Building bridges between a city and its university with help from Pokémon GO

technology / Article

August 16, 2017 by Bronlynn Thurman

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Pokémon Go Trainers at Yoyogi Park. Photo by Dick Thomas Johnson on Flickr.

In May 2017, Knight Foundation and Niantic, the creators of PokémonGO, developed a partnership to see how technology can foster community engagement in several cities where Knight invests. Read on to learn more about how Akron hopes to utilize this partnership to better connect university students to the city.

In 2016, Niantic pulled on the nostalgic heartstrings of older millennials when they released their latest game since Endgame: Proving Ground and Ingress, Pokémon Go. Using smartphone cameras the game’s interface allows players to layer a virtual world over the real world. In this way, Niantic encourages users to get out and capture digital Pokémon by interacting with the environment and a variety of public spaces. Since the game’s release, Niantic has captured the attention of over 650 million people and added more features that promote these interactions. They have essentially gamified the experience of getting out and exploring local neighborhoods and the wider world.

When Pokémon Go was released, I was one of the people who jumped on the bandwagon immediately. As a kid, I collected Pokémon cards and was an avid watcher of the television show.

Since the game came out, I’ve noticed groups of people, young and old, wandering the streets with their noses to their phones. During my lunch breaks, I walk around downtown and see people that I’ve never seen before chatting and exploring the area both physically and virtually. In July 2016, Downtown Akron Partnership and the Akron Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau capitalized on the interest in the game and brought several of us together to hold an event along Akron’s Main Street. The event was a great success. For those of us who participated, it was an easy and fun way to meet new neighbors and get to know our city.

This experiment in connectivity, to place and to people, is why Knight Foundation’s Akron office jumped on the chance to work with Niantic on a project that would use Pokémon Go to bring more vibrancy to our city. One of the challenges Akron struggles with is getting residents, and specifically University of Akron students, to hang out in downtown beyond a single student-focused event.

Downtown Akron Partnership and the University of Akron came on board to collaborate on an idea that would marry Pokémon Go to civic engagement. New Roo Weekend seemed like a natural fit. New Roo Weekend is University of Akron’s freshman orientation period, which occurs just before classes begin. If we can showcase how much the city has to offer at first introduction, hopefully students will be willing to continue exploring on a regular basis.

So, on August 26 and 27, we are going to attempt to bridge the gap between the virtual and real world, as well as between the university and its surrounding community. Music, food, and Pokémon swag will greet gamers as they traverse downtown. Pokéstops will light up the streets of downtown Akron as communities collide, merge and connect with each other. I hope to see you there.

Bronlynn Thurman is a Program Associate in Knight Foundation’s Akron office and avid cartoon enthusiast. To learn more about Knight’s work in Akron, email Bronlynn at [email protected]

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