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Digging Deeper Into Community (Re)Building Through Interactive Storytelling

The struggle for urban justice—and now the conversation around equitable rebuilding—is happening to a city near you.

In 2006, I relocated to New Orleans to document how the iconic city would rebuild after the massive devastation of Hurricane Katrina. My co-producer, Micheal Boedigheimer, and I filmed the stories of people who were on the front lines of this unprecedented reconstruction—public housing residents, developers and planners, unregistered Latino laborers, community activists, and displaced youth, among others. We captured hundreds of meetings, protests, rallies, demolitions and groundbreakings, where disparate visions over the “new” New Orleans clashed in sometimes violent ways. After filming full-time for five years, we built a substantial archive of more than 1,500 hours of footage that was culled into the 97-minute documentary, Land of Opportunity, which we released in 2011.

[vimeo][/vimeo]

Long before the film came out, however, I realized that the themes and tensions in the stories we were documenting went far beyond post-Katrina New Orleans. Climate disasters, economic collapse, and conflicting agendas for development and space resonate from Detroit to the Gulf Coast, from New York City to Chicago. The topic of how our communities are (re)built in the face of crisis seems to grow more and more relevant. We wanted to continue to tell this evolving story in a dynamic way that reflected the diversity of voices and stakeholders involved. We needed a new way to showcase these issues—one that drew connections across time, place, and community.

We started by reaching out to technologists who were developing new interactive storytelling tools online. Then we partnered with filmmakers, educators, and advocates in sister communities (New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and the Gulf Coast) to create layered multimedia narratives that connect the dots between the people and processes shaping our increasingly fragile and fragmented landscape. And so the next phase of our project was born: LandofOpportunity, an experimental web platform (currently in beta*) that merges multimedia storytelling about community rebuilding with data, research, and calls to action in one collaborative interactive space.

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