Chapter 20: Mobilizing Cities: Alternative Community Storytelling

by Mark Marino


Chapter Abstract:

When trying to portray the diversity of urban spaces, mobile phones open narratives to include more kinds of voices into a more complex portrait of social relations. This chapter examines examples of this emerging genre, specifically focusing on Voces Móbiles (VozMob) and The LA Flood Project, each which tell the stories of Los Angeles that typically go untold. VozMob is a journalism project that allows itinerant day laborers, or jornaleros, to report and publish the events they witness in the city. The LA Flood Project is a work of locative art that presents both real and imagined accounts of Angelenos who have encountered a crisis. Both of these projects use mobile phone technologies to complicate the very notion of “mobility” by calling attention to the ways economic, racial, and ethnic status facilitate or restrict movement; in the forced movements caused by natural calamities; and in the itinerant nature of jornaleros, whose constant movement is a sign of their marginal status. Together these projects show how mobile technologies act as media of inclusion by allowing a diversity of voices to speak about a city as the storytellers cross this heterogeneous urban landscape.


Hands-On Exploration:

The LA Flood Project grew out of two interests: how urban spaces react to crises (real and imagined) and how those crises bring to the surface the unwritten rules of our communal spaces.

For this exercise, take your local area, be it a city, your university, your block, or just your dorm and imagine it in the middle of a crisis, be it natural or political.  As it turns out most natural crises are shaped by the political (as in the case of Hurricane Katrina, for example).

Then, annotate a map with descriptions of how that crisis has changed the space.  For our current project, Google Maps worked well, but you could use any platform.

You can also create characters from various spheres and imagine how they’ve each been affected differently.   We have found the monologue form to be particularly effective.  That form allows you to imagine not just how the person’s life was changed by the crisis but also how they perceive it.  Think of underrepresented points of view expressed in the field reports from the jornalistas of Voces Móviles. The more different the background and living conditions of the characters the better.

To tie your project more to the communal experiences of your area, first interview your neighbors about their experiences with crises in the area.   Consider recording these interviews to get a deeper sense of how each person expresses the experience and how their affect conveys the complexity of their relationship to their community such intense and trying moments.