Tuesday, January 07, 2020

bringing 3d printing to the public - a map of downtown youngstown

In a world of internet mapping and information at one's fingertips, I still get asked about once a week in downtown Youngstown for directions to a certain location.

"Where's the DMV located?"

"Is this the building for the Social Security office?"

"How many more blocks until we reach the Science Museum?"

But aside from information, mapping can unite a place.

Besides function, sculptural mapping can serve as a tourist attraction. And as you'll discover in some of the next photos, it can help the blind to "see".

How can we use this in a unique Youngstown way?

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Glasgow is a Scottish city which has really transformed itself over the last decade since I've visited. I love the "People Make Glasgow" messaging that appears throughout its streets.

Along Buchanan Street, a commercial pedestrian walkway connecting the Queen Street Station to the River Clyde to the south, one can find cast metal maps to help tourists and the public find their way.

Locations such as various train stations, government buildings, and cultural venues are marked with numbers across the street layout.

If you're new to a city, this physical mapping places the information in front of you, and helps you intuitively understand the space. The map itself slopes downward in elevation to the river's edge, and along the streets, one can see the decline as well, helping to orient you. One downside is keeping up with a changing Glasgow. A casted map as large as this probably takes a lot of resources to update, if updated at all.

Walking east towards the University of Strathclyde, here is another casted map, helping one to find the Glasgow Cathedral and the amazing adjacent Necropolis.

Jumping to the Korean capital of Seoul, an enormous interactive map in the Seoul Museum of History helps individuals to navigate this mega-city. Blinking lights, video screens, moving cameras help one to orient themselves in the districts around the city on either side of the Han river.

Let's skip to another great locale, Lyon in central France where the Saône River flows into the mighty Rhône. Perched on the hillside east of the central cultural district, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is a sight to behold and offers great sweeping views of the floodplain and many buildings for miles.

While many come to this site for a vista of the valley below, not everyone can experience this view. To orient visitors the Rotary Clubs of Lyon worked with other partners to produce another type of cast map.

Created by Dan Ohlmann, the piece Regard Sur La Ville (a view of the city) was designed with the help of visually-impaired individuals, and offers explanations of the buildings and the rivers of the city in both French and Braille. The piece invites visitors to visit the various districts of Lyon from "the tips of your fingers" by touching the metal buildings and tracing the streets.

So how can we adapt these ideas to a unique experience in Youngstown?

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Youngstown and its partners are developing an economic ecosystem for three-dimensional printing and additive manufacturing. Building a cluster takes years with federal partners, the private sector, educational institutions, but also the public needs to be engaged.

This public engagement is tough. Perhaps we've seen a 3-d printer in a library or school but how often have we touched a piece with our hands?

There is a gallery and a window to America Makes on Boardman street, but the printed products are on one side of the glass, and the public usually on the other side. And Boardman Street on that end of downtown is a relatively dead space due to the design of the street and lack of commerce and living opportunities.

An exciting development which is in the consciousness of the public is the $3 million NFL Helmet Challenge, a partnership between America Makes and the National Football League.

Might a three-dimensional printed map of Downtown Youngstown in a common space help to bring the concepts of additive manufacturing to the people?

Some additional benefits or considerations:
  • Similar to Lyon, local service clubs like the Rotary and the Lions can partner with sight agencies to integrate universal design into a a three-dimensional map, allowing some people to "See with their fingertips" the downtown and campus of Youngstown for the first time.
  • Since the map can be printed in pieces and assembled at one site, if a new building is built downtown, then a new building can be printed and added to the model (instead of casting an entire metal map like in Glasgow).
  • The continued need to update the map can engage local designers and YSU geography students, as there is/was a 3D Campus Team engaged in 3D modeling and GIS.
  • Youngstown lacks a central tourism office with ground floor access (and needs one) and perhaps the co-location of this map with a tourism office would make the launch stronger.
Is this concept worth pursuing?

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