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Virtual Reality and Structural Racism Project

Ari Riggins, Princeton University

Project: Virtual Reality and Structural Racism Project

Mentors:  Courtney Cogburn and Oyewole Oyekoya

Week 1:

This week after meeting with Dr. Wole to discuss the specifics of the project and brainstorming ideas and research questions to be explored, I began writing my project proposal. This proposal discusses the goals and methodology for the project. 

This project aims to create an effective virtual reality based visualization that brings light to the disparities of structural racism within housing. This visualization will be based on data from different cities within the United States. We will use property value data as well as racial demographics of the areas as the input; this data will be represented as a three dimensional street or residential area with houses of changing dimensions; the dimension of the house will be proportional to its value over time with color displaying the racial component.

In addition to the project proposal, this week I also downloaded the program Unity and began getting used to it and thinking about how it could work for the project.

Week 2:

My goals for this week were mainly to learn how to use Unity to build the project and to do some background research and summarize it on the topic. I downloaded the Unity ARKit and began following some tutorials to learn how to use it. So far, I managed to make an ios AR application which uses the phone camera to display the world with an added digital cube.

cube in window

After discussion with Dr. Wole, the project idea evolved a bit to involve displaying the residential area as an augmented reality visualization where it can be viewed through a device as resting on top of a flat surface such as a table or the ground. The next step that I am currently working on in Unity is surface detection so that the visualization can align with these surfaces.

In terms of research, I found several relevant sources investigating structural racism within housing. I came across the University of Minnesota’s Mapping Prejudice project which hosts an interactive map of covenants in Minnesota where there were restrictions on the race of property owners and tenants. This project provides a view of one method of visualization for data on racial discrimination within housing.

Week 3:

This week was spent focusing mostly on the data. I met with Dr. Cogburn and Dr. Wole and we discussed a more specific view of the visualization. Dr. Cogburn brought up the reference of a report done by Brookings Edu which investigates the devaluation of Black homes and neighborhoods; this report will serve as the jumping-off point for the data of this project as well as a reference for discussion of the topic.

The data used in the report comes from the American Community Survey performed by the US Census Bureau and from Zillow. It will be necessary to find similar data from the census for this project. We decided that currently, the project should focus on one geographic area as a case study of the overall inequality. The city I am planning to focus on is Rochester New York; it was represented in the Brookings report and was shown to have a large disparity in the valuation of Black and White homes.

Week 4:

This week in unity I continued working with the ARKit to detect surfaces and display the visualization on them. We discussed the data after running into a roadblock where we did not have access to all of the information we wanted. The Brookings report had not provided the names of specific towns and areas that we found to be comparable so we cannot find data on them individually. However, we are able to use the reported data by changing our visualization a bit. Instead of being on a timeline, the houses will be on a sliding scale by the factor of race.

I also gave my midterm presentation this week which helped me solidify my background research for the project, as well as explain it in a clear manner.

Week 5:

This week I was mostly working in unity. I found a free house asset that works for the project and I used the ARKit to place this on any detected plane. I also worked on getting a United States map to serve as the basis of the visualization on the plane. We decided to use multiple locations from the Brookings report as case studies, so now I am still working to write the script which changes the house size in accordance with this data. Now that I have the pieces working, I need to arrange the scene and scale everything, as well as create some instructions for use.

I have also been working on my paper and am currently thinking about the methodology section.

Week 6:

This week in terms of writing the paper I made a short draft of my abstract and began working on the methods section. I worked in unity to get the house asset into AR and to write a script to add the growing animation in the video below. I added an input to the house which dictates the disparity which should be displayed through the amount of growth of the house. I also looking into changing the color of the house and having it fade from one color to another. When meeting with my mentors, they suggested that I try some different approaches to the overall visualization such as adding avatars to depict the neighborhood demographics of the house and changing the color of the house to green or some other monetary representation to depict the change in value.

Week 7:

This week, I have been working to get my demo finished. I fixed my shrinking issue with the house and I added the color change to the roof, though I still have to sync these two processes. In meeting with my mentors we decided that I should focus on completing this one scene instead of working on two due to the limited time left. We also discussed the background of the scene and things I could add to make it feel more like a neighborhood. We also discussed labeling and how I could make clear the data which the visualization is actually conveying. At this point, my work is going to be finishing this demo and focusing on wrapping up all we discussed and what I’ve worked on into a presentation.

Week 8:

In the final week, I was majorly focused on preparing for my presentation and finishing up every aspect of the project. I also worked to finish the paper along with my presentation. In terms of my visualization, I had the case study visualization of one house changing in size and color, but at my mentor meeting we discussed the significance of the color and other possibilities. I ended up making two other versions of the visualizations using different colormaps representing the racial make-up of the communities.

Final Report

Hunter College
City University of New York
695 Park Ave
New York, NY 10065

Telephone: +1 (212) 396-6837
Email: oo700 at hunter dot cuny dot edu

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