The development team at Fort Awesome, Inc. is proud to announce the launch of Secret City, an innovative way for users to connect the present urban fabric with the past. Secret City is a project that will remind people that our present stands atop a rich, complicated, multifaceted past. With the advent of social media, we have become obsessed with capturing contemporary moments in photos, videos, tweets, check-ins and more. Yet, our predecessors also sought to frame their experiences for posterity. Secret City allows users to map representations of the “now” alongside images, demographics and news of decades long-past.
Starting with the neighborhood of MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, users will have the ability to compare historic photos to current photos, view changing demographics and see old news stories represented by geocoded markers. The beta launch includes many MacArthur Park-specific layers such as historic photos, current photos, local businesses and nearby bus lines. In addition, current photos will appear for most of Los Angeles County. Unfortunately, the planned demographic layers will not appear until the site’s official launch. As this project grows and users upload their own historic photos to Flickr, the project will extend to all of Los Angeles County and eventually beyond.
We believe that Secret City will have relevance for anyone interested in the evolution of cities over time. Naturally, current residents of MacArthur Park and Los Angeles may have the most immediate interest. However, as Secret City expands to more cities and neighborhoods, we believe people across the nation will check out what Secret City has to offer.
Potential Application of Project
The information we uncover and display will help to bolster neighborhood cohesion by allowing individuals to attach their personal histories to certain decades and locations. We hope to remind people that the city is not a static structure and that existing conditions need not necessarily remain one way forever.
The beta version of the website offers users a few of the many features that we will ultimately include in the final product. When the user first visits the site, he/she will find a pre-loaded map of MacArthur Park. Along the left-side of the map, the user will see a range of selectable layers. Currently the user only has a few layers to toggle on and off: bus routes near MacArthur Park, nearby establishments (through the Yelp API), “puzzle” locations for an upcoming urban game that takes place near MacArthur Park and photos within 20 miles of UCLA and 20 miles of MacArthur Park (through the Flickr API).
In addition, the user will have the option to learn more about the Secret City project by clicking on the “about us” tab at the top of the page. The About Us page also includes a brief FAQ on the left side of the page.
For information about data sources, users can click on the “data” tab at the top of the page.
Clicking on the “home” tab will return the user to the initial map.
Secret City calls on Flickr’s API to show photos within 20 miles of MacArthur Park and 20 miles of the UCLA campus. In addition, we uploaded, geocoded and tagged historic photos to Flickr. Thus, when a user selects older photos for say the 1940s, Flickr photos tagged with “secretcity” and “1940” will appear on the map.
The Yelp API shows users establishments such as bars and restaurants around the MacArthur Park/Westlake area of Los Angeles.
Secret City calls on the Los Angeles Metro API to show users the bus routes in and around the MacArthur Park neighborhood.
The historic photos we uploaded to Flickr all came from the USC Digital Archives, the Los Angeles Public Library and Sky Scraper City.
Although the beta website does not display demographic information due to restrictions with the Google API, we prepared multiple demographic data layers in GIS. The 1990 and 2000 data come from the Census’ own Fact Finder website. Data prior to 1990 come from Social Explorer. Demographic data from 1940 to 2010 will appear when the website officially launches in early June.
The Development Process
Fort Awesome spent four weeks conceptualizing the Secret City website. For a peak back at the initial storyboards, wireframes and concept, please visit our original proposal. Other than some aesthetic tweaks, and the aforementioned non-working website components, the website’s functionality remains unchanged from the storyboards/wireframes.
By far the largest challenge we faced was the integration of the GIS-created demographic layers into the site. Even though we converted each layer into a .kml file and appeared to code it properly, the layers still failed to appear on the map. We double-checked all the layers to ensure they appeared in Google Earth. The debugger informed us that the error was actually on the Google API side. We consulted specialist Yoh Kawano who confirmed that the error was due to limitations with the Google API. Despite additional efforts to reconvert the layers through Google Earth and with Geocommins, the layers continued to not appear.
Another major hurdle was the delay time Flickr places on new accounts’ uploaded images. Although we uploaded all our historical images on Saturday, they may not appear on Flickr in time for the beta launch.
Finally, despite efforts to incoporate Foursquare, Twitter and Instagram APIs, the team ran into many roadblocks. Rather than spend too much time on these APIs, we decided to first focus on Flickr, Yelp and Metro and prepare the others for the site’s main launch in early June.
Future Website Functions
The final launch will reveal a much more robust site. All of the selectable layers will actually toggle on/off the map. This will require us to get a better handle on the following APIs:
In addition, we will solve the demographic layer problem and also create and include layers for 1940-1970.
Finally, we will add a few new featurues, most notably a “search” bar that will allow users to enter Los Angeles County locations and a layer of selectable historic “news” markers for 1900-2o00.
Division of Labor
Each member of Fort Awesome, Inc. played a major role in Secret City’s beta launch.
Alex built out the basic framework of the site, including most of the html code and the style guide. In addition, Alex wrote the copy for the FAQ, About Us and Data descriptions. Finally, Alex aggregated Census data to create population density, racial make-up, employment status and median household income shapefiles for the 1980, 1990 and 2000 Censuses. As we explained above, a problem with the Google API’s .kml layer restriction prevents us from displaying the GIS layers at this time. We believe we will rectify the problem by final launch.
Justin was Fort Awesome Inc.’s photo-man extraordinaire. He poured through hundreds of potential photos. Once he found an appropriate batch, he uploaded the photos to Flickr, geocoded them and tagged them with a decade tag and the unique “secretcity” tag. Unfortunately, Flickr takes a few days to display uploaded photos from newly started accounts. Thus, we are not quite sure whether the historic photo feature Justin initiated will appear during the beta launch presentation. However, they should at least show up within a couple days after the presentation.
Daniel coded all non-Yelp sections of the Secret City script. This included extensive work with the Flickr and Metro APIs, research into the Instagram API, creation and inclusion of a Metro rail .kml layer and a valiant effort to get all the demographic layers to appear on the map.
Secret City – The Game
Clicking through old photos or finding out about secret local businesses from the comfort of your own is great! On the other hand, it’s also great to get out and explore a neighborhood for yourself, but this can be a daunting task. The aim of Secret City – The Game will be showcase MacArthur Park by guiding participants through a series of puzzles which simulate a classic LA Noir style mystery. The location of these puzzles is shown on the map to give a sense of the parts of the park that will be explored in great detail through gameplay. These are corners of the park that are rarely visited – especially not on foot. Secret City – The Game fits well into our general strategy to improve awareness of the everything LA’s historic neighborhoods are hiding!
If you’re interested in checking this game out, feel free to contact Roy or Daniel at Ft. Awesome HQ for more information. (Note: Secret City – The Game is also in development at the moment. Playtesting is under way and we are shooting for a beta rollout of the game in early June. Stay tuned!)