort between the organizations.

“We at the Sanctuary want to connect with the neighborhood and build in the community,” said Miller, who added that this will be her first time seeing virtual reality used for community development. “We talked with [Rothenberg] about how Second Life can be used in the first life. The question really is, ‘how does it translate into making real change for neighborhoods?’”

Miller said that, working with the co-sponsoring organizations, they were able to complete preliminary research about the neighborhood, which is one of the more socio-economically-challenged communities in the city. Joe Fama of TAP produced photos of properties in North Central/Uptown taken ten years ago by RPI students, which will serve as the ‘skins’ of 30 buildings in the virtual world.

Using these photos, a 3D model of Sixth Avenue between Glen and 101st Street will be created, extending down to the riverfront to the west. Rothenberg will have some help from architecture students from Cairo, Egypt, who will join in on the workshop virtually through Second Life.

After taking a real-life walk around the neighborhood as a group, participants will then virtually walk through the neighborhood, implementing architectural elements like planters, gardens and more to not only establish the needs of the community, but to determine ways to make them happen in the real world.

This isn’t the first time Second Life has been used as a visual design tool. Studio Wikitecture, an open group composed of members from various backgrounds, uses 3D applications to develop design, architecture and urban planning projects. Virtual reality was also used to create a tele-medicine facility in Western Nepal.

Miller said that, once created, the virtual North Central neighborhood will be maintained, and the Sanctuary  is looking into ways to keep the project going. The workshop, free and open to the public, will be held Sunday, Nov. 7 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sanctuary, located at 3361 Sixth Ave. For more information, contact 272-2390 or visit www.mediasanctuary.org/node/1914. Rothenberg will also hold a ‘mixed-reality talk show’ event tonight at the Sanctuary; admission is a suggested $10 donation.

Cecelia Martinez can be contacted at 270-1294 or by e-mail at cmartinez@troyrecord.com.

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