Posted February 15th 2017 at 5:54 pm by
in PAR, Participatory Action Research

Understanding Red Hook WIFI through Participatory Action Research

The Red Hook Initiative (RHI) is a neighborhood-based organization in Brooklyn, New York City. Red Hook is located along the New York Bay, and is bordered by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the West. As of 2014, it had a population of about 11,000 people of which 18% were White, 42.2% were Latino or Hispanic, and 35.5% were Black. Almost 38% lived below the poverty level.[1] There is no direct subway service and approximately 70% of the population lives in New York City public housing. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) manages the “Red Hook Houses” which is Brooklyn’s largest public housing development with roughly 6,000 residents. Lucrative job opportunities and extra-curricular programs for young people are lacking in the area. The neighborhood is also susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change as seen after the unprecedented damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Red Hook WIFI, a project of the Red Hook Initiative’s Digital Stewards program  is a community-led effort to close the digital divide, generate economic opportunity, facilitate access to essential services and improve quality of life in Red Hook via the deployment of a wireless Internet network. The Digital Stewards are a group of young adults from the neighborhood who initially installed and maintained Red Hook WIFI.[2] In partnership with local businesses and residents, Red Hook WIFI is providing free access to the Internet, where broadband adoption rates are lower than the city average. Additionally, each time a user signs on to the network, the splash page displays local events, news, jobs listings and more. This local home-grown network also turned out be one of the only functioning communication infrastructures in the neighborhood after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

During the summer of 2016, I collaborated with eight Digital Stewards to design and conduct a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project to better understand community perceptions and usage patterns of the Red Hook WIFI network, as well as identifies how Red Hook WIFI could be improved to address neighborhood needs. Our main research questions included:

  • Who in the neighborhood is using and benefitting from Red Hook WIFI?
  • In what ways are these people using the communication infrastructures?
  • How could RHI and the Digital Stewards improve Red Hook WIFI in the future to better address neighborhood needs?

You can access the full report here to learn more about our process and results.  Additionally, three Red Hook Digital stewards: Joseph Alston, Javon Webb, and Jazzhane Cherry will be visiting MIT on Thursday, February 16th to discuss digital justice and community development.

Basic RGB

[1] Since Red Hook WIFI is mostly built, the Red Hook Digital Stewards now participate in rigorous tech skill trainings. The RHI Digital Stewards spent six months learning technology skills and knowledge (hardware and software installation and maintenance, office technology and software, wired and wireless networking) and media production skills (video production, graphic design, website design, and social media). In their third quarter they choose a set of skills to focus on via community projects, and finally they take part in a 2 month internship at an area business. The Digital Stewards are also provided workplace professional development, leadership skills, public speaking, and educational and social/emotional support via coaching and counseling.

[2] This data was obtained from the Measure of America Fact Sheet from the Social Science Research Council.

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