Urban design professor named Niantic/Knight Fellow

Ming-Chun Lee, a professor in the School of Architecture’s Master of Urban Design program, has been named one of five inaugural fellows in the Niantic/Knight Fellows Program, a community engagement initiative by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Niantic Inc., maker of the popular Pokémon GO game. The fellowship will support projects that address community issues and promote resident engagement using Niantic’s augmented reality technology.

As an initial activity, Lee will incorporate Pokémon GO technology in Charlotte’s Sept. 30 Open Streets 704 event, designed to get people outside, walking and biking through the streets and building a sense of community.

The fellowship builds on Lee’s research in using augmented and virtual reality technology to help people think about urban design and its impact on their lives. Last spring, he and fellow urban design professor Nadia Anderson created “Mapping (In) Equity in the Built Environment,” an interactive installation at the Projective Eye Gallery at UNC Charlotte Center City. The installation consisted of huge floor maps of Charlotte’s Cherry neighborhood, a historically African American neighborhood that has seen dramatic changes in the past decade.

With augmented reality, delivered via an app devised by Ankit Kelkar, a graduate student in the College of Computing and Informatics, gallery visitors could view the maps through an iPad and see demographic changes to the area over time—increases in property values, for example, or the racial and economic makeup of the inhabitants.

A visitor from the city’s Office of Planning, Design and Development saw the installation in March and asked Lee and Anderson to bring it to the Charlotte Powerhouse Trolley Studio in SouthEnd, where it is on view through the end of the year. An event on Friday, Sept. 7, invites the community to interact with the installation and learn more about the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

Photo: Ankit Kelkar and Ming-Chun Lee with the augmented reality mapping project at the Powerhouse Studio.