Sunday, August 2, 2009

Swarm: Getting friends into the same neighborhoods.

This is the full text for our redesigning suburbia contest (Reburbia,, sponsored by Inhabitat and Dwell.)  Unfortch, the entry concept statement was only 1500 words so it was significantly chopped.  However, the full statement should live somewhere on the internet for posterity.

Swarm: Friends make the best neighbors.

The recent economic decline has left us with vacant suburbs in various stages of decomposition.   Foreclosed homes and abandoned properties devalue real estate, splinter communities both economically and socially, and foster a high crime rate. Vacant suburbs are also a waste of resources and a visual mockery of the American Dream.

To revitalize, we must repopulate.  So how can new residents be enticed to move in?

The answer is Facebook.  Everyone is on the ‘book, and popularity is growing, especially those over 25.  Existing online social networks can physically congregate to fill vacant suburbs with friends. Essentially, if every vacant home in a neighborhood was filled with new residents that are friends with each other, than it would be a ready made community.  We need to get clumps of friends to descend on these areas of opportunity, much like bees gathering around spilled soda.

Swarm is a social networking plug-in application that that targets groups for bundled real estate sales.  A person would go on Facebook, add this application, and alert friends that they are searching for a home.  They would invite friends to help build a community (search for homes together by area, price, needs).  This application allows for online collaboration (gives the ability to rate the homesleave comments, tag things, align on needs/wants), view maps of communities, view existing residents of a community and other people who are interested in living there.

For people about to move to the suburbs, a common concern is the lack of culture there.  If one were to move and bring their social culture, that concern may be rectified.  Among those already ensconced in the ‘burbs, most have issues with neighbors: either not knowing them or not liking them.  A virtual representation of a neighborhood space would allow for way more interaction, with virtual awareness priming the residents for real-life contact.

Social benefits include good health from living close to friends (those with many close friends live longer), sharing life together with people of the same life-stage (moving, having kids, buying a home)Economic benefits include bulk discounts, bundled services, carpooling, group discounts for entertainment, education, food, services, utilities, insurance, cheaper childcare among friends/family or shared costs. Political benefits include collective interests with increased leverage in negotiation within community.

Environmentally, it's almost always better to use what you have than build anew.  After all, "today's exurbs are tomorrow's suburbs."  These suburbs are built, and we cannot change that, but we can seed vital communities in order to maintain and improve on what we have today.  If enough people come to the downtrodden areas, if enough swarms are established, then the communities will be able to demand public transport or walkable spaces.  Traditionally, first come the homes, than the transit, then the people, then the taxes and relationships and the reputation of the school system.   With Swarm, we are counting on the positive impact of human relationships begetting all the other makings of a desirable community.

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