On MIT’s CoLab Radio, John Arroyo chronicled parts of his master’s thesis on the Los Angeles River. He wrote, “I will use this blog to explore ideas, reflect on my research and profile several of the amazing and visionary cultural producers that have been inspired to engage with the River, raise consciousness for its re-imagination and re-frame our concept of a shared urban cultural landscape.”
Arroyo collected images community members drew of what they thought the River had the potential to be, and he posted them on the CoLab Radio site. Soon, he was presenting his thesis to a group of 20 Los Angeles-based urban planners, policy-makers, urban designers and artists at MIT’s g727 gallery in California. He was sharing his findings, ideas and recommendations with people who had the ability to cultivate change on the River, and he may never been able to do that without CoLab Radio.
Founded nearly four years ago by Alexa Mills, CoLab Radio is a blog “where people who are committed to improving cities and communities can express their ideas and share their projects.” Housed in the MIT Community Innovators Lab, CoLab Radio gives those who aren’t journalists the ability to reach mainstream outlets with their voices.
To Mills, those who live in a place should be able to contribute to its future plans, and so she wanted to find a way to integrate peoples’ voices into their community’s urban plan.
“I thought, ‘What can storytelling offer to the future of a community?’” Mills said. Based on stories like Arroyo’s and others, it’s been proven storytelling can offer a lot.
Currently, 150 people are contributing to the site from neighborhoods around the world. From writers and photographers to sound artists and illustrators, Mills said there’s a “tremendous diversity” within the CoLab Radio team. Although the primary blogger could be pegged as an “activist,” the site has managed to get community leaders involved, as well.
In March, when then 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Japan, Shoko Takemoto was walking around the streets of Kamakura, an old city one hour away from Tokyo, with her sister. She penned her experience on CoLab Radio, where Mills said people often write about current events based on their feelings.
“Even if no one ever read that post, the fact that she had publicly had a space to say how she felt is important,” Mills said.
People did read the post, however, and they told Mills they had been moved.
“The fact that, that individual can have a voice is what’s meaningful to me,” she responded.
With over 60 categories, and a continued increase in contributors, Mills claimed they’re in the process of revamping the site, saying, “It’s like we grew out of our shoes, and we need news ones.”
No matter what their site looks like, though, it’s their content that’s sending a message, and it’s their content that could change how we all see the world.