Projects / Improving Access to Public Resources for Everyone

Improving Access to Public Resources for Everyone

Data & Democracy

Building tools to foster public engagement for the people of California and around the world.
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Improving Access to Public Resources for Everyone

Dear Friends of CITRIS:

The protest that sparked the Free Speech Movement fifty years ago initially focused on the rights of all students to assemble on Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza and discuss whatever they saw fit. “There were civil rights activists, Goldwater Republicans, and Ayn Rand Objectivists,” says journalist Robert Hurwitt, who covered the demonstration. “It put democracy above ideology.”

The movement born on that momentous day half a century ago established much more than the validity of Sproul Plaza as a place for political discourse. The student movement that emerged took on the biggest social and moral challenges of the era and launched a tradition of public expression with profound ramifications for all Americans, but particularly for people of color, women, and those with disabilities, so many of whom had been living under a dark cloud of discrimination.

The work of CITRIS researchers on all four of our campuses reflects a similar commitment to improving access to public resources for everyone. The projects described in this issue of the CITRIS Signal seek to expand the opportunity for full civic participation by those who may be limited by a disability, economic circumstances, or their native language. Text Spotting describes efforts by professors Roberto Manduchi and Stefano Carpin, from Santa Cruz and Merced, to create a device that gives blind people access to the content of text on public signs, and thus to information key for navigating through, and absorbing the significance of, unfamiliar environments. A walk through Sproul Plaza today would be profoundly enriched for a blind person if he could suddenly read all of the signs.

>> Read Text Spotting: Helping Blind Persons Read Signs

Local Code uses geospatial analysis to identify thousands of publicly owned abandoned sites in major US cities, imagining this distributed, vacant landscape as a new urban system

Local Code uses geospatial analysis to identify thousands of publicly owned abandoned sites in major US cities, imagining this distributed, vacant landscape as a new urban system

The second article, Local Code, looks at a project aiming to help cities reclaim thousands of parcels of underused or abandoned land and weave them into a network that can help neighborhoods stay cool in the hottest parts of summer, absorb and filter storm water, provide habitat for urban wildlife, and create wholesome green havens where neighbors can assemble and organize. The coordinated improvement of these discrete fragments of land will help everyone, but since they are disproportionately found in impoverished and underserved urban areas, they will make an even bigger difference to those who now have only limited access to healthy public neighborhood spaces.

>> Read Distributed Infrastructure of Small Urban Places

As this issue of the CITRIS Signal hits the web, the Data and Democracy Initiative has just released version 2.0 of its California Report Card (CRC). It features a redesigned user interface and support for participation in English and Spanish. We are working with the Blum Center at UC Merced to expand the platform’s reach into the 30 percent of California’s homes where Spanish is the first language. The CRC deploys a digital tool to give voice to a politically underrepresented population: we think Mario Savio would have stood up for that.

Costas Spanos
Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley

Camille Crittenden
Deputy Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley

October 2014