I’ve always loved to explore, and to learn unexpected things about where I am. I also love connecting with places I know through literature and music. Songs that reference places I know are especially important to me: when I hear a song like this, I feel more connected to both the music and the place. It was this feeling that led a couple of friends and I to start the music mapping project Track Toronto several years ago. We collected songs that referenced places around the city, and we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of suggestions and the enthusiasm we encountered. We wanted to make it easier for people to hear these songs in the places that inspired them — we thought a mobile app would be a great way to do this. We started to look into what would be required to design and build an app that could seamlessly connect people with this music, and we didn’t get very far before we realized that this was not going to be a simple thing to do well. We also discovered many other fabulous projects and organizations making site-specific content in Toronto. And like us, they lacked a way to connect people with the stories they were telling in the places where they would be most meaningful.
So it occurred to me: rather than build an app for our own little project, why not build a platform that would remove barriers for organizations like ours? An app like this could provide a well designed platform to help organizations reach a broader audience and keep users interested,, and make it easier for more groups to share their stories too.
From the user’s perspective we wanted to create a place where one could encounter a number of different perspectives on the city, all in one place.
I started to contact organizations that I thought might be interested in sharing content on a platform like the one I was imagining, and I found that many were indeed eager to participate in a project like this. It was through the organization First Story that I met Fred McGarry, who I was surprised to learn was working on a nearly identical concept, and had already built a working prototype of the software. Fred is the executive director of the Centre for Community Mapping and has spent the last 25 years of his career creating software tools designed to enable citizens who value natural, cultural, social and economic facets of their local communities to better advocate for these resources. In addition to sharing a goal, we also shared a vision — to manage community-level data assets for community-level benefit. We were united in our belief that creating a platform where diverse stories can be shared will inspire a greater understanding of the spaces we inhabit and the people we share them with.
Take a stroll through High Park and read about John Howard, the city’s first professional architect, who resided at Colborne Lodge and donated the land for High Park to the City of Toronto from Spacing. Then learn about High Park’s rare Black Oak Savannah ecosystem — an ecosystem that was carefully maintained over longs periods of time by First Nations people through the use of controlled burns, from First Story. Carry on and get notified about events happening in the park from the City of Toronto’s Festivals and Events Calendar — then maybe stick around to watch a performance or join a nature walk.
This is the type of experience Driftscape will bring you, and the city is full of them. We continue to be surprised and overwhelmed by the abundance and quality of the stories people are just waiting for an opportunity to tell. We’re excited to say that we’re almost ready to share Driftscape with you.
Our Toronto launch (for iOS) is scheduled for November 21st. With 17 organizations already sharing content on Driftscape we hope you’ll give it a try!