4. Storytelling in the
Digital media is everywhere. It has taken the analogic devices almost to disappearance. New technologies are used for a large percentage of the population, bringing with it many practical advantages in its use. Digital media make easier the creation, distribution and spreading of the information. Therefore the use of the digital tools for storytelling the city have all the pros of the new media: it is much cheaper and user-friendly; it is interactive, fast and very efficient. It can be affirmed then that storytelling in the digital age is an affordable tool for promoting the city and engaging citizens, visitors, experts, investors...
Visibility of the Stories
[Cities] are nodal points, where many diverse streams of people, commodities, ideas, images, information, and cultures overlap and intersect, producing in close proximity a multitude of often conflicting images of urban reality and real city lives
(Rieniets, Sigler, & Christiaanse, 2009)
The stories are out there. The main problem is how to make them visible. How to communicate them to the general public, inside and outside every city. The people of the city is in motion. But maybe most of them don´t have the time for writing stories. That is why is very important to identify practices in progress in the city, even more if they are suffering a lack of visibility. The examples of what is being made are crucial for understanding what can be made in the future.
There is no need of creating new stories, we need to collect them and share them in an efficient way. They need to be told, seen and read. To do so we can use databases, repositories, websites, blogs, apps... But, in all different devices, they should be an easily accessible material. Quantity is not the issue if we cannot first offer a practical way of accessing the information, making it really valuable.
Engaging the Audience
The title, subtitle and the first sentences are extremely important. They should make an impact, causing curiosity, interest or, at least, confusion or concern
it is crucial to stand out and catch the attention of the reader. In the fast-paced world of the internet, it is well-known that the users of the information read faster than ever, surfing the internet quickly while passing through a lot of information at the same time. Most of them will be skipped, especially if it is not visually astonishing. So, a good design with a powerful and striking image is the first tool to highlight the story.
After that first visual impression, the text is the key to keep the attention on the story and enhance the possibilities of being read until the end. The title, subtitle and the first sentences are extremely important. They should make an impact, causing curiosity, interest or, at least, confusion or concern. A lot of creative effort need to be made at this point. The beginning of the story doesn’t have to provide much information, even more, quite the opposite. The start should work as a teaser, leaving some questions unanswered. Answers will be revealed as the story progresses.
The stories should create an anticipation feeling, immersion and, in the end, reaction. After all, the stories are the result of experiences and they are, themselves, a call into action. They are not thought only to be read, but to provoke a physical reaction in the audience, in the form of attending to new events or participating in forthcoming projects, and finally, experiencing and writing new stories. Coming from the virtual environment of the digital, they should become physical, a method for changing not only the narratives of the texts and pictures but the urban design and activity.
In the end, the accumulation of stories is an open window for creating an alternative (hi)story. The whole body of stories works as a puzzle, as a collage that invites the audience to recognize common patterns and construct their own way of looking and setting the pieces of what is happening out there by themselves. That recognition and active role of the citizens transform history into an alternative story.
Amateur / Professional balance
[…] Exploration, observation, and experience of place played a critical role for both storytellers and listeners. While modes of communication may have changed, our capacity to explore, observe, and improve the immediate world around us remains with us today
An important question related to how to tell stories about the city through CH is: “Do we really need experts?”. And, secondly, experts on what? If we are trying to avoid a technical and cold perspective on the city and its heritage, then we should avoid a simple CH, urbanism or urban development expert point of view in the production of the stories.
The crowdsourcing perspective takes us to the position of collecting the material coming from the citizens and different groups, stakeholders, institutions... involved in the issue. Since then main providers of huge amounts of fresh information. However, these might provoke a very chaotic set of stories, not well balanced among different levels of quality, length, etc.
It's necessary to find a middle ground between the amateur and professional sides if we really want to enhance the narratives and find cohesion in the quality and perspectives on the stories. The opinion of the experts is as necessary as the participation of the citizens. Maybe what we need is to work professionally identifying, filtering and curating stories, and finally offering a good platform for being shared by the public.
As a result, balancing the amateur / professional perspectives we can:
- maintain a fresh way of storytelling, not cold or academic, nor sensationalist, not poor in literary terms.
- promote real stories, told in real ways: clear, clean and passionate.
- introduce some (not much) facts and quotes when necessary.
- keep a personal and independent perspective on the city: proud of it; and critical with those aspects that can be done in a better way.
- reinforce a positive but not propagandistic approach.
Top-down / Bottom-up balance
At the present time, there is a clear orientation on facilitating the participation in order to enhance the connection between institutions and citizens, the political transparency and, all in all, the mechanisms of democracy.
