For my Digital Humanities Capstone Project in the spring semester 2020, I’m investigating the topic of loneliness in cities. In particular, I’m interested in the question: “How friendly is a city for a lonely person?“ As loneliness spiked in urban areas in the past decade, experts and the media started talking about the loneliness epidemic. Little did I know into what times the world had been heading at that phase of the semester. I’m writing this blog post while a different pandemic has brought life as we know it to a halt. In these times, the typical type of city I’m concerned with in my project – metropolitan, walkable, dense developed – is now forced to operate counter to its functioning principle providing us with images beyond what we were able to envision. Amenities a city thrive on are closed, flaneuring is no longer allowed, and social-distancing is the new urban mantra for the time being.
With the virus, loneliness seems to have become all-pervasive as citizens are mandated to stay home and reduce social activities. Social issues once visible in the urban conglomerate are now muted into the private sphere. In the wake of these circumstances, my question has gained additional perspectives. I’m currently discussing my initial question by looking at the issue of visibility. In particular the visibility of loneliness and the lonely person in the city. If there were no places where these social issues could bide and reside and demand visibility through public friction, how then do we know how to talk about them How do we know how many people in the city feel lonely? What loneliness looks like? And where it’s located? Actually, what public spaces could a lonely person occupy to stay visible and thus, relevant as a participant of the Urban in the city? How can we measure a city’s “lonely-friendliness“? Where are the places we can trace this down? And how can we visualize this to have a better grasp of the magnitude?
I want to investigate these questions by evaluating what Ray Oldenburg calls third places – Cafés, Restaurants, and Parks. With a set of criteria, I seek to collect data to define what it needs for a lonely person to visit those places and spend time there.
In the beginning of this capstone experience, I talked to some people at the Digital Studio about tools that I could use to collect and structure data, me and Ashley also started to meet with Jay Bowen, the GIS specialist at the Studio, to get started on learning ArcGIS. However, with the UI canceling all non-essential face-to-face meetings on campus, learning ArcGIS via the Virtual Desktop service has turned out to be a challenge itself; but also collecting data in situ has become for an indefinite time impossible.
So instead, I’ve started to learn Python to map what I think would be interesting to see spatially, as Python does not require complex software and tutorials can easily be found online.
The capstone journey has been quite thought-provoking under COVID-19 conditions and I’m excited to see where this will take the project.