Historic Photos on the Ground - App Idea

Posted by Gerry Thomasen on Thursday, March 8th, 2018 at 5:34pm.

It was announced by Infrastructure Canada that their "Smart Cities Challenge" is offering money to municipalities who have ideas for applying technological solutions to city issues. The City of Nanaimo requested submissions from citizens, in a bid to get the best ideas so that we can get the funding!

Here was my submission (below), proposing an app that allows pedestrians downtown to interact with the HISTORIC space around them. It is framed in the ministry's requested format: presenting an issue and proposing a technological solution.

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St Andrews Church, Nanaimo, past and present from the same vantage

The City of Nanaimo faces an issue when it comes to perception from tourists and from many of the city’s own citizens. Although the historic downtown core has popular oceanfront parks and boutique shopping opportunities, it also has conspicuous socio-economic depression, which causes many visitors and locals to under-appreciate the downtown area – this slows revitalization and prevents many citizens from participating at the city’s cultural epicentre. A key way to improve perception of downtown is to add another layer to pedestrians’ experience of the space – that layer concerns the area’s vibrant history as one of the first cities in BC.

Most people visiting downtown lack any frame of reference for the history which surrounds them. They notice the unfortunate panhandler across the street, but they could be thinking instead about how an elephant once walked on that spot, or how that street was once a wooden bridge over a tidal ravine.

An easy solution would be to provide an app for smartphones and tablets (and later, augmented reality situations) that shows/overlays historical images in relevant locations throughout the downtown area (and elsewhere in the City). For example, a user standing on the Bastion St Bridge facing south would be presented with a photo showing the same view when a carnival was visiting in earlier times. Or, someone at the train station or the Queen’s Hotel would see historic images from those buildings.

The means by which these images would be presented, is to be determined. Ideally there would be different exploratory formats available: the user could see a map on their device with nearby photo spots, or they could take a walking tour directed by the app, or they could opt for “game mode” in which a photo is presented and the user must guess the relevant location in order to score a point (etc.).

Programming and maintenance of the app would be inexpensive compared to other initiatives, and the intellectual capital (providing of images, instructions for app developers about geo-locations for access points) could easily be sourced by volunteers. This writer has a collection of 2900 photos from Nanaimo’s history, organized in folders according to location – and this writer would happily volunteer his time. Much more data is available at the Archives and volunteers could work with the Archives to source those images.

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(Players of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may recognize the "Captured Memories" quest alluded to in my proposal.)

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