As a consequence, in the last years, a very positive concept of the bottom-up perspective have arisen between researchers and some professionals. However, once again, it's necessary to find a middle ground where the structures of the institutions and the open participation and engagement of the population can reinforce each other.
The balance in the top-down / bottom-up perspective is then located in the “soft” authority of institutions. These would be there to filter and validate the information that they gather coming from the grass-roots. In the case of the stories, with the purpose of ensuring their quality, interest and truth. In the end, the authority should be shared, not imposed.
There are some good examples of institutions gathering stories coming from the population to fill their databases up. Like that, institutions can manage such a big amount of information, impossible to produce by a professional team from scratch. The main task then is to create a system of gathering, filtering, ordering and sharing. The new challenge is to create that efficient methodology able to getting in touch with the users and gaining citizens' confidence. Moreover, we are not talking about a specific big effort but a sustained effort that should be operating in a daily long-term.
A glocal audience
Contemporary cities can be understood as nodes in a global-scale web. They are perfectly interconnected and they share problems and desires inside their urban narratives. However, once these narratives take the ground of a specific place, they are filling these common narratives with unique details and nuances coming from every community and particular circumstances. After all, these specific narratives shape the global one. And they are valuable and guided to a “glocal” audience: the closer people of their neighbourhood as much as other people interested all over the world.
Achieving a global connection with the audience is not an easy task for a storyteller. We know well that people from different backgrounds and cultures will have different interests and levels of knowledge. However, good stories along history have used universal human problems that can be easily recognized and which people can connect at all ages: fear, desire, hope... The clue is creating different layers of interpretation without losing the simplicity of the message. For that is important keeping gaps in the plot that foster an active reader.
On storytelling the city, a big plot can be constructed as the whole narrative for the city. Meanwhile, the specific stories might be used as snapshots of information that can be connected using different paths by every user. The diversity of particular stories could improve the capacity of the big narrative to engage many different profiles of visitors. Therefore different stories with different moods for different people might be a way of engaging a different kind of visitors or citizens.
The best way to tell a universal story is by starting locally
An on-going process
[…] altering the image of a country or city may require something a little more substantial than graphic design, advertising or PR campaigns
Thus, it is necessary to create a structure able of producing and/or collecting, filtering, curating the stories, ensuring the quality of them, and ensuring a flow of them enough to maintain visibility on the media and interest in the general and specific public in a mid-long-term. Having a clear strategy is fundamental to sustain a communicative effort along time.
However, nowadays it is necessary to have a quick impact on the media. Everything is obsolescent at a high speed. Faster is better. Going viral is the first aim in the era of social media. The communication capacity of social networks is huge and, obviously, has altered the way heritage is produced and shared (Giaccardi, 2012). From a marketing-branding perspective, the impact of the stories in the media is a fundamental issue to take into account (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2011). It’s all about telling a story that moves the reader so they want to share it with friends and relatives so that it’s distributed independently, apparently without more costs or efforts by the producer of the story.
The original materials can be processed, expanded and even re-constructed if necessary. In doing so it will be easier to identify problems and offer solutions to solve them inside the narratives forms. Like that, stories are not just a point of view on the state of the city in the present time but a real tool for urban development.
In the end, the challenge of storytelling the city is not about publishing a bunch of good stories, it is about creating a communicational structure able of being autonomous, independent and self-sufficient to the social, economic and political changes in the city.
Producing and curating the stories
It seems that at the end of the work the result is that we are just starting. Storytelling is an open process, as much as the city itself and the use of digital media are open processes. We are in the middle of a work in progress. A good starting point is needed, but it is impossible to know where is going to end the process that has been undertaken.
After all, the main lesson of this research on storytelling the city through CH is that is impossible to come full circle. The future is coming soon and new stories will be needed.
There is an impossible task within the democratic development of cities: “being simultaneously within, against and beyond the current urban condition” (Chatterton, 2010). Imagining the urban future is an always unfinished work, a kind of utopia, a constant effort to be different, better, at least, potentially. The city is unfinished by nature, and so are its (hi)stories.
A piece of crucial advice then is to keep the narratives and the tools of dissemination of them open to being re-used and changed in the future. This is the best way to ease the updating of the material and to boost participation, but as well to make these tools able to adapt and react to rapid obsolescence, a common issue when we talk about information and technology in the digital era.
The stories might be adaptive. Able to be told in different formats and devices. Narrations have no age, they can be always updated, and that's a key advantage of their use. They are very valuable content. They are difficult, but not expensive, to produce. Once you get the way to good stories, they are a very versatile resource.