2016 Grants Challenge

Sankofa City

Sankofa City will explore the nexus of emerging technology, art, and community-based urban design, to provide visions for the future of local innovation and cultural development in Los Angeles.


Are any other organizations collaborating on this proposal?

Kaos Network, Los Angeles, CA (Leimert Park), Urban Systems Laboratory, Torrance, CA

Please describe your project proposal.

The advent of new urban-based technologies means that the future form of Los Angeles will be unlike anything one can now imagine. For example, how might self-driving vehicles and augmented reality be used to change our relationship to the city - to even change the city itself? We will conduct a series of collaborative workshops with artists, students, technical experts, and local Leimert Park residents, to create vivid scenarios of the possibilities to share with the public and spark debate.

Which of the CREATE metrics will your proposal impact?​

Arts establishments

Manufacturing activity

Minority- and women-owned firms

In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

South LA

Describe in greater detail how your proposal will make LA the best place to CREATE?

The future of LA depends on collaboration. “Sankofa City” proves that large research universities, nonprofits, and local communities can work together to empower local citizens to imagine alternative urban technologies that work for the public good. Technologists and students will work in groups with local visual artists, musicians, and residents to design urban prototypes, stories, and videos about the future of Leimert Park and South LA.

For example, a video would show the power of autonomous vehicles, equipped with augmented reality windows, to give interactive history tours. As the vehicle drives through the neighborhood, passengers would see overlaid archival footage or holographic reenactments of jazz greats and past residents, like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ray Charles. Multi-channeled audio speakers in the vehicle would immerse the passengers in the intoxicating sounds of these local Leimert legends, bringing history to life.

Further scenarios may include paratransit vehicles for the elderly or disabled, self-driving karaoke booths, or playful immersive games for children and families. But we’re not just looking at transportation and UX/UI. We’re also exploring issues of sustainable gardening and local economies. Our workshops are holistic and collaborative across a range of stakeholders and participants, combining elements of cinema, design, urban planning, architecture, and community arts. These workshops build on a four year collaboration called the Leimert Phone Company, a design collective with USC and Ben Caldwell’s Kaos Network. For the past 30 years, Kaos Network has been a space for music, arts, and digital technologies in Leimert Park.

We’ll also be working with Urban Systems Laboratories, a nonprofit infrastructure systems company with significant expertise in the emerging field of autonomous transportation. They've been working with the community to envision a number of autonomous low speed vehicle applications to enhance the safety, everyday life, and economic well-being of the community. A key aspect of their philosophy is to include the community itself in the process to develop advanced technologies. For this project, they will engage with community members to design low-cost vehicles and develop a plan for their local manufacture. Along with Kaos Network and AIL, Urban Systems will staff a community workspace for the purpose, providing a full-scale vehicle mockup and producing an accurate scale model for use in presentations and manufacturing studies.

The full-scale vehicle and other prototypes will be central to the videos to show real solutions for integrating new urban technologies. The videos encapsulate complex concepts and multithreaded scenarios, allowing us to crisply convey community-generated visions. Our final videos will be presented to the community, exhibited publicly, and shared online to deepen conversations about future alternatives for local innovation and everyday technologies.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

The level of success is determined by 1.) community input, 2.) complexity of our final design videos and prototypes, and the 3.) public impact.

Community Input: The goal of the workshop series is to visualize local residents’ desires and concepts for the future. It is a collaborative process that requires a deep conversation in co-designing future urban-based technologies or urban plans. Our success is determined by our ability to retain volunteer participants and engage them in compelling and creative ways.

Design Complexity: The power of design is its ability to say complex things in simple ways. Our final design videos will be short, but need to present a holistic image of everyday life in our urban future. The videos must be able to present urban forms, technological interfaces, and civic activity in a compelling way. Our prototypes and final autonomous car design will also give concrete form to our provocative visions.

Public Impact: The final goal of our workshops and our videos is to provoke public conversations. By creating videos, we’re able to present an accessible and naturalistic portrayal of a potential future. These portrayals can be screened and discussed locally, as well as shared online. The amount of widespread discussion or larger community feedback will prove the relevance of our urban model and solutions.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?





Technical infrastructure (computers etc.)

Community outreach