Urban Research Tool (URT) is a research initiative in new media technologies for urban and design studies at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City. Developed out of XYZ Lab as both an online platform and an iPhone app, URT creates new opportunities for collaborative research across thematic layers of urban history, built environments, economics, social and cultural phenomena tied to specific urban locations. Through its user-friendly interfaces and thematically focused research objectives, URT offers a wide array of design, art, new media and urban study students and faculty a platform to create extensive, rich collaborative projects that feature shared urban locations.
Utilizing OpenStreetMaps, an online, collaborative mapping service as its base map, URT’s mobile iPhone app allows participants to both enter and organize field data for specific locations as well as gain immediate access to URT’s ongoing thematic layers that feature these same locations. Through this ‘push-pull’ field research strategy, users are offered project-specific capabilities that surpass the functionality of commercial GPS systems tied to point data alone. Through its web interface, users can further contribute audio, video, text and photographic documentation to specific project databases within the URT platform. Designed as an inclusive, collaborative platform, URT goes beyond discrete geographic point data to encourage rich and comprehensive research and representation of urban locations. Unlike Google Maps or geographic information services with a defined, commercial focus such as Yelp and Zillow, URT’s mapping layers feature a wide variety of media and information incorporating past, present, future and imagined identities of urban geographies; and defining locations through expansive zones, routes, events beyond commercial characteristics alone.
As specific URT projects advance through collaborative research at Parsons, they are archived within the URT platform for ongoing access by the larger public. Further, multiple production capabilities-- print, web, magazine, installation, public forum-- can be easily accomplished from the URT databases, allowing users flexible distribution beyond the research interfaces of URT. With its collaborative focus for urban research, URT empowers both academic researchers and local communities with an open source mapping system designed to depict the complexity of both the potential and challenges bound to urban geographies.